Sunday, December 20, 2015

Street Trees And Re-establishing An Urban Canopy

In part one of my posts related to curb appeal and environmental sustainability, I discussed a "Milkweed for Monarchs" project undertaken by the Fox Park Neighborhood Association in 2015.

In this post, I will share my personal connection to a street tree project recently completed in the same neighborhood. I joined the Fox Park Neighborhood Association for a one year term through 2015. The board was looking for projects to bring to the general membership that would benefit the neighborhood in a meaningful way.  Several proposals were weighed including the median project mentioned previously, a sidewalk replacement project and finally a street tree replacement project.

The neighborhood had been seeking upgrades to the medians for years, so that was a no-brainer. The other two options took some research.

It started with some simple observations of the neighborhood.  Walking the streets and auditing the sidewalk situation and the largest contiguous stretches of streets without trees.  The sidewalks were ruled out after receiving a couple cost prohibitive bids, so we focused on street trees.

Why are trees an asset to the neighborhood?  Well, the benefits to the public, property owner and pedestrian along the sidewalk are indisputable and well documented.  One of my favorite reads on the subject is from Dan Burden's "22 Benefits of Urban Street Trees" published in 2006.  Burden is a Senior Urban Designer at Glatting-Jackson Architectural and Design Firm in collaboration with Walkable Coummunities, Inc.

In short, here's the list of 22 reasons urban street are a benefit to any city:
  1. Reduced and more appropriate urban traffic speeds. 
  2. Create safer walking environments
  3. Trees call for placemaking planting strips and medians,
  4. Increased security
  5. Improved business
  6. Less drainage infrastructure.
  7. Rain, sun, heat and skin protection
  8. Reduced harm from tailpipe emissions
  9. Gas transformation efficiency
  10. Lower urban air temperatures
  11. Lower ozone
  12. Convert streets, parking and walls into more aesthetically pleasing environments
  13. Soften and screen necessary street features such as utility poles, light poles and other needed street furniture
  14. Reduced blood pressure, improved overall emotional and psychological health
  15. Time in travel perception
  16. Reduced road rage
  17. Improved operations potential
  18. Added value to adjacent homes, businesses and tax base
  19. Provides a lawn for a splash and spray zone, storage of snow, driveway elevation transition and more
  20. Filtering and screening agent
  21. Longer pavement life
  22. Connection to nature and the human senses
Pretty impressive, eh...there is something on that list for everyone from the environmentalist to the staunch libertarian.  As I said, these benefits are pretty universal and many are backed by empirical data vs. subjective or academic reasoning, which adds to the rock solid line of evidence that street trees are a benefit to all.

Take for instance #6:
"Trees absorb the first 30% of most precipitation through their leaf system, allowing evaporation back into the atmosphere. This moisture never hits the ground. Another percentage (up to 30%) of precipitation is absorbed back into the ground and taken in and held onto by the root structure, then absorbed and then transpired back to the air. Some of this water also naturally percolates into the ground water and aquifer. Storm water runoff and flooding potential to urban properties is therefore reduced."
You can read up on all 22 reasons HERE.

Anyhow, here is how we went about our project. Each year the various wards throughout the city are allotted funds that can be spent largely at the discretion of the elected alderperson. In our case, we have a great working relationship with the alderperson, Christine Ingrassia, and she helped fund a street tree audit of the city's sixth ward. This will go a long way in understanding where to invest in trees in the future. We asked Ingrassia to help us navigate the system and make contact with the correct departments in the city.

For this particular project, the neighborhood association had some funds saved up from various fund raising campaigns and we wanted to show our commitment to getting Fox Park back in the tree game by making a purchase of trees directly from our organization's treasury.

Next we had to do some homework to bring a plan to the Board and then to the general membership for a vote.

We started by investigating available species. We went to the Missouri Botanical Garden's wonderful website to select species that are low maintenance, drought resistant and have low pedestrian trip-causing debris (e.g., acorns, gumballs)

We narrowed it down to three species including the ginko, Freeman maple and blackgum. Ginko's were voted down on the off chance that female trees (you only order males) could find their way into the supply chain and females produce the butyric acid-laden fruits which are quite foul smelling (that doesn't stop my dog from eating them like Skittles).

So we set a meeting with the city's Forestry Department to share our intentions and develop a game-plan to help us identify the species, associated cost, locations within the neighborhood and the logistics of ordering the trees and getting them planted.  So, our alderperson, the head of Forestry, the Urban Forester and two other certified arborists on staff were kind enough to sit down with us in April and talk trees and help plot out our path. We had the following questions:

1. species availability
2. height and trunk diameter available
3. planting instructions/location suggestions within Fox Park
4  what is needed from us?
5. next steps and other feedback from forestry

Turns out the arborists liked our choices for species and said either would work. We decided upon the blackgum as it is a hearty native that does well in clay soils and has colorful fall foliage and  has very little debris.

Blackgum:  Nyssa sylvatica 

Per the Missouri Botanical Garden, blackgum are a "plant of merit" and categorized as low maintenance and "tried and trouble-free".  The species selection was a go.

Forestry explained the process. They would be responsible for:
  • site assessment
  • recommendations for any box cuts (taking a saw and cutting ~6 inches off the sidewalks) to create more space for the tree
  • receiving and holding the trees from the nursery until time for planting in late 2015
  • planting
The cost for each 2-2.5 inch diameter tree was $140.00, all above labor included.

Forestry agreed to send out a staff arborist to help us identify ideal planting locations.

Now that we had an understanding of the process and associated costs, we took the details back to the board who agreed to propose the purchase of 20 trees to the neighborhood's general membership for a vote.

We then took the plan to a neighborhood meeting for a vote. The general membership voted unanimously in support of the project.

We were on our way.

In July, on what must have been one of the hottest days of the year, we met with one of the city's arborists to walk the neighborhood and select some good sites.

There was some heavy construction throughout some parts of the neighborhood, including Oregon Street and Magnolia Avenue, so we avoided those areas.  We also had to avoid some obvious obstacles such as utility lines.

We expresses an interest in having this first planting be in a high profile, high traffic zone. We wanted a large contiguous stretch that currently had NO trees to help make the biggest impact of a planting. The 2700 block of Russell Boulevard immediately came to mind as this is likely one of the most traveled east-west corridors in Fox Park.

Dan the arborist made his recommendations, a small group of board members concurred and we marked twenty planting sites with orange spray paint for the next step in the process: box cuts.

Depending on the width of ground between the street and the sidewalk, cutting the sidewalk could be necessary to give the trees enough space to grow.

This work was carried out by the city:

Then, we just had to wait for the weather to cool off, typically around October or November.

Well I was lucky enough to be on Russell and Ohio the day the Forestry Dept. workers delivered our trees to get some photos and thank the guys that did the truly hard work...the digging.

Here's the result of their hard work and the dedication and support of our local alderperson and neighborhood association.

Hopefully the neighborhood has shown that we are committed to reaping the benefits that urban street trees provide and we'll see the next generation of neighborhood leadership continue this worthy pursuit.

