I sit on Millionaire’s Row

I sit on Millionaire’s Row,
what’s left of it,
my German accent barely noticeable,
the cries from parades of grief
moving through my doors
now calmed. I sit
in a magnificent silence,
the only sounds
the chips of mortar chisels,
the grunts of thieves of brick,
the rustle of architects’ paper,
whispering redevelopment,
murmuring tear-down. 

Photograph: The Winkelmann mansion in 2009, by Preservation Research St. Louis. To see its current condition, please visit St. Louis Patina. The mansion was built in 1873, by a “new money” German wholsesale grocery merchant named Bernhard Winkelmann. Between its glory days in the 19th century and the near-destruction today, it served as a funeral home.

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More than a memory

Dewey defeated Truman here,
or so the paper said, the one
held up by a triumphant smile
at the back of a rail car. Millions
had blurred through in war-time
urgency, not seeing a future
of biking rails, not rail lines,
of airplanes, not passenger trains,
of shopping centers, not edifices
of architectural majesty. Still,
it endures, thrusting up from
its concrete bed, almost a fist
shaking in the wind,
more than a memory,
less than a reality.

Thanks to Chris Naffziger at St. Louis Patina for his post on the Illinois Central Railroad Trestle that inspired this poem.

Photograph: An Illinois Central passenger train leaving St. Louis Union Station in the 1950s.

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In hot sunshine’s last gleaming
it rests, this nod to the past, this
hope to a future that didn’t happen
except in imaginations, and dreams,
but it sits nonetheless, a stately repose
as its necklace of pods carry us
upward to look east to the past
to look west to the past,
to look down at the present, and
though it rests we sense
a restlessness, or the movement
of the river below.

Photograph: Core of Discovery St. Louis.

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Kerri Webster’s “Grand & Arsenal: Poems”

The intersection of Grand and Arsenal in the city of St. Louis is one part park, three parts commercial. Arsenal Street actually does a little zigzag as it crosses Grand and then runs the length of Tower Grove Park, which is due south of the Missouri Botanical Garden. Like so much of the city of St. Louis, the residential buildings in the area are red brick.

“Grand & Arsenal” is also the title of a new collection of poetry by Kerri Webster, former writer-in-residence at Washington University. There’s a review of the collection today over at TweetSpeak Poetry.

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Feeding koi

Flashes, splashes of gold
orange yellow white black
punctuated by plaintive
open mouths, jostling
and competing for bits
of compacted pellets
(25 cents per serving)
(what a deal) (even if of
unknown nutritional value)
delighting both a child
and the child within.

Photograph: Grandfather and grandson feeding koi at St. Louis Union Station, April 8, 2012, by Stephanie Young.

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Interstate 44

Chris Naffziger at St. Louis Patina has a post today entitled “The Death of Central St. Louis.” It’s well worth reading; it looks at the stretch of the City of St. Louis between Interstates 64/40 and 44between Lafayette Square and Kingshighway. What few knew when they were built, we all know now: highways form barriers; highways divide. 

In 2010, Tim Lee at Bottom-up had a similar post, “Freeways and the Decline of St. Louis.” It’s worth reading, too. (Note that the older posts are archived but Lee’s blog has moved to Forbes and is now called “Disruptive Economics.”) 

Interstate 44 

It’s progress, it is, and
not all progress is bad but
the  total cost is rarely calculated
in the configuration of concrete
and beams, pavement and bridges,
archways and signage and lamps
engineered and designed perfectly
but the other cost is there, nonetheless,
and usually identified long after, when
The Hill is split and Webster Groves
divided and neighborhoods
isolated and displaced so that schools
and factories and office buildings
become tombstones for what once was.
Once there was life in this moonscape.

Photograph: The construction of the connection of Interstates 44 and 55 in St. Louis. Photographer unknown.  Source: Preservation Research Office.

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St. Augustine

It is a rock upon which he built
his church and this rock you hear me
of brown brick and towers and turrets
distinctly Romanesque constructed
when church buildings were made
to look like Mt. Sinai of the hood
afloat on Irish and German and
Italian accents which needed
a rock from the old country
and it still fights the decay
and decline surrounding it
with a clenched fist. 

Photograph: St. Augustine’s Catholic Church, Hyde Park, St. Louis, by Chris Naffziger at
St. Louis Patina.

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The Cathedral of St. Louis

It faces east, this stadium,
this cathedral where
Cardinal Nation worships.
It faces east not because
of Mecca or Jerusalem
but because of New York
and Philadelphia and
Boston and all the other
great and original cathedrals
where Nations worship.
It faces east because
its city ignored Mr. Holmes’
advice and looked back
to where it came from,
not to where it was going.
But it’s Game Day,
the worship hour and
no one cares about Mr. Holmes
or New York or the past or
the future because the moment
is now and the team
is on the field.

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Tuesday in the Rain

Early morning but still night,
thick laden clouds blocking
any vestige of first sunrise,
and the drops pour on Forest Park.
It’s 6:42 a.m., and the rain
erases lane dividers on Skinker
Boulevard, transforming the street
into a river of red taillights
and white headlights.
Intrepid joggers and bikers ignore
the downpour as they move,
glistening in the wet darkness.

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When Cities Still Dreamed

Erected in an explosion of growth and opportunity,
it was Neo-Gothic optimism announcing itself,
if not its host, to the world. Steam and diesel
propelled and pushed and pulled millions
through its platforms and gates, a paroxysm
of humanity eating its food, using its facilities,
buying its books and magazines and newspapers;
train culture was the apogee of print culture –
you needed something to do for those long hours
and days across plains and valleys and mountains.
Like aging silent film star after the talkies, it sat
and drank and brooded as technology superseded
its purpose, rendering it redundant and making its
redundancy its rendering, its heavy makeup and
elaborate sets archaic for a utilitarian age. Still,
it sits and watches, waiting, a reminder
of when cities still dreamed dreams.

St. Louis Union Station was built in the in 1890s, designed by architect Theodore C. Link. At its height, the “Midway” of the station serviced more than 100,000 people a day. In the early 1980s, the station underwent a $150 million renovation, and now includes a hotel, shops and restaurants. The famous photograph of President Truman holding a news paper with the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman” was taken on a train here.

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