Under the Beaver's Skin

Gee whiz, Wally: the Beav talks to Unreal about psoriasis! Plus, we see how the Lou stacks up to Beantown, try to understand the appeal of the Pet Building and administer a Harold Ramis quiz

"What's going to be left of everything that was built in that particular time in history?" architect Tim Rowbottom asks rhetorically.

Well, maybe not so rhetorically.

About a block away from Busch, at Fourth and Spruce streets, stands the thirteen-story Pet Building, a 35-year-old structure that was recently provisionally accepted for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. The honor's aim is to encourage preservation of some of our nation's oldest, most interesting buildings -- and also, apparently, big piles of concrete and glass.

"Frankly, it's a very complex building," Rowbottom says of the former headquarters of condensed-milk behemoth Pet Inc., which departed in 1995. "The concept of it is that you have clear-span office floors without any columns in between. It worked great as an office building. It's going to work great as a residential building as well. It's a fabulous building. It has seven or eight different types of concrete."

Carolyn Toft, executive director of the Landmarks Association of St. Louis, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to preserving historic concrete, shares Rowbottom's enthusiasm. In fact, it was Landmarks that nominated the building for the National Register.

"It's important in the history of Missouri architecture," Toft argues. "It's the best example in the state of New Brutalist architecture."

Unreal once slept through an entire semester of the History of Architecture, but we were pretty sure "New Brutalist" wasn't a reference to Donald Rumsfeld. In fact, St. Louis County Parks preservation historian Esley Hamilton tells us, it was "an esoteric area in the history of American architecture, which featured a lot of exposed concrete and massive forms." Designed by Alfred Aydelott, the Pet Building was directly inspired by some of the late work of the great Swiss architect and concrete lover, Le Corbusier, says Hamilton, who is also in favor of registering the Pet as historic.

If it makes the National Register, the building will be eligible for historic tax credits, should anyone care to spruce it up.

Not coincidentally, Balke Brown Associates has the property under contract and -- with the help of Rowbottom's architectural firm, the Lawrence Group -- aims to transform it into 100 luxury apartments. The firm stands to get a big discount off the $20 million or so in development costs -- maybe $7 million, confirms Don Land, the company's senior vice president of development.

Cool deal for Balke Brown. But it gets better.

It just so happens that the Pet Building sits due east of the vacant lot that will soon be transformed into the Cardinals' new ballpark. That's right: When Busch Memorial Stadium becomes part of that great big dust cloud in the sky and the St. Louis firm of Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum erects its "retro" replacement next door, tenants of the Pet Building will have the yummiest view in downtown real estate!

A cynic would be quick to discern a certain irony here: The Pet Building, which is -- how to put this gently? -- uglier than the psoriasis-pocked butt of Jerry Mathers, will become a moneymaker for a big development firm, aided by publicly funded tax credits. Meanwhile, Busch Stadium, a veritable icon of St. Louis architecture, will be reduced to rubble.

Unreal, of course, is no cynic. The architectural-preservation game is a lot like Cardinals baseball: You win some, and you lose some.

Slam Dunk

Everybody's favorite former Washington University frat boy Harold Ramis -- co-writer of Animal House, co-writer and director of Caddyshack and Groundhog Day -- was honored with a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame this past weekend. Unfortunately, he was shooting an undoubtedly hi-larious movie somewhere and couldn't be here to mug for the cameras.

The duty fell to one Henry Schvey, chair of the Performing Arts Department at Wash. U. Unsure whether Schvey was an appropriate choice, Unreal quizzed him on his Ramis knowledge.

Unreal:Which Ramis movie did Brendan Fraser have a starring role in?

Henry Schvey:Oh, c'mon. Give me something difficult. Bedazzled.

I lovedMr. Mom, starring Michael Keaton. Did Ramis, by any chance, direct that?

No.

Very good, but which Michael Keaton vehicledid he direct? I'll give you a hint: It was from 1996 and also starred Andie MacDowell.

God, you should have let me prepare for this. What was it?

Multiplicity.

Oh, of course.

Ramis hadAnalyze This, and thenAnalyze That. What will the sequel toAnalyze That be called?

[Laughs] Who's on Third?

When Ramis was in a frat at Wash. U., did he ever dunk anybody's head in icewater?

I don't know. Why don't you call him?

InCaddyshack, what exactly did Bill Murray's character's sinsemilla consist of. Was it real?

I have no idea.

Was it hard to convince Beverly D'Angelo to do a nude scene inEuropean Vacation?

[Laughs] He didn't direct European Vacation. I think he only did the first one. He knew when to get out.

Very, very good! You are Unreal-certified Grade-A worthy.

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