And if you were one of the lucky neighbors to have a tree planted in front of your abode, please consider helping establish these beauties by providing plenty of water.

Cheers, Fox Park! You are better looking and healthier today than you were a year ago.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Why I Think A Second NFL Stadium Is Bad For St. Louis

With a pending vote by the Board of Alderman on whether to fund the construction of a second NFL stadium in the city, I wanted to cobble together my thoughts here at the last minute as to why I think this is a bum deal for residents of St. Louis. I usually keep my mouth shut as it is endlessly frustrating to constantly disagree with decisions that local leadership make. I find myself in the minority when it comes to what we need and what is considered progress. Why even bother? Maybe a Hail Mary pass is in order; whatever, this time it feels like the vote could be close enough to reject this public money going to billionaires. Maybe people need to speak up more...who knows.  I don't think the state has much appetite to fund this stadium either, so who knows what could happen.

Either way, it'll be interesting to watch these next few days play out.

Before I share my thoughts I want to make some things perfectly clear:

I'm not anti-football. I love all sports from the Olympics to the NFL. Just like the arts, sports are a spectacle of human accomplishment, and I don't discount its beauty, history or place in society. I am not sitting on a high horse on this one. 

Secondly, I respect people who work for the Rams and those who think St. Louis needs a team. I disagree with them on the stadium issue as you'll see below, but I will listen and I feel no malice toward anyone on the opposite side of the argument...but, we've been down this path before with the Dome. And you can see where that got us.

Thirdly, I do not seek to point out differences between St. Louis and the many cities in the suburbs to perpetuate the divisiveness that exists in this region. In fact, if I were voting on it, I'd go for a full merge of the county and the city a la Kansas City, Louisville or Indianapolis so we can all act like one big region and voting/taxing block as opposed to 100 different cities all building walls and tiny empires and acting selfishly.  But, I know that won't happen anytime soon and therefore when I speak about our region, I am using facts based on tax bases, electorates and boundary lines that do indeed divide us up into cities which are distinctly separate from each other by all measures. At times these boundaries must be considered if you are to realistically break down the situation.  Think Ferguson after the Michael Brown events; the world became very clear that St. Louis and Ferguson are different if every conceivable measure other than proximity: different voters, different police departments, different set of problems, different way of raising tax money. I don't mean to come across like I hate the suburbs because I don't; I'm fully aware of the charm and pressures of suburban living. My hometown is one of those suburbs albeit on the Illinois side.

Finally, I'm not anti-tax subsidy where it makes sense for the majority of residents. If the return is there and it helps create a more functioning city that attracts decent jobs and more people and solid funding for schools and everything else a city has to offer, then it's worth it. 

So that said, here's why I think spending public money on a second NFL stadium is bad for St. Louis:

1. We already have a perfectly good stadium that was built in 1995. It is only 20 years old and functions perfectly as a football stadium. Trust me, people LOVED the Dome when Warner, Faulk, Pace, Zahir-Hakim, Holt and Bruce made magic there. It was insanely hard for the opposing team to hear and the place was electric...and I'm saying that as a baseball was the hottest ticket in town. NFL football was insanely entertaining and people came to the Dome in droves. Furthermore, the Dome provides multiple stadium configurations that can seat up to 70,000 people. Seating levels include: a private luxury suite level with 120 suites, a private club seat and luxury suite level with 6,400 club seats, a concourse level (lower bowl) and terrace level (upper bowl). The city leaders in the 1990s negotiated a bum deal that put the city on the hook for upgrades that couldn't realistically be met. The Rams ownership used this stipulation in the contract to demand crazy terms and unrealistic upgrades. We don't have that money. So a group of suburbanites chose to draw up plans for a second NFL stadium, not in their city of residence, rather within walking distance from the current one. The Dome is perfectly fine and will hold more fans than the proposed stadium. Instead of realizing the city is under true pressure financially, the Rams chose to gouge us on the Dome vs. work with us.

2. I don't know for sure but I don't think Dave Peacock, the leader behind the new stadium plan, is a resident of St. Louis. Per wikipedia, he was born in the small town of Webster Groves, just outside the city limits of St. Louis, I presume he doesn't live here now. I know there are eyes rolling after reading this.  But when the chips fall and tax dollars and electorates come into play, city boundaries become crystal clear and accuracy and facts must trump "feelgood regionalism".  This will become important in point #8 below. Peacock is however an investor in local startup LockerDome which does have a St. Louis office, so props are given there.  But yet again, we have outsiders who can't vote here and don't care about our schools, streets, alleys, parks, street lights, sidewalks, police/fire pensions, etc.  Those things are paid by taxes and voted on by residents. Some will cite Peacock as a leader and a savior of St. Louis. It's hard to canonize someone with that title when they aren't a true resident with skin in the game. You want to spend our tax dollars? Come live hear and send your kids to our schools and drive down our alleys and visit our firehouses to see what we really need. I imagine those things look very different in Webster. I think leadership needs to come from within. It's always easier to spend someone else's money.

3. The Rams are not a good franchise. Their owner's net worth is $7.6 billion per Forbes, 2015. That means he is the 62nd richest person in the richest country in the world. If anyone can afford a football stadium it is this guy. He is a horrible leader, non-existent to the fans and frankly people can't stand this guy. He is so shrewd and driven by $ that he has no face or personality that you can latch onto and support.  If we are going to pony up tax dollars to help a billionaire make more money, we should have it be a lovable leader. Isn't that one of the pluses of sports? Communal love for a team? The Rams are not that team. They are horrible and people have not gotten behind them in recent years for this reason as much as the deplorable level of play/coaching. I went to the Pittsburgh game this year and walked past the hard core tailgaters just north of the Dome and saw this effigy of Kroenke:

4. Some will say that St. Louis needs to be relevant and being an NFL city is part of that relevency.  Well, you have to take a look at the numbers to understand that being an "NFL city" hasn't translated into much success for St. Louis. A vibrant city means lots of people and lots of jobs...wealth.  St. Louis has neither and it continues to drop precipitously; I'll elaborate on this point in reason #5. Now remember, when I say St. Louis I mean it literally as in, the City of St. Louis. There is no doubt in my mind the County benefits more from the Rams than St. Louis does.  Why? Because the Rams chose to locate their corporate HQ in the suburbs in Earth City, MO avoiding property taxes and job creation in the city. So the Rams leaving St. Louis for Maryland Heights or Earth City or Carson or Inglewood have the same impact on our tax base...I suggest moving the team to the suburbs so you don't eradicate our architecture further and build another deadzone on the door step of our city. I realize the Rams do pay gameday earnings taxes, so that would go away if the Rams played their game in the burbs or California.

