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May 2002 / the ordinary eye :: email this story to a friend

Picture Imperfect
By Thomas Crone

Everyone who kicks around the City on a regular basis has a building, intersection, or neighborhood that they'd like to see jumpstarted. Money and demand for renovation all too often lag behind enthusiasm, though, so areas often sit idly and wait.

The 14th Street Mall is one of those areas. Located just across St. Louis Avenue from the bustling Crown Candy Kitchen, the Mall is a shadow of its former self. A vision of a failed — yet sensible — urban plan, the area was designed as a walking commercial strip, with space for several dozen operations, some of the buildings containing apartments on the second and third floor. Located not far from Downtown, the McKinley Bridge and I-70, the area feels sleepy now, untouched by progress. The apartments are basically all empty and the first floors are, too. A large parking lot features meters that've been taken over by plants.

On one recent visit, though, that feeling was interrupted by a visit from a German artist, Ralf Tafler, who had constructed large, wooden angels which sat throughout the Mall. Children painted on some, while an abandoned storefront sat nearby, open and presentable after the artist and his colleagues had cleaned it out. With a bit of magic and a lot of elbow grease, this artistic push had given the quiet space a vigor and energy lacking any other day. Inside (one building) and outside (the entire Mall), the area was given over to something special.

What a pleasant surprise.

A week or so later, the area was back to normal. A pair of the angels, interlocking, sat just off the center of the Mall. Nearby a handful of rummies enjoyed their morning nip, seated on a park bench. Another trio sat outside a social service agency, one of the few remaining open doors in the vicinity.

The 14th Street Mall is one of the amazing, small pockets of St. Louis City. You can get a glimpse into the past, you can shake your head at the present, and you can puzzle over how anyone can turn the trick for a future here. Best of luck to them.


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