I was getting ready Saturday evening to head over to the Granite City Art and Design District when I glanced at Twitter, where I follow the St. Louis Fire Department.
They were reporting a fire at a “three story house at the corner of St. Louis avenue and N. 22nd Street.” My heart sank. I think I knew what they were talking about, but I checked Google Street View to confirm. There is another three story house at that intersection so I wasn’t sure which one they were talking about.
I was heading towards the McKinley Bridge anyway, so I quickly jumped in my car and headed north to St. Louis Avenue. The street was blocked all the way back at 20th Street, but I was pretty sure I already knew the bad news.
I went south and went around, coming up 22nd Street, and then it was obvious.
One of my favorite–and many other friends’ favorite–houses in St. Louis was gone. While the huge, torch-like flames had been tamped down by the large number of firefighters on scene, it was still smoldering and reigniting when I arrived. A friend who lives nearby that I found on the scene told me she knew it was bad when she saw additional fire trucks coming up from downtown to fight the fire.
There is no malevolent Paul McKee, no out-of-state slumlord, no “greedy speculator buying up land in anticipation of the new National Geospatial Agency” to blame. There was a single woman squatting inside, and a cooking fire she had started got out of control. The owners live up the block. But I look back to the first time I photographed this house in 2008 in a far different time in my life and its title, “Abandoned Today, Destroyed Tomorrow?” is a sad portent.