Friday, July 31, 2009

Post Dispatch: Joe Holleman's Best Movies of the 1990s

I don't know if it's just that I was in my 20's and free as a bird, but I loved the 1990's. They kicked the 80's and 00's ass as far as popular culture is concerned. Music, clothing, TV and finally movies seemed to be extremely creative and fresh. Remember when the Breeders, Dinosaur Jr., Beck, Meat Puppets, Son Volt, Flaming Lips were all played on popular radio and MTV? Many of their "hits" were consumed by the masses and helped contribute to the soundtrack of the time.

When it comes to movies from the 1990's I really like Joe Holleman's take in the PD. His top 10 are: Pulp Fiction, L.A. Confidential, Fight Club, Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, Unforgiven, The Truman Show, Saving Private Ryan, Silence Of The Lambs and Goodfellas.

If a Quintin Tarantino movie is not at least in your top 3, I'll dismiss all other opinions. Mr. Holleman really seems to get it right. Although, I've never seen the Truman Show. Even his best actress (Frances McDermott) and most overrated movie (Dances with Wolves) is right on. And although the Big Labowski is a geat choice for best comedy, I've always thought Office Space is underrated with the pundit crowd. To me it's as representative of the 90's as Big Labowski.

My only complaint? Where is Rushmore?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Delor Street Improvements?

Delor between Alfred and Gravois in the Bevo neighborhood is getting some work. This could be a good sign, as it appears they are putting in new sidewalks, and maybe trees or lights.I've always thought the city has done a terrible job of sprucing up this neighborhood for it's newest immigrant residents. When I first moved to the city, this was a completely different neighborhood. Closed businesses, shuttered storefronts, deteriorating homes, etc.

The neighborhood now is one of my favorites in the entire city. There are many, many great bars, restaurants, coffee shops, fruit/veggie stands, etc. The Bosnians, Serbs, Croats in this region have made it an urban, thriving, fun place.

The city should be selling this neighborhood. It should be marketed as little Sarajevo. Why aren't there flags, banners, commercials, ads to draw attention to this part of town? It is nearing destination status, just like the Hill.

One of my favorite things about Delor are the coffee bars that old Eastern European men frequent. They sit outside hunkered over an intense cup o joe looking surly and completely happy at the same time. I could see myself being one of those guys upon retirement.

Dubious Window Treatment

Su Sala Mexican Cafe and Restaurant was open for a very short period of time in SoHa/Princeton Heights. I only went once, but once was enough. Now, it appears someone, if not the same people are taking another stab at it with La Sala Bar and Grill.Will I give it a try? Yes
Do I wish them well in their business venture? Of course
Do I like what they've done with the windows? No
Is it annoying when guys ask themselves questions and then answer them? Yes

Wow, yikes.

Murdoch home-leveled

A rare thing occurred recently in the beautiful South Hampton neighborhood. A home was razed. This drew my attention simply because this is such a rare event in this prideful, well established, cared for neighborhood. I wanted to get some pictures of the house as it was being demolished, but it happened quicker than I could react.

But thanks to google street view, I was able to get an idea of what was there. A nice little home.

View Larger Map

Here's what the site looks like today:
Why would a house in one of the nicest neighborhoods in St. Louis be torn down? My gut told me the reason was parking or otherwise car related.

Well tonight I was lucky enough to run into a Murdoch resident as I was taking some photos to ask about the situation. She indicated that the previous owner of the home was very old and the house was more than she could maintain. The woman was approached by the owner of Eddie's Donuts, the grey building in the photo above. And the verdict thru window for the donut shop.

If this story is true, we just lost a habitable and/or rehab ready home in this stable neighborhood for a freaking drive thru.

These wrecking ball blues are still blue.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Wrecking Ball Blues

With the impending loss of the San Luis Apartments for a damn surface parking lot, the home on Kinshighway between Murdoch and Nottingham that is coming down, and countless others, I can't help but feel helpless and saddened by the crumbling structures that are erased from our landscape under dubious circumstances. I feel powerless as a citizen of St. Louis standing by on the sidelines and witnessing more of these structures fall. I don't want more surface parking lots. I don't want generic crap overlaid on the history and streets of St. Louis. Can't the powers that be see that these buildings are part of the fabric that keep people living here?

This is not progress. This is depressing. What can be done to stop this? I know there are like minded others out there, I'm just not connected. I feel like action is necessary to rethink the way the city green lights demolition for such short sighted goals as surface parking. I commend the efforts of the Friends of San Luis. These folks really tried hard, albeit maybe too late to fight the Arch Diocese lust for surface parking in the CWE.

