Tuesday, January 31, 2006

"Experiment a Success"

KMOX's Kevin Killeen reported this morning that McBride and Sons' experiment to build a "suburban-styled" subdivision in the city is a success.

Homes have sold at a brisk pace, and contracts for an additional twenty homes have been written.

Then Killeen asked the builder if crime has been an issue: "I've noticed a lot of signs for security companies in the front yards".

According the builder, there has not been a single break-in in the development. The developer noted how the new neighbors are cooperating with each other to make the neighborhood a safe place.

Overall, it seemed like a strange news story. For starters, Botanical Heights is not what most people imagine when they picture a "suburban styled" housing development. There are no ranch or single story homes. All the homes have rear garages off of alleys, and the side yard setbacks are much less than most suburban developments. And there are plans for attached townhomes.

Next, it's really not much of an experiment, but rather a successful formula that has been replicated in multiple housing developments all over town. The West End, the Gate District, and the near north side are all places where you can find large, new home developments that have sold well.

And even though there has been none, Killeen decided to make crime a key part of his story. He could have taken many angles when reporting on the success of the project. The fact that he chose to highlight the issue of crime when reporting on the success of a new home development in the city is disappointing.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Bored in St. Louis

Seldom played, late model Fender Telecaster, with original metal-flake blue finish, white pick gaurd, and maple neck, seeks new home. Owner desires a like-quality acoustic mandolin in even exchange. Interested parties, please contact the owner of this blog. Thanks!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

"The trouble with boys"

Much has been in the news lately about the struggles of young boys making the passage into adulthood.

They are failing at greater rates than ever before, and schools are having a hard time figuring out ways to help them improve.

Some say boys are treated like defective girls, rather than looked at as individuals with their own unique concerns.

With Matt turning thirteen in a less than two months, we're facing these challenges on a daily basis, and much of what we're reading in the articles and watching on the news we have seen happen in Matt's life.

This week, two boys, one in 6th the other in 7th grade, were expelled from Matt's school. The news came as a shock to all of us since we've known these two young people since they were kindergarten age.

It's not a St. Louis thing, but a national concern. Some suggest all-boy middle schools would help. Others say the presence of a father figure in the home is a big factor. Reports are that 40% of young boys are growing up in homes without their biological fathers.

What about opening up the schools for evening study halls with sons and fathers? We could help each other out.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

CBC High School Considers Mandatory Drug Testing

In a move that may lead to wider spread efforts, CBC High School in Town and Country Missouri, a posh suburb of St. Louis, is considering mandatory drug testing of students.

School administrators believe mandatory testing may provide students a way to say "no" to offers to experiment with illicit drugs.

A First for Downtown St. Louis

In an attempt to position the event as a major regional event, for the first time in its long history, the Annie Malone parade will be held this year in downtown St. Louis.

Annie Malone is not a city neighborhood, but rather a famous person in St. Louis history who was one of America's first African American millionaires. She made her fortune developing and selling hair products targeted to African American consumers. She resided in the historic Ville neighborhood.

Today, the Annie Malone organization serves low income St. Louis households, providing a wide array of services. The Annie Malone organization is based in the Ville neighborhood, 2612 Annie Maolone Drive, St. Louis, MO 63113. Telephone 314-531-0120.

The Annie Malone organization also operates a Day Care Respite and Crisis Nursery in the Penrose neighborhood at 4411 North Newstead, St. Louis, MO 63115. Telephone 314-381-2410.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

RIP Mary Taylor

Longtime 3rd Ward neighborhood resident and volunteer Mary Taylor died recently after suffering a heart attack.

Ms. Taylor volunteered for many years on various neighborhood projects and served on the board of directors of the Neighborhood Council. She was a beloved friend, neighbor and dedicated city resident. She will be missed by her many friends.

5,000 + 50,000 = Great Family Fun

You don't have to wait for the 2006 season of Six Flags to find great family fun in St. Louis. At 1:00 pm on Sunday, February 19, visit Soulard for the annual Krewe Barkus Dog Parade.

