Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What have we done?

St. Louis from the East side


There was a huge traffic jam on the way home yesterday.  There is always traffic, but yesterday it simply was not moving at all.  They are building a new bridge over the Mississippi to "solve" the traffic problems, sadly it is creating several more years to traffic issues in the process.  It was sunny, bright and an all around cheery kind of day so hubby decided we would cut through East St. Louis. He was born and raised there, he has a different level of comfort than most. 



Anyone that has ever seen Chevy Chase's Vacation knows that isn't always the best idea when traveling in the Metro East.  It is not a warm welcoming neighborhood, and sadly it is a dying beauty. It is the purest example of what happens when people stop caring, when things are given as opposed to earned that I have ever seen.  Rarely do you even see people in this once beautiful old city, and when you do it is heart wrenching.

Majestic Theater on the left

Downtown East St. Louis is nothing but the bones of an elegant past now, but oh they were stunning in their day.  If I thought for a second I could change and restore them, I think it would be a passion for me.  The classic buildings tall and sturdy at one time are now falling slowly back to the earth, time and neglect are unbuilding them. It's an odd dichotomy, not 5 miles from the heart of ESL is a vibrant city full of people, bustling with activity and growth. And yet here sleeps it's older more elegant neighbor, disappearing more everyday.

Isn't the architecture beautiful
 The old stockyards have been gobbled up by the highways, the main buildings of it are boarded up and covered with graffiti, most of the buildings are boarded over.  With the exception of the post office and the federal courthouses, that are ironically right in the middle of this area most everything is boarded up, falling down and decaying.  There are bars on the windows and doors of the shops and businesses that are holding to life in this once bustling shopping and business district.  The streets have pot holes that aren't simply marked, but in some cases filled with giant 55 gallon barrel warning barricades.  Some areas still have the beautiful brick streets, the ones designed to last for centuries, and they have.  They are smoother than any black top road you find anywhere else.






I am fascinated with East St. Louis, the beauty of what once was screams out to be seen.  And every now and then amidst the chaos, sadness and decline there is a jewel.  Little pockets of folks that refuse to give up on their beauty of a city, a street here or there with solid, breath taking brick German built homes, their stained glass entry windows glittering in sunlight.  Every inch of those homes maintained and polished.  Showing the world how much love and care their owners have lavished on them.  They all have their little fences most of them wrought iron beauties that have been cared for through generations.  And well manicured yards, that even in winter when everything is dead have the promise of taking away your breath with their beauty. 

Lakeshore Drive


It is hard to believe that just 50 years ago it was a family community, where children rode their bikes across the Eads bridge and parents didn't worry, it was on the cutting edge of the green movement before it was even thought of with bike and walking trails.

Frank Holten State Park, formerly Grand Marias
 Sixty years ago it was the hub of jazz and blues in the Midwest with stars like B.B. King, Harry James, James Brown and many others playing at the Blue Note not too far off the shores of Grand Marias lake.  Leo's Blue Note was the inspiration for Harold Ramis's famous scene in Animal House of the college students going to the all black bar.  He frequented it during his own college years in St. Louis. There was a time this wonderful city sparkled and gave so much to the area. 

The Blue Note today


It is a city that is in it's death throes, I firmly believe it could be the vibrant, warm, welcoming beauty it was in its heyday.  But it is dying from a disease that seems to be moving across this country.  The disease of apathy.  I am not sure we are strong enough as a people to cure it.  Because the cure must come from within.  It is not something that people with caring hearts can make you feel, that "do gooders" can give to you. It is a pride, a sense of self, the will to improve where you are in life and to make it better for your kids, and grand kids.



East St. Louis is a picture, when you put all the pieces together you can see it so clearly.  It's about choices and free will.  I will continue to cheer for those that cling to their city, so proud of its heritage and willing to fight to hold on to the beauty it is.  As they crowd into the traffic at the merges to go to work each day or go each morning to open the mom and pop stores in the hopes that they can bring their city back to life, praying that someone that made a different choice will not take away their dreams.  The American dream is still alive, in some areas it is on life support, but a quick drive through East St. Louis is solid reminder that we have to stop taking away the will of the people to strive for something better and more profound in their own lives.  Sometimes what appears to be a good, caring thought or idea, is something far more sinister and destructive a generation or two down the road.