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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

Saint Louis Landmarks: Webster University

This is one of my favorites, for several reasons. First of all, I met my wife because she was studying at Webster University and took their Global MBA program, which landed her in my hometown. Second, this means that Webster University reminds me a little bit of home, because to me, Webster University is still the white frame red brick building on the Boommarkt in Leiden. Third, we now live a five minute drive from Webster University, so it’s a local thing in my new country as well.

In the picture, it's that white frame red brick building. To the right.

In the picture, it’s that white frame red brick building. To the right.

Webster University started out in 1915 in Webster Groves, and was only open to female students (still before the nineteenth amendment of 1920 that would let them vote for real, mind you). It has grown since, and even grown to the extent that half our local irrelevant newspaper was filled to the brim with discussions on how much more they should be allowed to grow, and what vacant buildings they should not save from looming destruction. Its mascot is the Gorlok, a mythical creature with the paws of a cheetah, the horns of a buffalo, and the face of a Saint Bernard dog. If you find yourself thinking that you’ve never heard of this creature in any of the true mythologies, you’re not mistaken. This creature was made up in 1984 in the context of a contest. The outcome, as you might agree, shows the Liberal Arts philosophy of the school more than anything. Perhaps, when we’re making mythology out of thin air, a 1984 punk rock Gorlok would make for some good local Saint Louis mythology. Speaking of punk rock athletic mascots, the Webster University chess team has won back-to-back championships in the last two years. When nerd is as cool as it is nowadays, that’s not a bad image to have for a university.

Webster HQ in Webster Groves. Probably as close as Leiden Webster was to my Leiden home.

Webster HQ in Webster Groves. Probably as close as Leiden Webster was to my Leiden home.

This blog post is part of a series on landmarks in Saint Louis. 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.