Why We Stole a Giant Crowbar From the Cotton Belt Building

Inside the Cotton Belt building - Danny Wicentowski
Danny Wicentowski
Inside the Cotton Belt building

Welcome to our new column, St. Lunacy!

Years ago, in 2014, we took an official tour of the Cotton Belt building, the old freight depot which served the Cotton Belt Rail Line until the depot closed in 1959.

The building is a gorgeous ruin from the outside, a kind of skinny, brutalist shoebox covered in graffiti.

On the inside it's an absolute mess. After all, it has stood vacant for more than half of its 109 years.

We ambled around its five floors of trash-covered concrete spaces. But then, suddenly, something beautiful caught our eye, lying amidst the rubble by what was once an elevator.

We wanted it.

It was a crowbar. And not just any crowbar, but a four-foot-long, inch-plus-thick crowbar, its curved and bladed head poking from a tomb of trash.

click to enlarge The crowbar, pictured, to the left of communications professional Tom Nagel. - Danny Wicentowski
Danny Wicentowski
The crowbar, pictured, to the left of communications professional Tom Nagel.

With the help of our fellow crowbar enthusiast/tour guide, we pried its long metal body from its grave.

How could we not? It was the biggest crowbar we had ever seen! It weighed an ungodly amount, requiring two arms to carry.

Why did we require this impressive monstrosity? It was undoubtedly useful, we decided. It had to be. The world is chaotic. A big hunk of metal could act as a steadying force against the winds of tomorrow's danger.

And so we loaded it gently into the trunk of our car.

There it sat, for years. It was never used, except for once, to weigh down a blanket during a windy picnic.

However, recent events involving the crowbar's former home have spurred in us a reckoning, and, well, a bit of guilt for the theft. A few weeks ago news broke that the city's Building Division had received an application for demolition of the Cotton Belt building – except that the building's owners didn't file it. Their neighbors did.

Why? St. Lunacy can't say, though it would not be the first time someone tried to demolish it. In 2015, the building was threatened with erasure by a proposed NFL stadium.

But this latest attempt feels more direct, and it saddens us that someone wants it destroyed. The Cotton Belt depot is a strange structure, just 30 feet by 750 feet long. It doesn't look like any other building. It was purpose-built for an industry that will never be again.

It is big, it is old, it is pointless. But, with its distinct dimensions and massive mural of blue and orange birds, it is still quite beautiful.

Kind of like the crowbar.

So, Cotton Belt building, this is just to say that we are sorry. We have taken the crowbar that was in your rubble, which you were probably saving for the trains. Forgive us. We just thought that, possibly, it could save us from what comes. It was so big. So heavy. And, maybe, so useful. 

About The Author

St. Lunacy

St. Lunacy is a Riverfront Times column exploring St. Louis' good, bad, ugly, and thoroughly cuckoobird.
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