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img_1012It has been a while since I posted here and things have been happening. My lengthy description of the East Capitol Avenue demolition by neglect is maybe turning obsolete…I hope. The City of Jefferson has finally decided to take some action to save the neighborhood. It is too early to tell how this will go but it seems that the intent is there to wrestle the failing properties away from the neglectful owners and salvage what can be salvaged. My hope is that everything can be saved but there will be assessments and appraisals and my guess is that a couple buildings will be lost.

This week there was a news item that the old shoe factory on the east side of the old abandoned Missouri State Penitentiary grounds will be converted to lofts. The building is on private land — not on prison land – so it isn’t a direct part of the foolishness of the prison redevelopment debacle.

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The shoe factory, last operated by International Shoe Company, is a vestige of the once booming shoe industry in Missouri and is a reflection of the prison inmate labor pool that powered other shoe factories in the city. The building is largely intact and has some interesting architectural features if you look for them. It has been in use as a warehouse of sorts in recent years so it hasn’t been totally vacant. It does present a challenge for lofts. It is essentially aligned on an east-west axis so one side will be sunny and the other will be mostly in shade. I’m guessing that the upper floors on the north side would have a view toward the Missouri River. When I worked for the city I spent some time photographing the building and I wish I had copies of those pictures. If you look closely you can see some detail around the front doorway and the side entrance also had some interesting detail. The clock tower and the corbels are also intact. The building serves as a landmark on the east side of the city and it is heartening to see that it will remain. There is a similar old factory building on the west side of town: the old JCD Furniture store. The factory floors were used as a furniture showroom almost warehouse style. The construction and sturdiness of that building is probably similar to what the shoe factory is like. The main problem with the old JCD building is that it is next to Wears Creek and prone to Missouri River flooding.

These old impressive buildings are not always saved. The old Alexian Brothers Hospital served south St. Louis city for over a century. My wife’s family used that hospital in time of need and I recall, on hospital visits, walking through the galleried hallways that seemed to come from the 1860s. Surely it wasn’t that old…surely not. But it was old. And the monks would make occasional appearances in the halls in full monastic regalia. I, not being of the Roman Catholic persuasion, would be mesmerized as if I had taken a step back in time. This was a relic of the cholera and small pox epidemics that ravaged the city. High ceilings and door-sized windows made it tolerable in the summer heat and humidity…just barely.

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Dear reader, you might have some recollection of the old Alexian Brothers Hospital because it was the site of the 1949 exorcism that was retold in the movie The Exorcist. Happily, I was unaware of that fact when I visited the place but I can imagine it happening there. I am the owner of a brick from the old hospital. My wife’s grandfather went to the site when the old building was being demolished and picked up a brick for each family member to keep as a memento of the old place. His dad died there in 1906 after being injured in an accident on the Mississippi River levee. I keep the brick outside…not in the house. There are still stories about the malevolent force associated with the site of the old hospital.

On sort of a lighter note, the story of the brick reminds me of my mother’s vacation to California back in the late 1960s to visit her brother and sister in law. She had a great trip. I think it was her first airplane ride so she was excited. She stayed a week or so and they took her around to see all the local sights. The beach, the mountains, Monterrey, and a few old Spanish missions. At one of the missions, she decided that she wanted a souvenir so she pried up one of the old clay floor tiles and brought it home on the return flight. I suppose that would have been some sort of offense – antiquities act or something. She was proud of her souvenir and showed it off to the family. We were a little shocked that she would do something like that but then she proceeded to turn it into a trivet that resided in our kitchen for several years. It was there until I moved away after college.

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