Friday, June 02, 2006

Updated Blog on Underground Ozarks

I have been having trouble uploading pictures onto blogspot recently, so I went ahead and posted an update on my blog at . I will try to work out my problems here, as I think I may have reached my allowed upload capacity. Please visit the link for updates until I can figure out what the problem is.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Being an Urban Explorer

This post might just as well be called "A Plea to Those Who May Visit These Places....." Recently I made a return trip (one of many) to one of my favorite sites because my good friend and fellow explorer White Rabbit was in town. It was strange as I came into an open area and heard voices. I peered through a window and saw a group of three young guys. It was obvious that they were there doing the same thing I was, so I thought I'd just mess with them a little. I yelled "HEY!" really loud and watched them turn around uncertainly. I don't think they thought it was as funny as I did, but they were very friendly anyway. I asked one of them how they had found out about this place that I thought was pretty darn forgotten, despite being in the middle of a very urban area. He informed me that he had read about it on a blog called "Irrational Ecstasy." They were pretty surprised when they found out who I was. I mean, I'm almost a rock star, right?

It may be a little presumptuous to think that the only reason that they were at this particular site was because of my writings about it. Maybe they would have discovered it anyway, like Chris and I did. Maybe they would have read about it in the "Lost Caves of St. Louis" book. I don't really know. What I do know is that they were there, and that they were able to say that either directly or indirectly, it was because of me. These three guys, while I have to admit I don't really know them, seemed to get it. They were walking around, cameras in hand, admiring the ruins of a forgotten part of the history of our city. So many people don't get to see the wonderful areas right under their noses, and I am glad maybe a few more will get to see them because of my photos. If I can even inspire a few to get out there and see these things for themselves, that's even better! While these guys may be new to the Urban Exploration community, they understood what it was all about, and I'd go exploring with them any day.

A few days ago, someone close to me was talking to an older lady at a graduation party. She found out that this lady worked for a company that buys and then begins to restore old historic buildings in St. Louis. Wondering if her company owned any of the buildings that I had visited, she asked her if she had ever heard of Urban Exploration. "Oh yes, I've heard of that," she said angrily. "Those are the people that break into old buildings and take things of historical value because they think they have a right to it since it's historical and abandoned." After hearing this, she tried to explain to the lady that this was not at all in the spirit of UE, but who knows if her explanation did anything.

As I wandered around the well known walkways and rooms of the building with White Rabbit, Chris, Hiccup, and Hunter later that day, I was amazed at the amount of damage present.......things that were not damaged a few months ago. One of the first things I noticed was that someone had forced entry by breaking down a door in a very visible area. There had apparently been a recent fire in the main courtyard. People had smashed through brick and tile walls in a way that littered the ground with rubble in piles, making it hard to walk. This was all new. People were visiting this site at a rate that it was unused to. I was aware that the police were keeping a much closer eye on the place, and now I understand why.

It may be jumping to a conclusion to say that the increased traffic to the site was due to my blog, but I do not think that it is unlikely. I had already met one group of guys who told me that exact thing! I probably wouldn't be so sure if I were not able to see how the place had changed in the few months since I had first written about it. It was crumbling before due to the passage of time. And yes, there were areas where people were disrespectful and had smashed things just for fun, but it had gotten exponentially worse.

I would hope that all of you who read this decide to get out there and explore the world around you. Go into every unauthorized area, just to see what is there. Visit every vacant building to view the beauty of forgotten spaces. If you do, however, choose to do these things, you must realize that you are part of an already exsisting community. Many who have come before you have done the same thing and visited the same sites. Often, these sites remain in the untouched states that you may find them because of the sense and discretion of those past explorers. Every site that I have visited and posted on this blog I have entered WITHOUT HARMING OR BREAKING ANYTHING. Sometimes I have went to a site and found no possible way that I could get in without breaking a door or something. It is those times that I have turned around and went somewhere else.

Because by nature, UE is breaking the law, the rest of the public may not understand. Because of this, you must ensure that you do not become a mindless vandal in their eyes. If you do take anything from these sites, not only do you risk getting charged with burglary if you are caught, but you also ruin the experience for future explorers who will not get to see those "cool little things" that you happened to take with you. If you smash down a door or break a window to gain access to a building, you have quickly upped the level of what you're engaging in from tresspassing to breaking and entering. Sure, a cop can probably charge you with whatever he feels like, but like I have already stated: realize that you are part of a community of people who care about and do the things that you do. Do not ruin places for other by entering stupidly and getting the placed secured that much tighter, or simply by vandalizing and ruining the space that so many of us have come to love.

There are many sites that I have yet to post, but I am becoming much more selective of what I am willing to share online. I don't want to see these places ruined for those who actually care about their preservation. If you choose to engage in the exciting and mind expanding hobby that we refer to as Urban Exploration, please realize what that means: "Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints."

