Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Before and After

I am a sucker for before and after photos, especially with regards to building rehabs in the city. We recently went to a Lafayette Square house tour, and many people on the circuit had some amazing before & after photos. It's staggering just how dilapidated some homes were allowed to get over the years. I stand firm to the opinion that tastefully restoring a building to it's original glory is one of the biggest impacts you can make toward improving St. Louis.

I look at some of the dilapidated buildings commonly posted on ecology of absence blog, and get so discouraged. It's easy to feel like half of our city is crumbling and beyond repair. However, that just isn't true. It takes the right kind of people with the right skills, determination and of course $$ to turn these ramshackle dumps into truly functional, stately, proud spaces.

Since we're in the process of listing our home and searching for a new one, we've been looking at a lot of homes lately. I have yet to see a tasteful remodeling job from the 1970's/1980's. Horrid years for kitchens and bathrooms in my opinion. However, my tastes probably run against the norm. We love metal cabinets. When we remodeled the kitchen in our current home, we considered these, but the cost was out of hand and the suppliers limited. We went with a traditional, contemporary look. And since the home is not a stately century home, rather a mid-century ranch, we felt it appropriate.

It just makes me wonder though, how many people get rid of the old or original qualities and finishes in their old St. Louis homes simply to get something new and fresh in there. I for one am way more intrigued by the original finishes. Gut rehabs do not appeal to me. The weird thing is, the more expensive homes (~$265K - $300K) in TGS, TGE and Shaw are total gut rehabs, complete with fancy modern jet tubs, granite counter tops and kitchen islands. I guess that's what the modern urban home buyer wants. Not me, I like the original floor plans, pocket doors, light fixtures, stained glass, wood trim, crown moulding, plaster, wood floors, etc.

I realize many of these beautiful homes were stripped of their original features and charm, and that's how many of the dry-walled homes came about. Still, I'm more drawn to the original charm. However, the odds are against these original fixtures. The elements of time and nature wear aware at their physical components. Styles change, and people feel pressured to keep up with the times. The city has changed. There was a time when the city was teeming with people and housing was limited. Many stately homes became too expensive to maintain after the boom times, and they were subdivided into apartments, etc. This robbed many homes of their original design.

It amazes me that a 100+ year home can still retain it's functioning bathtubs and hardware. I mean, do you expect the Chinese Home Depot rigs to work in 100 years? I don't.

It's also amazing to me that several people on the Lafayette Square house tour stripped layers of lead paint off pocket doors, windows, stair cases, etc. That is truly a labour of love. A labour that makes St. Louis a very, very special place. Cheers to all you tasteful rehabbers out there. I am truly inspired.

Lost Garage Epidemic

3 of my favorite neighborhoods, Shaw, Tower Grove East and Tower Grove South have many, many properties without garages. The foundations appear to be there, even remnants of walls and other various structures exist. But, I've got to wonder: what happened to all the garages in Shaw and TGE?

What do you think it would run to build a new garage? Has anyone out there done this, either themselves or contracted it out?

Bragging Time Part 1

Among other St. Louis blogs, I read urbanstl daily. I find it one of the best sources of local news and entertainment. They have an unwritten rule that I don't agree with however. The rule is that you cannot compare St. Louis to other cities. And, while I completely understand this rule is an effort to keep things constructive and not just too negative. However, I think comparing St. Louis to other cities is an important thing to do. My reason? Because I'm of the staunch opinion that St. Louis is the best city in the region and is much cooler than many other American cities. It's okay to brag STL-lovers! I like to hear people talk about why STL is unique to other places, for better and for worse. I love agreeing with the pros and trying to debunk the cons (not always successfully). I want to encourage the comparison of STL to other places on this site and in general. I think it would elevate our sense of pride. This is great place to live, work and play, and most people in the metro region don't even know it, or at least underestimate it.

That being said, I don't think most St. Louisians are good at bragging. On one hand, it's a strength. We are a humble bunch, as I think many Midwesterners are. Bragging doesn't come as easy for us as say a New Yorker, Chicagoan, San Franciscan, Portlander. We're not on an oceanic coast, we don't have mountains, we're not a cosmopolitan "shopping city", we're not a huge metropolis, we're not Cub fans. BUT, we are THE coolest city within a 4 hour drive (maybe 5, maybe 8).

As a whole, I don't think we could collectively be accused of being elitists or even proud for that matter. And here lies one of the problems for our region. However, I am proud. I love St. Louis. I think we're better than any city within a 4 hour drive from here.

