The Kingshighway Viaduct and Skate Park

I read (click on the title) that the demo of the KHW viaduct is starting soon and wanted to revisit the area below the deck. I had the willies driving down the rumble strewn road along the east side but was enchanted to encounter a large group of friendly men and their underground DIY skate park complete with freestanding ramps and a recently created 'pool'.

I also had a great chat with the author of http://we-are-the-city.blogspot.com/

It was baffling to discover a dumpster under the bridge.
I called my 10th ward alderman Joe Vollmer. He said he's supportive of them being there -hence the dumpster - and wants to work with them to develop skate parks in our ward.

Reinforced piers:

Missing parapet:

In the middle of the photo there's a small figure, one of a group of boys who'd discovered the LRA board up had been removed:

Cracks in the piers

Entrance to the viaduct from South Kingshighway

Downspout encased in concrete:


I'm back.

I was working.
I worked every single day last year while attending to volunteer business and didn't have much time for brick spotting. I smacked down a lot of debt, did some work on my building, and didn't go on vacation.

My business took me on some long drives on wide highways. I still won't call them interstates. I marveled at expanses of sky while traveling on highway 44. I avoid 40 because it's disorienting. The remodel with its extensive sound barriers is like driving through a courtyard.

Here's a building I encountered on Morgan Ford. The green bricks are spooky and the finish is stucco-ish. Check out the green patina on the original copper gutter and how it matches the green bricks. The original downspout matches and I'm betting that was deliberate.

Gorgeous palette:



Arts and Crafts Homes - Maplewood

For a tour of exceptional columns and the stucco finishes of local Arts and Crafts influenced buildings start your tour at Lyndover and Roseland Terrance.

Second floor recessed porch:

Check out the buff color half circle brick wall on the left side of the porch.


Ghetto on Ghetto?

But wait, I was thinking as I skimmed the article (click on the title), Christo already did that. I mean, the man invented the medium.

I started a mild burn...Historic BRICK house but OK, in a depressed area where hey, no worries over a further drop in value. FYI: Depressed area doesn't always mean black folk live there or that they wear gold chains which looks more like a 80s Versace scarf print than wrapped rapper.

Here's some tedious rhetoric from the artist statement:
...The house, wrapped in gold chains, will flaunt itself to locals, while simultaneously finding itself bound and gagged by its own design.

I'm gagging.


How rude

Never mind that Morgan Ford is once again a thriving business district just resolve your tuckpointing issue with white vinyl siding over historic brick.
Congratulations dimwits, you've just won the hoosier rehabbing Award of the Year!


Morgan Ford In Motion Festival! Sept 25th

Save the date and come out to the Morgan Ford In Motion Festival Saturday, September 25 · 12:00pm - 9:00pm

I'm sharing a booth with my lovely friend Bruk Longbottom of Rodeo Revival fame and the founder of Maid Rite.

A fraction of what I'll be selling can be seen by clicking on the title or cut and paste:
http://christian-herman.blogspot.com/ which includes felts, knits, crochet, and handmade jewelry.

Here's a list of the Bands:
12:00 - 12:45: The Ten Cent Looseys
1:15 - 2:00: Bullet Pop
2:30 - 3:15: One More Round: A Tribute to Johnny Cash
3:45 - 4:30: Last Nights Vice
5:00 - 6:30: Steve Ewing
7:00 - 8:30: Jon Bonham &Friends

This is a FAMILY FRIENDLY EVENT: FUN, FRIENDS and FESTIVITIES are planned for the Morgan Ford in Motion Music &Street Festival on Saturday, September 25th. Bring your family for a full day of great bands, booths and incredible food on Morgan Ford.


What's Wrong with this Picture?

As a kid I loved What's Wrong with this Picture? it would display two images that were close but didn't match and the objective was to locate the differences.

Location: The Hill.
Of course.


I went looking for Riley

And only found these outstanding 'bark' bricks

On this building at Miami and Morgan Ford:


Walkability - The Chippewa Viaduct

Over dinner last night Tim and I discussed Walkability.
What does Walkability mean, I demanded, I used to walk a total of four miles every day to and from work. How is this new?

It's true: I walked from 4350 McPherson to work in all weather. I walked on sidewalks, did the two mile route in 28 minutes, and didn't own a car. I bought my first car 18 years ago and am still driving the Saturn (currently at 92,000 miles). I didn't want to buy a car - I walked or used BI-State.

During my brief stint at Roosevelt High School I daily walked the 1.5 miles. When I attended DuBourg I walked from McDonald and Roger to the BI-State bus stop at Chippewa. Elementary school: I walked the five blocks from and to Holy Family school. Big whoop.

What are these people talking about, I asked Tim, and what do we call them?
Yuppie puppies, Tim replied.

