Monday, February 22, 2010

The New New Old Rock House

Something amazing is happening in St Louis. Within the past few months we've gone from a city that many of the hottest bands seemingly avoid at all costs, to an unfettered hotbed of scheduled live shows. Now before you start checking TicketMaster for that Color Me Badd reunion tour you've been pining for, let's set some guidelines on what constitutes a "hot" band. First of all, I must like them. I mean, if I didn't this would be the worlds second most boring post right after this actual post. Secondly, they must have some sort of Independent Music buzz - the kind of bands that sell out small to mid-range venues like the Metro in Chicago. Thirdly, they can't be Jay-Z. You see, these aren't the types of bands you'd hear on the radio. Occasionally you'll catch one on Letterman, making their television debut, but they get most of their exposure from webmag's like Pitchfork and by general word-of-mouth.
Anyway, St. Louis often gets skipped by these types of bands. Two of the reasons are that so few people live downtown where most of the venues (Off Broadway, The Firebird) are located, that it's hard to bid on a popular band fearing a low draw. And, second, much of these band's target audience live in college towns. Sure, both Wash U and SLU pull in some great shows, but not the caliber or draw power of a band like, say, Midlake. Well, suddenly, that's all changed. There is a new venue muscling it's way onto the scene and it's name is Old Rock House (ORH).
It began with We Were Promised Jetpacks (WWPJ), a band all the way from Scotland, who's debut album was a real highlight for me last year. I kept searching the computer screen for some venue name that wasn't Old Rock House, but sure enough, on March 15, that is where they are playing. I thought it was an odd choice for WWPJ, but I'd enjoy seeing a band in a different venue. After all, I'd had drinks at ORH before and I found it to be an enjoyable experience. Then came a shocker...
Frightened Rabbit! A band (also coincidentally from Scotland) that is responsible for one of my fave albums of the past 5 years was playing in St Louis. And they were playing at ORH!?!? Frightened Rabbit had, just a year ago, shut me out from two shows in Chicago which sold out almost as quickly as they went on sale and now they were playing at a place that I recently considered "just a bar." It didn't stop there. Not long after that, the aforementioned and well regarded Texas Indie band, Midlake, booked there. Suddenly I realized what I was dealing with here is a NEW Old Rock House.
And that's where my boring music rant takes an interesting turn... Apparently, this new Old Rock House is new in another way too. Yes, there was originally another and very famous Old Rock House that previously stood near what is now the stairs going up from the river to the Arch. This older Old Rock House was one of the original stone buildings in St Louis. Built in 1818 out of rubble-stone by Manuel Lisa, the Old Rock House was originally a fur trade post at the corner of Chestnut and the river levy. It's most famous, however, for being the absolute best place on the Mississippi river to get a hangover and probably a few STD's.
In 1880 Old Rock House was turned into a saloon where one could enjoy a nice Ramos Gin Fizz with anyone from the riverboat captains to Mark Twain himself. It was a favorite of millionaires and warehouse workers alike. At some point during this time a mansard roof was added which gave it, as you can see in the pictures, a very unique, dare I say, awesomely ugly design. This addition gave the owners enough room to let their patrons rent a bed for the night, presumably so as not to drink and ride horseback.
Of course, the original old neighborhood fell on hard times as Mark Twain and horses were replaced by Ryan Seacrest and trains. With city planners looking for a way to clear an area they thought was a blight, plans for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial were drafted. Land and old buildings were soon bought up for clearing and demolition. Only three buildings were to be saved - the Old Cathedral, the Old Courthouse and, yes, the Old Rock House. I assume back then the first two were just called "Cathedral" and "Courthouse," otherwise, it seems to me it would be ridiculously easy to save your building by adding "Old" to the front of the name. Interestingly, it was reported that Franklin Roosevelt himself requested that the Old Rock House be saved. I knew that guy could party.
It wasn't until 1947 that submissions were taken for what the memorial itself would be. All the committee members agreed that Eero Saarinen, indeed, had the coolest name and should be awarded first place. Luckily, he had designed what we now know as the Arch. "But wait a second... I've been to St Louis and seen the Old Courthouse and Old Cathedral, but there is no Old Rock House on the Arch grounds." Yeah, well that's not the only thing that was supposed to be on the Arch Grounds... See Saarinen's 2nd draft below.
There are all sorts of things on this drawing that aren't on the Arch grounds; Frontier Village, Tea Pavilion, restaurants, even a TJ Maxx if I'm reading that map right. And what's that? Yep, the original design called for the Old Rock House to be the entrance into the Arch. Pretty sweet if you ask me. Unfortunately, as plans to begin construction edged closer, another issue appeared - Old Man Railroad (not be confused with buildings starting with "Old" referenced earlier in this post). At the time the country still relied heavily on railroads and the Old Rock House stood right in the path of least resistance. Congress refused to grant the building funds until the issue was resolved and boom went the dynamite.
