Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Our Awesome Street Trees

Among the nicest amenities about living in our older city neighborhoods are the mature and abundant street trees. The city has a generous program of planting and caring for street trees planted in the tree lawn area (public right of way) situated between the sidewalk and the street.

Given that street trees are public property, it was sad seeing a healthy, mature Sweet Gum at the end of our street cut down today. This particular block already has a number of houses lacking street trees.

The city will remove street trees if they are causing property damage. Previously, the sidewalk near this tree was being elevated by the tree's roots. That might explain why this big dude was reduced to firewood. As sad as it is seeing one of our majestic trees lost, it is comforting to know that the City Forestry Division is on the job daily caring for and expanding our stock of beautiful shade trees!

Don't have a street tree? Get one! Neighbors don't have one? Work on them! In July, our block is all shade thanks to street trees. Summertime temps are 10 degrees cooler thanks to the street trees. In summer, neighborhood walkers prefer our block, and it ain't for the nice neighbors...

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Middle of the Road

Yesterday I was headed towards the Poplar Street Bridge for a meeting in East St. Louis. Driving through the intersection of Spruce and Third Streets, I caught a glimpse of what must have been the only remains from some earlier traffic accident. Set neatly against the concrete railing above the I-70 depressed lanes was the nearly perfect grill and logo from a late model Ford.

Bordered in chrome-look plastic, lightweight and measuring about 26" wide by 5" tall, with tight black honeycomb grillwork and the distinctive blue Ford logo, it would make a great addition to the wall decorations of a boy's room. So I made a mental note to pull over in the Old Cathedral parking lot on the return trip to see if it was still there.

About an hour later, I returned to the scene, parked the car, and walked across the traffic lanes to the center island. Sure enough, there it was, unclaimed in the same spot. Arriving home after work, I presented it to Matt as a wall hanging for his room.

"Cool" was his immediate response. We cleaned it up and found a good place for it, hanging above his dresser.

Texas Inspiration

The November 28th, 2005 edition of Wall Street Journal had an excellent front page story detailing the introduction of downtown housing into Dallas. WSJ stories are only available to subscribers, so pick up a copy, or check it out at the local library.

On the webfront, this loft living website provides a wide variety of information about downtown/urban living options throughout the south/central parts of the US.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Fall ball

This year's pumpkin crop must have been especially healthy. When we loaded up the old pumpkins for the trash, they were still firm.

Over the weekend, we began the yard changeover from fall decorations to Christmas. With Christmas lights and reindeer taking the place of Indian corn and pilgrim flair, Matt's long wait to smash the Halloween pumpkins had reached its end.

We went to the basement to find the appropriate tools of destruction. Sledge hammers or baseball bats? Let's go old school. Wooden baseball bats.

With two bats, we walked out to the alley. We wrapped the pumpkins in see-through plastic, and each took a turn pitching the wrapped pumpkins to the other. From about 6 feet, Matt waited for the first pumpkin pitch. Thwack! A solid line drive - about four feet. Then my turn.

The pitch came into the upper part of the strike zone. Swoosh! The bat split the pumpkin. It didn't cover any distance, but it continued to break down into smaller pieces. It would still good for a couple more hacks, this time of the vertical toss and swing variety. After a total of about five of the pinata-type pumpkin blasts, the first pumpkin was spent. We repeated the entire process with the second pumpkin.

With the destruction done, both smashed up pumpkins remained sealed in their plastic wraps. The whole affair lasted about five minutes. The pumpkins went into the dumpster, and we returned to our winter yard decoration makeover.

This was a first for us, a father-son pumpkin smash up. Matt had been looking forward to smashing the pumpkins for weeks, and the alley turned out to be the perfect place for their undoing. For late November, we both enjoyed being able to take a few swings with a baseball bat.

More and more as Matt matures as a young man, it's getting harder to find easy moments where we connect father and son. Who would have thought it would have happened with a pumpkin, a couple of trash bags, an alley, and pair of baseball bats?

Friday, November 25, 2005

West Main in Belleville

Belleville is one of the historic towns in St. Clair County, Illinois. It is situated just southeast of East St. Louis.

