Will Anyone Make a Water Color of the QuikTrip: The Loss of Place in St. Louis

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spaghetteria mama miaAnother unique building in the City of St. Louis is about to meet the wrecking ball. The building at the northeast corner of Chouteau and Vanedeventer Avenues in The Grove will be demolished for a QuikTrip gas station. It seems that every time our city loses a thread in its urban fabric, I’m asked, “how did this happen?” Well, here’s how:

QuikTrip is continually scouting locations in the city for new stations. A recent desire to demolish historic structures on South Grand in the Compton Heights neighborhood was met with significant neighborhood opposition and the company moved on. The site in The Grove is owned by Don Bellon of Bellon Wrecking. Largely using pieces from his business, Don had put together a collage on this corner that one might expect to see in Soulard, on Cherokee or Morganford.

The corner where three significant city thoroughfares meet isn’t what it once was. The 1925 photograph shows a bustling city with streetcars, multi-story businesses built to the street and plenty of pedestrians. However, the QuikTrip corner of tomorrow will be a placeless, soulless scar. Despite the losses, one knows where one is when approaching the intersection today.

Vandeventer at Chouteau
{looking northeast at Vandeventer and Chouteau, 1925}

quick trip_fpse
{the proposed QuikTrip}

Bellon had scattered and built several quirky items that made the area somewhere more than it would have otherwise been. Demo Man stands at the corner of Papin and the I-64 eastbound off-ramp. An angel sits atop a column, an iron storefront has been placed to the north of the existing building. While St. Louis recently lost its ultimate placemaker with the passing of Bob Cassilly, what Bellon did at the corner was similar – using recycled and repurposed materials, he created a unique moment in the city. Yet in the end, Bellon was looking to sell and QuikTrip is buying. This isn’t the San Luis, of the Century, but make no mistake, it is a loss.

FPSE demolition for QuikTrip
{DEMO MAN and other items across Vandeventer from Bellon’s office}

A gas station is a prohibited use at this location per the Grove business district zoning overlay. This necessitated a variance. In its proposal to the Park Central Forest Park Southeast Development Corporation Development Committee, QuikTrip stated that it is their belief that a gas station is the “highest and best use” for this particular corner and the committee agreed, offering the needed support for a variance.

Such requests are not uncommon. Tower Classic Tattooing sought and was granted a variance recently to locate next to the Atomic Cowboy in The Grove. Tattoo parlors are a prohibited use. In my view, prohibiting certain uses is a neighborhood’s prerogative and if administered well, can help positively shape a neighborhood and retail district. Forest Park Southeast, the 17th Ward Alderman Joe Roddy, the Washington University Medical Center Redevelopment Corporation, The Grove Community Improvement District (CID) and residents wanted to have control over what type of businesses would open on the revitalizing strip.

FPSE demolition for QuikTrip
{the building to be demolished – view from Vandeventer Avenue}

FPSE demolition for QuikTrip
{view of existing corner and entrance for Spaghetteria Mama Mia}

So not just any tattoo parlor would be OK, but Tower Classic was approved. Why? The owner is a reputable artist who does absolutely incredible work. The plans for the shop included reusing an existing storefront and the interior finishes are worth exploring whether you’re getting a tattoo or not. It’s not an average, ordinary parlor. Far from it. Likewise, not just any gas station would be OK. Certainly QuikTrip is a reputable company, but what about this particular gas station allowed it to be granted a variance?

Two things: an estimated $40,000 per year this location will contribute to the CID and Aldermanic support. For a neighborhood with big ambitions, and several stalled projects, it’s tough to turn down the money. To make sure that the request for a variance from the neighborhood’s own rules had the best chance of passing, Alderman Roddy made a very rare appearance at the committee meeting. I served on the committee for several years until recently, attending more than 30 meetings and can count on two fingers how many the alderman attended.

FPSE gas station map
{red markers indicate vacant/legacy gas stations, yellow markers show existing stations, red outline is site of new QuikTrip}

And so Bellon’s offices and the building housing Spaghetteria Mama Mia, as well as the brick parking lot, limestone wall and other items, will soon be gone, and with it, another unique place in our city. The continuing devolution of this corner of the City of St. Louis is sad and emblematic. It’s not so different than what’s happening across the city and it won’t be the last time such a building is destroyed. In fact, it’s a small blip in the larger trend, but it’s also a disheartening sign that even in our most up-and-coming neighborhoods, we’re unable to appreciate and preserve what makes them unique. It’s pretty much business as usual and that’s what makes it so disturbing.

What are the chances a local artist will paint a water color of the QuikTrip?

