St Louis, a city of contrasts . . . from architectural wonderment to urban grit
Well it’s official! Bruce and I have now made our home in the grand old city of St Louis, Missouri!
Pretty well every time we announce that fact to anyone — even locals in St. Louis — their first response is, “Really?” and their next response is “Why?” The locals usually quickly recover however and blurt out how much they love their city and all its quirks; and how happy they are to see some inbound traffic for a change. What’s more, they mean it.
From one who loves architecture in all states and forms, I like the natural, almost organic urban grit of St. Louis. I’d take that any day over the politically managed and massaged variety that I have seen in so many other cities across the USA.
I agree we could have chosen a more conservative city and certainly a more historically “maintained” one, such as our most recent homes, Old Town Alexandria VA and South Pasadena CA. But somehow this just adds to the allure of St. Louis. You never know what you are going to find just around the corner, from one street to another.
To say St. Louis is a city of contrasts is an understatement. In the course of a few miles one can see architectural grandeur and manicured gardens such as this home (probably just as it was at the time of the famous international World Fair that St Louis hosted in 1904) . . .
and then find oneself in a semi-wasteland of abandoned and boarded up but beautiful brick buildings.
Often mixed within these blighted areas are pockets of renovation, flair and restoration excellence. And in that same setting, every few corner blocks a cool coffee shop, restaurant or Irish pub is likely to appear, often crowded with people.
We are living in this two-storied century old Edwardian home in Benton Park St. Louis.
It’s open and spacious and there is plenty of light, reminding us of our earlier loft in South Pasadena CA.
I love my new studio which spans across the front of the upper level. Already much creativity has occurred in this space, and much more to come.
There is certainly no shortage of architectural inspiration within our immediate environment such as this old door which is part of the old Lemp Brewery, situated just down the road from us.
I plan on creating a series of urban paintings that architecturally represent the city of St. Louis. We live in the historic Cherokee-Lemp area which is called “Antique Row” due to the predominance of cool antique stores. A few blocks down on Cherokee Ave there is an independent art store to keep me supplied with paints and brushes. Better still, there are two coffee houses that are only a minute or two away, and both serve delicious made-from-scratch meals and treats. I plan to create a painting of what has become our favorite cafe, the Mud House, a popular meeting place in these parts. But first a rough sketch.
And I feel a St. Louis Architectural Fusion series coming into being as well! This scene, which is part of the old Lemp Brewery, could well develop into one of my first paintings.
Our home is in a culturally and ethnically diverse area which is situated in a clump of historic homes, most of which have been restored or rehabilitated. Ongoing construction/rehab can be seen right from my studio window. It’s fun to watch that building slowly progressing and coming back to life.
We also happen to have the coolest neighbors. Despite the fact that we are in the middle of an urban area, just a few feet away in the empty lot next to us, our new neighbor has embarked on a project to build a “straw bale” tiny house. (Straw-bale construction is the ancient use of bales of straw to build walls.) Then across the road is a small wonderfully restored home owned by a young couple who live there with their three children. Running around their yard and taking ownership of the general surroundings are about a dozen chickens whose eggs have rich orange yokes. In Los Angeles I can image the authorities having a fit over such things.
In summary, we have discovered that St. Louis has a thriving art scene, great coffee houses and is a foodie heaven with the best array of restaurants I have ever seen in one place. The city has a staggering 108 parks that cover nearly 3000 acres, (hence it is called the “City of Parks”), hundreds of urban garden projects and community gardens, walking and biking trails galore and quaint historic cities that surround St. Louis which rival Old Town Alexandria, VA. Charleston SC and others. Furthermore mid-west Americans remind me of my homeland, of New Zealand. They are super friendly, yet direct and down to earth — no time for airs and graces. We can deal with that!
In short, St. Louis for us is all about opportunity and possibility. It has everything that all big cities in America have and more, but there is an edge; an attitude and those that live here are all about protecting their cultural and architectural heritage and they are not about to give up or take no for an answer. Many are working tirelessly to improve social issues and reverse the decay in this city. They want to see an end to urban blight and have a pioneer spirit that cannot be broken. Perhaps it is that spirit that called to us, compelling us to leave the confines of comfort and add our shoulders to the wheel and help with these revitalization efforts!
Until next time, Leisa