Well, not literally. Actually the Old Rock House was dismantled with the promise of rebuilding at another site. The public, satisfied with getting a brand new shiny Arch, never questioned it and, slowly, it's memory faded. In 1965 an article ran reporting that more than half of the presumably stored Old Rock House was missing. Project leaders thought that only the original parts of the building were worth saving so they discarded anything that was added on in subsequent years. Pile on the fact that reconstruction was never budgeted and you have a recipe for Old Rock House failure.
As for where pieces of the Old Rock House now rest, there are apparently a few stones stored openly in the Old Courthouse, but after that there isn't much to go on. It's likely lost forever. Or is it???
Well, yes, it is. But now there's the New Old Rock House. Or, wait, the New New Old Rock House (NNORH). While I'm sure the owners of the NNORH probably use the name as a tribute to St Louis' drinking establishment past, I'm surprised not to find any history on their website about the original bar. I think that's bullshit... Ahhh, who am I kidding. I can't stay mad at you NNORH. You're making my band seeing dreams come true and I couldn't be happier to be seeing them in a place I'll try to pretend has a bed I can't rent upstairs.
Before this post ends, I'd like to to touch on all the historic building stock St Louis lost to the Arch grounds. Block upon block was razed with the Eads Bridge the only thing saving Laclede's Landing from a similar fate. Imagine a whole riverfront neighborhood with original cobblestone streets like the Landing. I imagine it would remind people a bit of the French Quarter in New Orleans. While the Arch may define us as a city, I can't help but consider the cost. Check out these sites for pictures and information about the Old Rock House and this lost part of the city. I gathered all of my info there.
Coincidentally, this year marks an impasse for the monument. Poor original design of the interstate system has cut downtown off from the Arch and Mississippi River for decades and the park surrounding the Arch is rarely used. After years of public input there is a new competition taking place to design a new park around the base of the monument that matches the Arch's grandeur. As designs are being slowly whittled down, there has been no word yet on what the best include, but most interested community members are hoping for a connection with downtown again. Completion of the project is due in 2015. Damn it, I hate when my posts get all serious.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep. This is an emergency post from the Arch Observer emergency weird beard shaving broadcasting system. This is, in fact, a real emergency. In the event there wasn't one you'd wonder why they make this drag on and then before it's finally over do one more long, loud beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep. Luckily, as I said before, this is a real emergency and since I've never heard what a real one sounds like, I'll just assume a dude comes on and says, "Look, we're all gonna die. Here are the secrets we, the government, have been keeping from you. Secret #1: There is no Delaware - We made it up. Secret #2: Benjamin Franklin invented casual Friday's so we could figure out who the weirdos in the office were. Secret #3..." And on and on.
Anyway, sorry about the emergency. I had a work-related picture taking today and I needed to shave for it. Since I have no time left today to write a proper Arch Observer post, I'm going to use my short time to put out a missing water containers report.
Last Saturday I was at another sellout Arch Rival Roller Girls bout. It was at this M-80's vs Smashinista's bout (full disclosure: I bench coach for the Smashies) when I lost my dear 3-year-old, white Sigg water bottle. I only set it down for a moment and then, poof, it was gone like Kaiser Soze. Well, needless to say I feel like I've lost a part of me. Specifically, the part of me I drink out of.
Here's a picture from Kaboodle that suspiciously looks exactly like *my* Sigg bottle. Interestingly, if you go to that page and click to buy, the item is not found. There is something very strange going on and it's got Kaboodle written all over it. I wonder if -
AMBER ALERT: Reported abduction of a Sigg bottle. Last seen sitting atop the M-80's bench. The bottle is white, has multiple large dents and is called, but will not respond to the name Dolton. If you see this bottle please contact immediately.
Seriously. I'm drinking out a glass here...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Missouri Mails You Things

This isn't one of those fun, care-free, sterilized for your protection type posts you're used to from Arch Observer. No, this one poison-tipped. How does one poison-tip a blog post? Dip a corner of the computer you're typing on in whatever large vat of poison you have lying around the house. What's the point? I don't really know. It seemed very vindictive at the time. I wouldn't recommend trying it though. All it did was make it so I can't type the "^" symbol (the real symbol I can't use was replaced by this one for safety's sake) and the contact with my computer has ruined a perfectly good vat of poison. I should have just written this to "Every Rose Has It's Thorn." Anyway, this hastily sorta-poisoned post is aimed towards you, Missouri Department Of Revenue!
