Tuesday, August 21, 2007

St. Charles Street

While on the subject of the Merchandise Mart bridges, I just happened to run across these photos of St. Charles Street, the block of which is centered in the photos above and below disappeared several years ago with the construction of the very mediocre ballroom and parking garage block for the Renaissance Hotel. While I was thrilled to see the former Statler rejuvenated as part of the hotel, the new building to the west leaves a lot to be desired, mainly in terms of how it interacts with the street. The retail spaces appear to be an afterthought to plug the left over spaces. Mostly though, the removal of St. Charles Street created a super block that inhibits connectivity in this part of downtown.
While buildings dictate the character and feel of an area, the streets of a city and their layout play an equal or greater role in how a city feels, its walkability and scale. Standing in the middle of St. Charles in the block where the garage/ballroom now stands, the view east shows how St. Charles Street was first interrupted in the mid 70's with the construction of the Mercantile Bank Building (now US Bank) (more on that block in the next post). The two blocks east of that were taken in the 80's for St. Louis Center, the One Financial Plaza building (formerly Edison Bothers) and another parking garage. The faces of all of these blocks today suffer from a major lack of vitality that is crucial to the success of any urban center with maybe the only exception being 10th Street Italian and the recently opened Time.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Downtown's Industrial Bridges

The painting above by Alan Brunettin (which I was fortunate enough to acquire at his moving sale) beautifully depicts the warehouses of Chouteau's Landing and the bridges that connect them, or in the case of the train trestle, fly over them. Unfortunately, as buildings downtown get re-developed, the bridges that connected the once multi-building industrial empires are sometimes disappearing due to short sighted thinking.

Recently this steel bridge between the Elder Shirt Lofts building and the Bogen building was unceremoniously removed. It was one of many bridges that were built in the early part of the last century between factories and warehouses downtown. As operations in the factories grew, bridges were built to connect portions located in adjacent buildings to increase efficiency. As buildings changed hands through the years, typically each building received ownership of half the bridge with the property line running across the middle.
When the Elder Shirt building was redeveloped several years ago, I suggested using our half of the above bridge either as a private balcony for one of the 5th floor units or as a common space to be shared by the loft owners (the building has no other common outdoor space). The bridge provided interesting urban views in each direction along Lucas Avenue. At the time though since redevelopment of the other building was uncertain, Pyramid's development department did not want to risk improving half the bridge if its future was uncertain, so it was decided to simply close it off for later use. Apparently the developers of the Bogen did not see the potential for re-use, and the Elder Shirt condo association viewed the bridge as a liability, so they agreed to remove the bridge.
The ends of the large steel girders remained projecting from the Elder Shirt building a few days after removal.

The opening to the bridge at the rear of the Bogen.

Just a few years ago, a similar situation occurred a few blocks away between the Merchandise Mart and the 10th Street Lofts. In 1912, the giant Rice-Stix Dry Goods wholesale company outgrew the Merchandise Mart on Washington Avenue. An eleven story annex was built across St. Charles Street and the two buildings connected with a four story bridge. In 1920 the building now known as 1015 Locust was built and it too was connected to the Merchandise Mart with a five story bridge.
When the 10th street lofts were developed as downtown's first loft condo building in 1999, again, lack of a certain future of the Merchandise Mart and the bridge led to a decision to close off the bridge. When the Merchandise Mart was redeveloped a few years later, through a lack of vision, the new owners, HRI decided they wanted both bridges removed. 10th Street agreed so long as HRI paid for the entire removal including bricking in the openings on the 10th Street building, and thus the bridge was demolished.
Fortunately, the owners of 1015 Locust wanted no part of the removal scheme, as you see from the photo above, they had been maintaining their half of the west bridge. This bridge remains, and on the Merchandise Mart side, the bridge is used as living space for the adjoining apartments. Ironically, the Mart once hung a banner on the bridge advertising the apartments featuring the bridge. The removal of the east bridge between the Mart and 10th Street Lofts above and below
At the Majestic Stove Lofts, a bridge multistory connecting two buildings has been creatively re-used as balcony space for units in the adjacent buildings (photo from their website).