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.

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.

99 Things To Do After Chuck Berry Dies

I vividly remember the first time it was clear I was going to follow Mrs Missouri (back then she was still Miss Missouri) to Saint Louis.
“What are the things we can do there?” I asked her.
“We can go to a baseball game.”
A long silence followed. Saint Louis suddenly seemed as attractive as Zoetermeer (it’s easily the most boring Dutch ‘city’ I can think of, look it up), but without the ski slope or rafting arena. Evidently, there was a reason they call it ‘flyover country’.

Kansas City must be somewhere in these corn fields, give me a holler if you find it.

Kansas City must be somewhere in these corn fields, give me a holler if you find it.

After two years visiting and nine months of living here, I’m never really bored. The last time I was, in the waiting room of a chiropractor’s office, I picked up a book with a list of ‘100 things to do in Saint Louis before you die’. I soon find out the list isn’t meant as a guideline for dying in Saint Louis, and I think the author is happy enough if you carry on doing things after you finish the list, but she managed to scrape together a hundred things to do. Actually, the book should be called ‘100 things to do in Saint Louis before you die, and 99 after Chuck Berry does’, but I bet the publisher didn’t think it would stick. Maybe he was hoping for an updated edition with a new 100th thing. Anyway, it was satisfying to see that we already did the most obvious bunch, but I got some solid ideas out of the list. I’m especially excited to see the St Louis Symphony Orchestra, because the writer made it sound like they did a lot of pop-culture mixed with classical music. Also on my list: a downtown bike ride in August at night and the Assembly series of speakers at Washington University. But if you’re visiting St Louis soon, I can recommend you all the things that sound way more spectacular and I already crossed off.

Now that Berry's an old fellow, he doesn't truly know how to hold a guitar, but seeing the legend should be enough.

Now that Berry’s an old fellow, he doesn’t truly know how to hold a guitar, but seeing the legend should be enough.

Forget Spring, It’s Election Season!

I had an interest in the United States long before I developed an interest in one particular US citizen. The whole country intrigued me, but the political side of things all the more. In fact, I think everything is political: religion, science, theology, marriage, death, birth. Actually, that’s not what I believe personally, but what makes US politics so fascinating. Dutch politics is branded by a multiple party system so multiple, opinions become downright fluid. Flexibility and working together for a common goal will always be more important than rigid promises you can never keep. If Dutch politics are a playground where groups are formed, friends are needed, and all things take too long and are never truly finished, American politics are a buck mating fight: two deer stand on opposite sites of the arena, run towards each other and clash in the middle with a lot of noise. After the smoke is gone, we’ll see who is the last to stand.

The innocent. I could have known.

The innocent. I could have known.

There are exceptions to this powerful spectacle, however. Our idyllic little city, so neatly hidden in the midst of Saint Louis County, doesn’t have these fancy problems. Our mayor recently decided to step down, and so the political spark has lit this little town. Like mushrooms in the fall, endorsement signs popped up in front yards, showing support for the candidate. That’s right. The candidate. We have one. There is one person running for mayor, and we are still urged to vote for him. Evidently, my fellow neighbors get absolutely confused when the clashing and shouting is taken away from them, and fall into a default mode of backing their own. And me? I’m just very glad to see this town stands behind its future mayor like one.

Visiting Arizona, Part I: Ashes to Ashes

In an attempt to escape the claws of winter that keep scratching St Louis, Mrs Missouri and I decided to take a break and reside in Arizona for a week. Ironically enough, we left the first promising spring day, and returned in a blistering cold and road conditions only suited for one horse open sleighs (our taxi slid down the road almost horizontally, while another car came sliding by a little faster, almost hitting a police officer alongside the road). Because I married the most optimistic travel planner in the world, I will spread out the findings over a few posts, not in the least because Arizona has so much to offer.

80% of that being rattlesnakes.

Mostly rattlesnakes, though.

The first thing I noticed about Phoenix, was the amount of space available. The roads are neat and wide, because there is only one climate, and they aren’t based on Indian trails (I mean native Americans, but as they advertise their merchandise as ‘Indian artifacts’, I’ll stick to a respectful non-PC option), as I sometimes suspect St Louis highways to be. In fact, Phoenix seems built on the idea that in the desert, there is indeed plenty of space for everyone. Its city parks are half a mountain range, and I’m pretty sure nobody has ever died of dehydration in a St Louis city park, whereas I expected to see scores of skeletons along the hiking trails we visited. Risen from a ground scorched by an ever present sun, the only reasons the city isn’t named after the inventor of the air conditioner (Willis Carrier) is that Carriertown sounds silly and less impressive.

I like St Louis, but naming your city after an awesome fire bird is slightly more impressive than a 13th-century French king.

I like St Louis, but naming your city after an awesome fire bird is slightly more impressive than secretly honoring a  dull, 13th-century French king.

Arizona had more to offer than a spacious city, even tough nothing we encountered on our trips could exist in a small space (some of them even need a ‘grand’ space). In the coming weeks, I’ll take your metaphorical hand and show you the grandeur of a State that made sure to include some natural wonders in its borders to have at least something other than just desert and rattlesnakes. This is the America you always dreamed about: cowboys, cars, air conditioning, and bumper stickers the size of the Grand Canyon.