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I've visited St. Louis many times, yet I never tire of seeing the Gateway Arch emerge from the horizon. And my first stop once in town: The Loop. Thanks to reader Susan, who recommended visiting this neighborhood in my original post, I took a detour and saw a part of the city I might have otherwise missed.

Located near Washington University, The Loop is roughly six blocks of eclectic shops, restaurants, cafes, and theaters housed in old storefronts. Blaise and I walked up and down Delmar Boulevard looking at the St. Louis Walk of Fame, with statues and stars lining the sidewalk honoring famous people associated with the city, like Scott Joplin and Chuck Berry.

No trip to The Loop would be complete without a stop at Blueberry Hill. I read that when the restaurant first opened in 1972, it was a two-room pub with a jukebox and some sheet music on the wall. How times have changed.


The exterior of Blueberry Hill restaurant in St. Louis' The Loop neighborhood.

Today, the restaurant spans an entire city block, and the interior is something of a nostalgic pop culture museum: display cases packed with action figures, vintage lunchboxes, and baseball cards; old arcade games tucked in corners; and a huge collection of Elvis Presley memorabilia. There’s not an empty surface in sight.

One St. Louis resident I spoke with says the founder of Blueberry Hill was largely responsible for the revitalization of this stretch of the city back in the 1970s. And he, like several others I encountered, is excited about the recently announced plan to bring back the trolley line that once ran up and down Delmar.

With our stomachs full of burgers and fries, Blaise and I made our way downtown to what is perhaps my all-time favorite adaptive reuse project: City Museum.


The tangle of wiry tunnels is all part of the fun at the St. Louis City Museum.

Calling it a museum feels like a bit of a misnomer. Think of it instead as a warehouse-sized playground for kids and adults. The late Bob Cassilly, a sculptor and entrepreneur, took the mostly vacant International Shoe Company factory and turned it into a collection of slides, tunnels, caves, mazes, and giant sculptures -- all using reclaimed material from around St. Louis. There’s a bus hanging off the roof (yes, you can climb inside), an oversized ball pit, and an enormous Ferris wheel. ... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based Field Editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about history, art, architecture, and public space.

My American Road Trip, Part 2: Nashville Bound

Posted on: June 12th, 2012 by Lauren Walser 4 Comments

 

First things first: a huge thank you to everyone who suggested places I should visit on my journey West. I’m starting to think I need to plan another road trip once I’m settled back in Southern California -- especially since the first lesson I learned on the road is that one evening, or even one day, in a new place is never enough.

Once Blaise and I waved goodbye to Washington, DC, we set sail (figuratively) toward our first destination: Nashville. After four hours on the road, we stopped in Roanoke, Virginia, hoping for lunch at the Historic Roanoke City Market -- the oldest continuously operating open-air market in the state. When we arrived, the market was quiet -- which we learned was because a big storm was rolling in and most of the farmers opted to stay home and guard their crops. Disappointing, but we were able to satiate our hunger with some sandwiches before heading toward Knoxville, Tennessee, where we planned to stop for dinner.


Inside Roanoke, Virginia's historic City Market.

We parked the car downtown, then walked past the bright theater marquees along historic Gay Street and enjoyed a street festival in Market Square. We grabbed burgers and craft-brewed beers -- made on location -- at the historic Downtown Grill & Brewery. While waiting for our table, I studied the old photographs of downtown Knoxville lining the walls and read some of the old framed newspaper articles, which is how I learned about the dreadful curse of the white mule.


The interior of Knoxville's Downtown Grill & Brewery.

I wish we had more time to explore Knoxville, but our eyes were getting heavy, and we had our sights set on Nashville. Once we made it to Music City, we checked into Union Station Hotel -- which is part of the National Trust's Historic Hotels of America program. I can’t imagine a better place to stay in Nashville. The old train station-turned-hotel is a soaring Gothic structure completed in 1900, with an incredible sunlit lobby, spacious rooms, and gorgeous architectural details.

... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based Field Editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about history, art, architecture, and public space.

My American Road Trip, Part 1: Leaving Town

Posted on: June 1st, 2012 by Lauren Walser 17 Comments

 

Two years ago, almost to the day, I drove my little hatchback from Los Angeles to Washington, DC, with nothing more than a couple boxes of kitchen items, some books, and my boyfriend, Blaise. I had said goodbye to the Pacific Ocean and headed out to become an assistant editor with Preservation magazine. (Writing about old buildings and the people who save them? Definitely worth the 2,500-plus mile drive.)

Other than a few brutal battles with humidity (I lost), I have loved every second of my time here. What’s not to like about a city that’s immanently walkable, with traces of history around every corner? And from my little perch in a 1909 row house, I’ve watched my neighborhood of Columbia Heights change, grow, and welcome new residents who have restored their own old houses or started businesses in empty storefronts.

But now Blaise and I are packing up the car again and pointing her west, back to Los Angeles, where, I’m happy to say, I’ll be continuing my work with Preservation. In my new location, I’ll be bringing you all the latest news from the West Coast -- and, for the next two weeks, from many of the places I’ll pass on my way there.

After all, the best part about driving between coasts is being able to investigate all the nooks and crannies that you miss when you fly over them.

I leave DC today (gulp). From there, I’ll be driving to Nashville to check out the historic sites, then on to do the same in Columbia, Missouri; Boulder, Colorado; Jackson, Wyoming; Butte, Montana; Seattle; Portland, Oregon; Davis, California; and finally, Los Angeles. That’s a lot of ground to cover in such a short time, but if there is something in any of those cities -- or on the roads in between -- that I absolutely must not miss, I am all ears.

Rest assured, my laptop and my camera are fully charged, ready to document those places that make the United States such an exciting place to explore.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based Field Editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about history, art, architecture, and public space.

Theaster Gates' Art & Revival on Chicago's Dorchester Avenue

Posted on: March 21st, 2012 by Lauren Walser 1 Comment

 

The 6900 block of Dorchester Avenue in Chicago’s Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood easily could have been another casualty of the economic downturn, or another tale of a blighted neighborhood lost to neglect. But when Theaster Gates, Jr. rehabilitated an abandoned house there in 2006, he had a vision.

"I thought if I could just take care of my little house on the block, there might be some residual effect," says Gates, an artist, and urban and cultural planner. "I could share my lawnmower with my neighbors and help create a better place just by being present."


A night of jazz on the Dorchester Projects' reclaimed deck. (Photo: reallyboring on Flickr)

Two years later, as the economy and housing market took a nosedive, he watched one family after another vacate their homes. So he began purchasing and rehabilitating a few of them, slowly transforming his neighborhood into a vibrant cultural haven.

He started with the house next door. After restoring it, using original materials when possible, along with salvaged or recycled materials, he filled it with 14,000 art and architecture books from a shuttered local bookstore, as well as a collection of 60,000 images donated by the University of Chicago art history department’s lantern slide archive.


Theaster Gates inside the house on Dorchester Avenue. (Photo: Lloyd Degrane )

Down the street, Gates restored another home, creating what he calls his Black Cinema House. His own residence, now filled with thousands of LPs from a local record store that went out of business, doubles as the Listening House. A fourth house in his collection will eventually become an ad hoc soul food joint, a noncommercial space where Gates will host communal meals as a way to encourage conversations about art and culture. ... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based Field Editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about history, art, architecture, and public space.