Saint Louis Landmarks: University City Lion Gates

Now this is a perfect example of landmarks to me. One of those places where you keep driving by and keep noticing the same odd thing. Things like a really peculiar building, a strange bend in the road, or in this case the University City Lion Gates (and their City Hall, which looks like Rapunzel is held captive in the top of the building). Lion gates in themselves aren’t that special. Many gates have decorative lion statues guarding them, and these wouldn’t have been weird if it wasn’t for the location of the gate. The gate separates one end of Delmar Boulevard with another end of Delmar Boulevard. It doesn’t lead anywhere. Put a little harsh, driving through those gates feels like driving over a bridge that spans dry, flat land.

Enter through these majestic gates to keep going on the road you were already on anyway! Image from stlouispatina.com

Enter through these majestic gates to keep going on the road you were already on anyway! Image from stlouispatina.com

Actually, it turns out that this isn’t entirely untrue. While you would suspect the gates to have had a function before, they never really did. Sure, they represented a ‘gate to opportunity’, but in fact they are the remnants of ambitious city planning that envisioned University City to be a archetype of the architectural ‘Beautiful City Movement’, a movement that promoted broad curving drives, fountains, and sites for monumental structures.

If the Beautiful City movement seems a little too obvious, I encourage you to read about 'Plan Voisin': a truly proposed plan to bulldoze part of the messy city of Paris, and replace it with 60-story apartment buildings.

If the Beautiful City movement seems a little too obvious, I encourage you to read about ‘Plan Voisin’: a truly proposed plan to bulldoze part of the messy city of Paris, and replace it with 60-story apartment buildings.

Somewhere between then and now, their ambitions have faded a little. The gates were designed to lead into a subdivision that never was, the monumental structures look really out of context, and the broad driving curves are only left in the annoying two lane roundabout that leads into University City. Worst of all, like the ambitions that created them, the pillars and lions started to shift. The pillars were shortened by 16 feet, the concrete lions were replaced with lighter fiberglass ones, and to pile on the misery, they found out that one of the lions was supposed to be a tiger. This means that if the peculiar University City Lion Gates stand for anything, it’s for over-ambitious projects that are never finished.
This blog post is part of a series on landmarks in Saint Louis. Every week, I take one of the 250 landmarks selected for the 250th anniversary of the city and look up some information. This way, I hope to get to know my new city a little better every week together with you, my readers.

Saint Louis Landmarks: United Hebrew Congregation

For some of these blog posts, finding information on the history of a landmark can be hard. Luckily, it seems the United Hebrew Congregation doesn’t lack any historical context. The most remarkable historic fact at first sight is that this is the first established congregation west of the Mississippi river. The congregation was founded around 1837, and hired their first rabbi in 1854. To put this into perspective: St. Louis had less than 20,000 residents in 1840 (and 160,000 by 1860, so it’s safe to assume this rabbi saw his congregation explode in numbers, if only he stayed longer than a year). Those increasing numbers made St. Louis a large city in just two decades, and undeniably the Gateway to the West, from where all pioneers would waver out westwards.

Like all those immigrants, the location of the congregation kept drifting west, too. Their spiritual founding was close to the Mississippi river on 2nd street, their first building on 5th, their next on 6th, then to 21st, on to Skinker (so far west, the city stopped naming their streets), and lastly followed its members to the suburbs in Chesterfield in 1980. From there on, it still operates and keeps being the first in some things. In 2006, they commissioned a Torah to be written by a woman, and today they indeed read from the world’s first Torah scroll written by a female scribe. I guess the United Hebrew Congregation can’t wait for the moon to be colonized; another first to be claimed.

This blog post is part of a series on landmarks in Saint Louis. Every week, I take one of the 250 landmarks selected for the 250th anniversary of the city and look up some information. This way, I hope to get to know my new city a little better every week together with you, my readers.

Saint Louis Landmarks: University of Missouri in Saint Louis

Another university I know fairly well. Don’t be thrown off by the long name, you can’t really pronounce it any other way than UMSL (Umsull). UMSL is actually the biggest university in Saint Louis, measured by number of students, and is placed five minutes from where Mrs Missouri works, so we’ve used their tennis court stands for our picnics, and their entrance driveway to make U-turns. Oh, and I once sent them an email to enquire about taking classes there (didn’t work out). So yeah, you can say things are pretty exciting between UMSL and me.