Belleville is the county seat of St. Clair County, and home to one of oldest Catholic Dioceses in the state of Illinois. The center of Belleville is at the intersection of 1st Street (Hwy 159) and Main. About 3 blocks southwest you will find the Cathderal of the Belleville Diocese, one of the best examples of gothic architecture in the Midwest, with flying buttresses supporting a vaulted ceiling close to 200 feet in height.

Surrounding downtown are historic neighborhoods dating to the 1830s. On the east of downtown, the homes are larger on larger lots, but to the west side, in a lower- lying area along both sides of West Main, the homes are much smaller, nearly all brick, and nearly fully intact.

Travelling west on West Main towards St. Louis is like travelling through time. For about five miles you see the changes in architectural style as Belleville built out from the 1830s to modern times. You pass the historic SkyView Drive-In theater, with its original marquis that features a space vehicle that looks half rocket ship, half jet plane.

Finding your way into the historic heart of Belleville can be a little difficult. The easiest way to find it is to take Hwy 159 south from Interstate 64. It will take you right into the heart of town. Once you're familair with the area, there are many alternate routes to get there, including West Main, which is the old highway connecting Belleville to points west.

Visiting historic Belleville makes me wonder if anyone has ever created a historic map of the St. Louis region, showing the neighborhoods that would have existed in the 1860s-1890s. It would be a great resource for people interested in exploring those places today.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Neighborhood Group Takes Lead on Vacant Avalon Theater

With the goal of improving South Kingshighway, the Southampton Neighborhood Association is taking steps toward filing a nuisance property lawsuit against the owner of the vacant and deteriorating Avalon Theater.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Time Banks

Here's an interesting approach to get more people invested into your community or school:

"...If you want to make change happen you need to go beyond theories and engage in practice."

Call and Response

In the Community Service Exchange guitar lesson program, we've got five kids taking lessons, and resulting contributions have been forwarded to the Thanksgiving basket program at the Riverview West Florissant Development Corporation. So far, so good.

On the guitar teaching side, one of the methods I support is ear playing and improvisation from the very beginning with new students. Attempting to improvise musically is a strange feeling for someone who's never done it before. It's not natural. You're trying to make music out of your intuition. You're trying to create something, and there's no chance to erase or start over. If what you're playing sounds bad, your natural inclination is to stop.

What you play is out there. So we've got to get the kids to think differently. First, they have to just do it. We can teach them technique and scales, chord progressions and how to play them with good form and tone. But to take those basics and then turn them into intuitively ear-played improvisation is rising to a new level as a musician.

Yesterday on KWMU, there was a program about Blues music and the tradition of "call and response". In the style, one person sings out a line, and then a chorus sings in reply.

I've mentored young musicians about improvisation to think in terms of phrasing. To try to link together scale phrases in rhythmic fashion creating musical passages. Maybe the notion of "call and response" would work even better. Whether in terms of connecting to a chord progression, or another melodic phrase.

We'll give it a try.

Monday, November 21, 2005

When to fight?

Our son is entering a stage in life when lots of the boys are starting to feel their oats.

He's a strong, tough kid; but he's never been in a real fight. Playing hockey, he's a physical, fast player, but he's not one of the guys to take a lot of penalties; he plays a clean game.

Nonetheless, he's starting to run into more kids who want to challenge him. Today, during a recess football game, he was tripped to the ground and then kicked in rapid succession by one of the boys. He stood up, and pushed the kid away. The kid doing the kicking is an okay kid, same grade, but way smaller than Matt. The kid thinks he's tough, or at least he's trying to act that way...

So, I'm wondering: when it would be okay for Matt to fight back?

If the same kid comes back again and charges him, and Matt pushes him away again, that would make two times, counting today. So, if the kid comes back a third time, and Matt pushes him away, and this time raises his fists in a defensive posture, warning the kid to stay away, would that be okay?.

Then, if the kid charges one more time, and throws the first punch, and Matt blocks his punch, and then slugs him one time in the stomach, would the kid have it coming? Or should Matt just keep blocking the kids punches and pushing him away? That's the question. I guess if he did that, the other kid would look kind of silly.

As a twelve year old, at what point do you fight back? I ask this figuring if things continue on their current path, we may all be sitting down soon with the school principal...