I want St. Louis to be the bee's knees. I am firmly convinced that St. Louis is the best city within a 250 mile radius. Hell, it might even be in the top 10 in the country. That's why I like seeing those white and black "CITY" stickers. I like that people are proud of their city. Ever seen a boastful "Ellisville", "Warson Woods", "Marlborough" or "Champ" sticker? Didn't think so. Is that because those cities suck? Or, is it because they have no identity? Not sure, I just wish we had more regional pride. And maybe a merge would lead to more regional pride and unity.

Is that too provocative? I am trying to stir the pot a bit and let anyone who comes across this site know that I am up for hearing all comparisons of St. Louis to other cities in the region, Midwest or country as a whole.

I am pleased to read of Mayor Slay's recent mention of consolidation of services/govts. with the city and suburbs. I am shocked at how many opinions out there think the county would be doing us a favor by merging. Huh? I know the recent discussion is more around service consolidation than expanding the cities borders. But, if that was the case and we absorbed some county municipalities, we'd be doing them a favor. We'd allow them to identify with our heritage, cultural institutions, history, momentum, potential, namesake, world wide identity, etc. I think the county needs more of an identity. For instance, I like that Webster Groves and Kirkwood have a HS football rivalry. I like that they extend that rivalry to include a city to city rivalry. I think both of those cities are decent and nice. I wish more of our neighbors liked and were proud of their cities.

I don't think Rockwood will ever have a great rivalry with Parkway because few identify those schools with a city.

Let me get back to my bragging, though...

Let's get this straight: St. Louis is the best city in the metropolitan region hands down. I'm willing to hear all arguments to the contrary that pits a specific metropolitan city vs. St. Louis. Which city has more potential to be a world class city? St. Louis or a consolidation of 91 municipalities in the county? St. Louis.

What does St. Charles have on St. Louis? How about Chesterfield, Wildwood, Crestwood, Belleville, O'Fallon, Edwardsville, Columbia, Creve Coeur? I want to know, I really do.

Then to take it a step further, what does Nashville, Kansas City, Louisville, Memphis, Indianapolis, Springfield have on St. Louis.

I am willing to have a civil debate and compare St. Louis to any city, large or small in the region or outside of the region. Which city is better than St. Louis and why? Why is St. Louis better than other cities? Now is your chance, any takers?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Crime Beef #2: Fight or Flight

Here's a common city story I've heard recounted on several occasions: a person used to live in St. Louis or any other big city for that matter. They say they had to leave because the crime just got too bad. They would have loved to stay. Everything they liked to do was so close and affordable. They loved the house, the neighborhood had such on and so on.

Here's how I read that story: You compromised and ran (cut & run). You quit. You lost. You gave up the neighborhood to thugs. You let them take over. You were a visitor. You are part of the problem. You perpetuate and tolerate violence, crime and rude citizen behavior by allowing it to intimidate you, scare you and eventually make you disinvest yourself from the city. Strong words, yes. But:

If you love something, you've got to fight for it. City people in 2009 seem to love their homes, neighborhoods and city. I vow to always fight for my neighborhood. If there are nuisance neighbors or thugs roaming in your neck of the woods, call the cops. Confront them yourself. Make it known that they don't belong. City people love their neighborhoods and put up with things many in the burbs don't deal with. That means we are willing to fight for them and keep them and improve them. Make them places where all people can succeed and pursue their personal dreams. Don't pull a baby-boomer and run for the hills. Pull a Gen-X, Gen-Y and call bullshit on thugs and thieves. Don't be scared of people who are different looking, or posturing, or lurking. Do be scared of people who are threatening to our peaceful, active existence. Take action against them.

I hope I don't come across as a tough guy, or a conservative, gun-happy hypocrite. We've been victims of crime here, no doubt. Minor crime in the big picture, but we still followed through with them with the police and NSOs and aldermen. If my wife or I were ever mugged, personally accosted, or worse, I know what she'd do, I think I know what I'd do. We'd surrender in the moment to save our souls and lives. I'm not a conceal and carry kind of guy, I'll give it up. But look out on the rebound. I will fight. I won't run. I will cry out and try to take the thugs down systematically and collectively.

Call me a wuss, I don't care. I'll give it up to avoid confrontation. My wealth does not lie in my pockets. You can have anything on me. However, I won't run. That's the true loser. There are many who have chosen to run in our history. Many of them are residing in the suburbs of the region. Many hate or fear the city because they ran, they don't get it. I'm kind of glad they're gone. Now the city is ours. Let's keep it and grow it. Stay and fight for this place, it's worth it.

