Just more than a year ago, we wrote about a small project on South Grand that would have a big impact. A parking lot of 16 spaces, once home to the Ritz Theatre, was being transformed into a pocket park (From Theatre, to Parking Lot, to Pocket Park: An Evolution on South Grand). Now the well-designed and functional space may add a more artistic presentation.
A proposal by artist Walter Gunn has been chosen by popular vote to seek funding. His proposal, titled Ritziata, received more than 42% of votes cast for proposed art installations on the site. You can read the full proposal text below. Now that a selection has been made, an Indiegogo campaign has launched. The funding goal is $133K.
The transformation from parking lot to park complete, a facade structure would do a lot of bring attention to the site, and give it a presence on bustling South Grand. In fact, the idea of a ghost facade, or ghost building, is something St. Louis should explore elsewhere (what a great project this would have been for the city’s 250th birthday). Examples abound, from Ben Franklin’s home in Philadelphia to Fort De Chartes in southern Illinois:
Back in 2009, we advocated for the re-use of a wood frame shotgun home or two to provide a covered pavilion in the then being planned Chouteau Park in the city’s Forest Park Southeast neighborhood. Nothing came of that proposal, but it would have been functional, while at the same time highlighting the historic scale of development that was cleared away. Musical recording studios, homes, and other significant locations could be recognized in this way.
The transformation of Ritz Park:
The winning South Grand proposal:
The human impulse to create entryways to common spaces for ceremony, entertainment and inspiration both communal and personal remains strong in us. Here in our neighborhood, the Osage, who lived along what is now Grand Boulevard, used tall vertical lodge poles as façade and entrance to their common space. A thousand years later, on virtually the same ground, modern man used brick and mortar as a formal facade for virtually the same reasons. They named it the Juniata.
Though the name changed to the Ritz and the façade was altered, then torn down altogether, this small lot on South Grand has now been made a permanent common space for a society continuing to explore its humanity. We are proposing the people once again be given a façade to approach.
A successful urban streetscape is an ensemble act; a cast of facades who’s architectural characters act out ambiance and image. They are the critical interface between inner and outer space. The vitality of a historic district, and its city, depends on its facades and like a missing tooth from a smile, a missing façade has a negative impact.
In essence, we envision a steel outline echoing architectural elements and gesture from the lodge poles of the Osage, the Art Nouveau Juniata and Art Moderne Ritz façades in a unified homage. We call it, RITZIATA. Like a pen and ink drawing suspended in air, its two-story height will fill in the streetscape to compliment its neighbouring structures, create a formal entrance for the park, and using negative space, provide visual separation from the busy boulevard.
RITZIATA’s sheer scale will add immeasurably to the excitement and texture of the Boulevard and Ritz Park. Its projecting marquee will be seen for many blocks in either direction. By day its illusions are of line and space, by night a lighted three-dimensional drawing, an ethereal entrance to the future and an architectural poem to the past.
Centrally located high in the façade we envision two sculptural figures facing each other. Between them, fire (campfire, stage light, projector). The scene symbolizes the story RITZIATA tells: past and future gazing at the flame of the present. Its story unites the history of the location, its future as park and venue, the organic verve of the Art Nouveau movement and the spirit of the Osage.
Large blue marbles will be used to accent decorative elements, to echo the Juniata’s façade. The marbles also appear as finials for the park’s arbor posts, south and west, to unify the space with color and texture reflecting all light night and day.
RITZIATA is our future through the framework of our heritage. It speaks of ownership and pride, confidence and memory, and most importantly, that something worthy is within. It is an exchange of community vitality at the edge of time, a ritzy entrance to imagination and a South Grand original.
- Two sided
- Allows for secure curtaining off for private and ticketed events
- Framing for box office and or vendor stalls
- Provides safe fly points for tech needs.
- Allows for any number of artist proposals within.