5,000 dogs and 50,000 human spectators will fill the historic streets of Soulard for this offbeat, family-friendly festival.

Friday, January 20, 2006

An Interesting Blip

Most of the ancient Indian mounds in St. Louis proper have been lost to development. There are the partial remains of one next to Highway 55 near S. Broadway. A '50s vintage home was built on the carved out side of the mound.

One of our longtime friends, a local historian who talks about having personally "shoveled out Lafayette Square townhouses back in the 70s", prides herself on having travelled nearly every south city neighborhood street by foot. Sometimes she leads historic walking tours of city neighborhoods.

St. Louis is a place layered in history. Recently, we were on foot, walking every block of a neighborhood on the city's near north side. A large part of the area had become industrialized, and then mostly abandoned by industry. There was one spot in the middle of the neighborhood that didn't fit the rest. It was undeveloped, yet surrounded by heavy industrial uses.

On one side was a fenced yard holding dozens of retired trailers. On the other lay parallel rows of abandoned railroad track, along with an overhead signal fixture. Sandwiched between the train tracks and the trailer lot was a small forested hill, roughly thirty to forty feet wide, rising approximately 8 to 10 feet above the grade of the sidewalk-and the grades of all the nearby blocks.

I wondered, why was this lot left alone when the rest of the blocks were originally developed? Was it created by transporting fill to the site in past decades? Or could it be the remains of an old Indian Mound? I hope it's an Indian mound.

If you want to visit this mound yourself, you can find it on the eastern side of the intersection of Hadley and Howard, two blocks north of Cass Avenue.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Urban Studio Presents D-I-Y Plaster Repair Course

Plaster is a beautiful wall and ceiling material found in most older city homes. However, the repair and installation of plaster is a dying art, and expensive to hire..

The Urban Studio, a nonprofit community resource center located next door to Crown Candy in the Old North St. Louis, is presenting a course to learn do-it-yourself plaster repair:

Learn How to Repair Your Own Plaster (and save thousands of dollars) with Master Plasterer, Eric Aulbach

For more information about the plaster class and the Urban Studio, please visit:

The Urban Studio Blog

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

"That's not North St. Louis"

I was at a gathering recently near Calvary Cemetary where a group of neighborhood residents were discussing perceptions of the city's north side.

They explained to me that if you are in the know, which I wasn't, you know that much of what is generally referred to as "North St. Louis" isn't considered so by local residents.

By their traditional standards, areas south of Page and west of Union are not considered North St. Louis. Those areas are considered Central or West End.

School Board: "Thanks but no thanks"

Citizen-led effort to build a Southwest City community center hits roadblock as city school board rejects offer to purchase Nottingham School. There are no plans for an alternative location, Journal reports.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Katrina'd Out?

The issue of insurance companies ending earthquake coverage on older masonry buildings has barely made the local radar screen.

The St. Louis Oracle wrote about it in November.

Since ours is a stone foundation built in 1933, we were just talking about this over the weekend. Has anyone else heard about insurance companies dropping such coverage?

Maybe the insurance industry figures better to plan on a federal bailout than provide earthquake coverage near the New Madrid fault zone?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Scene at Ramp Riders

Matt has been getting more into the BMX biking scene, so we've been spending lots of Friday nites lately with the skateboarders and acrobatic cyclists down at Ramp Riders at Salena and Gravois in the Benton Park neighborhood.

Given the warehouse setting, the management invites bands to perform in the space. The bands are loud, metal, and drawing a young, skater-friendly crowd. Most of the ones we've seen so far haven't been very good.

That all changed Friday nite. Not since seeing Tuck and Patti in the Berkeley Hills back in 1985, have I had such a "we saw you when" experience as we had watching Gage Love (guitarist extrordinaire) and the band he plays with, "Torch the Morgue".

Love learned music through song and trumpet and his college major was opera. He's only played guitar for five years, but he's as good as anyone I've seen. He's played with Torch the Morgue for about a year.

