We all knew the end was coming soon; when the news reports of angry neighbors bemoaning the precarious condition of the Winkelmann Mansion in its seriously damaged state began circulating, I knew that one of my favorite structures in the entire city was on borrowed time. Its demise came last week, but I still can’t believe it.
I’m sure the usual McKee apologists will come out of the woodwork in the coming weeks, defending the destruction of one of the oldest mansions in the city on the grounds that it “couldn’t be saved,” or “this is the price of the rebirth of North St. Louis.”
What rebirth? Northside has been in the works for the last decade, and we have not seen any development, just destruction of houses that could have been the initial building blocks of the rebirth of the North Side in real, organic development. I’m sure eventually some ignorant soul will ask the most insulting and galling question we’ve all heard a million times, “Well if it’s so important, why didn’t you buy it and fix it up?”
Well, I’m sure someone might have, but Mr. McKee has owned the property now for so many years and refused to sell it, making stupid promises about saving the house. No one was ever given the opportunity to save the house because he wouldn’t allow it. There, do you understand that?
I also appreciate how well the demolition crews secure the site from curious children. Have they ever heard of the legal concept of an “attractive nuisance?” Nothing prevents a child from falling and being seriously hurt in the cellar of the house, which is completely exposed to the street.
But what really angers me about the whole Northside project is that our leaders have “drunk the Kool Aid” on this project, and seem impervious to criticism of their decision to consistently vote in favor on bills that support the project, even without any evidence that the plan will ever work. It is also symptomatic of a deeper leadership problem in St. Louis: the belief over the last sixty years that there exists some sort of “silver bullet” development out there that will magically bring the City of St. Louis back to its former glory. There has never, ever been any giant urban renewal project that has ever worked in St. Louis’s long history. In reality, as Steve Patterson pointed out so adroitly a year ago, the beauty and vitality of St. Louis developed one building at a time, one street at a time, often times over the course of several decades. All of St. Louis’s most beloved neighborhoods took decades or even a century to become what they are today. Why is that so hard for our leaders to understand?
The rest of my photos show my sad exercise in trying to capture the beauty of the stonework and craftsmanship through the discarded and smashed stones lying about the lot and sidewalk. For each stone, I tried to imagine where it once sat, proudly playing a role in the beauty of the Winkelmann house, the St. Louis Place neighborhood and the city at large. This house will never exist again.
The final photo I took speaks for itself; someone visiting the ruins before me had arranged some of the bricks into a message, which you can see below: Basically, if you’re a somewhat talented snake-oil salesman, you can get the leadership of St. Louis to buy anything, even the ridiculous, most absurd idea you can imagine. The more unbelievable, the better.
I’ve asked this before, and I will again: Is that what you want your city to become?