The demolition of River Roads Mall has been in the planning stages for some time now. Nearby Northland Shopping Center met its fate last year, and everyone knew that it wouldn't be long until River Roads joined it. Like Northland, River Roads is that unfortunate age that is too young to qualify for historic tax credits, but too old for restoration to be feasible or worthwhile (especially considering the economy of the city of Jennings today). I had heard from someone who works for the company that now owns the property that it's time had come, so I made it a point to visit this location for the last time this weekend.
As I drove up, it was apparent that demolition was well underway. The first satellite store that I saw was nothing but a concrete skeleton. Fortunately, this seemed like the only part that work had started on, as far as destroying stuff goes. As I entered the interior of the mall, much of the debris and junk that used to litter the floors and hallways seemed to have been piled up, or removed completely. Large piles of trash that has been removed from inside the mall dot the parking lots, but it's strange that they remove all this stuff when the building is just going to be coming down on top of it anyway.
The satellite store was bare, all of its walls having been removed. The only thing remaining that showed that it was anything but a parking garage was the center escallator. I would've went upstairs, but unfortunately it must've been turned off at the time.
Once I was inside, I headed for the part of the mall that I most wanted to visit: the basement bowling alley. It's amazing to me that when the place closed down, all of the pins and balls were just left there. Now they lie scattered about, many of them in the flooded areas at the back of the lanes, where one can peer into the murkey water and see old muddy bowling balls peering back. If anyone has photos of this place while it was in operation, I would love to see them!
From the bowling alley, I entered a room where many of the mall's seasonal decorations were still stored. However, multitudes of four feet tall toy soldiers had been thrown into a large pile, decapitated. Some of them had even been pierced with spears and hung from the walls. If I didn't know any better, I'd say that some pesky kids had found their way down there and wreaked a little havoc!
Before I left the mall, I wandered the main hallways for awhile, taking extra time to take my last photos of the place, and especially the famous clocktower in the center. Yes, it is still there, and like the rest of River Roads, it will soon be nothing but a pile of Rubble. It is such a shame that an icon that so many remember from years past will be lost. I almost wish someone would steal it, if only to preserve one small piece of St. Louis's recent history. Seriously, someone take it. I don't have a truck.
A couple of weeks ago Chris, Tunajive and I got together with a photographer for the Riverfront Times who wanted to get some shots for the article that came out last Thursday. We first took him to Armour Packing Plant in East St. Louis, where he took many shots that felt to me like band photos. It made me feel way cooler than I actually am. That is, of course, until I took a step in an unstable area of one of the upper floors and my foot went clear through. Had I not caught myself and had continued to fall, it could have been 30 feet or so of very bad. I should have been more scared than I was. I just calmly lifted myself up and said "Wow, that sucked." I think it severely damaged my cool factor, though. Falling through floors is never cool.
After Armour, we met up with Rob and Brian and visited the Cass Street Tunnel briefly before attempting to check out an old rail depot I had driven by the previous weekend. The building, previously known as the Cotton Belt Freight Depot and the St. Louis Southwestern Railroad Freight Depot, was massive. The Cotton Belt route was formed in 1891 and connected Texas to Arkansas and southeastern Missouri. I can not find very much info on this depot inself, only that it was probably built around 1900 and operated in some function until 1974. I would love to know exactly how the four stories of the building were used when it was an active rail depot.
The group of us began walking around trying to find a way in. On one side of the building, pieces of broken up asphalt had been arranged into a large circle for what I could only assume was ceremonial purposes.....or for hippie sing alongs. We had made a complete trip around the building with no luck, until I went back to a spot where I had a hunch, and found a way in.
The inside of the depot has area that are barren and clean, and areas where strange stashes of toys, tires, or magazines can be found. I was quite excited about the large amount of really old Star Wars memoribillia we found, although I couldn't bring myself to take any of it........even the Boba Fett figure..... Much of the building is still very secure, and we were not able to find any way to access the upper floors. I was almost about to follow Brian who was attempting to climb the elevator shaft, when I noticed that there was a large couch suspended directly over my head in the shaft. The last thing I wanted to do was something that might dislodge it and give me a nice couch-sized bump on my head.
The Cotton Belt Depot was an interesting site, and one I hope to return to in the hopes of seeing the rest of it that I was not able to explore on this trip.
A few weeks ago, Tunajive and I decided to spend our evening in the most productive way we could think of: checking out some of the abandoned sites that West County has to offer. First we visited the old Nursing Home, but eventually made out way to the old "Gumbo Jail." I assume this jail got its name because of it's location on the Missouri River floodplains of Chesterfield nicknamed "Gumbo Flats," not because they used to serve a kickass cajun seafood stew. But who knows, maybe their gumbo was outstanding. Gumbo Jail was a fully functioning penitentary for St. Louis county until 1993, when the great flood caused it to cease operation and a new jail was built in Clayton. The jail was in the news again recently after Hurricane Katrina, when it was cleaned up and prepared to house victims that never showed up. The site was recently aquired by Duke Reality Corp. for $6.74 million, with the intention of constructing a number of large office buildings.
On this night, we had additional company for our adventure: Fellow explorer Slim Jim and a group of his friends from the Minneapolis area had made the trip down to St. Louis, and were meeting up with us for the first time. The first part of our exploration took us to the bowels of the jail's utility tunnels, which stretch a long distance under the site. As we made our way up into the upper parts of the jail, the work that had been done for Katrina was apparent. Obviously, it had been vacant for some time, but there was none of the usual rubble and grime that one usually finds in abandoned places. In certain areas, the cells had been dry-walled over.....apparently so the victims living there wouldn't feel like they were living in a jail.
Despite how clean the place was, signs of its former use were everywhere. Many cells had names and graffiti scribbled everywhere. I was surprised when I found a number of different places where inmates had placed tic-marks, I'm assuming to count down their remaining days of imprisonment. That is the kind of thing that one sees in the movies, but that hits a somber note when you see that it really happened, and think about the many people who lived out long portions of their lives behind the barred doors of the building.
All of the usual "jail areas" are still intact, including the visitation room with two-way phones, the cafeteria, a large auditorium/gymnasium, and the guard tower outside. I couldn't believe that we were actually able to gain entry into the guard tower, and couldn't help but have someone snap a picture, despite the fact that the flash would be incredibly visible through the glass windows lining every side of the tower.
Although plans for the site seem to be in the works, nothing has been done yet. It will be sad to see this place demolished. I know that, compared with other St. Louis sites, this one does not have anywhere near the history, or even interesting architecture for that matter. It is a bland, two story grey shack looking building. I remember, though, watching the inmates in the yard from my mom's car on the highway when I was a kid. This is something I am able to think about every time I drive by today. Not for long, I guess.
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