5. Speaking of people leaving St. Louis, let's see how we've done since we became an "NFL City", first from 1960-1987 with my childhood team the Big Red and then again with the Rams starting in 1995. So, when the Cardinals first started playing in St. Louis in 1960 the Census counted 750,026 residents. Since becoming an "NFL City" in 1960 and the Cards eventual move to Arizona in 1987, we lost 353,341 people and by 1990 we were down to 396,685 tax payers, citizens, know St. Louisans. Sure this brutal loss was not the direct result of the Cardiac Cards or NFL or pro sports in general. But the point I'm trying to make is that NFL football and the 2nd Busch Stadium (that is now bulldozed) did nothing to "save St. Louis" and it was active ~100 days per year since the baseball and football Cardinals played there. People vote with their feet and they continue to do that to this day in St. Louis...I wish it weren't that way, but it is. In fact, since the Rams moved from Southern California to St. Louis in 1995, we lost another 58,000 residents. We are down to a paltry 317,419 people in a once powerful, dense city of >800,000. NFL football has done nothing for the city of St. Louis. No one who moves to Kirkwood, MO or Maplewood, MO or O'Fallon, IL citing average game-day experience at the Dome as their reason for leaving St. Louis for suburban pastures.

6. St. Louis, as a result of devastating population loss, has become poor. Per our comptroller, our credit rating is at risk of being downgraded and our tax dollars continue to disappear as the region's largest corporations double down in the suburbs and former great employers/tax payers like AB send high paying jobs to cities with direct flights and better global access (read NYC and Chicago). The median income in the suburban county immediately west of St. Louis, called St. Louis County has ~90 cities and vast swaths of unincorporated land has a pleasant median household income of $53,482. Break that down to a city that most, if not all people know, say Kirkwood and you get a median household income of $77,420. St. Charles County, one of the fastest growing cities in the next county to the west is at $56,622. The U.S. median household income is $53,891. Where does St. Louis stand? $34,800 (source). Friends, we are poor and the last thing we need to be using our dwindling tax dollars on is a second NFL stadium and a team with a horrible owner.

7. The new stadium will not generate property taxes. Do you know why people continue to leave St. Louis? The answers I hear are crime or schools. Do you know how those are funded? Racism is the third reason, but it tends to get buried in the crime or schools reasons, so you won't hear many people say that out loud. But it is there. This is a bad financial deal for the city, generating little to no money to go back to our schools, infrastructure and bills that we have to pay.

8. St. Louis was asked to go it alone, without the financial help of the wealthier suburbs chipping in. Only St. Louis was asked to pony up at the local level for this $1 billion stadium. Again, I don't make these distinctions about our region to pull us apart and point fingers. But the fact of the matter is the County Executive (kind of like the Mayor of the suburbs) did not want to fund the stadium, so the wealthier suburbs are out. Dave Peacock (wealthy suburbanite) and his stadium team do not live here (my assumption, sorry if he does live here), yet lobbied a judge to deny St. Louis citizens a right to vote on this use of taxes to fund billionaires. Then in a blow to the residents of the city, a small group of alderman chose to vote against a bill (albeit a sacrificial lamb) to bring stadium funding to a vote of the people. This has made folks in my small circles increasing disenfranchised with the process and the pitch for a second stadium. Shut up and pay we are told; we know what you need and we don't even live there!

9. We have a perfectly good stadium within walking distance from the proposed new one. The last thing we need is to further demolish the history of this city with a horrible use of land. A deadzone is what NFL stadiums are. This plan is a so-so stadium surrounded by a sea of surface parking that will get used ~10 times a year. People come here, tailgate for a couple hours, go to the game, and drive back home. This NFL fanbase has done little for St. Louis. We need businesses that operate all year, jobs and residents. This stadium will do nothing to keep Schnucks Culinaria open or get us a Walgreens/CVS or City Target that we so desperately need Downtown. AT&T is not going to reverse course and fill up the tower with employees all of a sudden. That ship has sailed. Trust me, the Bissinger's rehab of a former warehouse/factory on the North Riverfront is what we need 10 more of, not stadiums.'d be so much better in the suburbs and office parks which are already soul-less deadzones.

10. I'm going to keep my commentary on the Rams and Kroenke to a minimum. But, they are horrible on every level. Nothing is fun, no one is lovable, they hate the city and treat us like we're lucky to have them here. You chose the suburbs to set up your HQ and you come down here only on game day. Lease some office space here for your corporate operations. Be part of St. Louis not Earth City, MO. But they don't do that. And people will say it is a blow to our self esteem if we lose our football team. It'll sting a bit at first, but we got through the Big Red leaving and nothing changed. The Rams coming here in 1995 changed nothing. Personally, I think ugly wake-up calls like Ferguson have the potential to slap the region in the face and merge and start making meaningful changes that will grow our region and reverse our trend of poor leadership and less investment than any football team winning or losing could ever do.

We don't need another NFL stadium in St. Louis. We can't do it, we can't afford it. We need our money for our bills and our schools and our infrastructure, which no one else will pay for but us. If Kroenke and Peacock want to build a new stadium, I suggest the wealthier suburbs as a location. They are in a better spot to afford it. The corporate HQ is already there, build a stadium in Maryland Heights or Earth City and let us off the financial hook and abandon St. Louis in full. Don't worry, we can work out a deal to license the naming rights of the "St. Louis" Rams back to the team for a small fee. We can use the money.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Curb Appeal and Infrastructure in the Shaw Neighborhood

The Shaw Neighborhood caught my attention recently with some noticeable infrastructure upgrades along Shaw Boulevard. I'll start with the decorative cross walks at the intersections between Grand Boulevard and Tower Grove Avenue; but there is more.

The crosswalks welcome you to the historic Shaw Neighborhood:

The crosswalk below gives tribute to the beautiful Mullanphy Investigative Learning Center that has served the neighborhood at Klemm and Shaw since 1915.

The intersection at Lawrence Street recognizes the presence of St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic grade school:

St. Margaret's recently completed a new middle school building to accommodate their growing enrollment. The building has an urban form and was built atop a former surface parking lot.

The good news doesn't stop with handsome crosswalks. There were also some much welcomed pedestrian infrastructure and traffic calming improvements as well. Bump-outs were installed at several intersections. Why are these important? I looked to the invaluable Urban Landscapes blog to find out:
Bump-outs (also known as “curb extensions“) have become commonplace in many subdivisions across the country.  They are also common in the existing neighborhoods as a means of traffic-calming.  The purpose is to provide an additional element in protecting the vehicles parked on the street and enabling shorter, safer crossing for the pedestrian at the intersection. (source)
Bump-outs also provide additional permeable ground between the sidewalks and the street that can serve to reduce storm runoff lightening the burden on the sewer system, all the while affording an opportunity for native landscaping vs. asphalt. Notice the young tree planted in this bump-out and the added protection the row of parked cars get:

Trash receptacles were strategically placed at high volume pedestrian intersections:

The crossings are ADA compliant:

Shaw Avenue was also repaved from Grand to 39th Street. Hopefully we will see painted bike lanes and protected parking lanes.

So where did the money come from? Who came up with the design and executed the work?  Why Shaw Avenue and not another street in the neighborhood?

To help me answer some of these questions, I reached out to the Tower Grove Neighborhoods Community Development Corporation's executive director Sean Spencer. Who gave me some great background information and a taste of what is ahead for his organization.