Meanwhile, on the hockey front, the Affton "Gold Division" House Peewees (the place where lots of South City Kids play their ice hockey), remain undefeated in league play, having just completed a home and home weekend series sweep against their St. Louis County Chesterfield Falcons rivals.

Enright west of Grand

Whenever I'm out driving between 3 and 5 pm on a Monday through Friday, I avoid the interstates as much as possible. During those hours, I've found you can make it across the entire city from downtown to Wellston faster by following the 25 mph speed limit on city streets, than by taking Highway 40 to Skinker.

Last week I was headed westbound across town on Delmar. A few blocks west of Grand, Delmar has been vacated to make way for the new Cardinal Ritter Prep High School campus. You have to make either a left (south) or right (north) turn. I turned right.

One block north brought me to Enright, along the northern edge of Cardinal Ritter. I made a left and continued heading west.

If you're ever in the area, check out Enright. It's a beautiful street. The homes are all elevated about 8-10 feet above street level. It's one of the most historically intact blocks in the north central part of the city I've found.

Maybe I'll give someone a digital camera for Christmas...

Friday, November 18, 2005

Down Under

One of the nicest things about having all the different neighborhoods in the City of St. Louis is that it gives us a framework around which to build community. We can work on our own neighborhood projects or we can partner with other neighborhoods on larger efforts. Most city neighborhoods have long established and very powerful community organizations.

Through these groups we have a way to meet our neighbors and address local or city-wide concerns. The organizations help build the foundation for our long range community efforts.

Across the oceans, in the Australian state of Victoria, there is a major effort underway to strengthen the region's cities through planned community building activities. Through this gateway you can get lots of interesting ideas for projects and activities from our neighbors on the other side of the world.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

"My Old School"

If making more good music would help make the world a better place, and there were more people who played guitar like the guys in Steely Dan (no...we're not talking about St. Louis High Schools...), then this is our small way to help make that happen.

"My Old School" is one of Steely Dan's best songs, and this tablature is an excellent transcription of the tune, chord for chord. As great as the song sounds, it is really easy to play.

So tune your guitar, print out the link, que the record, play along, have some fun, and make someone smile!

Down On The Corner

One of the best things about St. Louis is the abundance of independent businesses that specialize in personal service and high quality products.

Whether you're shopping for a homemade sausage, an old fashioned tire repair, a homemade cookie, school supplies, independent restaurants, or many other items, in St. Louis there's usually an independent business offering what you need.

The other day I was looking for a vinyl cover for a drawing table and not having much luck. With computer aided design now dominating the day to day work of architects and engineers, it's getting harder to find the equipment for old-fashioned drawing by hand.

I tried Bradburns, Home Depot, Kinko's, and none of them had the right stuff. The last hope was Rotolite of St. Louis, located down at the end of our block. It's a graphic arts, architect's, and engineer's supply house. Sure enough, they had exactly what I was looking for, in stock, and in multiple sizes. Since we're neighbors, they even accepted a temporary check with my name and address information written by hand. Hand written...well of course!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

724 Union

Almost right across the street from the Soldan High School football stadium, about a block north of Delmar on Union, you'll find 724 Union.

Engraved above the entrance are the letters "YMHA", dating back to the days when the impressive building served as the fourth home to the Young Men's Hebrew Association.

Today the building is very much in use as the West End Community Center. In the building you will find a University of Missouri extension office, a number of activities for neighborhood youth, and the offices of the West End Community Conference, a community based organization working on neighborhood revitalization.

The building also houses one of the nicest gymnasiums in the city. It includes two full size, wood floor, basketball courts, situated end-to-end, in a room that is about 250 long.

5250 Enright is the side door entrance to the basketball courts

Monday, November 14, 2005

Bank of America Honors SLACO, Downtown Now!

Tonite at the Pageant Theater, Bank of America honored SLACO and Downtown Now! with this year's "Neighborhood Builders" award.

Both organizations have been instrumental in bringing together people and resources to help rebuild city neighborhoods.

Congratulations to Gina Ryan, Executive Director of SLACO, and Tom Reeves, Executive Director of Downtown Now! for receiving this year's awards.

Keep Kids Alive-Drive 25

A lot of things go into making a neighborhood a nice place to live. Good educational opportunities, lots of street trees, beautiful architecture, and nice neighbors are some of them. Another is having automobile traffic that is driving at a safe speed.

