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Thursday, July 7, 2011

"Save Our Saucer!": Rally to Celebrate Beloved Del Taco Building

Posted By on Thu, Jul 7, 2011 at 7:30 AM

Democracy in action! - ALBERT SAMAHA
  • Albert Samaha
  • Democracy in action!

The wheelchair contingent from the Grand View Tower apartments rolls deep at the "Save Our Saucer" rally in front of the South Grand building formerly known as Del Taco. There's John Clay and Mike Buford and Eddy West and five or six of their friends, most of them holding signs that say "Save Our Saucer" or "I *heart* the Flyer Saucer." They live right around the corner, and this was their go-to spot.

"This is really the only place for food around here," says Buford, who sports a sleek red electric wheelchair.

The men around him nod. Mmmm-hhmm, yup.

"We got the service station across the street," Buford adds, pointing to the Shell on the other side of the I-64 entrance ramp. "But to cross here, it's kind of dangerous."

The men in the wheelchairs are joined by 60 or so other people, not including reporters and cameramen representing just about every local media outlet.

This Friday the Board of Alderman will vote on whether to give Rick Yackey, the building's owner, a tax abatement to redevelop the property, which may or may not lead to the Saucer's demolition.The men and women here know that Board Bill #118 likely to pass. But they're not going to sit quietly and let the wrecking ball come.

It's a workday, and it's hot and humid, but they're all here, at this rally hosted by STL-Style, hoping their chants, cardboard signs and overall show of civic pride will convince developer Rick Yackey or city politicians or potential retailers or anyone else in power to reuse The Saucer on South Grand instead of demolish it.

A man named Bryan Simmons holds a two-sided white sign reading "Hit Yackey Where It Hurts: Boycott Jimmy's," referring to Jimmy's Cafe on the Park, another Yackey property.

"These developers aren't sentimental, they don't care if there's a thousand people out here," he says. "But if it's a thousand people that aren't going to give him business, if the guy realizes he's going to lose more money by tearing it down, then maybe he'll keep it up."

Not everyone agrees with Bryan's verve. He is asked to put down his sign and pick up one of the "I *heart* the Saucer" placards, because, as a man on the megaphone stresses, "We are not protesting. We are celebrating this strange awesome building that has stood on this corner since 1967."

Every few minutes, a passing car honks and the crowd cheers. One man is holding two signs over his head, his outstretched arms rarely sagging.

"This is one of the symbols of our past," he says. "If we don't respect the past, we have no respect for ourselves," he says.

The man's name is John Chen and he is the owner of Urban Eats Cafe, as well as a member of the board of the Landmarks Association of St. Louis. To him, the issue isn't just about this building. It's about the principle of preserving the things that are important in the city. After all, the Saucer is only half a century old right now -- relatively young for a St. Louis structure -- but it will be a full century old one day, and even older one day after that. It will be a relic of a certain, long-forgotten era of "mid-century architecture."

The man with the megaphone turns to the crowd and says, "I'm gonna count to three, and you're gonna tell me what they should put here. One, two, three!"

A jumbled cascade of shouts:

A museum to Route 66!

An In-N-Out Burger!


The guys in the wheelchairs stay silent as the proposals pour in. Then, when there is a pause in the ideas:

"Sonic!" shouts Mike Buford.

Sonic! Sonic! Sonic!" shouts John Clay, spinning his chair in circles and smiling.

Mike Buford hopes the building becomes a Sonic. - ALBERT SAMAHA
  • Albert Samaha
  • Mike Buford hopes the building becomes a Sonic.

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