Although I have not been hanging out with their mascot lately. Mainly because they chose the devil to represent their school.

Although I have not been hanging out with their mascot lately. Mainly because they chose the devil to represent their school.

On a more serious note, UMSL is the biggest university in students (13,809), like I mentioned. Maybe it doesn’t have the fanciest name, most radio commercials, the most urban campus, or any of those other things, but it’s simply the biggest. The Target of universities, if you will. The main library is named after Thomas Jefferson, and I am going to suggest he didn’t donate the library himself, mainly because the school was founded in 1963. Their main programs are the Criminology and Criminal Justice program (ranked 4th nationwide), the philosophy program (ranked in the top 10 according to the McDonalds manager monthly Philosophical Gourmet Report), and some other programs that rank high in productivity, so evidently students are kept busy if nothing else.

This blog post is part of a series on landmarks in Saint Louis. Every week, I take one of the 250 landmarks selected for the 250th anniversary of the city and look up some information. This way, I hope to get to know my new city a little better every week together with you, my readers.

Saint Louis Landmarks: Urban League of Metropolitan St Louis

On their website, the Urban League of Metropolitan St Louis states that it ‘provides ladders out of poverty for African Americans and others through partnerships with corporations, community leaders, governmental and civic institutions.’ It was founded in 1918, during what the website calls ‘a time of domestic and foreign conflict with the purpose of defusing racial tensions’. That’s like saying World War I was a time of foreign conflict with the purpose of defusing German imperialism. Sure enough, Wikipedia calls a spade a spade and shows how ‘defusing racial tensions’ is the aftermath of the East St. Louis Riot; an incident that caused between 40 and 200 deaths and is named as one of the worst race riots in US history (and sadly enough, there are plenty to choose from).

The founder of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis should also be remembered for his mustache.

I think the founder of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis should also be remembered for his mustache.

I can’t help but feel that over the years, there must have been an optimistic feeling that the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis could shift its focus to placing flower beds in the downtown area (keeping its urban feel intact), because defusing racial tensions and providing ladders for the African American community wouldn’t be necessary anymore. After spending a few minutes driving around St. Louis, you’ll know we have years of optimism to go, and that the ladders are still needed. I think those ladders should first come from an organization rooted in the minority group itself, and that’s why the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis deserves a spot in the St. Louis highlights. But at the same time, it’s important to know that a ladder has two ends, that both need to be supported well. The Urban League deserves our attention, but maybe we should allow it to let us focus on the greater problem and work towards closing the gap, so the ladders can get smaller and smaller.

This blog post is part of a series on landmarks in Saint Louis. Each week, I take one of the 250 landmarks selected for the 250th anniversary of the city and look up some information. This way, I hope to get to know my new city a little better every week together with you, my readers.

PS. This post may seem familiar, because I accidentally posted it in September first. Evidently, my calendar was off by a few weeks. Sorry for the mix up!

Saint Louis Landmarks: Victorian Home Museum

The Victorian Home Museum in Belleville, Illinois, is managed by the Saint Clair County Historical Society, or SCCHS, if you love good abbreviations just as much as I do. They bought the house in 1963, renovated it for five years, and opened it to the public in 1968. Now everyone can see how Bellevillians ate, slept, drank and gossiped about the common folks (please tell me I’m not the only one who read ‘villains’ at first sight). Better yet, the Victorian Home Museum is also the headquarters of the SCCHS, and some extra artifacts also made it into the museum.

vicmuseum143910

The rooms are furnished with fitting furniture pieces and clothing items to give you an idea of what the house would have looked like in the years right after it was build in 1866. Speaking of 1866, one of the main attractions of the building is a balcony from which Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech. Basic history math tells me that this is not an original balcony from the house (Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, after which he delivered no speeches whatsoever), but it sure is a lovely piece. When you visit, you’ll see five featured rooms and the Richard “Pete” Kern Room, where different exhibits on Saint Clair County history are displayed. You can visit Monday through Friday from 10am to 2pm, and the admission of $2 for adults and $1 for children supports the SCCHS in their future work.