First a little background on the Tower Grove Neighborhoods Community Development Corporation (TGNCDC) history and mission:
Established in 2013, the TGNCDC is a consolidation of the former Grand Oak Hill Community Corporation, Southwest Garden Housing Corporation, and Shaw Neighborhood Housing Corporation. The three organizations served the Tower Grove South, Southwest Garden, and Shaw neighborhoods, respectively, for over 30 years. Recent changes in community development funding allocations from the City of St. Louis and a renewed focus on outcome-based community development initiatives necessitated that these three organizations combine resources and service areas to more effectively serve the community and leverage existing resources.
To view the full service area for the TGNCDC, click here.

The work I've highlighted above is part of a goal within the 2015-2019 Strategic Plan set forth by TGNCDC through comprehensive community input. This goal is to 'Revitalize and Strengthen the Long-term Stability and Growth of the TGNCDC Service Area (Area-Wide Improvements)'.

Specifically, what I've described above falls into the Infrastructure Improvements bucket, set up to:
  • Improve public spaces, infrastructure, signage and landscaping
  • Work with Neighborhood Association and Alderperson on infrastructure improvements
  • Promote commercial facade, 50/50 sidewalk, LED lighting and ADA improvement programs
How about the actual crosswalk pattern and design?  Per Spencer, the scalloped mosaic design and fonts for the crosswalks were selected by the Shaw Neighborhood Improvement Association's beautification committee. These are not just the temporary decorative painted crosswalks you see across the city, these are the longer lasting (~8-10 year lifespan), reflective types. The technology is called DuraTherm®:
DuraTherm® is a specially-designed preformed thermoplastic material that is inlaid into an imprinted asphalt surface and thermally bonded using specialized infrared heaters. Engineered to lie slightly below the asphalt surface, DuraTherm® is protected from wear, ensuring effective service life while maintaining its attractive contemporary look for years. A specialized pavement heater softens the existing asphalt. Templates are pressed into the surface to create the imprinted pattern. Pre-cut sections of DuraTherm® are set into these impressions. The specialized heater is used again to bond the material to the asphalt surface. (source)
Why was Shaw Boulevard the focus for this project? Spencer explained that through neighborhood charrettes and surveys, the participants wanted to focus energy on Shaw Boulevard and DeTonty Street as target areas for reinvestment. This makes perfect sense, because if you've lived here for more than 20 years, you are well aware that many properties on these streets had seen better days as time wore on. With the high visibility of DeTonty Street from I-44 as well as Shaw being a major east-west street connecting Grand to Kingshighway, it is easy to understand why these two streets would be target areas to uplift and invest with new brain power, volunteer/grant writing efforts and city investment.

The crosswalks and infrastructure upgrades described above were largely paid through Ward 8 funds allocated annually across the city with spending typically through the discretion of the publicly elected alderman.

I'm told that other upgrades are in the works providing more fodder for continued excitement including replacement of the dim cobra head street lights with high efficiency LED lights through a community development block grant as well as a group working hard to consider landscaping options for the streetscape through a grant from a large bank.

There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic for DeTonty Street as well, with the recent plans proposed for a $4M 8,000sf education center focused on urban food production, nutrition, and science education for elementary school students at Lawrence and DeTonty.

This educational effort will be led by local private, charter and public school leadership and faculty at St. Louis University and will serve thousands of students at Mullanphy Investigative Learning Center, St. Louis Language Immersion School, Tower Grove Christian Academy and St. Margaret of Scotland School. It is great to see such collaborative efforts among the various schools in the area. NextSTL reported on this proposal in October, read the full story HERE.

NextSTL also reported earlier this month on a proposed $10M 84,000 square foot development that will bring apartment and town homes to a long vacant stretch of land along DeTonty Street between Thurman and Klemm. Read the full story HERE.

So keep your eyes on Shaw, Southwest Garden and Tower Grove South for future improvements and excitement.

Cheers to all those working hard to make St. Louis the great place it can and should be.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Curb Appeal and Milkweed for Monarchs in the Fox Park Neighborhood, St. Louis, Missouri

I was lucky to be part of two recent beautification and sustainability projects in the Fox Park Neighborhood and I wanted to share them here for your consideration.

While the aim of both projects was to improve the curb appeal of one of the interior neighborhood's most traveled east-west streets, Russell Boulevard, there is also the bonus of promoting environmental biodiversity and sustainability in an urban setting.

One project was the return of street trees to the 2700 and 2800 blocks of Russell Boulevard and the ~2100 block of Ohio Avenue (just south of Russell) which have become alarmingly de-forested over the years.  I will describe this project in full when the tree plantings are completed.  Stay tuned.

The second project, which was completed on October 25th, 2015, is a series of Milkweed for Monarchs gardens that will grace the end caps of the medians along Russell Boulevard between Ohio and Oregon Avenues.

Per my sources (a longtime Fox Park resident and a former police officer in this district), the medians were part of an effort to calm traffic and put an end to drag racing during the Schoemehl administration. It worked for the most part, but the medians were installed in a haphazard manner.  They were built right on top of the street without breaking up the asphalt beneath, providing only ~8 inches of soil for anything to grow.  They were filled with Missouri clay which is literally hard as a rock and not amenable to water absorption nor proper drainage without amendments of organic materials (compost) to enrich the soil.

Over the years, neighbors have attempted plantings in the medians with mixed results.  The 2600 and 2900 blocks are fully planted and well cared for.  Yet, the 2700 and 2800 blocks remained rather barren with several dying trees and sparse, non contiguous plantings on display.

I've heard neighbors complaining about the appearance of the medians for the ~5 years I've lived here.  The time seemed right to do something about it.

Enter an acquaintance of mine Cody Hayo, owner of Pretty City Landscaping, LLC.

Cody reached out to me to discuss his interest in collaborating with neighborhoods on gardening initiatives.  He wanted to offer his  time, expertise and skills in landscape design and implementation to assist neighborhoods trying to plant sustainable gardens in urban settings.  We met over a beer at the Royale in Tower Grove South and discussed our intentions and common goals of improving the city.  I am optimistic that this next generation of St. Louisans, devoted to the city, are the ones with a chance to really make a positive impact on our future, and Cody is one of those small business owners who falls into that bucket.  We hit it off and parted ways with the goal of future collaborations.

The Russell medians immediately came to mind as a perfect candidate for some professional assessment and much needed TLC.

I went back to the Fox Park Neighborhood Association with a plan to engage a landscaping professional to help us design something interesting, affordable and sustainable for our medians.

The board approved of the plan first and then the general members of the neighborhood association voted in favor of the project...we were off running.

Cody donated his time and expertise (pro bono) and helped us research grant options, plant species, site selection and an overall design for our medians.

We met with Cody and longtime Fox Park resident, and all around great guy Chris Barton, to assess the current landscape.

Chris (left) and Cody

Cody went back to the drawing board and designed a plan that would transform the four end caps of the medians.  The first 20 foot of each end cap were chosen as a reasonable amount of work for a volunteer group to plant and maintain as well as to fit within the confines of a "Neighbor's Naturescaping" grant program offered by invaluable local entity Brightside St. Louis headquartered in the Southwest Garden Neighborhood.

