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Sep 2001 / the ordinary eye :: email this story to a friend

Unorthodox Beauty
By Robert Powers

Don't believe what they tell you — St. Louis is an abundantly beautiful city.

Sometimes it's obvious — a grand city park, picturesque residential streets, churches and high-rises that punctuate the skyline. These are easy enough to recognize, for anyone who cares to look.

But beauty in post-industrial midwestern towns often is not conventional. It comes in forms that are elusive or ephemeral. Beyond the city's wonderfully variant red brick homes, beyond the easy beauty of the Art Museum and the universities and Union Station, beyond the gently rolling topography and abundant greenery, is another level of more unorthodox artistry. It is found in relics, ruins, remnants. It is scattered in places random and unlikely. It is found in industrial-age behemoths like the MacArthur Bridge; in the rapidly vanishing houses of the north side, lovely even in death; in the bizarre natural gas tanks scattered around the city (landmarks as sure and stable as the Arch); in the industrialized river, still wild and untamed as it rushes past neighborhoods a hundred years old. It is an attraction that cannot be explained by the merely picturesque. The city brims with such beauty, enough to sustain a lifetime's worth of looking.

I left Louisiana to do four years of undergraduate work at Washington University, and stayed in St. Louis for one year beyond that. I've since lived in Philadelphia for several years, and currently am in graduate school in Milwaukee. For several years I've kept track of the city's architecture at my site, sometimes noted for its depressingly negative portrayal of the city's physical condition. Hopefully this will offset that perception a bit, and demonstrate the affection I still feel for the city even years after I moved away.

[Click on a thumbnail image below to enlarge it.]


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