Week of April 14, 2004

Apr 14, 2004 at 4:00 am
In Tune
I've got the music in me: I really enjoyed Ben Westhoff's piece on the Trak Starz ["Making Traks," April 7]. I was very pleased to see other St. Louisans having successes in the writing and production of music. I found some similarities between myself and Sham Daugherty and Alonzo Lee Jr. Now I feel I can keep pressing on toward the goals I have set for myself.

I am a writer at heart, but I also would like to produce. I used to DJ, and I come from a very musical background, and I also have a lot of close relatives who DJ in the St. Louis area. I always wanted to take my vision into the mainstream. Now I feel properly motivated to take action. I just wanted to say thank you.
Vanessa R. Russell (DJ Vanna Spice)
St. Charles

Trolley Mania
Train of thought: The trolley follies are all quite amusing, but I have one question: Why is anyone in this burg considering any expensive measures to augment 1) an urban bus system nobody seems to use and 2) a MetroLink nobody seems to use [Mike Seely, "Trolley Follies," April 7]. The St. Louis area is very similar to Los Angeles in its car culture. We don't buy into mass transit unless we're forced to do it.

We already have the fake double-decker tour buses that roll through Soulard and Lafayette Square; do we need another "vanity"" transit system? And the fact that parts of downtown look like Iraq after the shelling doesn't make for appealing scenery when slowly rolling from one point to another. Tourists might take the trolley in one direction, but after cruising past abandoned office buildings, tacky old residential highrises, homeless people sleeping in the park on Market Street and ducking what they think is gunfire, they'll be cabbing it back to the hotel.

Joe Edwards' idea of the University City trolley has merit. It's a pain to park there. Laying track in the street wouldn't necessarily disturb traffic, as anyone who has taken a ride on a San Francisco cable car can attest. Combine a terminal for this system to proximity to a MetroLink station and it could be a winning combination.

If we want to emulate the success of other cities, those emulations have to follow some sort of logical order. Ordering a transit system to show off progress we haven't made is a waste of time and cash.
Anne C. Young
St. Louis

Blame it on the strip joints: I find the tone of "Trolley Follies" very disturbing. Mike Seely is employing a tactic that pits personalities against one another, and that is a classic case of irresponsible journalism. I say this because he is not discussing the real issue: Mass transit in St. Louis.

We have a substandard mass-transit system, and it is a hindrance to the present and future growth of the area. Because of these low standards, the population that mass transit serves has a harder time doing the things people who own vehicles take for granted every day, and it promotes and reinforces poverty within our community. We also have a consistent history of generating more pollution from automobile exhaust than many other metro areas of comparative size; a first-rate, well-planned mass-transit system could aid in significantly decreasing air pollution in St. Louis.

When you define an article such as this without including the larger context, it becomes counterproductive to the needs of the citizens and your readers. In short, you're creating more problems when we need solutions.

I agree that community leaders like U.S. Representative William "Lacy" Clay Jr. and Joe Edwards should be working together on such solutions, and I think both their plans have merits. A responsible newspaper would have included the overall mass-transit problems of St. Louis -- traffic congestion, air pollution, Metro's decreasing bus services, the effects of MetroLink. I'm assuming you needed the space for topless club ads.
Joe Bruemmer
St. Louis

Wild Pitch
Hit batsman: The "Bush Strikes Out" piece about the smirking, chimplike president throwing out the first major-league baseball in St. Louis reminds me of a scene in Field of Dreams [Unreal, March 31]. The scene shows Shoeless Joe Jackson giving a fresh rookie some batting advice concerning the pitcher, who had just brushed back the kid on a fastball to his head. Shoeless Joe says to the rookie, "Look for low and away, but watch out for one in your ear."

It's a good thing no batters stand at the plate when American presidents throw out the first pitch. This president would hit the batter intentionally, then smirk about it.
Paul Cameron
Ste. Genevieve

The Roberts Barons
Rethink the cover-age: I really liked Shelley Smithson's cover story on the Roberts brothers and their revitalization efforts to raise the bar and quality of life in north St. Louis ["The Kings of Kingshighway," March 17]. Other prominent entrepreneurs -- the Stan Kroenkes, Bill DeWitts, Jeff Lauries and more -- could learn a big lesson by watching these two men. There's more to it than standing next to a minister or administrator of a charity and presenting them with a check for $100,000 and getting your picture in the paper for doing it.

