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Current Affairs This Summer

I went by the Theophile Papin House on the last Saturday of June. It’s being demolished. It’s sad, but honestly, it had been so heavily altered that it wouldn’t really have been feasible or worthwhile to restore it back to its original appearance. It would have been an ersatz structure.

During demolition some interesting stone details became visible, and the back wall of the original house was still intact when I photographed it.

I also discovered that the play equipment on Labadie Avenue has been removed, presumably to a location where children can enjoy it. I don’t think it was stolen or scrapped, as the bolts were carefully removed from the ground. This is great news, and I’m glad to see that. The building has received a new coat of paint, as well.

Warning: The following involves a discussion of agricultural waste.

Alerted by the news media, I also drove by what I dubbed the Chicken S*** Farm on Cabanne Avenue in what I consider the greater West End but what is in the official, City-designated neighborhood of Visitation Park.

I’ve looked at the 5300-5400 block of Cabanne Avenue before, back in April of 2019. It is a really nice street, full of well-kept homes owned by proud and resilient, hardworking African Americans. Yes, there are some abandoned buildings, including that famous Tudor Revival apartment complex (whose owner is so proud of letting the building sit and rot that they hide behind an LLC registered to a Clayton lawyer), and a few vacant lots. But for the most part, it is a part of the City where people are working to make their community better by themselves, without the need for paternalistic saviors.

South of Cabanne Avenue is the amazing Windermere Place, where there is nary an abandoned house to be seen. Yes, there are in fact many other private streets in North St. Louis, and they all are in great condition. So I know what you’re thinking, did I smell it? So for my preliminary experiment, again on the last Saturday of June after the story had broken earlier that week, I pulled up in my car right in front of the “farm” and rolled down my passenger side window, assuming if it was really as bad as claimed I would surely be able to smell it from the street. If I could not, I would then get out of my car and get closer. I sat in my car, breathed in deeply and smelled only a faint innocuous earthy smell.

“Hmm, that’s strange,” I thought. It was 84 degrees out and humid; maybe higher temperatures were needed. I then thought to myself, perhaps I needed more of a draft through my car and proceeded to roll down my driver’s side window.

Within five seconds it hit me. I can’t fully describe it, except to say that I think the residents interviewed on the local news were being diplomatic in their description of the smell. It is, without a doubt, the worst, most putrid, horrible smell I have ever smelled in my entire life. It was worse than anything I can ever imagine or describe in words. I sincerely believe that if I had stayed there longer I very well might have vomited in my car, and this was a good one hundred feet from what I think were the “compost piles.” It was well within range of occupied homes. I am surprised no one mentioned being able to smell it indoors.

To put it bluntly, I can safely say that while I am not a physician or lawyer, I don’t think it’s healthy or reasonable to risk vomiting every time you walk out of your house due to your neighbor’s illegal “agriculture enterprise” (and no, he didn’t have any proper permits or zoning variances). And if this is what it smelled like at 84 degrees, I can’t even imagine what happens at 95 degrees. And yes, I have visited and spent substantial time on several farms in my life, and visited dozens–including ones in Germany and Italy. I know real farmers who farm hundreds of acres every year. My family even owns two farms, as long time readers probably remember. This is not the way real farms operate. It might not be as common today, but back in the day people out in the country would go for Sunday drives and critique each others’ farms. If people drove by your farm and it smelled like what I smelled on Saturday, you would be the laughing stock of the community.

Yes, there’s a point to this story. The owner lives south of Delmar in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood, where there are already at least two community gardens. The African American residents asked rhetorically on camera why he doesn’t have his chicken waste composting operation in that neighborhood.

I think we all know the answer to that question.

I then went by only to observe the “protest/counter-protest” over the Louis IX statue on Art Hill, which also occurred the last Saturday in June. I ended up getting so distracted by the beautiful flowers planted out front of the Art Museum that I pretty much ignored what was going on around the statue. A couple was also admiring the flowers, and we exchanged pleasantries about our mutual admiration for the gardeners’ work.

We also congratulated a couple who were getting their wedding photos taken. They looked a little confused at what was going on nearby.

One Comment

  1. I’ve often admired the work of the gardeners in Forest Park. They don’t get the recognition they deserve. It’s often as impressive as I’ve seen in Regent’s Park in London. As far as the ‘protest’ over the Louis IX statue is concerned, you are not alone in questioning the reasoning in protesting a Medieval king who lived 800 years ago. Applying contemporary standards to historical figures who lived that long ago is a exercise in futility and ultimately exhausting.

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