One of the unique aspects of this program is a collaboration with the "Milkweed for Monarchs" program within the City of St. Louis:
"In partnership with Mayor Francis Slay’s Milkweeds for Monarchs, Brightside is encouraging Neighbors Naturescaping applicants to consider planting a butterfly garden. Many plants on the STL Monarch Mix plant list will be available on Brightside’s recommended plant list."
This is the route Cody recommended and the path we chose.  The design was set, the local alderwoman signed on in support, the neighborhood association voted again in favor and the plan was in motion.

So we filled out the grant application, including the well-researched plans from Pretty City, made a couple modifications on species based on reviewer feedback, attended a community workshop and a couple months later were deemed the proud yet humbled recipients of a $1,500 grant including the donation of 280 Missouri native plants:
  • 80 Prairie Dropseed grasses (Porobolus heterolepis)
  • 48 Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
  • 48 Bee Balm (Monarda bradburiana)
  • 48 Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • 24 Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata)
  • 24 Goldenrod (Solidago missouriensis)
  • 8 Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia missouriensis)
Compost and mulch were provided by the city.

Now comes the fun part...the planting.

Over the course of three weeks, we loaded up personal vehicles with plants and planned three separate plantings.  My lovely wife and kids provided much of the free labor, moral support and back rubs necessary to pull this off.

We loaded compost and mulch in the beds of my kindest of neighbors' trucks. The multi-talented and creative Chris Barton rigged up two 55-gallon rain barrels with a sump-pump, hose and watering wand in the back of his personal truck to feed the Missouri native plants with much needed water to establish themselves before the onset of winter.

With pick axes, post hole diggers, shovels and pitchforks in hand (and no shortage of strong will) we hacked through the densely packed clay soil to overcome the conditions to get our gardens established.

I can't tell you how thankful I am to know such hard working people willing to donate their precious weekends to something like this. Residents along Russell and Oregon saw us working and joined in to help.  But it was the core group that showed up week after week to complete the process.  The work was not easy but we overcame.

Thanks friends and neighbors for sharing the desire to uplift the long-neglected corners of our great city.

Yes, thirteen year olds do work hard...

 Two of my dearest friends and the best St. Louisans you will ever meet

 Ain't no labor like retired guy labor...

 The usual suspects, always there to lend a hand under the toughest of conditions

One down, three to go...

Alright, now the hard work was completed so let's share a couple before and after pics:


after at California Avenue

 after at Oregon Avenue


Now the easy part.  We registered our garden with the City's 'Milkweed for Monarchs' program and became the 188th garden toward the city's goal of 250 total.  There are many gardens north to south and east to west.

Not too shabby, eh St. Louis?

Now what does this all mean, and why should we care?  Well, monarch butterflies are one of the most easily recognizable (read: loved by humans) beneficial insect species on the planet.  They are gorgeous, serve an important role as pollinators and millions of them migrate throughout North America, from Canada to Mexico.  Entomologists and climate change scientists concur that declines in milkweed, habitat loss and climate change are contributing to lowered numbers of monarchs.

The Mayor's office advocated for St. Louis to be included as a city on the cutting edge of monarch education and habitat reclamation:
On Earth Day 2014, Mayor Slay launched Milkweeds for Monarchs: The St. Louis Butterfly Project to foster the connection between people and urban natural resources where they live, work, learn and play. Milkweeds for Monarchs (overview document here) aligns with the City of St. Louis Urban Vitality & Ecology Initiative, is an effort that advances objectives in the City of St. Louis Sustainability Plan, and carries out a priority in the Mayor's Sustainability Action Agenda. The Mayor led the effort by having the City create 50 monarch gardens in 2014; most of these gardens are located at fire houses and City parks across the City. The Mayor challenged the community to plant an additional 200 monarch gardens to celebrate the City's 250th birthday. The program was expanded in 2015 to reach further into the community and to schools. (source)
This is not just talk, as St. Louis was awarded several substantial grants through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to establish the city as the "St. Louis Riverfront Butterfly Byway". (source and source).
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) today announced a first round of grants totaling $3.3 million from its recently launched Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund (MBCF). The 22 grants, which will be matched by more than $6.7 million in grantee contributions, will support the restoration of up to 33,000 acres of habitat in areas identified by experts as key to monarch recovery. “NFWF and our partners acted very quickly to launch this new competitive grant program, and we were delighted to have drawn such a large number of excellent proposals,” said Lila Helms, NFWF’s executive vice president of external affairs. “The grants we announce today will fund on-the-ground projects that will quickly contribute to a healthier, more sustainable monarch population.” Monarch butterflies are found throughout most of the United States, and a majority of the population migrates up to 3,000 miles to overwinter in Mexico. Over the past 20 years, the North American monarch population has plunged from 1 billion to fewer than 60 million, due to many factors, including loss of critical habitat. These beautiful, black-and-orange insects depend not only on nectar-producing plants throughout their range, but also milkweed — the primary food source for monarch caterpillars. (source)
Others in the area are taking note of this movement including a consortium of Universities and  other concerned institutions who are dedicated to researching the latest issues that affect the monarch.

Monsanto Company (headquartered in nearby Creve Coeur, MO) jumped in providing much needed funding to the cause (source):
"The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and Monsanto Company announced today a commitment to partner in support of NFWF’s Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund. As the first company to contribute to NFWF’s Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund, Monsanto will provide $3.6 million over three years to match funds provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal agencies that will support habitat restoration, education, outreach and milkweed seed production to benefit monarch butterflies."
Here's the respectable list of research institutions within the consortium working hard to understand some very complex issues facing the monarch:
  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation: Monsanto will match the initial $1.2 million pledge from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund and provide $2.4 million additional funding to match commitments from federal agencies over the next three years. This support will be targeted to provide habitat restoration, education and outreach and milkweed seed and plant production.
  • Monarch Watch: A nonprofit education, conservation, and research program based at the University of Kansas – focuses on the monarch butterfly, its habitat, and its spectacular fall migration. This grant will enable Monarch Watch to produce and make available milkweed plants free of charge for landscape improvement, including buffer strips on farm-lands, roadsides, rights of way, parks, public lands and demonstration plots along the monarch’s migratory path – which stretches from Mexico to Canada.
  • Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium: The grant will help drive research to create quality habitat, develop guidance and demonstrations for farmers to cost-effectively improve and expand habitat, and monitor milkweed and adult monarch populations to track progress. The Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium can serve as a model framework for other state-level initiatives planning to implement monarch conservation.
  • Pheasants Forever: The grant will lead to the planting of monarch and pollinator habitats at more than 70 Monsanto research and manufacturing sites and facilities located in the monarch breeding range. This includes the creation of three Learning Center programs to demonstrate how to establish sustainable monarch and pollinator habitat, which is also the same habitat critical to upland birds. These programs engage, enroll and educate farmers and communities to contribute to a resilient monarch population.
  • University of Guelph: The grant will help to understand migration patterns and identify priority areas for milkweed restoration in the United States and Canada so that investments in habitat improvement are more successful.
  • University of Illinois at Chicago, Energy Resources Center: Researchers will use these resources to identify and prioritize available public and private lands for monarch habitat improvement using geo-spatial analysis. This information will support the success of restoration programs by considering habitat location, quality and cost across diverse landscapes.
Now the Fox Park Neighborhood of St. Louis is a tiny part of this monumental effort.  We are on the list to get an official sign marking our gardens:

So a sincere thank you goes out to Cody Hayo at Pretty City Landscaping and Mary Lou Green, et al. at Brightside St. Louis for sharing their expertise and resources and for the support of the Fox Park Neighborhood Association and the Alderwoman of the 6th Ward.  But most of all, thanks to the small group of volunteers who are willing to heave a pick axe, lug wheel barrows filled with compost and mulch and spend multiple hours during their precious weekends to support improving a long neglected corner of our fair city.

