Week of February 11, 2004

Wrecking Ball Blues
From history to rubble: As someone who leads walking tours of downtown architecture, I appreciated Randall Roberts' "Going Postal," [January 28], which gave some needed attention to the downtown redevelopment effort. It saddens me that two truly historical structures, the Old Post Office and the Century Building, seemingly cannot coexist in our small downtown area. I question how part of the St. Louis public lost interest in preserving our past as a great American city.

In the hope that razing the Century Building is not a foregone conclusion, I would like to point out more than the building's unique materials (Georgia marble). The story of the Century Building is intertwined with that of the Syndicate Trust Building. The two housed St. Louis' finest department store, Scruggs-Vandervoort-Barney, which in the 1940s became the first downtown establishment to have a racially integrated cafeteria. Earlier, while women were earning the right to vote, the Equal Suffrage League of St. Louis was doing business in these buildings, and their efforts led directly to the creation of the League of Women Voters.

Perhaps with an increased awareness of our city's history, St. Louis will put away the wrecking ball sometime this century, even if it cannot save the Century itself.
Jon Milde
St. Louis

Dierbergs, here I come: I have never considered myself to be very political or interested in neighborhood politics. However, I have found myself becoming more and more interested in the goings-on in the city these days. Perhaps it's my age, or more likely it's the fact that I will soon be a resident of the downtown loft area.

The Century Building is more than a space to be converted into a garage for parking or a building awaiting the wrecking ball. It is a gateway to an idea. An idea that St. Louis values its architecture. Wouldn't it be grand if visitors to St. Louis came away with an understanding that we appreciate the beautiful buildings our fathers built? Steve Stogel claims to have a vision of St Louis. Is his version one filled with parking lots or one of preserving the past? Anyone can tear something down; it takes a visionary to figure a way to find a use for it in the present day. Craig Heller and Kevin McGowan have been practicing just that. They have taken the lead and found inventive ways to incorporate the present with the past, beauty with functionality.

This "my way or the highway" talk from Mr. Stogel is obviously aimed at making him and the Schnuck family all the richer. These people are so out of touch with the reality of the everyday person. Have any of them ever thought about the sad fact that downtown has none of the amenities that complete a community? I failed to see anything in the article about the Schnuck family betting on the city's future by placing a grocery store in the Old Post Office. As for parking, why not use the lower levels of the Postal and Century buildings for parking? Heller has already done this in the buildings LoftWorks has refinished. Excellent selling point, I think.

Perhaps the people who plan St. Louis would benefit from seeing it as "Joe Middle-Class Resident," rather than a millionaire visitor. In the meantime, I will be looking at the leadership in this and other ventures in the city. Voters are looking also. As for the groceries, well, I guess I can always start shopping at Dierbergs.
David Horst
St. Louis

Village People
Industry's been very, very good to Sauget: I want to commend you for an excellent article on the Sauget family and the Village of Sauget [Mike Seely, "Funky Town," January 14]. Having worked at Cerro Copper Products (now Cerroflow) and formerly at the Lewin-Mathes Company for 45 years, I have been an observer of, if not a participant in, its colorful history in many of those years. I retired eleven years ago and now live in California, but I still keep in touch with former colleagues, and therefore received a copy of your article. I am sure it was well researched, and I do not question its accuracy, but a little more credit should be given to Sauget's industrial citizens for the contributions they have made to the overall well-being of the area instead of a mere reference to the pollution these industries have caused.

First off, during a period of peak activity the industries gave gainful employment to several thousand nearby residents (1,300 at Cerro alone), many of whom came from East St. Louis, Cahokia and other close towns, contributing materially to the area's economy.

Once the extent of pollution conditions were properly identified, a number of actions were taken by the companies. These same industries built a regional wastewater treatment facility that serves not only the area's plants, but also the cities of East St. Louis, Cahokia and several more, an action that these communities could not have undertaken on their own. Four Village of Sauget industries guaranteed the $42 million bond issue needed for the local share of the construction cost, and also guaranteed their allocated portions of the operation and maintenance costs, whether they used this capacity or not. Residential ratepayers were favored with deeply discounted payments, with the added expense borne by industry.

Individually and collectively, these industries have also supported many worthy programs that have benefited the area, and have worked proactively to improve the environment and the human condition. Perhaps you will see fit to give just a little credit to "these polluters" in a future article.
Paul Tandler
Tiburon, California