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: 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.

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.