The setup at Ramp Riders wasn't the best. The promoter didn't have an adequate PA, so you really couldn't hear the singer. Torch the Morgue normally has two vocalists, but they only had one for this show.

Torch the Morgue comes to St. Louis from the Quad Cities area of Iowa/Northern Illinois, and has a built up a local following there. They were on a tour midwestern towns. This nite they would only make $9 apiece. These guys have a real shot to make a lot more.

Thinking back to that list of possible bands for St. Louis summer concerts...this'd be one that could get a much deserved break with a chance to play in front of a larger audience. I'd recommend them. Not for the baby stroller or 3-wheeled scooter crowd, but definitely a showcase of serious talent in the metal niche. We plan to see them again.

Gage Love's personal music project

"Torch the Morgue's" myspace site

Friday, January 13, 2006

Promontory Point St. Louis, 2008? 2009?

Promontory Point is that desolate place in the middle of northern Utah, where in 1869 two train track laying crews met to connect the nation's first transcontinental railroad.

Everyone's seen that famous picture where the crews are standing on the two locomotives having a toast as the golden spike was driven into the last section of rail.

Why not apply the same principle to the widening of Highway 40 through St. Louis?

Hire two companies, start one on the east end of the expansion, the other on the west end. Build in bench mark and completion date incentives to the construction contracts, and make it a competition between the two companies. The company exceeding the most benchmark goals and the final completion goal date by the greatest number of days gets a BIG final incentive payment. Just think of the gaming possibilities!

Track the competition in St. Louis media. Then sometime during 2008 or 2009 (hopefully), when the job is finished somewhere around Highway 40 and McKnight, recreate the Promontory Point photograph, with the crews of roadbuilders sitting atop massive tractors, along with the County Executive and the Mayor of St. Louis, all raising commemorative mugs of famous St. Louis beverages in a toast to the successful completion of this massive civic endeavor.

Have fun with it!

Oh, and build it so that at least one lane remains open in both directions during construction.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Neighborhood Choices

St. Louis is known as a city of neighborhoods, with each having its own character and various pluses and minuses. There are many great neighborhood choices.

As neighborhoods work to improve, they want to know what potential new residents are looking for in a new neighborhood. If you were thinking of moving, what would be your top three priorities in selecting a new neighborhood?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Postcard Views of Historic Belleville

Follow this link to visit a website offering hundreds of scans of historic postcards and photographs old Belleville.

"Signal Hill", the tiny (unincorporated?) neighborhood on the bluff connecting East St. Louis to Belleville, is a little-known gem from this part of our metro area, with one beautifully-maintained, hillside mansion with that unmistakable, antebellum look. Is it authentic? It sure looks like it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Jack Snow Dies from Staph Infection

Former Ram player and KTRS sportscaster, Jack Snow, died last night due to a staph infection. Staph infections have become very resistant to antibiotics, and do not only affect older people.

Young athletes are highly susceptible to developing staph infections from bacteria that can grow in their equipment. A few years ago, a young Affton hockey player nearly died this way.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Summertime Concert Series

Every year, the City of St. Louis and other sponsors offer free concerts downtown. One of the challenges in planning such events is signing the best possible mix of artists given the financial constraints.

Given that the concerts are planned for larger-sized audiences (5,000-15,000), which bands would you encourage promoters bring to St. Louis in 2006?

Friday, January 06, 2006

Winnebago Revisited

It was the winter of 1986, and we were about to spend our first night in St. Louis in the vacant and unfurnished upstairs unit of a 2-family on Winnebago, a couple blocks east of Grand, near the old Lindy's Sausage shop.

A couple of months previously, and only a few months into married life, my promising new job working for a prominent Northern California real estate company came to an abrupt end when the company owner drove his 1984 Corvette off a cliff into the Pacific Ocean in the tiny resort town of Mendocino. The company shut down its development arm, and I was given notice about my job ending.