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Demolition of River Roads Mall

The demolition of River Roads Mall has been in the planning stages for some time now. Nearby Northland Shopping Center met its fate last year, and everyone knew that it wouldn't be long until River Roads joined it. Like Northland, River Roads is that unfortunate age that is too young to qualify for historic tax credits, but too old for restoration to be feasible or worthwhile (especially considering the economy of the city of Jennings today). I had heard from someone who works for the company that now owns the property that it's time had come, so I made it a point to visit this location for the last time this weekend.

As I drove up, it was apparent that demolition was well underway. The first satellite store that I saw was nothing but a concrete skeleton. Fortunately, this seemed like the only part that work had started on, as far as destroying stuff goes. As I entered the interior of the mall, much of the debris and junk that used to litter the floors and hallways seemed to have been piled up, or removed completely. Large piles of trash that has been removed from inside the mall dot the parking lots, but it's strange that they remove all this stuff when the building is just going to be coming down on top of it anyway.

The satellite store was bare, all of its walls having been removed. The only thing remaining that showed that it was anything but a parking garage was the center escallator. I would've went upstairs, but unfortunately it must've been turned off at the time.

Once I was inside, I headed for the part of the mall that I most wanted to visit: the basement bowling alley. It's amazing to me that when the place closed down, all of the pins and balls were just left there. Now they lie scattered about, many of them in the flooded areas at the back of the lanes, where one can peer into the murkey water and see old muddy bowling balls peering back. If anyone has photos of this place while it was in operation, I would love to see them!

From the bowling alley, I entered a room where many of the mall's seasonal decorations were still stored. However, multitudes of four feet tall toy soldiers had been thrown into a large pile, decapitated. Some of them had even been pierced with spears and hung from the walls. If I didn't know any better, I'd say that some pesky kids had found their way down there and wreaked a little havoc!

Before I left the mall, I wandered the main hallways for awhile, taking extra time to take my last photos of the place, and especially the famous clocktower in the center. Yes, it is still there, and like the rest of River Roads, it will soon be nothing but a pile of Rubble. It is such a shame that an icon that so many remember from years past will be lost. I almost wish someone would steal it, if only to preserve one small piece of St. Louis's recent history. Seriously, someone take it. I don't have a truck.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

New Blog Hosting

No, I don't plan on abandoning this site, so settle down children. My good friend White Rabbit from has been kind enough to host my blog on his website, and I am honored to be a part of it. Since you're reading this, I don't know if it's actually necessary for you to read both blogs, since they're basically the same thing. However, I do hope you'll visit the site, because then you'll be able to read about the splendiferous adventures of White Rabbit and Sterile as well. There are so many amazing places in the other parts of the state that these guys are visiting, and I'm sure you'll find them interesting.

My blog is at , and from there you can navigate to the other blogs or other parts of Underground Ozarks. Enjoy!

Cotton Belt Freight Depot

A couple of weeks ago Chris, Tunajive and I got together with a photographer for the Riverfront Times who wanted to get some shots for the article that came out last Thursday. We first took him to Armour Packing Plant in East St. Louis, where he took many shots that felt to me like band photos. It made me feel way cooler than I actually am. That is, of course, until I took a step in an unstable area of one of the upper floors and my foot went clear through. Had I not caught myself and had continued to fall, it could have been 30 feet or so of very bad. I should have been more scared than I was. I just calmly lifted myself up and said "Wow, that sucked." I think it severely damaged my cool factor, though. Falling through floors is never cool.
After Armour, we met up with Rob and Brian and visited the Cass Street Tunnel briefly before attempting to check out an old rail depot I had driven by the previous weekend. The building, previously known as the Cotton Belt Freight Depot and the St. Louis Southwestern Railroad Freight Depot, was massive. The Cotton Belt route was formed in 1891 and connected Texas to Arkansas and southeastern Missouri. I can not find very much info on this depot inself, only that it was probably built around 1900 and operated in some function until 1974. I would love to know exactly how the four stories of the building were used when it was an active rail depot. The group of us began walking around trying to find a way in. On one side of the building, pieces of broken up asphalt had been arranged into a large circle for what I could only assume was ceremonial purposes.....or for hippie sing alongs. We had made a complete trip around the building with no luck, until I went back to a spot where I had a hunch, and found a way in.

The inside of the depot has area that are barren and clean, and areas where strange stashes of toys, tires, or magazines can be found. I was quite excited about the large amount of really old Star Wars memoribillia we found, although I couldn't bring myself to take any of it........even the Boba Fett figure..... Much of the building is still very secure, and we were not able to find any way to access the upper floors. I was almost about to follow Brian who was attempting to climb the elevator shaft, when I noticed that there was a large couch suspended directly over my head in the shaft. The last thing I wanted to do was something that might dislodge it and give me a nice couch-sized bump on my head.

The Cotton Belt Depot was an interesting site, and one I hope to return to in the hopes of seeing the rest of it that I was not able to explore on this trip.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Window From St. Aloysius

I recieved this picture from some someone who reads my blog, and who grew up attending St. Aloysius. A member of her family purchased their family window from the Archdiocese of St. Louis, and it is now hanging in their home.
It's good to see that at least a portion of St. Aloysius's history will be preserved in the homes of those who share memories of the place. Most of the other family windows have yet to be purchased, and are being sold by the Archdiocese for around $2,000. Those interested should send an email to , and then probably rob a bank or something.