This blog post is part of a series on landmarks in Saint Louis. Every week, I take one of the 250 landmarks selected for the 250th anniversary of the city and look up some information. This way, I hope to get to know my new city a little better every week together with you, my readers.

Saint Louis Landmarks: Vintage Vinyl

Don’t take this the wrong way, but the folks of Vintage Vinyl clearly are audiophiles more than visually oriented people. Their store looks the tiniest bit like a giant porter potty from the outside, and their website also really focuses on music. And that’s a good thing, because all this way, no energy is wasted. Another big plus is that they are on the Delmar Loop, one of the Jazziest streets of Saint Louis, as far as I know. Both their website and the store are hubs for music lovers, servicing their audience with newsletters, eulogies to the greats of local music, and occasionally even a literal platform for performing bands.

vintage-vinyl-flood

Their love of music is not only visible on their store and website, but in their history as well. The store was founded because two people (Tom and Lew) liked records a lot more than the stores that sold them. In 1979, they decided to open a booth at the Soulard Farmer’s Market in Saint Louis and started selling records until they could afford a real store on Delmar. Over the years, they kept adding more and more to their collection, their employee base, and due to their expansions had to move up the street twice, finally ending up where they are now. What I love most about their history, however, is this quote from Tom on dry spells in business: “Music will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no music.”

This blog post is part of a series on landmarks in Saint Louis. Every week, I take one of the 250 landmarks selected for the 250th anniversary of the city and look up some information. This way, I hope to get to know my new city a little better every week together with you, my readers.

Saint Louis Landmarks: Washington Historical Society

Evidently, before there were enough veterans, they named everything after Washington. You can’t blame ‘m. Like the case with the veterans, try voting against such a naming decision and then sleep at night. Also, writing my blog posts in reverse alphabetical order (I can see one or two light bulbs go off among my readers) inevitably results in the same name coming up twice. It’s a good thing we already had two universities, otherwise the letter ‘U’ would be near endless.

Anyway, the Washington Historical Society is located on Washington Avenue, probably explaining the name-giving mystery and thus rendering the last paragraph fairly useless. It was founded in 1959 to preserve Washington Missouri’s history. It’s okay, I also had to read that sentence twice. They mean the city of Washington, Mo. Also, we finally found the key to the naming process (I’m leaving this puzzle on purpose). The society harbors a number of museums and libraries, including the awesome sounding firehouse museum, the Missouri Meerschaum Corn Cob Pipe Memorabilia, and a featured ongoing exhibit on the importance of the gymnastics club from 1856 to 1916 to social life in Washington, Mo, complete with photographs.

Completely in line with being a historical society, the website hasn't been updated since the society's founding in 1959.

Completely in line with being a historical society, the website hasn’t been updated since the society’s founding in 1959.

Maybe you can’t read the above sentences with a straight face, either, but I think it is really cool that a small town of almost 14,000 residents, located 50 miles outside of St Louis has nested itself downtown and exhibits itself. Not only that, this chamber-of-commerce-like attempt has been rewarded with a spot among the city’s landmarks. I tip my hat to that, Washington Missouri!

This blog post is part of a series on landmarks in Saint Louis. Every week, I take one of the 250 landmarks selected for the 250th anniversary of the city and look up some information. This way, I hope to get to know my new city a little better every week together with you, my readers.

PS. I found someone doing a similar thing, but instead taking pictures of every cake. Check out her blog right here: http://astlouiscakewalk.wordpress.com/

Visiting Michigan: UP and Munising

Mackinac Island was only a short stop on our way to the UP, and after half a day of cycling around and not seeing the Grand Hotel, we took the ferry back to the mainland and went further north. For those a bit unfamiliar with the UP, it’s that weird appendix thing on the map that looks like it really should be part of Canada. It’s bigger than the Netherlands, but only has about 300k people living there. As a result, it feels somewhat empty. Our instructions from Mackinac Island to our camping grounds were literally: cross the bridge and take a left turn. After 1h 16m, take a right turn, then a left again after 18 minutes, and keep driving until you hit your destination (don’t get off the paved road). Crossing over half the peninsula using just three very straight roads, people.