In the meantime, Kerri had joined Citicorp, and was in daily communication with people in their St. Louis offices. She developed a friendly working relationship over the phone with one of the St. Louis staffers, and, as my job was ending, Citicorp was closing down its Northern California leasing operations, leaving Kerri and I both out of work. Citicorp was looking to fill lots of positions in St. Louis, so we figued, why not? Let's check it out.

Kerri's Citicorp telephone-friend encouraged us to visit St. Louis, and invited us to stay with them at their Winnebago 2-family. We booked a flight, and afer a whirlwind tour and Kerri's job interview, we made the decision to relocate to St. Louis.

We were immediately taken in by the neighborhood around our friend's apartment. Coming from the land of frame and stucco, we had never seen so much brick. Even the streets were brick. That was 20 years ago, and our friends no longer live on Winnebago, but we still live just a few minutes away from this building.

One of my morning routes to work goes through the intersection of Chippewa and Gravois. Usually, I'll head up Gravois toward downtown, but it's not necessary, or even faster. So, today I decided to stay on Chippewa, heading east toward Grand.

Crossing Grand, I passed the Keystone Place project. It's good to see a few new homes starting construction. I made a left, and drove one block north to Winnebago. I made a right, heading east. On the second block, I passed our friend's old apartment. Whenever I'm on this block, I check out that old 2-family where we spent our first night in St. Louis. It looked pretty much the same. Brick buildings are pretty slow to change.

I decided to stay on Winnebago and head over to Jefferson. The street is now part of the Gravois Jefferson National Register Historic District, and you can see why. Nearly every original building is intact, with historic live-work commercial buildings on the corners. There are lots of original, faded wall signs painted on the sides of buildings.

One block before Jefferson, Winnebago has been barricaded to through traffic, diverting me north past the historic Lutheran Church where a few years ago we attended the funeral of firefighter Rob Morrison, the father of one Matt's then-classmates, who along with fellow firefighter Derek Martin died fighting a fire in a south city refrigeration company.

I crossed Jefferson, headeding east, entering the south side of the Benton Park neighborhood. There has been a noticeable amount of new, single family, infill residential construction. My route took then me through the Cherokee Antique Row district, where this time of year the place looks its best. The Bradford Pear trees have dropped their leaves, so you can easily see the beutiful detailing of the all the buildings.

The building that housed one of the first "Nickelodian" movie theaters in St. Louis is part of this district. Many of the Antique Row buildings have newly added decorative lighting, which added a warm glow to the brick buildings and sidewalks.

I crossed I-55 at the historic St. Agatha's Church, and hit a traffic jam on Broadway at the Brewery. Being a snob (or smart?) city driver, and loathing traffic tie-ups, instead of sitting in the Broadway traffic, I turned at Arsenal, merged onto northbound I-55, and finished the trip downtown to the office in about the same amount of time that I would have had I made that northeasterly turn back at Gravois and Chippewa about fifteen minutes earlier.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Downtown Improvisationalists

Personally, I don't have much use for car alarms. The sound of them used to inspire a sense of urgency. But now their honking blasts have become so commonplace, that when one goes off, it's less of a call for alarm, and more just unwanted noise pollution.

Car alarms have become so mundane, yet annoying, that they're about as welcome as the sound of someone's cell phone ringing in a movie theater. Often, the reactions on the owner's part are about the same: a frenzied search for the "off" button.

Much more welcomed are the sounds of street musicians, and, lately, there has been a noticeable increase in the amount and talent of downtown street musicians.

A couple of weeks ago, we attended the unfortunate Rams-49ers game at the Dome. Set up and playing furiously was a New Orleans-styled trio, jamming to Christmas music. They sounded pretty good, and were headed towards pulling down a thousand dollars in tips from the tide of football fans walking past them on the way to the game.

Then there's the fellow who plays his saxophone mid-days near the corner of 7th and Olive. From Met Square to the Laclede Gas Building, you can hear him playing a wide variety of jazz standards.

Yesterday his stylings were being crowded out by the dissonant blastings of a car alarm coming from the middle floors of one nearby parking garages. When I stepped out of our office building, he was playing, but not any recognizable tune.