I'm down on this one. The alderman, the church, the city, the judge, they all want more surface parking at any cost. Can't they see this is wrong?

I'm again reminded of the excellent Son Volt song "Way Down Watson" from the 1999 album Straightaways by local musician Jay Farrar :

"Put whiskey on the wounds

Salt the glass and say goodbye

No feel good scenes to bring you back

Just falling brick and broken glass

Wrecking-ball operator

Twenty years pulling the lever

And these windows shield the cold

From the weather of my soul

And feel the heart strings

Sinking fast

Another treasure found

Another tumbling down

I protect my ears and eyes

From the dust and noise

The word comes down to the bitter end

The diesel hums, the cycle spins

When we meet on that hard hat ground

Just a photograph, no one else around

Words to live by, just goes to show

Some day we all gotta go

And feel the heart strings
Sinking fast
Another treasure found
Another tumbling down"

That just about sums it up for me. I can't imagine being part of the team of people that green light the kind of destruction that destroys an old building for a surface parking lot. The lyrics above remind me of the Coral Courts or the Kingsland Cinema destruction.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Scooter Jones

Personal transportation should be fun and convenient. It's not affordable by any means, chance are, it's the second or third biggest line item in your budget. We pay in other obvious ways for the need for single occupant transit: the air we breath and the way we legislate and treat the built environment (see tons of surface parking lots in the city, and even more in the county). One thing's for sure: Americans love their personal vehicles, and the St. Louis region is no different. It doesn't take an astute eye to notice that EVERYBODY is commuting to work in a vehicle (usually fuel inefficient) by themselves. We love our cars. Look at how we choose to spend huge amounts of money on something that depreciates and costs even more money to maintain/operate. We work hard for this choice of expensive personal travel. I'm not here to judge, I'm just like you...stuck in the car funk. But until a couple years ago I never considered any options to the mundane commuting that I felt was part of being a working stiff.
Still, for me personally, this auto investment I have to make sucks. I don't even enjoy the amount of money I'm spending. I have no personal vanity in my car choices, nor do I view vehicles as a status symbol, so I don't have that working for me. I can see that there are people out there who just love driving their Jeep, or their Mini or their Lexus. I'm just not that guy. Commuting and driving around town just is not fun for me. Quite frankly, driving stresses me out.

Until.........I bought my first scooter.

Scooters are inexpensive to own and operate. They keep up with city traffic amazingly well, they are highly maneuverable, you can park them just about anywhere; but, first and foremost: it is a blast to ride! The best way to improve my stress levels and personal satisfaction has been owning a scooter. Commutes are now fun. Bad day at work? You've always got that scooter ride awaiting as the close of business. Kids driving you nuts? Take a quick spin to free your mind. Can't find a parking space? Park on the sidewalk or at a bike rack. How does and average of 75 mpg sound on a 125cc ride that goes up to 50 mph?

If you are feel like you are in a rut, and there's no escaping the banality of the workaday commute, take a chance and buy a cheap, used scooter. Plan an alternate route devoid of interstate highways, and ride on.

It's easy to do.

I'd never ridden a 2 wheeled motorized vehicle at any point in my life prior to purchasing a scooter ~4 years ago. I thought I'd start slow with something lightweight and simple to operate. A twist and go 49cc Honda Metropolitan was my choice. I ended up buying this simply because I got a great deal on craigslist. I really wanted a Yamaha C3, but there were way more used Honda's on the market at the time.

I got my sea legs and next thing you know, I'm hooked. If you are looking for an entry level bike to get started, this one may be tops. Cheap, reliable, ~90 mpg, goes 35 mph, is designed well and of course a lot of fun.

I wanted to go a little faster though after awhile. I wanted the ability to ride two. I wanted something that would not bog down on steep hills. Back to craigslist for an upgrade. This time I chose a Yamaha Vino 125cc. This one gets ~75 mpg on average (I'm hard on the acceleration), is still twist and go (no shifting) and goes 50 mph. It's not designed as well, nor as smooth as the Honda, but it's even more fun.

My confidence is up to 50 mpg now. Now it's time to lock into the perfect scooter for me. I'm saving up for an Aprilia Scarabeo, or the coolest of all, a Genuine Stella. Take a look, these are some sweet rides.

The Aprilia has larger tire, more akin to a motorcycle. I think this would provide a smoother ride over the bumps and potholes of a typical city ride.
And then there's the stylish Stella:

Trust me friends, there is no commute more fun than a scooter/motorcycle commute. Economical, cheap to maintain/operate, easier to park, you simply can't go wrong.