Spaghetteria Mama Mia an original watercolor by Marilynne Bradley-sm
{water color by Marilynne Bradley – prints available}

Want to know more about the building? Ron Elz (Johnny Rabbit on KMOX) wrote a great piece on Inside St. Louis:

The building in which the Spaghetteria Mamma Mia is housed is in a way a building of buildings as it’s unique exterior and interior is mostly made of architectural ornamentation and artifacts from places of the past. The well designed spacious parking lot is paved with over 40,000 bricks most of which came from the Hydraulic-Press Brick Company of St. Louis. Some of their old clay mines lie underground in the area east of S. Kingshighway and McRee Avenue. One such mine is partially under the building that was the last location of Kerpan’s Finnish and Russian Baths at the NE corner of that intersection. Many of the bricks in the lot came from the Indiana Paving Block Company of Brazil, Indiana. A large percentage of the pavers had been used in the former nearby stockyards.  The brick and terra-cotta facing of the restaurant’s main entrance was originally part of the building that now houses the Sheldon Galleries to the west of and connected to the Sheldon Concert Hall in the 3600 block of Washington Boulevard. This place was generally used as a garage for firms such as the Saunders System Car Rental Agency and the used car department of Paul Schulte Kaiser-Frazer-Henry J. The finials on top of the main entrance are from a Rosana apartment building on Bates east of Grand.

The light standards in the lot had been on the Chouteau Avenue viaduct over the railroad tracks and the iron column at the corner was from a building on Lucas Avenue just east of 15th Street as are the columns on Vandeventer at the north end of the Spaghetteria building. In addition to the restaurant the structure houses the Bellon Wrecking and Salvage Company headed by Don Bellon whose daughter Carrie Bellon-Wappel is the proprietress of the Spaghetteria. The pink granite at the bottom of the front of Bellon’s on Vandeventer was from Famous-Barr Southtown, a building that should have never been torn down. It joined a sad list of lost St. Louis. The Bellon family had long been in the food business having operated a market, and AG store, at 1901 Montgomery Avenue in Old North St. Louis from 1931 to 1973 under the auspices of Mario (Mike) Bellon. After 30 years in wrecking and salvaging Don and daughter became food purveyors by opening the current location as a deli using the name Bellon’s Market. Since Bellon’s main business was wrecking and removal their 70,000+ square foot lot was crowded with oddities from various places such as the Granada, Rio, Shenandoah, Ritz, Varsity (which was remodeled as Vintage Vinyl) and Four Seasons theatres as well as several churches and many office buildings and homes.

Outside the restaurant you’ll find items of interest such as a cobblestone wall, cast iron panels, lions heads, great foundation stones form St. Henry’s church, stones, huge timbers, a City school yard fence, a spiral staircase, the front of a boiler that was in Mary Institute on Waterman (now The New City School), a portion of the façade of a building at 3200 Locust, a section of the stone front of an old house on McPherson Avenue, part of the carriage house from a Portland Place manse, an iron safe door from a manufacturing firm that had once been the Central Counter Co., a shoe manufacturing supplier on Shaw at Vandeventer, and many more unusual items. The Spaghetteria’s front doors came from the Fordyce House retreat off Christopher Road and the inner vestibule is made of doors and marble that had been in Washington University’s Wilson Hall.

QuikTrip Proposal, Forest Park Southeast neighborhood – St. Louis, MO

If you’re still reading, your reward is a Paint.net generated QuikTrip water color. Enjoy.

FPSE demolition for QuikTrip

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  • Malbrite10

    Where can I purchase that beautiful QT watercolor print?

    I kid. Bad, predictable decision. The Grove just became a lot less groovy.

     A simple ordinance should exist in the city: if you can throw a rock from one gas station to another, one of them should not exist.

    • Alex Ihnen

      ^ I like it. Especially if Rick Ankiel is throwing the rock.

  • Jeffvstl

    This is infuriating! 

    • Alex Ihnen

      One person involved in this particular process just told me that it’s too bad the building will be demolished, but that it doesn’t really matter because the remaining building lacks “context” since those surrounding it have already been demolished.

      • Adam

        of course! the go-to justification for and and all demolitions in saint louis (when no legitimate reason actually exists).

      • Michaeljamespowers

        Someone create a ‘No More Gas stations in STL’ Facebook page and lets go out and protest wheItCre each is proposed to be built.

  • Chris Sorth

    Lets hope they reuse all the items and just dont throw it all out or bury it, another sad day and as long as the alderman gets a handout things like this will never change,  Get ready for all the 42oz beer cans and beggers on the corners. 

  • stlameroz

    Typical St. Louis.  Anything is better than the existing, especially if it means money.  How much is the soul of the city worth?

