I hope my readers, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of this website, will allow me to talk about something other than St. Louis architecture. As I’ve said before, over the last decade St. Louis Patina has become something much more than a just a place for pictures of beautiful or abandoned buildings (though it still does that). This website is a warning, a protest of what has gone so terribly wrong with St. Louis–illustrated through its built environment. The effects of racism, classism, bad government policy, bad cultural influences, intellectual laziness and irrational fear are illustrated here on a regular basis in my photographs.
So there will be no self-adulating reminiscing today, no “Top Ten Lists” (I already did that in my St. Louis Magazine article last week for the anniversary), but rather just a plaintive plea, that if you really want to “get” my work, you must understand at its heart St. Louis Patina has been my crying out about our society’s failures.
Instead, this tenth anniversary post will be about one man, Edward D. Johns, who lost his life almost fifteen years ago on a sad, desolate corner of JeffVanderLou I’ve been documenting for years, on November 7, 2002. I am less than a year older than Edward, and I think back to what I was doing then–having fun, working my first full time job in Washington, DC, and the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorials were just a weekly, ordinary part of my Saturday strolls around the capital. Certainly a much more idyllic life than he faced that day. And yes, I checked, and Edward had no criminal record; who and why remain a mystery in his death.
Very few people live around the intersection of Hebert and Jefferson nowadays, but back ten to twenty years ago, violence was rife around this corner of JeffVanderLou. The newspaper article is short; not much information beyond the small tidbits that he was visiting family on the block, and he stepped outside to talk to somebody at 12:30 AM. He died within sight of St. Augustine’s, just a block away.
The intersection is just like many in the city back in the day; just ordinary but pretty buildings, and normal people lived there–no one famous, but respectable. Some man named Edward Meddler lived at 2601 Hebert back in 1925, and was listed in the “Who’s Who of North St. Louis Businessmen.” The building on the northwest corner is owned by the LRA, and my favorite LLC, Northside Regeneration, owns the other three corners. The Romanesque Revival apartment building went vacant sometime back after 2008 (though I have no recollection of it being occupied), and had a checkered past going back to the 1990s, at least.
So when I post pictures of trashed, abandoned houses, row after row of burned out four-families, or crumbling factories, I am doing so to remind everyone, including myself, that real people live there, and they deserve our help, not our scorn and derision. It is clear this young man’s murder still haunts his family, whose pain is still so evident on this lonely corner. How did his mother feel on Mother’s Day? I can’t let the murder of Edward D. Johns, or anyone else’s, become just another anonymous death. His life mattered.