A conversation between Beck and Tom Waits

Here is a fascinating conversation between 2 of my favorite musicians.

You can tell both really enjoy the weirdness of Los Angeles.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Daydreams #376-379

#376 It's easy to feel down about St. Louis when it comes to the mindless demolition of beautiful old buildings. Count your blessings, at least we have beautiful old building and people that care about them. If you live in Ballwin, no one cares and there's nothing historic or worth caring about.

#377 I never have a lack of new places to visit and restaurants to try in St. Louis. Last weekend I rode the Riverfront Trail for the first time. This weekend, I'll be enjoying Live on the Levee for the first time. Both are free.

#378 I didn't think we'd have this much trouble selling our home. Statistically we live in the safest neighborhood in the city. It's on a quiet street with a park and paved bike path across the street. It has a lot of sqft for a reasonable price. Brand new kitchen and bath. Check it out if you are in the market.

#379 University City, Maplewood and Clayton are all very livable suburbs. I wish they could be annexed by St. Louis.

Raising Kids in the City

My parental philosophy is to try and expose my kids to as much as I possibly can. I am not very interested in handing down my personal traditions or religious beliefs (or, disbeliefs), political opinions, etc to my kids. I want them to get a view of a cross section of different living styles, personal beliefs, religions, ethnic traditions and beliefs. I want them to know there are 2 sides to every coin and 2 sides to every intelligent debate. There are rich people and poor people in America. There are the haves and the have nots. I want them to live among and be able to relate to both. I want this diversity to be experienced in their schools and their neighborhood and their city in general. I want them to grow up having lived in and grown up in a place that has place...and purpose and is vibrant and welcomes people of all kinds. I want them to be exposed, not shut off and sheltered from the realities, both good and bad that middle America offers.

I want them to know that living in the city does not mean a compromise of all things rural. We live in a big city and get all the benefits of the big city: arts, diversity, sports, music, food, density, history. We also have a myriad of community gardens for raising fresh, delicious fruits and vegetables, a myriad of trails for walking/biking and we are an hours drive from the spoils of agriculture, small town America (see Millstadt, IL and Washington, MO), and vast forests.

St. Louis is a great place to raise a family.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Metrolink Etiquette

I've been riding the Metrolink daily now for several months. It's a great place to people watch. Getting on at the Shrewsbury stop in the morning is a rather regimented commute. People almost have assigned seats. Since Shrewsbury is the final stop on the blue line, the train is always empty, so you almost always get your own seat. By that I mean, no one sitting next to you.

However, the ride home from Clayton to Shrewsbury is really busy having picked up scads of DT workers. So what is the proper male etiquette on public transportation? When you board the train, do you:

snag the first seat available?

hesitate to see if others will occupy the few remaining seats before you?

stand and hold on to the rails, deferring the few remaining seats to others?

offer the seat to the elderly first?

offer the seat to women first? Is that outdated?

I discovered another public transportation etiquette tidbit when we were researching a trip to NYC. Many of the books we read about the subways said, board the subway quickly and make way to the center of the car when crowded. It also says New Yorkers notoriously don't make eye contact with other riders. WTF? If I was paying the crazy bucks to live in NYC, I'd be people watching like a mofo. That's one of the coolest things about NYC, the mix of people.

STL is a stark contrast. People are talking and having conversations on the train. So many riders during the rush hour are regulars and they've come to know each other in many cases. The trains are at times very loud with people talking. I like that. STL is personable, it's citizens are not faceless and socially removed like many bigger cities. I like the vibe.

What are your experiences on STL public transit compared to other cities?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Regional Microbrewery

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Revisting the Georgian

I've said it myself and I've heard many others say how creepy abandoned hospitals are. Maybe it's the countless hours I've logged playing Silent Hill.

Maybe it's the thought of the proliferation of transorbital lobotomies in the 1940s. Maybe it's the thought of cholera and tuberculosis patients cramming the beds and halls; the windowless rooms packed with mental patients. Probably a sum of all of the above. Maybe it's the overall mojo and the history. Whatever it is, the site of the former City Hospital, now Georgian condos at 14th and Lafayette, conjured up scary images of the past. And when my wife and I visited the Georgian a couple years ago, we had these images in the backs of our minds. This place had been out of service as a hospital since 1987. It was sitting vacant for nearly 20 years. It had a sordid had to be haunted and ominous.

However, the site has and continues to evolve. And after looking into the history of the site, the current condos in the Georgian revival style building were in fact merely the administrative building:

So the creepy stuff I mentioned before probably didn't take place in the admin. building. The psych ward was in Malcolm Bliss.