But guys, the caricature of the Roberts brothers on the cover was buffoonish. You did them an injustice there. They're not emperors, but dedicated visionaries who are the only people in St. Louis (black or white) with economic clout who are trying to reverse the living conditions and job opportunities for an area that the white political and economic power structure has turned a deaf ear to.
Kevin E. Glass
St. Louis

A modest proposal: It is more than admirable that the Roberts brothers desire to turn around the north side. But I noted with some concern their intent to build at least twenty houses on the Enright School property they recently purchased from the reeling St. Louis Public Schools.

I worked as staff architect for the schools for fifteen at times architecturally fascinating years, during which I spent time in all 107 buildings. (My last year with St. Louis was 2000; I'm now district architect for the Parkway School District.) That old school actually used to be four separate buildings; about half the classrooms are rather small for classrooms but might lend themselves to condos. The rear section could be changed to garages, as they were industrial-arts areas. There are three gyms, two of which are on the top floor; the third, complete with columns, is in the basement. The top-level gyms could become quite the loft-type apartment. The lower one could be a fitness center for residents.

However, twenty houses, apparently destined to be built on the existing Soldan High School track (which was evidently bundled with the Enright School sale), could tarnish the project a bit. The Roberts could get a major plus out of the plan by helping the financially strapped district refurbish the adjacent Soldan football stadium and add a track to the field to replace the one in front of Enright. That way the Roberts could bask in the sunshine of saving a landmark, redevelop an important sector of a neighborhood and bring back a neglected tennis court and football stadium.

Finally, an aside regarding your correction of March 31: The twin boilers in Enright's basement, stamped "Washington University," are dated 1901, which indicates that the building might be somewhat older than what the Landmarks Commission, most ably headed by Carolyn Toft, believes -- unless they were cast and then sat around for some time before they were used, which is certainly possible. At any rate, St. Louis Public Schools possessed a rich legacy of the architectural history of the district dating back to 1870. I hope the school board's dismantling of the district's archives and buildings-and-grounds departments has not sent much of this heritage to a landfill.
Scott Ritter
St. Louis

Up in the Air
The runway to nowhere: It is understandable that with the downsizing of American Airlines, the other airlines serving Lambert are going to pick up the burden AA would have carried [Bruce Rushton, "Cash Landing," February 25]. One only has to look at how the Lambert expansion was conceived and sold to a gullible media, elected officials, businesses, public and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Instead of pausing the expansion after the events of 9/11, Lambert management plowed on as if nothing happened. When questioned about the effects on Lambert, director Leonard Griggs is quoted in the October 2001 Airport Commissioners meeting minutes: "Mr. Griggs stated that W-1W is in no jeopardy because we programmed the development and the spending for W-1W based upon the fact that we could have lost TWA." In July 2002, St. Louis lobbyist Jim Brown, testifying before a Missouri Senate Committee on Governance, had this to say: "The entire financial plan for W-1W was based on TWA not being here."

TWA is gone, and its successor, American Airlines, has cut over 200 flights at Lambert. If the assumption that Lambert could survive without a hub carrier is correct, why is the airport in such financial straits that it is going to need more money from the public to keep operating?

Don't blame the financial hit on the loss of the AA hub. Put the blame where it belongs -- at the feet of Colonel Griggs and the city of St. Louis.

Facing up to a pending financial crisis, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay has dragged out the tired old faces of former senators Eagleton and Danforth to try and sell the public on contributing financial aid for Lambert. Eagleton and Danforth were leading cheerleaders for the W-1W plan. At meeting after meeting, they were the main speakers urging the public to support expansion. Eagleton is also remembered as helping bring the LA Rams to St. Louis. The region and the state are still paying for that one-sided deal. His latest endeavor was trying to get the state and region to pay for the new Cardinals stadium.

Slay says he will not let Griggs stand in the way of changes of Lambert governance. Since 1997, on more than one occasion, Slay himself has stood in the way of regional governance proposals for Lambert. Why should we believe him this time?

I agree with Alderman Jim Shrewsbury that Lambert is like a taxi driver: It is going to take the region on a wild financial downhill ride, not knowing where it is going or when and where it will stop.
Rowan C. Raftery

We inadvertently misquoted screenwriter James Gunn in our March 24 Unreal Q&A. What he said was, "I don't think anyone in their right mind would want me working at McDonnell-Douglas." Unfortunately, we had him saying, "I don't think anyone in their right mind would want to be working at McDonnell-Douglas."