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

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