Culture in Stone

Every city should have at least one pair.

Lions are popular. New York City has them guard the library. Chicago positioned them at sentries at the Art Museum.

St. Louis put a different twist on the tradition. They went with bears. At the Opera House.

This photo was taken on a February Saturday. The downtown area was quiet. Just a few tourists heading for attractions a few blocks away. But they can be fun-loving bears. More than once, exuberant sports fans (possible under the influence) have asked the accommodating stone guardians to “hold my beer”, “on your nose”.




Public Time

Were church bells among the first?

They’ve proclaimed the hour of the day for centuries. First as a call to worship. And later as a mark of time to all within hearing.

Clocks on bell towers and city halls followed.

Businesses got in on the action later. Think of a photo of an American business district from the first half of the twentieth century. Does the jewelry store have a clock? Or the bank? Attached to the building? Or free standing like this model?


Today in our fascination with all things digital — several businesses and organizations within a mile will have bright, flashing signs which will give the time and temperature as one of a series of messages. Don’t blink! Any one message only remains seconds, barely time for an unsuspecting brain to notice.

I like the style above. It invites a person to slow down, take an extra look, absorb a bit of the world around yourself.



No Matter the Weather

Run. Run. Run. For fitness and fun. Ignoring the heat, the rain, and the cold.

My circle of acquaintances includes several runners. Yes, they are a hardy group. Some of them leave warm, cozy beds in the winter to don running gear — including hat and mittens — to jog along a trail or a path in the park. Do they enjoy watching their breath form vapor clouds as they run? Or does the shower feel good and the coffee taste better when they return to their homes?

One St. Louis runner outdoes them all. In warm weather he’s surrounded by splashing water. On special occasions the water is tinted. (On purpose.) Then during the coldest months he runs exposed above his shallow pool.


Run! Running Man. Run!


Welcome Home

It’s good to be home.

Have you ever voiced this comment after a vacation? Business trip? Hospital stay?

Some returns make history outside of the immediate family. The statue below, located on the St. Louis riverfront marks one of those returns.


After nearly three years, travelling many difficult miles and experiencing adventures for a lifetime, Captain William Clark and party returned to St. Louis. Yes, they had a Newfoundland dog along on the trip.

Welcome Home! Whether that conjures up a farmhouse, a medium size town, or a large city — Welcome!

Maylee and Dave consider St. Louis their home. What happens when these two young professionals with opposing opinions end up as neighbors? The answer is in Stare Down.



City Landmarks

Fifty years ago this month a new feature on the St. Louis skyline keystoned together. Yes, the twin legs of the Gateway Arch were joined by the final piece of specially prepared stainless steel coated structure.

She looks good in sunshine. This past year she’s been standing tall and welcoming visitors while the grounds which form her “skirt” undergo renovation.

I like her from the “land” side in this photo as she frames the Old Courthouse.

Did you know that the Dred Scott case was heard in this building twice before it moved to the Supreme Court of the United States? It’s a museum now, maintained by the National Park Service. Be sure to drop in and enjoy the view from the rotunda floor.


A portion of the Midwest city where STARE DOWN is set.


Barnes & Noble:


Unexpected Art

During my most recent trip to the St. Louis downtown riverfront I followed a bike path.

This portion of the long Mississippi River Trail is not scenic. The river is blocked from view by the raw concrete flood wall. You skirt and then go between ancient utility buildings – following the painted directions on the asphalt.

There it was! Between a section of flood wall decorated with murals and the riverside of a stone building.

Winter can’t be the most appealing time for this sculpture. The pond is drained. The vegetation is brown and ragged. But concrete and red brick combine to illustrate a constant battle.

This little spot of whimsy is on my list for a repeat visit this summer.

Constant struggle.
Constant struggle.

Twenty-First Century

She didn’t come easy. (Are bridges female? Like ships?) And she’s in progress, not complete.

Highway and bridge projects require funding. And when they cross state lines they require cooperation through all phases: planning, design, site selection, connections, and actual construction. They talked about it for years. One state proposed a toll bridge. The other adamantly apposed. River shipping has the right-of-way. You can’t put a bridge pier just anywhere.

I first believed it was more than words when I saw some of the early pier work in 2010. Twenty-eight months after that first actual sighting by my own eyes, two graceful towers rise, one near each shore of the Mississippi. Workers continue to install bridge deck and the long cables to support it. For this will be a cable stayed bridge, a design of other, newer bridges across the same river.

When finished, this structure will carry I-70 from the north edge of downtown St. Louis into Illinois. Can you hear the sigh of relief from the Poplar?

Wait for 2014 to cross.
Wait for 2014 to cross.

This concludes our introduction to the bridges of downtown St. Louis.

My apologies. You cannot see this newest addition from the top of the Grand Stairs on the Arch Grounds. Well, maybe with binoculars and a little more height than my modest 5’5″.


Twentieth Century – final third

The Interstate Highway System is intended to tie the major cities of the United States together. In St. Louis this also necessitates crossing the Mississippi River to connect the city with Chicago, Indianapolis, Louisville, and the rest of the Eastern portion of the country.

They built one bridge. Three interstates — I 70, I 55, and I 64 a.k.a. US 40 — converge in downtown St. Louis and skim across this steel deck girder bridge together.

It bears the official name of Bernard F. Dickman Bridge. Don’t ask for directions using that name. Natives, media traffic reporters, and signage will direct you to the Poplar Street Bridge. Opened in 1967 and located a short distance downstream from the landmark Arch, it carries a constant stream of cars, trucks, and motorcycles to and from the city.

Using the bridge for the first time? Drive across it infrequently?

My tip: Be alert to which of the interstate routes you want to follow. Some of the exits are in front of you before you realize you’re over land, not river.

Poplar Street Bridge viewed from upstream. Low winter water.
Poplar Street Bridge viewed from upstream. Low winter water.

Twentieth Mid-Century

A thriving city craves infrastructure. With St. Louis’ location on one of American’s great river include bridges.

While the highway deck of the Eads carried it’s portion and the MacArthur downstream made a large contribution the city begged for more.

The City of East St. Louis, Illinois responded by constructing a toll bridge. It opened to traffic in 1951 with the name Veteran’s Memorial Bridge. The design is listed as cantilever truss and it adds a graceful note of interest to the downtown riverfront.

The toll is gone now and it received a good renovation in the late 1980’s. Even the name has changed – to Martin Luther King Bridge. Yet it continues to carry a daily ration of commuters.

1950's Connection
1950’s Connection

Twentieth Century – Early Decades

We continue our look at the bridges of downtown St. Louis and slip into the twentieth century today. Railroads increase in size and number. Horses and wagons give way to motorized automobiles and trucks. Too much traffic for the Eads Bridge to handle without assistance.

Stone piers and steel trusses on a larger than life scale came to dominate the river a short distance downstream of the Eads. First impression is a bridge designed for heavy work. It’s beauty is found in symmetry and projection of power instead of decoration.

Construction began in 1909 of this two deck structure. The St. Louis Municipal Bridge, a.k.a. Free Bridge opened the upper deck to highway traffic in 1917. The lower, railroad deck opened in 1928.

Today the bridge bears the name of The MacArthur Bridge. The rail deck is in daily use. Freight trains cross the river here on a regular basis and Amtrak uses it when the Mississippi is at flood stage. The highway deck has not been used since 1981 and a portion of the deck has been removed. With curved and narrow approaches it’s doubtful that regular highway traffic will resume but occasionally you read of proposals to restore the upper deck for hiking and biking.

Bridge without frills.
Bridge without frills.