- Ground level framing converts to three sheet boards (poster space)
- Marquee provides for lighted banners
- Shaded lobby
Walter F. Gunn: Designer, sculptor, and gallery owner, art magazine publisher, arts administrator, founder of the Sheldon Arts Foundation, film producer and author with residence and studio in the heart of South Grand’s Tower Grove East since newlywed in 1972 graduated Roosevelt High in 1969.
Andrew Petty: Tower Grove East resident, architectural designer for Cannon Design, artist, ceramicist and teacher at Sam Fox School of design at Washington University studied and interned in Germany and Brussels finds personal discovery in the creative process and all things architectural.
ENGRAPHIX: St. Louis based engineers and manufacturers of high-end architectural signage and custom fabrication nationwide with a reputation for craftsmanship, collaboration with designers, respect for precision and a willingness to explore the sculptural enjoys a decades long superiority in environmental graphics.
Randy Burkett: Award winning international lighting designer has illuminated national monuments, state capitals, cathedrals, universities, museums, hotels, bridges and art around the world, locally responsible for the lighting virtually every significant architectural feature in St. Louis including the Arch.
Michael R. Allen: Architectural Historian, Director of Preservation Research Office and visible spokesperson for the local preservation movement, a coordinator and lecturer at Washington University in St. Louis and former Assistant Director of Landmarks Association of St. Louis and Tower Grove East resident.
Dennis Northcott: Associate Archivist for Reference Missouri History Museum Library and Research Center
Greg Beye: Tower Grove Heights raised structural engineer
Ritz Park and the Force of Time by Michael R. Allen
1909: The Juniata Theater Rises on Grand Boulevard
When the Juniata first opened its doors in 1910, South Grand Boulevard had hardly been an urban place for long. A picturesque neighborhood of tree-lined streets and brick dwellings set back on front lawns had emerged from prairie. Middle class professionals flocked to the area to live in a tranquil remove from downtown St. Louis; the streetcar provided the preferred commute.
February 13, 1909, Local chain operator O.T. Crawford obtained a building permit for a $14,000 modern theater, a vaudeville house for the emerging district. Designed by William A. Lucas (designer of nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church on Arsenal and homes in surrounding neighborhoods), the 950 seat Juniata Theater stood as testament to neighborhood economics, national entertainment trends and American architectural imagination in the Art Nouveau style.
1937: The Ritz, A New Era
The Juniata became the Ritz Theater in 1924, and joined the era of motion pictures. The biggest transformation arrived when the owners renewed the entire appearance of the building in 1937. The Art Nouveau façade was concealed and erased, in favor of an Art Moderne streamline façade of stucco brick and terra cotta.
South Grand’s denizens, a few short years before the great depression, were no longer using the streetcar to move through the city. In fact, most lines were removed in the 1930s across the city, in favor of buses and walking to ever increasing local amenities. Residents also had the freedom of the automobile, and could see movies anywhere. Neighborhood movie theaters had to “jazz up” to catch the eyes of motorists, and many were remodeled or replaced. The lure of a nascent home entertainment industry was strong as well, with radios and phonographs found in the parlors around Tower Grove Park. Yet despite economic distress and competition movie theaters thrived as the public sought solace in the dreams of the silver screen at The Ritz.
1986: Demolition and Neighborhood Change
South Grand slumped after World War II, and the surrounding streets lost their fashionable nature. The stable neighborhood business district shifted to bargain shops. The Ritz could not hold on, nearly fifty years after its new look, the Ritz obtained another, more despoiled form: a parking lot. In 1986, with no apparent value, the Community Development Agency acquired the theater, demolished it and built a parking lot in its place.
2015: Ritz Park and a Rejuvenated South Grand
Yet South Grand rebounded through people’s investment in place. Families rediscovered the beautiful tree-lined streets and historic housing stock, and rejuvenated the area. By the early 1990s, international cuisine and denizens were a big part of the district’s life and a place where people again walked to get around. The area became a national historic district by 2004 and just over a decade later, 105 years after the Juniata opened its doors, the site, now Ritz Park, stands ready once again to represent the force of its time.