A photograph sent by a reader, Michele, started me thinking about how we traded our original old streetlights for the modern (at the time) cobra heads. Then how our taste flipped and we gratefully deep sixed the cobra heads only to replace them with guess what? Faithful reproductions of the originals.
Then I started to think about some of the really wonderful streetlights that I’ve seen in Europe and I wondered have they kept them all along? If they have how is it that they’re smarter than us?
We seem unable to prevent mind bogglingly stupid losses of our historic inventory, (I’m thinking of the cabinetry of our historic Harper’s Pharmacy) I am especially impressed when I travel to places that apparently have figured out what we have not. There are cities, districts, and areas that have discovered ways to preserve the best of their architecture and civic structures. Why are there some who still want to destroy the very best that humans have been able to build? I don’t get it. Never will.
The more enlightened ones realize the value of these things and the thought and craftsmanship that went into them. Once they’re gone, they’re gone forever. Two excellent local examples are Lafayette Square and Soulard. Both adopted stringent historic preservation codes for their separate districts. What happened? The decay was completely turned around and the housing prices went into the stratosphere. That’s not good for everyone I know but it saved these two districts that were once considered lost.
Traveling in Europe can be a good balm for those who are irritated by the obtuseness that results in things like our Harper’s Pharmacy destruction. My wife and I have been fortunate to be able to travel to Europe and have many favorite places as a result. Some we’ll return to again and again. Like Rome or Paris or Barcelona. Those three cities have largely preserved their historic cores. Folks like us come from all over the world to experience them.
In Europe the small cities and towns are just as hip. I remember once in Lucca, Italy sticking my head into a small pharmacy with some amazing old cabinetry and thinking that we were very lucky in Maplewood to have something similar. Not any more.
Perhaps sometime in the future someone smarter than us will restore or recreate and reinstall the Harper’s Pharmacy cabinetry and wonder how could they ever have been so stupid to destroy something that beautiful?
This is a very low quality image I made from a photocopy in the collection of the Maplewood Public Library. There was no explanation with it so I assumed some sort of a street celebration was taking place. The location is the 7300 block of Manchester. Followers of this space know that the Katz drugstore was on the NW corner of Sutton and Manchester. The building survives and is nearly restored which is very nice although the owner shows no sign of acknowledging its past history such as calling it the Big Kat as has been suggested in this space.
Here is a better copy of the same photograph which ran in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and was emailed to me by Michele. Compare it to the previous one. You’ll notice that the previous one has been cropped at the top. What do you think is happening here? The explanation follows.
Just as we suspected it was a celebration. They were dancing in the street under their new cobra head streetlights! How funny. Many of us have always regarded them as hideous. Calm down mid-century modern folks, I’d bet somewhere some of you are right now fighting to preserve your cobra heads. And you’re right to do it but they don’t belong in our early 20th century streetscape. Note that the very first photograph had cropped off the cobra head which was actually the subject of the photo.
This got me to wondering just what did our early streetlights look like? The answer was easily obtained from some of our earliest photos. There weren’t any. This is a composite photo that I had put together for an earlier display. All images are from the collection of the Maplewood Public Library.
Here is what the early streetlights looked like. They were privately owned. This one is at 7326 Manchester on the building that most recently held J and E Office Supply. I’m not sure if there is a new tenant yet for J and E’s space but the Boardwalk Waffles and Ice Cream shop in the same building is doing well. If you haven’t tried that yet, get on down there.
The Dreiling Shoe Palace had their own streetlight as well. Courtesy of the Maplewood Public Library.
From the rear of the prior photo.
This is one of the earliest images I could find with a streetlight in it. Judging by the cars the year is in the mid 1930’s. The location is the NW corner of Hazel and Sutton. The building with the gable end has not survived. Courtesy of the Maplewood Public Library.
This image also from the 1930’s shows a streetlight as well. The dates I have on this are 1934 or 5. Mrs. Bode’s recollection which follows is a bit different. Courtesy of the Maplewood Public Library.
So what do our streetlights look like today? To the credit of whoever ordered them they look a lot like the originals. Gone from downtown are the cobra heads.