Go Blues! Vancouver can fall. We are strong and have momentum. Fear the underdog.

Let's Go Blues!



How about a third tonight?

This hockey team is the most fun, likable team I've witnessed in STL since the 1982 Cardinals.

**in my haste and excitement, I forgot about the 1999 Rams, they were pretty likable too.**
Thanks to John M. for pointing this out...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Positive Press for the City...can it be?

I caught a story on Channel 4's local newscast last night. Larry Conners is running a series called "Good News 4 A Change". I commend him and KMOV for attempting something positive and informative. For whatever reason, I am suspect of big local media such as T.V. and the Post. Maybe I'm overly defensive, but I think the Post and newscasts seem to be pretty negative on STL.

So, I'm happy to see Larry Conners attempting to shed some positive light. Last night he did a story on the residential increases downtown. He interviewed a young family raising a newborn in a rental loft. The woman interviewed was bright, intelligent and optimistic about city living. She mentioned all the things that I like to hear about the city. She got rid of her car, is saving money and time (~$400/month), likes the atmosphere, she isn't scared by the schools and intends to raise their child in the city. Well done! You can email your story ideas to Larry on the website. Maybe they should do a story on the fantastic network of online discussions and blogs related to city living??? Maybe a story on urban gardening??? Any other ideas???

Let's keep the momentum of STL positivity going in the mainstream media.

I would like to see the airwaves and local publications teeming with positive stories on city living. I would like to view more local reporters as advocates to the city, as opposed to ambulance chasers.

Another positive sign: last weekend, KSDK did a story on the Post Office Plaza and interviewed not only the obvious players like Slay and Jim Cloar, but also gave Steve Patterson a spot in the story.

And then I read this story by Jake Wagman on city restaurant, Pi, heading to the White House to make pizza for the prez. Awesome!

So, if you are like me and want to see more positive stuff on the news relating to STL, email the local media with your story. Let's show the region that STL is the place to be: a city with an identity and sense of place. The best city in the region....hands down.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A non-meathead, non-suburban style, non-generic sportsbar

I don't frequent a particular bar, or bars in general for that matter. I've got 3 kids under 8, so you can catch my drift. But I like to drink and watch the occasional game. I have been totally into the Blues for the last 4 months or so. They are rarely on Channel 11, so I want to go somewhere and watch a game and be able to carry on a conversation.

Being in Boulevard Heights, I want to go somewhere close. I go to Garavaglia's Hilltop Inn for Cards games every now and again because I like the atmosphere (reminds me of my beloved hometown of Belleville, IL)....but I don't like Bud/Bud Light, their only drafts.

A friend who lives in Princeton Heights called me up on the spur of the moment to watch the Calgary game last weekend and I said sure. He said I should pick the place. I was on the spot....where can I get a decent beer (Guinness, Schlafly, New Castle) that has nice big TVs and is a civilized environment for guys in their 30's who just want to watch the game and be able to converse?

I googled sports bars in St. Louis. Of course, 90% of the hits were not even in St. Louis. However, there was a glowing review for Barney's on Chippewa and Hampton. Perfect: lots of TVs, nice staff, serviceable pub food, close to home. We gave it a try. Don't believe what you read: It sucks!!!!! There was ridiculous contemporary country music and what I'll call idiot calculated suburban rage music BLASTING over the sound system. They did put the Blues game on and had Guinness in cans, but it was not the place to fit my needs. Left and went to the Ugly Fish Tavern on Meramec. I drive by here all the time. This would have been the perfect place but it was PACKED with tons of people and loud. I'm not complaining, I was happy to see the bar hopping, it's just I'm looking for a place a little more subdued.

So I'll ask the general public, where is a good non-chain place near the south side that has:
  • decent TVs
  • noise levels low enough to hear the commentary
  • good beer
  • decent food
  • low meat-head quota
  • friendly service/welcoming atmosphere

Crime Beef

Here's a link to a courtroom story from one of my favorite local writers:

Reasonable Doubt

Aside from this being a fantastic account of our awe inspiring judicial/jury process, I am struck by the comment from the character 'Ms. Straightened Hair':

"Ms. Straightened Hair shifted in her seat. You know, if they'd put the resources into just a few a month to get a solid conviction a lot of this nonsense would stop. I live on the North Side, I wish they'd just do it a few times."

How true. Police and investigators have a lot of room for improvement in this town.

I have never been selected to sit on a jury, nor have I even been interviewed by the prosecutors or defense. But if I do, I hope I have the clairvoyant presence to think and act the way this jury did.