It is you guys that make living in Fox Park fun.

Cheers to Chris Barton, Beth Conroy, Beth Stelmach, Dale Thuet, Rob Moreland (and wife), Shannon Groth and the kids and the new neighbors I met for the first time who came out to help.

In the spirit of transparency, I am a current member of the Fox Park Neighborhood Association and a 21 year employee of Monsanto Company.

Friday, October 23, 2015

African American Theaters of St. Louis

Continuing my posts on St. Louis Movie Theaters, I've looked at the four fully operational theaters as well as the many we've lost. This time I'll consider the long list of what were exclusively or became African American (AA) theaters.

How many? Hard to tell as the subject has not been fully researched to date. But per my best source of published information on the subject is Eric Ledell Smith's "African American Theater Buildings - An Illustrated Historical Directory, 1900-1955".  Per Smith's assertion, there were 31 AA theaters in St. Louis.

Eric Ledell Smith, a Detroit, MI native, was a historian at The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. He died June 15, 2008 at the age of 58. He published this book in 2003.

This book is hard to find; I got it on Ebay and I hope to donate it to the St. Louis Public Library as I feel it is the best place to start if you are interested in the subject and the citations are complete and thorough if you want to dig into the microfiche and digital archives of newspaper ads and movie trade journals which are becoming more and more available in digital format.

I'm assured by several librarians, who've been cherished resources, that the Central Library will be interested in the book.  So hopefully you'll be able to check it out soon.

Per Smith, it was extremely hard to find information on the AA theaters. Very little visual and written documentation was available in his research. But you have to start somewhere and Smith's book is valuable in that it identifies theaters by state and city and where possible, the years of operation. He claims that his book is the first to feature photographs of black theater buildings. Admittedly, the author was honest in stating that it is going to be very hard to document the history of black theaters due to the lack of reliable info. But he intended the book to serve as a touchpoint for local historians to take it over from here. In my assessment this book does just that, but not much more. It provides the most comprehensive list of AA theaters in St. Louis that I could find. But, if you are looking for more than addresses, Cinema Treasures and Cinema Tour offer more photos and first hand/local knowledge, but it's a good scholarly start. No photos of St. Louis theaters were published in this book and the only two discussed greater than a simple address and # of seats is the Booker T. Washington Theater that was at 2248 Market Street.

Josephine Baker performed her vaudeville act here as a young girl.  Drake Walker's Bombay Girls vaudeville act came here in 1926 and included, among others, Bessie Smith. The Count Basie Orchestra played here many times in the 1930s and 40s.

So here's the comprehensive list that Smith accumulated; but note it is a clunky, non-reliable list.

Per Smith, there were 31 AA theaters in St. Louis; but if you do a simple review of his list, you'll find some duplications based on "renaming" the same theater over the years. I've color coded the duplications for your consideration:

Theater Address
Amytis 4300 Ferdinand Streek
Assembly* Jefferson Street
Aubert 4949 Easton Avenue
Booker T. Washington 2248 Market Street
Carver 1310 Franklin Avenue
Casino 1620 Market Street**
Circle 4470 Easton Street
Comet 4106 Finney Avenue
Criterion 2644 Franklin Avenue
Douglas 4201 Finney Street
Globe Franklin Street
Jest-A-Mere 4201 Finney Street
Joy* No Address Available
Laclede 3116 Laclede Avenue
Lincoln* 3045 Olive Street
Marquette 1806 Franklin Avenue
Movie 2620 Market Street
New Movie 2620 Market Street
Olympia* No Address Available
Palace* No Address Available
Pendleton 4264 Finney Avenue
Queens 4704 Maffit Street
Regal 3142 Easton Street
Retina 2008 Market Street**
Roosevelt 317 N. Leffingwell Street
Star 16 S. Jefferson Avenue
Strand 2000 Market Street
Sun No Address Available
Uptown 4938 Delmar Avenue
Vendome* 2313 Market Street***
Venus 4264 Finney Avenue**

* = Not listed on Cinema Treasures
** = sourced from Cinema Treasures
*** =  address found in the Freeman Illustrated Colored Newspaper

Upon further inspection and based on subjective evidence on Cinema Treasures, the Carver and the Globe were one in the same, just the product of a name change over the years, so really the count is probably more likely to be 26.

So where does St. Louis fit in with the rest of the country? The following count represents the total number of AA theaters documented in each city in from 1900-1955.

The top 20 cities were listed:

# of AA Theaters
New York, NY
Chicago, IL
Detroit, MI      
Washington D.C.
Baltimore, MD
Philadelphia, PA
St. Louis, MO
Indianapolis, IN
Houston, TX
Atlanta, GA   
Cleveland, OH
Los Angeles, CA
Pittsburgh, PA
New Orleans, LA
Dallas, TX
Norfolk, VA
Cincinnati, OH
Newark, NJ
Jacksonville, FL
Kansas City, MO

* = by my count, 26 unique theaters; no change in Nat'l placement, but I did not research the other cities for accuracy.

This top ten national ranking in AA theaters is largely a reflection of the history of St. Louis (and old cities of America in general), with many mostly free blacks on the East Coast, and descendants of the slave trade in the South and of course, the substantial migration of black people arriving from the South looking for work in northern factories in the days of segregation which happened to coincide with the golden age of Hollywood and central HVAC when all-day theaters hit their stride. This customer base and social trend meant lots of theaters in St. Louis.

Researching the AA theaters is tough and finding printed material on the subject proved a challenge. But, our library system is local treasure and most of the books out there on the subject are available in the central stacks.

One of the books cited in Ledell was "The African American Theatre Directory 1910-1960" by Bernard L. Peterson, Jr. available in the Central Library's reference section.

There are only two AA St. Louis theaters mentioned in this book:

This book is a great resource for the non-local AA theater & vaudeville troops that passed through St. Louis, but really isn't much help in understanding the buildings themselves. So nothing else in book form that I could find. 

But, in the digital era, newspaper and trade journal ads being scanned and uploaded to a server are our best bet for understanding more about these theaters.