Gumbo Jail

A few weeks ago, Tunajive and I decided to spend our evening in the most productive way we could think of: checking out some of the abandoned sites that West County has to offer. First we visited the old Nursing Home, but eventually made out way to the old "Gumbo Jail." I assume this jail got its name because of it's location on the Missouri River floodplains of Chesterfield nicknamed "Gumbo Flats," not because they used to serve a kickass cajun seafood stew. But who knows, maybe their gumbo was outstanding. Gumbo Jail was a fully functioning penitentary for St. Louis county until 1993, when the great flood caused it to cease operation and a new jail was built in Clayton. The jail was in the news again recently after Hurricane Katrina, when it was cleaned up and prepared to house victims that never showed up. The site was recently aquired by Duke Reality Corp. for $6.74 million, with the intention of constructing a number of large office buildings.

On this night, we had additional company for our adventure: Fellow explorer Slim Jim and a group of his friends from the Minneapolis area had made the trip down to St. Louis, and were meeting up with us for the first time. The first part of our exploration took us to the bowels of the jail's utility tunnels, which stretch a long distance under the site. As we made our way up into the upper parts of the jail, the work that had been done for Katrina was apparent. Obviously, it had been vacant for some time, but there was none of the usual rubble and grime that one usually finds in abandoned places. In certain areas, the cells had been dry-walled over.....apparently so the victims living there wouldn't feel like they were living in a jail.

Despite how clean the place was, signs of its former use were everywhere. Many cells had names and graffiti scribbled everywhere. I was surprised when I found a number of different places where inmates had placed tic-marks, I'm assuming to count down their remaining days of imprisonment. That is the kind of thing that one sees in the movies, but that hits a somber note when you see that it really happened, and think about the many people who lived out long portions of their lives behind the barred doors of the building.

All of the usual "jail areas" are still intact, including the visitation room with two-way phones, the cafeteria, a large auditorium/gymnasium, and the guard tower outside. I couldn't believe that we were actually able to gain entry into the guard tower, and couldn't help but have someone snap a picture, despite the fact that the flash would be incredibly visible through the glass windows lining every side of the tower.
Although plans for the site seem to be in the works, nothing has been done yet. It will be sad to see this place demolished. I know that, compared with other St. Louis sites, this one does not have anywhere near the history, or even interesting architecture for that matter. It is a bland, two story grey shack looking building. I remember, though, watching the inmates in the yard from my mom's car on the highway when I was a kid. This is something I am able to think about every time I drive by today. Not for long, I guess.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Photo Gallery

I have decided to put some of my favorite photos online so that anyone who is interested can see them full size. You can find them at .

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

St. Aloysius Gonzaga

I have known that St. Aloysius has been getting closer and closer to demolition for awhile, and it has remained at the top of my list of places to visit. I had visited before, but had found the church and surrounding buildings to be fairly secure. Recently, I finally made the trip again by myself, and this time was able to gain entry and photograph the interior of the church, rectory, and old gymnasium. It seems such a waste that the Archdiocese of St. Louis is allowing this historic parish to be demolished to make way for luxury housing. A few locals told me that the church has settled considerable recently, and some of its structural flaws would be far to expensive to repair. Regardless, I hate to see any historic building meet its end in such a way.

Someone who is close to my family actually grew up attending "St. Al's," and her requests to see photos of the interior only made me want to visit more. As I began walking around the church interior, I knew that it may be something she would not like to see. You would never know that it has been closed for just over a year by the amount of debris lying around. One of the few features of the church to remain are the painted archways, which are still beautiful to behold. All the stained-glass windows have been removed, and I have been told will be sold for a hefty sum by the Archdiocese.

I also visited the rectory that is attached to the church building via an inclosed walkway. It seemed to be almost in worse shape than the church itself, with grafitti having found its way into many of the rooms. It also appears that the entire complex has become an unofficial airsoft location. Only the frame of the main staircase in the rectory remains, and vandals have destroyed some of the windows and the first floor toilet (which was unfortunate because I REALLY had to go!).

Finally, I made my way into the old school gymnasium. I don't usually explore by myself, but on this trip I felt completely comfortable aside from entering the pitch blackness of the gym basement. At one point, my flashlight came across a man standing in a corner. I nearly evacuated my bladder before I realized that it was a statue. Even then, the gesture he was making with his hands still made me a little uncomfortable.

The gym floor was pretty unremarkable and empty. There was a fairly large stash of old trophies on the stage. It seems sad that kids probably worked very hard to achieve these tokens of athletic superiority, and now they are as forgotten as the church itself.

At this point, the demolition of St. Aloysius may be inevitable, as the developer's sign site prominently outside the front door of the church. However, there are those who are still battling to save this historic piece of St. Louis history. Visit if you would like to help or learn more.

Lung Cancer
Lung Cancer