Walkability has infiltrated ads on Craigslist for apartments in my neighborhood: Walk to Tower Grove Park! Walk to S. Grand! I've been walking until recently and am snickering at walking being a marketing concept. Since when is walking a few blocks trendy? Perhaps for those whose parent's bought them a car at age 16 'cause I'm just not getting it.

Walkability is subjective. It's also a consideration in sustainable design.
It means sidewalks and once meant to me destinations within two-four miles.

St. Louis City is walkable and if you chose to stroll or economic circumstances demand you hoof it.

Which reminded me of the Chippewa viaduct so I rode my new electric bike over last night and discovered the street has never been asphalted. The viaduct functioned as a train spur overpass for our former manufacturing neighbors. The tunnel beneath was a nifty alternative for those wanting to avoid crossing the busy tracks.

I call the original pavement granetoid (google image it) and Tim calls it exposed aggregate concrete. This is what our streets looked like in TGS when I was a kid. They were very large slabs of a nearly white mortar and rock mix which made skateboarding down the 3900 block of McDonald a serious challenge. I had made a skateboard by removing the wheels of my metal roller skates and nailing them to a 1x4.

Eventually thawing snow froze into the crevices around the rocks, formed pocks, and then small holes. The streets were still drivable but the first layer of asphalt went down on TGS in the early 70s. It's still recklessly used and many streets are pointlessly being repaved this week in TGS.

Walkable also meant use of the pedestrian tunnel under the railroad which was closed man years ago. During the time it was built very few people had cars, traveled by street cars and walked.

I used the tunnel under the Chippewa viaduct with my sister and would often pass other people. We liked to lean on the railing and watch cars. It reeked of piss and was eventually closed because people were being mugged.

Similar tunnels were also under streets in downtown St. Louis.

Granetoid street:

The top of the parapet has a very fine mortar mix almost sand castle-like in appearance.

Side view of the tunnel entrance.

Overhead view of the pedestrian tunnel:

Exit on the other side of the train tracks:

My electric bike. Eight years of ripped and torn knee tendons before a jerk doctor acquiesced to my demands for a MRI. I was in surgery twice within a year. This is an embarrassment for someone who used to ride Chubb Trail to Cool Valley and back every weekend. It weighs 75 pounds and is a bitch to get up and down the front steps.


3964 McDonald Ave.

This is a reprint of my first blog post from 7/10/04.
My old girlfriend Chris Deckard was on site and set up this blog. He also kindly tolerated drives down alleys and aided in brick spotting.

This is where it all began, 3964 McDonald Ave in the Tower Grove South area of St. Louis. My childhood home!

I love the brass mailbox and beveled glass address plate. I used to polish it when I was a kid. I would run my fingers over the surrounding brick, fascinated with the crevices and various values of color.

I loves me some brick.

Pop Quiz

Occasionally I come upon a brick street that hasn't been covered with asphalt. It's a wonderful experience and I like to imagine how horse hooves sounded traveling over the bricks.

These streets also remind me of the movie King of the Hill which was filmed in St. Louis when I lived in the CWE. If you haven't seen the movie rent it ASAP. Part of it was filmed in the old apartment building on the NW corner of McPherson and Taylor (it went condo shortly after and the building was severely altered).

OK, so watch the film then take a stab at the neighborhood where the brick streets were located.

This one is located at Tennessee and Winnebago

Detail of the street, perfectly placed Hydraulic pavers.
Dreamy stuff.

Around the corner on Chippewa I encountered this overgrown lot:

Is this sign ever going to be removed?

Auto Glass Installed

I had a darkly hilarious phone conversation with Dale Sweet on the Fourth. He lives in Gravois Park and I could hear the fireworks in the background. These weren't firecrackers mind you but professional fireworks.
He told me about this car and wondered how many times it would be ticketed before being towed.


Email from Rantoul, IL

I know!
I haven't been posting photos and stories about bricks. I've been busy with various distractions. In the interim this email arrived from Rantoul, IL.

I am a bit surprised to learn that the Hydraulic Press Brick Company still exists. I grew up in Shale City, IL which at that time was a "company town" for one of their brick plants.

I was about to send a query to "History Detectives" at PBS and thought I should Google "Hydraulic Press" first and so am glad to find your blog.

Have you ever heard of Shale City? The plant and town there were opened about the time of World War I, closed in the late 1960s and bull-dozed to the ground.

Local stories had it that brick made at Shale City were used to build the Emprie State Building. Do you know if there is anything to that story or even how one might go about even attempting to find out?

I appreciate any guidance you might be able to offer.


Paul Maher
Rantoul, IL 61866

Hello Paul.
Thanks for the email.

I'm really an amateur when it comes to brick, there's actual historians out there.
Hydraulic Brick no longer exists. I live about two miles from its former site.