Oh, and of course, documenting the stories of old timers who attended these and are willing to talk about em is the BEST method...but it takes time and connections and a strong bullshit meter calibrated toward fact vs. folklore.

Let's get into what I could drum up for each theater:

Amytis Theater, 2300 Ferdinand

Sourced from Cinema Tour, contribution from Darren Snow (source):
As is the case with most of the St. Louis theaters catering to African-Americans in the first half of the last century, the history of the Amytis is difficult to trace since these theaters generally did not advertise in the daily newspapers. City directories do, however, show a listing for the Amytis at this address from 1937 to 1958. This theater does bear at least a tangential relationship to a major figure in Black history, however: It was located in the Poro College/Hotel complex founded by Annie Malone, America's first Black female millionaire.
The theater is no longer there, here's an entry from Cinema Treasures: 
The Amytis Theatre, which opened in 1934, was closed in 1960 and afterward demolished in preparation for a neighborhood redevelopment project that never materialized.
It is now an empty lot next to a church in the Ville Neighborhood.

Assembly Theater, Jefferson Street

This one was listed by Smith, but not Cinema Treasures or Cinema Tour.  It was managed by AA, Richard Barrett in 1921. It is listed on Jefferson Street which is dubious, because Jefferson is an Avenue (nerdy nuance). Its existance is corroborated in the Julius-Cahn-Gus Hill Theatrical Guide, 1921 ed.

Aubert Theater was at 4949 Easton (now MLK):

This theater operated from 1923 to 1953. It's hard to believe these brick beauties could only stand for 30 years. The times didn't think these buildings mattered from a historical or architectural standpoint. There is a Family Dollar in its place today.

Booker T. Washington, 2323 Market Street.

Booker T. Washington is the theater with the most entries from Smith, 2003. It was originally a vaudeville house and eventual a picture house. When central AC came around, it was later named the Booker Washington Air Dome. It was at 2323 Market, not 2248 as listed in Smith, 2003 as corroborated by an advert in the August 20, 1910 edition of The Freeeman, An Illustrated Colored Newspaper out of Indianapolis, IN:

Smith, 2003 goes on to cite that it was originally managed by Charles H. Turpin, son of a free slave and brother of Tom Turpin, a famous ragtime pianist which is a whole other story worth exploration. The story on describes the theater as:
"a vaudeville theater in a partially tent-like structure at 2323 Market Street, just a block down from the former Rosebud on the other side of the street. Charles employed many ragtime greats during the theater's run through the mid-1910s, including composer/arranger Artie Matthews."
The Rosebud Cafe, at 2220-2222 Market Street, was a legendary club for black pianists.
Carver/Globe/Palace Theater, 1310 Franklin Avenue

I couldn't find much on the Carver/Globe, frequent poster "JAlex" on Cinema Treasures said:

"Originally known as the Palace Theatre, the first mention of the house I found was in February 1911 when (the) theatre became part of the O.T. Crawford circuit…an affiliation lasting one year. Theatre renamed Globe in 1932.  Renamed Carver in 1944. Theatre operated until late 1955. Structure demolished in early 1956."

Here's a possible photo of the theater when it was the Globe:
Casino Theater, 1620 Market Street

Cinema Treasures has an entry that lists that address as 1618 Market.  No photos.  The property is now a parking lot for the U.S. Post Office facility.  This was the part of St. Louis that had many of the ragtime clubs.

Circle Theater, 4470 Easton (Now MLK)

From Charles Van Bibber on Cinema Treasures:

"One of many theatres that lined Easton Avenue. The Circle Theatre had a varied life. It opened in 1910 as the Easton-Taylor Theatre, later shortened to the Easton Theatre, and later renamed the Circle Theatre. From 1943 until it closed in 1951, it was an African-American theater. For a neighborhood house it was elaborately decorated. It had a small balcony with colums along the staircase that led to the balcony. There were a lot of mirrors in the lobby with lush red draperies and trim." (source)

It is now and empty lot.

Comet Theater, 4106 Finney Street

Apparently the theater had a sign with a lit up shooting comet.  It was demo'd in the 1980s. The site is now a group of urban scaled new homes called the North Sarah Apartments in the Vandeventer Neighborhood.  Too bad the history was not recognized and preserved.

Criterion Theater, 2644 Franklin Street

Rumor has it a Greek family owned this one. It was operational until the mid-1960's, it was demo'd and is now an empty lot. Prior to it's demo there was talk of making this an AA history museum. Too bad.

Douglas Theater/Jest-A-Mere, 4201 Finney

An entry from Jerry Alexander on Cinema Treasures has this entry:  
"The Douglass Theatre, at 4201 Finney Avenue, was opened in November 1918 by Charles Pitman as the Jest-A-Mere Theatre. One of the theatres for the Black population in a time of segregation, the theatre was purchased in 1927 by Thomas James and was renamed the Douglass Theatre, after the Abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
When the theatre opened, newspaper coverage said: “Entirely built by Colored labor, completion of big building is a triumph for the race; continuous fight made by unions to force Colored men off the job”. 
Seating capacity listed as 850 at opening; reduced to 700 in 1934; reduced to 650 in 1950 (per Film Daily Year Book). 
Located in St. Louis' Ville neighborhood, the Douglass Theatre apparently, per newspaper advertistments, was last open in April 1962." (source)
It is now an empty lot.

It's odd that a publication: "Richard E. Norman and Race Filmmaking" cited the Jest-A-Mere at 4300 Page Street, but corroborates Charles Pittman as the manager (he was AA) (source).

Joy (no address)

This one is a mystery.  Nothing on Cinema Treasures or Cinema Tour.

Maybe it was mistaken in Smith's list as a St. Louis theater, when really it was in a small Missouri town, as there are three other Joy Theaters in MO:

Laclede Theater, 3116 Laclede

Here's an entry from Charles Van Bibber from Cinema Treasures:
"The Laclede was built and opened in 1940 as an independent theatre. It was located in the Mill Creek section of the city just blocks from the Grand White Way where all the movie palaces were located. The theatre had an African-American audience. No trace of the Laclede to be found at all. The Laclede closed in 1959."

Per JAlex, frequent contributor on Cinema Treasures added the following:
"Laclede Theatre built by Alex Pappas. Architect of record was O. W. Stiegemeyer. House approximately 500 seats. Opening date was March 23, 1940. Closing date was June 23, 1959. Theatre, from the beginning, was for the African-American trade."
This one was demo'd for what is now the Harris-Stowe University campus. 

Lincoln Theater, 3045 Olive Street

Not much exists on the Laclede.  Cinema Tour lists this as existing, but no address or other info.

Smith's reference cited the Film Daily Yearbook 1952-1955; which I was unable to track down. This one remains one of the bigger mysteries.

Marquette Theater, 1806 Franklin

According to Bibber on Cinema Treasures:
"The Marquette Theatre opened in 1913...(and) became an African-American theatre in 1943. The theatre went to weekends only in the mid-1950’s and closed in 1961 when the area was mainly demolished to make way for an industrial park." (source)
No photos; it is now an empty lot.