straight roads

On those roads, I learned a valuable marketing lesson. As many other more desolated areas I’ve seen (looking at you, Arizona and Morocco), a main point of commerce is to build a stand alongside the road and wait for someone to stop to buy the local goods. In the Upper Peninsula, this is pasties. We didn’t know what pasties were, but after seeing twenty stands selling pasties, we stopped at the twenty-first sign to see what this was all about. After taking a bite, we immediately understood why everyone wanted to get rid of them.

otterlake

Our camping grounds outside of Munising looked very picturesque (as seen in the picture). A crossbreed between a pond and a lake lay deep blue and still under wide skies, surrounded by trees and the best showers I’ve ever seen on any camping grounds in my life. In the town, we ate the best burger in a 100 mile radius (according to their menu), which turned out to be the only burger as well, and the worst I’ve eaten this year. The terrible dining experience was countered by the very cool hikes we took the next day, using the many waterfalls around Munising as attractions to visit. In short, if you plan to visit the UP anytime soon, go for the accent and the nature, and give up on fine dining as long as you’re up there.

waterfall

Saint Louis Landmarks: Washington University School of Medicine

Another university. Or rather, something university-related. The School of Medicine of Washington University (WashU, for a few close friends and many lovers) is the only of the university’s seven schools to get its own spot in this list. After tough choices like these, I am glad I didn’t create the list myself. The other six schools must be so jealous.

The School of Medicine was founded in 1891 and has grown to a really prestigious research facility. Since the first rankings became available, the university has been a constant member of its top ten, with a second rank as its high spot. Just reading about the research facilities and its place in several rankings, I started to see why the School of Medicine is somewhat special. Even before I knew about the status of its School of Medicine, I had seen Washington University in Saint Louis pop up in the World University Rankings of THE and Shanghai University.

washuschoolofmedicine

And suddenly I realized where its status as a landmark comes from. Not only is WashU an educational giant in Saint Louis, but its research facilities’ fame stretches to all corners of the world (notably Shanghai). Maybe their medical care is fantastic, maybe their doctors don’t make any children cry, but I think there is value in cherishing your treasures. And to Saint Louis, WashU is a treasure.

This blog post is part of a series on landmarks in Saint Louis. Each week, I take one of the 250 landmarks selected for the 250th anniversary of the city and look up some information. This way, I hope to get to know my new city a little better every week together with you, my readers.

Never-ending Lightning, Ominous Skies and Ferguson

Speaking of never-ending things, we’ll continue the rest of our Michigan travels series next week. But before fall really hits, I want to talk about a Saint Louis phenomenon: lightning. Sure, sure, you guys have lightning wherever you are, but you don’t have Saint Louis lightning. Let me explain.

In the Netherlands, a thunderstorm is what happens after one of those summer days that badly need some sort of relief. Like a good fight, tension builds up, thunder and lightning happen, and an hour or so later, you fall asleep to the sound of rain drops against your bedroom window.

Dutch thunderstorms are more like a tired toddler throwing a tantrum than anything else, really.

Dutch thunderstorms are more like a tired toddler throwing a tantrum than anything else, really.

Not Saint Louis. Because of the natural sauna that we call summer, all days need relief. Once the clouds build up around the city, flashes of lightning start illuminating the sky all day long. I’ve seen days where lightning was around all day long. There is no thunder, no relief, but only the proof of tension in the air. Like a storm building all day, without ever breaking loose.

dog-behaviour-problems

Or like an aggresively barking dog safely kept behind a fence

There’s something strange about being in an almost storm all day. It’s unsettling to feel so much tension all day long. I’m pretty sure that when the Ferguson uproar is turned into a movie, it will feature a continual electrically-charged sky, even though basically all protests took place under a clear sky. It’s just that the dark grey Missouri summer skies with their unexpected lightning bolts are a perfect background to show what happened during those weeks.

stlouisstorm

Like Ferguson, those thunderstorm skies have painted my summer in uncomfortable colors, leaving me with the thought that you can’t change the weather, but we can change a lot of other things. The beauty of nature is that thunderstorms will literally disappear into thin air, making way for a new season with its own peculiar weather. But as we all know, not all things will simply transition into a new season without our help. Next summer, when something’s brewing, let’s sit on the porch, watch the spectacle in the sky and think about all the little things we can do to relieve tension under the sky.