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 http://www.savestaloysius.org/ if you would like to help or learn more.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Nursing Home

This nursing home is located in West County. It's interesting, because most local adults have no idea that it is there. However, most local teenagers are acutely aware of its presence. This is easily apparent from all the obviously "teenage rebellion" inspired graffiti and thoughtless vandalism. The building is not very old, nor has it been abandoned for a very long time (around ten years, I believe), but it has suffered more damage than most buildings ten times its age. This is the reason that it is probably the most dangerous location that I've visited as far as getting arrested goes. The local police watch this place like hawks. They know the areas that people park to visit it, and the don't hesitate to come inside after you.

In fact, the last time I attempted to visit this site with Soccermom we had a run-in ourselves. We were unable to access the building, because the entrance I had used before had been secured. The entire building seemed as if someone had taken great pains to re-secure it. They did an excellent job, and I didn't want to ruin their efforts, so I decided to call it a night. On the way back to my car, I noticed a car parked across the busy street and though briefly "I wonder if that's a cop car." As Soccermom and I came into a lit area, the car turned and painted us with a powerful spotlight. We both hit the ground, only to realize that we were still fully illuminated. "Run!" I said. Unfortunately, she didn't hear me say that. She just suddenly realized that I was halfway across the field without her. Boy we laughed about that one................a few days later.

This previous experience was taken into account when Tunajive and I planned out latest trip. We parked in a place so far away that we had to suck wind up what I'm sure is one of the steepest hills in the state of Missouri. We had to convince ourselves that we were willing to be out of breath for awhile to avoid any kinds of legal trouble. In the years since I had last visited, the building had changed very little. Apparently, local law enforcement's efforts had been successful, because there was little new graffiti. What we did notice was that much of the trash and debris that had once been present was cleaned up. This supported the rumors I have heard that the current owners are trying very hard to sell the site. I was surprised, then, that they worked so hard to clean the place up but didn't paint over the various murals that say things like "I rape small children."

I have heard the stories that this home is haunted. It is quite apparent how these stories got started. The building is never quiet. One is forced to stop and listen every few moments because of different strange sounds or vibrations. I am not ready to say that is actually is haunted, but it is an eerie place to visit. Local teenagers have tryed to make the building even scarier, and in many places one can see bloody handprints or footprints or makeshift Ouija boards or messages like "Get out while you still can."

Many of the sites I visit are beautiful examples of decay and neglect. This site is not beautiful, but it is an interesting example of meaningless teenage vandalism. I can understand the graffiti, but personally I think the fires that have been started are a tad unnecessary. Regardless, the local teens have made this site their own, and it has become part of the local lore.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Arcade/Wright Building

A few weeks ago, I was offered one of the most amazing opportunities that I've had since I began seriously exploring the forgotten places in and around St. Louis. Chris called me one night to tell me about an excursion that he and his friend Hunter had planned for the weekend. As soon as I heard him say ".....Arcade Building....." I almost flipped out. I was, of course, aware of this building because it is on the National Register of Historic Places. I had assumed that it would be to difficult to gain entry to, but they had found a way. I could barely wait for the weekend to arrive.

The Arcade Building is one of the more ornate buildings in the downtown area, with its gothic detailing and lavish second and third story bay windows. When passing it on the street, one can tell that it is vacant, but it is still a beautifully preserved piece of architecture. The Arcade Building is actually considered the "Wright-Arcade Building" because it was built onto the existing Wright Building in 1913 (the more architecturally subdued Wright Building had been there since 1907). In it's day, the Arcade housed numerous businesses and was the early equivalent of today's shopping malls. The building is named for the two story shopping "arcade" that stretches the length of the building between two streets. I had heard how magnificent the arcade was supposed to be, and that was one of the reasons I was so excited to visit the building.

I met up with Chris and we made the trip downtown to hook up with Hunter. Less that five minutes after arriving, we were inside the Arcade building, and after walking just a few feet, I found myself in the center of the famous arcade. Even in its disrepair, it has an intricate beauty that one doesn't see in modern buildings. The entire ceiling is vaulted with gothic arches and elaborate buttresses (wow, it's not ever day a guy gets to refer to a buttress!). I can only imagine what the arcade looked like in its glory days.

After about 20 minutes of wandering the main arcade, we ventured into the basements of the building, attempting to find the entrance to the tunnels that are rumored to exist, connecting the Arcade Building to old train tunnels that are now used by the Metrolink. We had read that they were never used and were closed up, and this appeared to be the case because we found nothing. We then began exploring the upper floors, which I found particularly interesting. Many of the original businesses still have their signs painted on the glass doors inside the building, and some even left pieces of equipment or paperwork. You can still see parts of an old radio station, a law oriented printing company, and (my personal favorite) an "Ear Mold Laboratory." I am not quite sure why one would need a laboratory to make ear molds, but it's still cool.
After what seemed like hours, we realized that we had only explored five floors or so, and that we were on pace to finish exploring the building in around seven years. An executive decision was made to put off the rest of the building to concentrate on getting to the rootop. This proved to be none too easy of a task, considering the staircase we had chosen was missing the flat landing areas between flights of steps on every story past floor 8. It is quite an unnerving experience to step over a hold wheree you can see down 10 stories below you, but Hunter kept assuring me that the frame of the stairs itself was quite sturdy. Not like I needed encouragement. I just had to repeat my trademarked phrase "I'm sure it's fine..." and I felt better.

When we finally reached the 18th floor (or at least, I think it was 18 floors) it was just a matter of finding the roof access, which turned out to be quite easy. I was particularly impressed with the view down one of the many elevator shafts where the door had not been welded shut. For some strange reason, there were windows in the shaft. Fortunately, this helped me see almost all the way down into what would have otherwise been just a dark abysss. Most of the elevators seem to have been removed at some point, but at least a couple still remain. One of them is even still stopped at a floor halfway up where it ended its last trip. On what I thought was the top story there was an iron staircase which led to a small room at the top of the building where the equipment that controlled the elevators was located.

From the rooftop we were provided with an amazing view of the arch and the riverfront. It is so odd to be standing on top of a vacant 18 story building in the middle of the busy downtown area. The Paul Brown Building (the other building on the block that has recently been renovated and converted into loft apartments) was visible on the other side of the alley. Luckily, it was not yet warm enough for people to be using the rooftop pool, or else we would have been in plain sight.

Pyramid Construction, the company that renovated the Paul Brown Building, now owns the Arcade/Wright Building, and has plans for a renovation in the near future. There is talk of using the space for luxury condos, a 250 room hotel, and room for retail space. I am thankful that this will most likely happen, instead of the Arcade meeting the same fate of the recently demolished Century building a block away. The Arcade is historically and architecturally important, and I look forward to seeing the main arcade in its restored state.

Lung Cancer
Lung Cancer