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!

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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.

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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.

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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/

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.