Preservation

Originally Published July 27t 2011, 9:12 AM

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On the Sunday after the great news was announced, Bob and Myra were sucking down Vanilla Nut Espressos at Washington Ave Post and pouring over the pages of the Post-Dispatch. The pair, widower and widow each pushing 70, found each other through the classifieds in the Riverfront Times, drawn together by their mutual love of architecture, art, photography, jazz and classical music. And they found their calling through the Facebook groups Save St. Louis Del Taco and Preserving St. Louis. As they sat in the old coffee shop reading the news that the Del Taco on South Grand, that crazy flying saucer beauty that was originally a Phillips 66 station, may be saved from the wrecking ball thanks to their efforts, they couldn’t stop beaming with pride.

“I can’t believe it! It looked like demolition was a sure thing.” Myra shook her head, grinning ear to ear, and wiped the ink from the paper off her fingers with a napkin. She read aloud from the Tuesday edition:

“’Yet demolition was to be the fate of the Del Taco building, according to plans filed with the city last month. Developer Rick Yackey, who owns the structure and neighboring Council Plaza, indicated he would knock down the 1967-built former gas station and replace it with new buildings for retail tenants.

‘That news prompted a flurry of protests from fans of both the restaurant and the building’s funky midcentury architecture. Even as the Del Taco itself closed, thousands of people signed online petitions to save the structure. Supporters held rallies. Mayor Francis Slay weighed in, urging reuse. Eventually, aldermen changed the redevelopment plan to require review by the city’s Preservation Board before any demolition permit could be issued. That’s where things stand now.’”

“I think we did it!” Myra pronounced, putting the paper down and leaning into Bob’s shoulder.

Bob looked back half a century. “I grew up in New York, and I remember them tearing down Penn Station”, he said. “I walked by it practically every day from 1963 to 1965 while the building died before our eyes. You should have seen the original. McKim, Mead and White, 1910. It was magnificent. Beaux-Arts with a colonnade of Doric columns, eagle and caryatid ornaments in pink granite…hell, they modeled the waiting room after the Roman baths of Caracalla. And they tore it all down, dumped the whole station into the swamps of Jersey and built a garbage dump of a new station on top of the wreckage. That’s why I became an architect. I didn’t want to see it happen again.”

He made a steeple of his hands under his nose, took a look at the picture of the Del Taco in the paper and then looked over at Myra. “That’s what makes this so special. That old gas station sure as hell isn’t Penn Station. But it’s something worth preserving.”

They got up, bussed their mugs and stepped out into the blazing midwest heat and humidity. From Washington they strolled on N 7th over to Kiener Plaza, past the Old Court House, through a sea of fans in Cardinal red arriving early for the Cubs vs. Cards game that night, and on to the Core of Discovery and the Eero Saarinen masterpiece Gateway Arch, shimmering silver in the summer sun, and through the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Park to the Riverfront Trail and to the Mississippi. They walked slowly, soaking in the history and the pioneer spirit of Jefferson and Westward expansion, Lewis and Clark, Dred Scott, Tom Sawyer and Stan Musial, counting the landmarks, and proud of all that remained preserved.

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