Purchasing a new car can be a stressful situation for many people. Not so for me. Doing a ton of homework before a big decision is sort of "my thing." I go in knowing as much as there is to know and there was no exception when I decided on ditching my older, larger, nicer car for more of a city-optimal small car. When all was said and done I chose to go with a Volkswagen Rabbit. It fit all of my pre-purchase needs; It needed to be small, a good value, have an auxiliary jack for the iPod and drive reasonably well. It even came with a bonus Donnie Darko inspired nickname: Frank. Well, it didn't come with it. I added it on.
All my mindless research and back and forth with dealerships led me to Sunset Ford out on Gravois Rd in St Louis County. The used VW Rabbit they had on the lot completely fit all my categories of want and even looked like a Frank. I was helped by an excellent representative by the name of Derrick Wood. Derrick is the internet sales manager and could not have been any nicer or straight forward. We worked out a price over email and the phone before I even saw the car.
It was seriously the finest car buying experience I've had and I can go on and on, but that not at all what this post is about. Buying the car was what led me to discovering a slightly strange fact about Missouri law. Before we get into this let's hop in my Delorean time machine (I don't use it as a day-to-day car), punch in one year ago this month, get this baby up to 88 mph, and get in line with 1-year-younger me at the St Louis BMV. That was where a very nice lady handed me a letter and instructed me to send it to the lien holder for my car. The letter instructed my lien holder, GMAC, to kindly send the title of the car to the Missouri Department of Revenue. I found this strange considering that every other state I've lived in doesn't ask for this. Feeling a little off about it, I asked her to clarify. Yes, in the state of Missouri the lien holder does not get to keep the title. Satisfied with the answer, I left it at that. I send the letter... GMAC sends them the title... Whatever.
Oh no! It's 10:03 pm! Quick - get back in the Delorean!
Back to 2010. Or "the Future." I go to see the finance guy at the dealership to finish up the paperwork. He asks me for the Saab's title. I say the state of Missouri has it. I know this because GMAC sent me letter saying they had sent it to them. "Yeah," he says, "they should have then sent it to you." I never received a car title I assured him, but he insisted that they should have sent it to me. He makes a few phone calls and the state gives him a date that they apparently sent it. This was now proof enough that I lost it. I agree, blaming the mail is a huge cliche, but in my building they screw up the mail all the time. I'm not surprised at all.
What I am surprised at is that the State sends title in the mail and doesn't, at least, certify them! I mean, it's a car title. A pretty important document if you ask me. If I had known that Missouri actually sends these to people I might have called and inquired to where mine was at. I never considered they'd send me a title to a car that I didn't outright own. I had assumed it was safe and warm in the belly of some concrete building in Jeff City sitting next to government conspiracy documents. Surely I'd need Nicholas Cage to acquire such important paperwork. Nope, they send it to you. Presumably wrapped in newspaper.
Not knowing that the state does such a thing cost me an extra $50 so that Sunset Ford could get a new copy of the title. Nevermind that it only costs $11 through the Missouri Department of Revenue. Apparently this puts Sunset Ford out so the extra cash is to recover... I don't know... Styrofoam coffee cups and rubber key chains. Luckily, my experience here didn't ruin the whole car purchase for me. It was a short and annoying inconvenience that I thought they were being a bit ridiculous on, but I still drove away happy that I had made a good decision.
And let's get this straight. It was only $50. Certainly a small pittance compared to the cost of the vehicle. Plus, it's still true that the title was my responsibility even though I had no knowledge that it should be. Still, I could have used that money on a sweet french fry holder.
There you go Missouri Department of Revenue. This post just totally nailed you. Literally dozens of people will hear about this. And just think if a link to this falls into the wrong hands... I imagine those "wrong hands" might send a sternly written but poorly worded email about this to completely the wrong department. Again, that's if. Consider this your warning. In the meantime I'll likely just raise my eyebrows a little whenever I get mail from you. Visually, most won't notice, but inside I'll mocking you. Perhaps my first chance will be if and when I get the title for Frank. Wouldn't it be a delicious update if I don't end up getting that one too. Eh... I'm actually sort of over it already. Apparently blogging is cathartic. Instead I'll just update the Facebook status. Segue!
That's right! In case you haven't noticed has joined Facebook. Check over to the right of the screen and click on the "become a fan" button if you're interested in day-to-day observering. I'll be doing things like updating my beard status as well as live updating from different St Louis events and such. Plus, it's a great chance to publicly judge me and discuss topics with other fans. Wow! It's like we're from the future!