  • Guest

    First of all… I love historic architecture. However, I’m glad that building is being demolished. That bastard who owns that place junked it up with shit for years…  that demo man across the street is nothing more than a damned lawn ornament meant for nothing than a trailer park. Finally a QT or some other business will clean that corner up. And, for god’s sake at least a QT sandwich, even as horrible as, it is will be better than the slop they charge for at that restaurant. It was TERRIBLE. Look, I’m not a fan of demolishing old buildings… I’m an interior designer and architectural historian, but when some idiot thinks he’s Bob Cassilly (RIP), which no one could be, they deserve and should have their building torn down. OH, did anyone mention that QT probably paid him a crap load of money? And the Grove is not really a very safe place… at least the added lighting and the gas services will be welcome right there for all the guys (and girls) at the bars adjoining. I think it’s just great actually. It’s a welcome business that will make money and will bring in more tax dollars than some awful restaurant that was never open or any good. Good riddance! 

    • Alex Ihnen

      “I love historic architecture.” “I’m glad that building is being demolished.” “I’m not a fan of demolishing old buildings.”

      With friends like this, I guess historic architecture and the fabric of St. Louis has no need for enemies.

      This attitude just doesn’t make any sense to me. And you say the food was bad at the restaurant? By all means, let’s tear it down!!! Same great argument for the Phillips 66/Del Taco – the tenant was causing problems – let’s tear down the building! As was said re: that issue, if we tore down every building that housed a problem tenant or a bad restaurant, we would have nothing left.

      A gas station isn’t going to make The Grove a better place to eat, or more safe. It’s going to cause one and maybe two gas stations to close and leave more vacant land while removing the last semblance of history and place from a corner of a reviving district.

    • CAB

      Excuse me but you are an ass!  The bastard, Don Bellon, and his family have done so much for the area.  The “bastard” has been awarded for the demo man statue.  The “bastard” has gotten awards from Mayor Slay.  The”idiot” and Bob Cassilly wer friends and worked together for years. Bob built Don’s office and helped with his warehouse.  Don has several items in the City Meusum.  Bob built the monstrocity with rebar from Don’s demo jobs.  Before you publically rip someone apart maybe you should know all the facts.  I could on but I am not.

    • Adam

      yeah, because the QT on Gravois has done so much to improve safety and cleanliness in Gravois Park. somehow i don’t believe that part about “i’m an interior designer and an architectural historian”. maybe you’re an interior designer and architectural historian of Quick Trips? that’s about the only way your comment makes any sense.

  • Frank DeGraaf

    Looking at the photo from 1925, the thought that comes to mind is: what have we done to ourselves?

  • TMGSTL

    there are 2 gas stations within 2 blocks of that location.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Not for long. One, if not both will soon be vacant.

  • http://profiles.google.com/andrewzmurray Andrew Murray

    I too am disappointed that they are choosing to build at this corner. I do frequent QT on a regular basis. It is the best convenience store/gas station out there. However, there are plenty of other good corners that would work well for a QT. The one I favored was at the northwest corner of Grand and I-44 (http://stlcin.missouri.org/citydata/newdesign/data.cfm?handle=12122050240).

  • Eric

    So, Alex, after looking at QT’s artist renderings, do I correctly see a modified design, as in a thin attempt to make the building fit with the rest of the CID?  I say thin, only because the setback pretty much shoots that argument.  The dilemma is difficult.  The Bellon building is beautiful and could be re-used.  But, the gas station will bring needed revenue to the CID.  What I wish is that chain operators had better design templates for doing business in high-building-density urban areas.

  • gmichaud

    What it points to is the lack of a coherent city plan. QT is probably paying off officials in St. Louis. What St. Louis needs is a plan, I have recommended the format of the Unitary Plan of London (which Steve Patterson has said evolved into another plan, I work off an old hard copy, but it is all online at the City of London)
    It is a format that citizens can use to create a new city plan online, without the input of government (matching their input from citizens).
    Future decisions should be made for this corner now. Is gas and oil in the future of America? No is the answer: it is electric cars, comprehensive transit that includes walking and bicycles, dense development and other initiatives that represent the future of St. Louis: not more gas consumption. (They act like the future is somewhere else, it is here, now!)
    The people running things in St. Louis are losing control because they still work off their payoffs rather than meeting the needs of the citizens, today and in the future. The rest of the world is leaving them behind. So are the citizens they claim to govern.

  • Imran

    The usual question: Why cant they just build on an empty lot? Is it necessary that every new proposal starts with a demolition? We need more creative architects in projects like this. Wish the Grove had stood up to QT like Compton heights did.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Obviously I agree. There’s a strong community in Compton Heights, which is lacking in FPSE/The Grove. The neighborhood relies very heavily on the new businesses on Manchester and WUMCRC and lacks significant resident involvement in issues such as this.

  • Citprop

    I own a piece a property, surrounded by commercial uses, I want to sell it and a reputable company wants to buy it.  The intent is to develop commercially and spend $3 +Million to do so.  Jobs and tax revenue will be created. Why should we not allow?  When it’s your property, I am sure all of you would be singing a different tune.

  • George

    The original Sanford and Sons use to be on that corner.