Movie Theater/New Movie Theater 2620 Market Street

This one was right at Jefferson, across from MSD's HQ.  Cinema Tour lists the address as 2351 Market, not 2620 as published in Smith.

From Cinema Treasures:
"The Movie Theatre opened in 1921 seating 406. The Movie was just a small sub run house located a few blocks from the busy Union Station. It was remodeled in 1946 and renamed the New Movie Theatre. It stayed around until the travel by trains had dwindled to nothing and closed in 1957 when the area was set to be redeveloped."
Olympia Theater, 107 South Broadway

Smith said Olympia (like the beer), not Olympic. But I'm pretty sure it was Olympic...although this should not be confused with the Olympic Drive-In (nee Rock Road Drive-In) in North County.

From the "My View From The Balcony" website: 

The Olympic Theater was located at 107 S. Broadway St. Louis Missouri and opened in 1866.

The above picture is from 1870, The Olympic first entertained with vaudeville acts and minstrel shows. After 1869 it turned to legitimate drama. A new theater building replaced the 1866 building in 1882. Theater greats of the nineteenth century, Edwin Booth, Joseph Jefferson, Edwin Forrest, Helena Modjeska and Charlotte Cushman performed on its stage. (source)

There is a book published on the subject:  "A history of the first Olympic Theatre of St. Louis, Missouri, from 1866-1879" by Theodore Clark Johnson.  It is in the stacks collection of the Missouri History Museum. 

I'd be surprised if this was an AA theater.

Never been there, that's another one to add to my list.

***Update from November 2, 2015***

Reader Greg Johnson (twitter: @PresbyterianStl), tweeted a photo from the Missouri History Museum archives which indicate the theater was in the 1400 block of Market Street and was razed for the  Kiel Auditorium.  Here's a photo and link to the story:

Pendleton/Venus Theater, 4246 Finney

Per Charles Van Bibber on Cinema Treasures:
"One of the theatres for the black audience in the times of racial segregation, this opened in September 1915 as the Pendleton Theatre (the theatre just east of Pendleton). Opening publicity stated “the only house for colored west of Jefferson”. The name change to the Venus Theatre occurred in February 1924. The theatre was last noted as being open in 1933." (source)
This was another AA theater owned and managed by an AA, E.F. Austin (source).

Here's an entry published in The Moving Picture World Volume XXVII from January-March, 2016:

Queens Theater, 4704 Maffitt

This one had an airdome on the east side of the street.  There are some great personal stories from former employees at Cinema Treasures.  Read them HERE.

This building is still standing in use as a church.  The front has gone through some major alterations, so I showed the side of the building here:

Regal Theater, 3142 Easton (MLK):

Some photos capturing the demolition were taken by Ecology of Absence:

At one point it must have been called the Coliseum, as this building below, certainly looks the part:

From Charles Van Bibber on Cinema Treasures:
"The Regal Theatre opened in 1931 seating 846 as part of the Arthur Theatre chain. (Franchon & Marco at that time) Very impressive theatre from the outside but rather plain on the inside. A two story building with a small balcony seating just under 200 with the balance on the main floor. Odd thing about the theatre was that the rest rooms were located in the lobby of the balcony. No rest rooms on the main level. The front of the theatre was constructed with a pale blue marble up the front of the building and about twenty feet down each side."
Retina Theater, 2008 Market Street

No photos available, is now a parking lot for Maggie O'Brien's next to Union Station.

I was able to find this ad on Todd Franklin's Flikr page:

This one was managed by a white guy, J.H. Gentner. (source)

Roosevelt Theater, 317 N. Leffingwell 

Entry from Charles Van Bibber on Cinema Treasures:
"The Roosevelt Theatre was one of about six neighborhood theatres built for African-American clientele. The theatre opened in 1927 seating 591. A single floor theatre, located in the middle of the block just a half block from busy Franklin Avenue and three blocks from the neighboring Criterion Theatre. The Roosevelt Theatre outlasted the Criterion Theatre by many years.The front of the theatre was a simple block front with a cream and orange mix in color with a large marquee lined with tons of neon. The theatre closed in 1966 when the neighborhood was slated for redevelopment. Remained a busy theatre until the day it was closed. Admission prices remained the mainstay until the theatre closed. When it closed adults were 75 cents and children were 25 cents." (source)
It was demo'd and is now a surface lot for an auto repair shop.

Star Theater, 16 South Jefferson

From Charles Van Bibber on Cinema Treasures:
"The Star Theatre opened in 1922 as part of the Komm Theatre chain and seated 866. A two story theatre on the outskirts of downtown St. Louis. 344 of the theatres seats were in the balcony with the balance on the main level. The Star had a black with burgandy streaked marble facade with a large marquee. The verticle sign had no lettering just a huge flashing gold neon star. The three sided marquee came all the way to the curb and the larger tractor trailers were always bashing into the front part of the marquee. The neon on the front side seldom worked because it was always getting torn off. The inside of the auditorium walls had two large star shaped light fixtures on the side walls that would dim when the features started. One of the few theatres that had curtains that raised up instead of opening from the middle to the sides. The theatre was closed in 1959 when the area was redeveloped for a large hotel. The Star theatre was a movie over house for both the Loew’s State and Loew’s Orpheum theatres downtown. When the features were done at the Loew’s they moved to the Star." (source)
It was managed by a white guy: Christ Efthim (source).

Strand Theater, 2000 Market Street

I can't find any evidence of a Strand on Market.  I could find a Strand right next to the Columbia Theater on Sixth Street by St. Charles Street. But this was not the one at 2000 Market Street.

Here's a photo of the 6th Street Strand Theater from the Missouri History Museum collection:

Sun Theater (No address listed)

I cannot find anything to corroborate this theater ever existed as a AA theater.  The Sun that was in Grand Center was never an AA theater, it had German roots, I have no idea where Ledell got this info.

Uptown Theater, 4938 Delmar Boulevard

Per Jerry Alexander on Cinema Treaures:
"The theatre opened in 1910 as the Delmar Theatre with a stock-musical company policy and within a few years became a motion picture house. The architect was E. W. Pipe.

The theatre was located at 4938 Delmar Avenue and seated 839. An airdome opened next door for the summer months and seated 1,380.

The theatre was renamed the Embassy Theatre in 1924 and in 1931 became the Uptown Theatre.

As a film house the theatre closed in 1953 and in 1954 the theatre was last used as the site of a jazz festival." (source)
It is a suburban styled strip mall today, just east of Kingshighway.

Vendome Theater, 2313 Market Street

The Ledell book was unable to find this address, but I was able to find it listed in a ad from the Freeman Illustrated Colored Newspaper from October 8, 1910:

There was a cluster of AA theaters around Jefferson and Market where MSD and Wells Fargo now stand.

So there's my best contribution to the AA theater history in St. Louis.  Tracking down the Film Daily Yearbook, 1952-1955 as well as the book Blacks in Black and White by Henry Sampson will be key in filling in some of the blanks.

If you want to collaborate on research or have photos or stories to share, look me up.