Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Too Many Bars in Soulard? When Did That Happen?

A friend of mine moved to St. Louis from California almost two years ago. She purchased a home in the Lafayette Square Historic District. One day I asked her if she had considered the Soulard neighborhood while shopping for a home to buy. She had, but when she questioned her real estate agent about Soulard, the agent said that there were too many bars there.

Madame Chouteau wishes to thank that real estate agent for doing his job. Soulard has many charms. The Soulard Farmers’ Market, the European flavor of the architecture, the convenience of the neighborhood, and other elements are tremendous assets for an area that was dismissed as a slum and slated for demolition as recently as the early 1970's. However, the neighborhood recognizes that it does not benefit from people moving in and then discovering an aversion to bars and bar byproducts: noise, litter, vandalism, drunkenness and other quality of life issues. People should make decisions based on understanding the positives and negatives.

The need to confront reality is not concealed by Soulard residents. In the Sunday, August 29, 2004 issue ("News Watch: Issues and Analysis," Section B, page 1) of the "St. Louis Post-Dispatch" there was a very apt quote: "Anyone who lives in Soulard isn’t going to be anti-bar. You wouldn’t move here if you were." This excellent quip (or slap in the face, if you will) for Soulard residents (and potential residents) is attributed to "Gary Siddens of the Soulard Restoration Group." The context of the quote was a debate resulting from an "effort to limit the proliferation of nightspots in the neighborhood," according to the newspaper.

Madame Chouteau remembers talking with somebody who thought Mardi Gras was too declasse. This lady had gone door-to-door with a petition, trying to enlist support for controlling (or limiting) the main event, the Grand Parade, as it is known. At one rental unit, a woman answered the door. After learning the purpose of the petition, the woman replied: "I can’t sign that, I’m a drinker." And we know another family who bought a house in Soulard. Their proud explanation was: "We were down here partying all the time, so we thought we might just as well move to Soulard."

In the early 1970's, Soulard was a slum, the result of lack of insight and of attention during the watch of Alderman Raymond Leisure. Then things started to look up, as so-called "urban pioneers" discovered the area and started turning it into a residential-oriented historic district. Just when things started to look their brightest, Soulard turned again. It was sidetracked, turned into an entertainment district whose foundation is a potemkin Mardi Gras.

This peculiar and ugly celebration - which symbolizes the difficulty of Soulard (and of St. Louis) to envision a future - and the growth in the number of bars and liquor outlets (and the designation of Soulard as an entertainment district) has occurred on the watch of Seventh Ward Alderperson Phyllis Young. The alteration in the personality of Soulard has been ignored by the clueless neighborhood organization, the Soulard Restoration Group, and it has been spurred by the venality of liquor purveyors who have been given a free reign.

This course change, which caters to the lowest common denominator of neighborhood interests, has just happened, like a rudderless ship foundering on the rocks. The metamorphosis harks back to the visionless leadership provided during the years of Raymond Leisure.

Madame Chouteau thanks Alderperson Young and her supporters and handlers for her governance, for looking out for the interests of the businesses in Soulard and for helping turn the neighborhood into the setting for an annual, mirthless bacchanal and for the year-around antics of people devoid of any respect for Soulard or themselves. And Madame Chouteau hopes that real estate agents will continue to inform their clients of the existing reality in Soulard. After all, if this is as good as it gets, then new arrivals and the unwary need to be informed.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Despite Cool Weather, Spring has Arrived

Scharf Farm delighted Soulard Farmers' Market patrons by trotting out the first asparagus from their fields in Millstadt, IL on Saturday. They offer bundles of thin, thick and medium asparagus stalks. Madame Chouteau purchased two bundles, and this fresh-from-the-farm, locally grown produce was absolutely delicious. Many thanks for the treat.

Roco Trading, which seems to have settled in at Stand 23, sort of across the way from the Scharf booth, is offering seafood, including shrimp, Alaska cod fillets, Maine lobster tails, scallops, dressed catfish and other products. The market is offering an array of seafood, it would seem, with Roco Trading and 2 Big Fish. Seafood fans are provided with an interesting selection.

Another stand of interest, also located near the Scharf Farm booth, sells Autumn Crest Bistro Blends of Napa Valley Gourmet Flavored Balsamic Oils and Vinegars.

With the warming weather, the Soulard Farmers' Market is beginning to hop. Pictured is the barn at Baetje Farm. Of course, the snowy picture was taken in February. Warm inside were the happy goats, sources of the milk that makes the delicious Baetje Farm goat cheese, available at the market. By the way, Steve Baetje is a stone cutter, and he has created some unique and beautiful stone cheese boards. Thick and thin cheese boards are available at their booth, along with the excellent Coeur de la Creme and Fleur de la Vallee cheeses.

City dwellers are fortunate to have available at Soulard Farmers' Market so many vendors with such outstanding offerings. Stop and talk with these folks, and buy their products. And add your reactions to the market in the comments section below. Madame Chouteau is always interested in hearing from you.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Remembrances of a Pope's Visit Past

The visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United States revives for Madame Chouteau fond memories of the stop in St. Louis of Pope John Paul II in January, 1999.