I listened harder, and then realized he was improvising. He was playing accompaniment to the car alarm. He was harmonizing with it. Together, it didn't sound half bad. Now that's what I call a real "street musician".

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Making Eye Contact

The Zoo's "Penguin and Puffin Coast" exhibit is a great place for a wintertime visit.

The penguins are always entertaining to watch, and the Zoo has taken great care to make the whole exhibit a positive experience, from the time you're waiting in line, until you exit through a penguin and puffin-themed gift shop. The place reminds you of a major theme park attraction in Florida, except at the St. Louis Zoo, it's free!

In summer, there are long lines to see the penguins and puffins. Sometimes up to an hour or more. Over the winter, you practically have the place to yourself. Last week, we stopped by the Zoo thirty minutes before closing time, just to visit the Penguin and Puffin Coast.

When we arrived, there were maybe ten or so other visitors at the exhibit. And during the winter, it's actually warmer inside the exhibit than it is outside! Plus, with so many fewer visitors, there are way more penguins per person.

Rather than the way the penguins scan out over the huge summertime crowds shuffling past them during the summer, when you visit during the winter, the penguins swim up next to you and look right at you. Sometimes, with them so close, you get splashed when they dive in or pop up out of the water. It's great fun.

The person working at the exhibit told us that sometimes the over-exuberant ones pop right out of the exhibit and land on the floor next to you. That's when he has to bend down and pick them up and help them back onto their side of the glass.

Another interesting fact about the exhibit not obvious to the casual observer is the way the tank holding the penguins is one continuous tank. It connects under the walkway, so the penguins can swim back and forth to both sides of the exhibit.

Monday, January 02, 2006

New Year's Resolution

For 2006, adults and parents should resolve to discourage the increasing practice of encouraging specialization in youth sports.

Young athletes should be encouraged to play as many sports as they enjoy, can be afforded, and without conflict with other family priorities and school.

Instead, there is a growing trend for adults and parents to encourage specialization in youth sports, starting with children as young as 8 or 9. This practice does a disservice to young people and should be discouraged by all adults parenting or coaching kids.

KMOX had a baseball coach on the air this weekend promoting a January baseball camp for kids. He said he coaches a "pretty good '9-U' ballclub" (players at or below 9 years of age). He said he sees lots of young players practicing baseball 10 months of the year.

We have had coaches tell us that Matt would not be able to play on their baseball teams if he was not available to attend January baseball practices, forcing him to choose between year round baseball or playing hockey and basketball over the winter months.

Everyone knows that 99.9 percent of youth athletes will never go on to professional sports. Most will never even make it at the college level. Yet while they're in middle schools, overzealous parents and coaches are encouraging them to specialize in a single sport.

Youth sports are supposed to be about exercise, fun, teamwork, and making friends and memories. Let's make 2006 the year when we encourage the only specialization in kid sports to be HAVING FUN!

Water Skating

Our January thaw was right on time this year, with nighttime temperatures in St. Louis close to 60 degrees on the evening of January 1st.

We decided to take the ten minute ride over to Steinberg Rink in Forest Park with a group of friends for some ice skating. When we arrived, the place was packed.

As far as urban St. Louis goes, Steinberg has got to be one of our most urban destinations. The huge outdoor rink is located right off of Kingshighway, on the edge of the largest urban park in the nation, and under the high rise towers of the Barnes Jewish Hopsital complex.

With last nite's unseasonably warm temperatures, the Zamboni was getting a workout. There was so much melting of the ice, they had to send the Zamboni out ever forty five minutes or so to mop up the water. In some places, it was over an inch deep. They could have erected temporary "no wake" signs.

As far as 2006 wishlist items go, an beautiful and functional upgrade to the Steinberg cafe space would be to add a new stone fireplace, similar to the one at the remodeled Boat House.

The cafe area is already much improved, featuring an expanded food and drink menu, and adding a large, 2-sided (possibly indoor/outdoor) stone fireplace would elevate the ambiance to resort-quality status and help warm the chilly toes of Steinberg's winter customers.