Anyhow, the site has changed drastically over the years, and especially since 2002 when the 1947 addition and Malcolm Bliss were demolished.So where does this site stand today? The first phase of redevelopment is nearly completed. A new building was constructed on the site, by the power plant and laundry building. A catering business occupies this space.

The power plant building is being renovated.

I'd find a place for the old ?boiler? and crane mechanism in the redesign of the space...a good reminder of the building's history.The former laundry building is now the Palladium, a beautiful events hall.

This site is becoming useful again and finding new life. I can't wait to see what tenants occupy the former power building. I hope they add more residential to the renovation of the remaining buildings. We need all the residents we can get to support the businesses in this part of town.

How'd you like to have this as the front door to your abode?

Here are my favorite 2 buildings on the site. I believe the first is the stable/ambulance garage and the second is the commissioner's building:

What a nice addition to an increasing beautiful part of town.
Lots of opportunities still abound.

In speaking to a couple residents of the Georgian and Lafayette Square, folks are excited about the Walgreens going in across the street. On a separate note, I really like the new red helicopter looking sculpture on the Interstate ramps at the south end of Lafayette Square. The former pieces, never looked big enough to me. They now look FANTASTIC in the new citygarden downtown.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Can you love a strip mall?

My commutes through St. Louis County are a constant reminder of why I choose to live, shop, play and raise a family in the city. I loath strip malls, especially contemporary ones. I can't think of anything uglier than the unending chain of fast food restaurants and half empty strip malls that dot Manchester, Olive, Clarkson and many of the other main streets heading west out of St. Louis.

However, I might be a hypocrite. I frequent the strip mall at Hampton Village at Hampton and Chippewa in southwest St. Louis. There is a sea of parking, and a hideous McDonalds on the property. But, something seems different and more tolerable at this shopping center. It's less offensive than the oodles of strip malls in the burbs. Am I just being a homer? Do I have my city goggles on?

Why do I go here in the first place? The Schnucks in clean and they play classical music over the speakers. I don't even like classical music, but for some reason it calms me. I like the high ceiling in the produce and deli area. I also like the seafood dept here. The Emperor's Wok is a guilty pleasure. When it's time to get my MSG on at the Americanized Chinese buffet, this is my choice (mmm steamed mussels), and my kids like the ice cream machine. JC Penny's. I like this department store. Ever since Value City closed in Crestwood, this is where I get my office/work clothes. It's got a lot of useful stuff packed into the 2 floors, and they have some great change of season sales. It's way less offensive than going to the typical suburban mall. My dentist is here. The shoe shop is useful, I like me a seafood grinder at Bellacino's, my kids love sitting at "the bar" in the Noodle Co.

But why is this place any different than the strip malls in Generica? Maybe it's the history.

Hampton Village was developed in 1939 and according to the above source is probably one of the oldest in Missouri. It may have been one of the first auto-centric strip malls west of the Mississippi. Original developer Harold Brinkop was a wise man, he saw the writing on the wall when it came to the personal automobile. By the 1940's it housed one of the city's 1st supermarkets with 20 stalls leased to farmers and merchants. By the 1950's the place was so successful, they added the medical building and the JC Penny's. They tried to incorporate the Colonial feel of the neighborhood at the time.

This strip mall has stood the test of time, and the occupancy rate still appears to be very high. So is this strip mall any different than it's more contemporary counterparts in the county? Maybe the fact that it actually has a history, and I can conceptualize this in my sentimental mind when I go to the shopping center, I can justify this as place worth appreciating.

So it begs the question. Where do you stand on modern, auto centric structures when it comes to historical preservation? The San Luis debate that has raged on in the CWE has me questioning my opinions on the merit of this age as it relates to the much older buildings/places in the city. Maybe Hampton Village should be considered for the national registration of historic places. If nothing else, to chronical the history of the automobiles impact on the outer limits of the city. Heck, if a freaking reproduction boat built in 1969 in St. Charles can be listed as a landmark, why not Hampton Village. If this site is considered a landmark, or historic in nature, does that somehow cheapen the overall landmark status? Will the county strip malls follow suit in 30 years?

Will there come a time when future generations fight to "save" the autocentric strip malls of the current day?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

3 is the magic number

First Sonic Youth on 7/17/09 @ Live on the Levee
Then the Breeders on 8/7/09 @ Duck Room
Then Dinosaur Jr. on 10/14/09 @ the Pageant

All my favorite rock bands have gray hair....

But the above have aged well.