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.

Land of Lincoln I: Miracles of Architecture

Sometimes, it is just time for a road trip. Nothing fancy, but hopping in a car and taking in a new environment. Like Springfield, Illinois. Once, I drove right through it by train, and I knew Lincoln’s house stood there, and those two reasons combined were enough to make the trip. After a two hour drive, we arrived at our hotel. The girl behind the counter checked us in and rolled her eyes when we told her we came to Springfield just for fun. We quickly noticed that Springfield has its own version of the Eiffel Tower, but with an Illinois feel. In the center of the city, some ugly crossbreed between a water tower and a sky scraper pollutes your view from every angle.

springfield tower

Unlike the Eiffel Tower, people will desperately try to keep it out of their pictures.

Luckily, the town harbors a counter weight in design: the Dana Thomas house, a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, an architect so famous, he was included in my Dutch high school curriculum under the header ‘cultural and artistic appreciation development’ (CKV, voor de liefhebber). I hated the class, but once you get older, it is nice to have some basic form of appreciation; at the very least, it helps you catch on to references in pop culture. The Dana Thomas house is literally remarkable on the outside, and decent on the inside. I really enjoyed the attention to detail that Wright put in every little part of the house to underline the effects he was going for.

My favorite detail: to emphasize the horizontal design of the house, the horizontal grooves between the bricks are deeper than the vertical ones, so that the shadows help draw the horizontal lines.

My favorite detail: to emphasize the horizontal design of the house, the horizontal grooves between the bricks are deeper than the vertical ones, so that the shadows help draw the lines the architect wants you to see.

As we walked around the rest of the town, I couldn’t help but feel the old Wright wouldn’t enjoy his creation as much. After all, when we left town and looked back, all we saw was the Springfield water tower sky scraper. So much for artistic appreciation.