Traffic calming is something that a lot of neighborhoods consider as a way to slow down speeding traffic. However, retrofitting an existing neighborhood with traffic calming measures can be a difficult, expensive proposition. Many neighbors object to any changes.

One very low cost alternative to slow down traffic in your neighborhood is the "Keep Kids Alive-Drive 25" program. It started in the upper midwest by a gentleman by the name of Tom Everson. Keep Kids Alive-Drive 25 is a public awareness campaign about promoting safe driving in residential areas.

I serve as a volunteer contact for the program for the St. Louis area. If anyone has any questions about bringing the Keep Kids Alive-Drive 25 program to their neighborhood, just drop me a line or ask about it here on the website.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Q: How Do You Convert a Californian?

A: Take them to the City Museum.

Yesterday, our California relatives visited the City Museum with their 3 and 5 year old sons, and our son Matt as their guest.

At the end of the day, we all met up at Kitchen K. None of them could stop raving about the City Museum. They were saying how they wished they had something like City Museum where they lived, but there is no other place like it.

Seth, the three year old, is still learning how to put his words together into sentences. He couldn't stop talking about the City Museum.

In the middle of dinner, I felt this little hand tapping on my shoulder. It was Seth, wanting to tell some more about his trip to City Museum with his cousin Matt. The conversation went something like this...

"Amb wuh when upb bwuh stayers, am im wuh caves, am DOWM wuh big swide (big smile coming over his face now...) am wib MATT!! (smiling, laughing, in total glee now...) yeah...yeah....(more smiles)".

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Best of St. Louis

St. Louis is a special place with great people and many wonderful things to see and do. There are lots of "best of" annual lists, usually written up based on category..."best restaurant", "best place for kids", "best haircut", etc.

Well, what if you were to make a list of what's best about St. Louis, regardless of category? What sorts of things would you include? It might be a place, a person, or a neighborhood; a restaurant, a museum, or a creative spirit, or even an organization-you name it.

What's our top ten? (Or twenty...) What's best about St. Louis?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Local Blog Advocate

Bill Keaggy is a features photo editor for the Post Dispatch. He also helps to promote local blogs through regular briefs he writes for the Everyday section of the Post. Thanks Bill for supporting the St. Louis blog world!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Tom Sawyer at MoBot?

The other day I was waiting at the airport reading some promotional fliers and free magazines about St. Louis.

One magazine mentioned a new attraction at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Sort of a historic Missouri river scene for kids, including a manmade cave, a historic riverfront, and some other Mark Twain-ish sorts of things.

Has anyone visited this yet? Given the top quality of everything done at the Botanical Garden, maybe this is really excellent. Any recommendations?

On another note...sometime check out the Union Station flier at one of the Lambert Information Booths. It features a map that shows Washington Avenue ending around 8th street, and then starting back up again somewhere around 20th...That would be a whole lot of lofts unaccounted for!

That was no accident!

When my mom left a copy of John Jakes' new novel, California Gold, in the car, it wasn't an accident. She brought it to St. Louis on purpose for Matt to read. It's part of what she called his "homeward bound" series....ah ha! The grandparents are trying to corrupt his young impressionable mind with thoughts of moving back to California!

Well, before he gets started reading California Gold, I've given him a couple of other recommendations about books he should read....

From Log Cabin to White House, the story of James Garfield, a good midwestern boy who grew up strong to become the 20th president of the United States; and, The Universal Traveler, a book about creative problem solving and the design process.

In the meantime, maybe I ought to leave a copy of this article in the folks' hotel room for their reading enjoyment on the plane ride home...

Monday, November 07, 2005

Accidentally on Purpose?

The whole California relative crew just arrived for a big convention being hosted this week in St. Louis. Since the Renaissance Grand Hotel was booked solid, they're staying across the street at the Roberts Mayfair Hotel, which is working out great.

The Grandparents Bonasch will never completely forgive us for leaving California 12-plus year ago, with Kerri 8 months pregnant with their first grandson (Matt). Whenever we see them, we're always reminded of subtle reasons that we should be in California. Typically, the conversation will drift to the hardship of dealing with Missouri weather. It's nice how for this visit, Mother Nature is offering up some of the best weather of the year.