It was exciting. Even today I can replay in my mind the tv footage of the Popemobile carrying Pope John Paul through the empty streets of St. Louis. Yes, empty! Nobody came out to see the Pope. No cheering crowds lined the streets. I can hear the news announcer intoning before the event: "Don’t even think about coming downtown (to see the Pope)." St. Louis leaders forecast that the crowds would yield gridlock, and so they orchestrated a media campaign to keep traffic in check. It was a clear case of meddling (big brother knows best) and overkill. They scared almost everyone away from the historic event.

Not only did people who wanted to see the Pope stay home, but downtown workers took time off, staying home to avoid being caught in the anticipated crowds.

The "St Louis Post-Dispatch" story dated 1/31/1999 by Repps Hudson and headlined "Business prayers weren’t answered" describes disappointed parking lot owners (their lots were empty), unhappy restaurant owners (burdened with extra supplies laid in for the non-existent crowds), etc.

A paragraph from the story stated that "according to many merchants and restaurateurs, the news media left the indelible impression that downtown would be swamped with cars, pedestrians and papal parades. So tens of thousands of people who normally went downtown stayed away Tuesday and Wednesday."

One quote from Hudson’s story says it all: "Downtown looked like a city during World War II," and the interviewee added: "Downtown has a tendency to do boo-boos like this."

The blame game is classic St. Louis. The absence of people was blamed on the weather and on papal security. And the press was blamed for publicizing the dire warnings that organizers told them to publicize.

More insightful than blaming the weather and the press, though, was the blaming of the citizenry. Following is a quote from the "P-D" story: "‘We had no idea the local folks could be so easily swayed and scared,’ Franklin "Kim" Kimbrough of the Downtown Saint Louis Partnership said Friday. Kimbrough had urged street-level businesses to stay open to show the world how downtown works."

But some good came from this debacle. It put a name and a face on a time-honored leadership tactic. To get your way, do a "Pope Scare." Basically, a Pope Scare campaign is designed to terrorize the populace so they do what civic leaders want, usually something contrary to public interests and good government.

For example, when the Cardinals owners wanted a new stadium and tax breaks, the Pope Scare line was: "If the poor Cardinals owners don’t get what they are so humbly seeking and need, then the team will move to East St. Louis (or Granite City or Mascoutah or East Whatever)." The majority of the population trembled in its shoes, and the Cardinals received whatever they demanded. A mud hole is only a down payment in the price to pay.

And how about this one: "If the voters don’t approve legalized gambling, then gambling tax revenues will not be available to revive and power our school system and people will not move to the city." Well, that certainly has worked out! The City of St. Louis public school system makes the wreck of the Hesperas look like sunny day, smooth water sailing.

Want another? How about: "If you don’t vote for this sales tax increase, then our firemen and policemen will not get a raise and they will quit and your house will burn down and you will be at the mercy of criminal elements." The resulting increased tax revenues mean that municipal finances do not need to be put in order. Special interests can continue to feed at the trough.

On the national level, here’s a great Pope Scare from the Bush-Cheney misinformation machine: "If the troops are brought home from Iraq, Al Qaeda will follow them home."

And, of course, the local beer peddlers have one for the Soulard neighborhood: "If Mardi Gras moves downtown, then all the police will be there, and when drunken hordes return to Soulard, the residents will be at their mercy." Another overkill. Downtown wouldn’t touch that pig. Let it wallow where it is.

In the St. Louis vernacular, Pope Scares are fabrications designed to invoke fear. And they really work. But we always pay a price for buying a phony line in exchange for security. Madame Chouteau loves Pope Scares and applauds their use by our leaders. Pope Scare based government is a substitute for thoughtful planning and real leadership. So when somebody tells you to go with the flow or something terrible will befall you and the entire community, think of the Pope. His was a lonely, bleak introduction to the deserted streets of St. Louis. And St. Louis lost an historical moment on the world stage.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Walking Tour of Soulard in St. Louis

History buffs and folks looking for some moderate exercise, as well as those curious about the Soulard Historic District, are invited to participate in a walking tour of the neighborhood. Provided will be discussions of architectural characteristics and insights into the people who built and lived in early Soulard. The charge is $10 per person for a two hour tour, minimum $30 per tour. Reservations required, minimum 24 hours advanced notice. Comfortable shoes are suggested and participants should bring a water bottle. For additional information, please e-mail Madame Chouteau at showvillage@yahoo.com. All proceeds are used to increase security in the neighborhood. Tours begin and end at the Soulard Farmers' Market, unless otherwise discussed.

Pictured is Rick Soulard, a resident of Petrolia, Ontario, who points to the vestigial boundary line in the sidewalk on S. 8th Street of the property of Julie Soulard, widow of Antoine Soulard. Julie obtained title to the property in 1836. Rick's side of the Soulard family moved from France to Acadia - the Fundy coast of Nova Scotia - in 1636. Antoine Soulard, the namesake of the neighborhood, arrived in St. Louis in 1794 after deserting the French Naval Service in Martinique because of social upheaval in France. Neighborhood points of interest were spotlighted for Rick and wife Agnes during a Soulard walking tour.