I did google Shale Brick Empire State Building and found this link and a few others: http://www.qconline.com/progress99/1mercer.shtml

I have never heard of Shale City. I would love to publish what you know about the brickyard on my blog if that interests you.

Paul responded:
I was wondering if there is any documentary evidence for the claim about the Empire State Building. There were some stories and claims about Shale City that I have read which I knew first hand to be a bit of a stretch.
What I know about Shale City is a mixture of hand-me-down stories, a little research and personal observation. A nephew of mine once wrote up a history of Shale City as a school project, but I have it packed away in preparation for moving. Once I move I will try to locate it and then get his permission to copy it and send to you.

This is what I understand in broad strokes:
In the 19th century Hugh Gilchrist of Scotland immigrated to Illinois and started a coal mine near the tiny village that now bears his name. It is just off route IL-17 between the towns of Viola and Aledo. When his coal mine closed, the wood frame houses from the mine workers were moved to Shale City. This would have been about the time of the World War I. Most of the houses I remember had a distinctive design--the sides were all covered in green roofing shingles, and the roofs were all comprised of red "roll" roofing. I have read newspaper stories that said all the houses were made of brick, but that was purely "imaginative reporting!" The office building was made of brick, however. Most of the houses had no plumbing of any kind. Some had water that was supplied by a cistern. In our house dad had rigged up an electric pump to the cistern and a water heater, so we actually had an inside bathroom in addition to the outhouse! However, the cistern water was not potable and each neighborhood (the "west hill" and the "east hill" where I grew up) shared a well for drinking water that was pumped by hand. The heating consisted of a coal stove in the kitchen and an oil burner in the living room. Mom had propane for cooking. The roads into Shale City were all gravel roads, so dusting could easily be a daily chore!

My father began working there when he was 15 years old, about 1919. As I remember his telling it, his first job was to sweep out the tunnels between the coal-fired kilns and the smoke stacks. He eventually became the assistant superintendent of the plant and oversaw its closing in the late 1960s.

The clay was dug by an electric shovel and hauled to the "making room" where it was first ground up and then pulverized into a fine dust by a large rolling stone (it could have been concrete for all I know). As my grandfather who also worked there explained, "you could write your name in the air" because of the dust. The finely crushed clay was mixed with water and chemicals (?) and extruded through a hydraulic press--hence the name of the company! The extruded clay was cut by a machine with wires and then they unbaked brick were stacked for drying or "pre-baking". After a couple of days in the "drying room" the bricks were stacked--by hand!--in the kilns. Each kiln could hold approximately 40,000 brick, if I remember correctly. I believe it took about a day for the coal-fired kilns to reach temperature (1000 - 1200 degrees Fahrenheit), they stayed at that temperature for approximately a day and a half and then a considerable time to cool. The bricks were, often as not, again stacked by hand on to pallets until they were shipped.

I hope this gives you what you might need!

I have a personal question for you if I may... I am familiar with "X" as the symbol of the Greek letter Chi and as an abbreviation in nomina sacra, but I am also familiar with "Xian" as a Chinese name ...

With kindest regards,


Thanks for emailing and sharing this personal history with me.

I can't imagine working in front an old brick kiln. Not just the heat on a hot day but loading and unloading the kiln.

I assume the bricks that were used in my building were made in the very early 1900s and delivered to the site by mules or horses. I live in a house literally built by many hands with very little technology. It's a daily marvel.

It's interesting that the Shale City Brick closed in the late 60s: frame houses are cheaper to construct.


Email from Independence

Dear Christian Herman,
I was enjoying your website while researching "white brick."

I just purchased a "duplex" i.e. a converted old neighborhood 20x32 brick store and was considering bricking in the two north windows, the two having no reinforcing iron, into fake windows with white brick trim and blue sky interior. The exterior is highly painted pale yellow brick and is the building in the movie "Kansas City" that was a neighborhood store. My challenge is to come up with a system of sealing the seam between the roofing inside the brick box and the roof proper. Fr. Donnelly, who more or less developed Kansas City in pioneer days, made many brick structures with roofing to the inside and lost many because they are so hard to maintain. I am hoping to clamp some kind of urethane membrane between angled boards to stop the tarred seams from inevitably leaking.

A young girl in the neighborhood has had a recurring dream about gold behind a freezer that has frozen treats so I hope the City of Independence--the building is one block east of Kansas City's city limits--will eagerly approve any such arrangement. Thanks for your website. I started out as a ceramics major and switched to sculpture and now do water-based oil on paper. Any marketing advice for that will be appreciated. I share your insurance appreciation and work half-years in downtown KC at the IRS schlepping paper. Blessings!
Ann Gerard Francke
Independence, MO

Hello Ann!
Can you send photos of your building and of the windows?
I'd also like to see some of your art work and am curious as to how you treat the paper. Gesso?
Etsy.com is a great site for marketing your work.