Yesterday, Grandpa Dr. B got to join on the high school tour outing with Matt and me. We visited St. John Vianney in Kirkwood and St. Mary's on S. Grand. Our Mayor, and Aldermen Gregali and Wessels would be glad to learn that Grandpa was more impressed with St. Mary's than Vianney.

Still, they'll never get over how we pulled up stakes and moved 2,000 miles east away from the family home. Compounding the situation, a couple of years ago, I convinced my sister to move here from California as well. Maybe that explains why when I got in the car this morning, I found a copy of John Jakes latest novel, California Gold lying on the floor of the car?

Friday, November 04, 2005

Hidden Historics

With the century-plus age of many of our neighborhoods, followed by demolition and new construction in some places, it is not uncommon to find historic buildings interwoven in our modern urban fabric. A good example is the Clemens house on Cass in North City.

There are many others. If you drive the area near Powell Hall, sandwiched between surface parking lots are individual homes that were built in the 19th century. Another place you see scattered historic buildings surrounded by many vacant lots and some new construction is around the Scott Joplin House.

Many of these buildings are in places where so much of the original historic material has been lost, that the area is no longer eligible for historic district status. And if the buildings themselves don't have any culturally historic significance, they aren't eligible for individual listing on the National Register.

So what about them? Should they be prioritized for preservation, or should our preservation resources be targeted into more intact historic areas?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Northside Holiday Gift Basket Drive

With the holidays fast approaching, many in our community work to help provide holiday gift baskets to families with very low incomes. These gifts help brighten the holiday season for our neighbors.

One organization working to spread good cheer is the Riverview West Florissant Development Corporation. The RWFDC serves the Walnut Park and Mark Twain neighborhoods of North St. Louis, near Calvary Cemetary. They rely on donations from individuals and local retailers to make the gift program work.

If you are interested in helping Riverview West Florissant succeed on this project, please contact Cecilia Penny at their office, telephone (314)382-9000, for more information. By mail, their address is 6000 West Florissant, St. Louis, MO 63136.

Please consider making a donation. Any size contribution will help Riverview West Florissant make the holiday season brighter for another of our neighbors. The Riverview West Florissant Development Corporation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Benton Park West Art Show and Silent Auction

"Community Portraits of Benton Park West"

by the 2005 Artists/Apprentices of ArtWorks

Presented by St. Louis Artworks to benefit the Benton Park West Neighborhood Association and sponsored by the the Incarnate Word Foundation.

Admission is free. Meet the artists. Refreshments provided.

Date: Sunday, November 13
Time: 3:00-5:00 p.m.
Place: Cherokee Place Business Incubator, 2715 Cherokee

Packages of notecards with a sampling of the art work available for a $5 donation to the BPWNA.

For more information please call the Incarnate Word Foundation, 773-5100.

Restorations Plus

One of the prides of the Carondelet neighborhood is Restorations Plus, a local provider of artistic restoration services, specializing in religious art. Their work in helping to preserve our beautiful religious institutions in St. Louis is wonderful.

Visit their old and new websites to learn more about their history and services.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Life without Hwy 40

I just read a desperate email posted to the StLouist about the proposed closing of Highway 40 for reconstruction.

The poster wrote that without Hwy 40, he and many other St. Louis area residents couldn't even find their way into the City. "You might as well close the Zoo" he said.

If there's one thing St. Louis offers, it's alternate routes. Does the proposed closing of Highway 40 mean the end of the civilized world as we know it? Or could it break some lifelong St. Louisans of their highway driving routines, helping them to learn their way around more like non-natives?

Credit the kids...and their parents

In spite of a steady rain, we had between 150 and 200 trick or treaters last nite. The cutest one was a year and a half old pirate. He even said "thank you!"

Matt went out as a zombie rocker, with a skeleton face mask, spiked mohawk, studded and fingerless leather gloves, a spiked dog collar, black boots, jeans, a sleeveless, glow- in-the-dark skeleton t-shirt, see-through nylon arm sleeves covered in tatoos, strapped on to a trashed 1960s-vintage Japanese electric guitar (recovered from one of the dumpsters). He looked great. For one day...

Just so long as he limits the spikes, dog collar, and tatoos to Halloween, everything will be just fine!