Talk of the Towns

Talk of the Towns: 10.9.19

Atop a hill, but not officially on The Hill, the iconic domed building at 5400 Arsenal St. has had a rich, if oft-misunderstood, history. Designed to accommodate 150 mentally ill patients, it opened in the spring of 1869 as the St. Louis County Lunatic Asylum. But it always was overcrowded—although new wings were constructed and additional buildings constructed on the 53-acre campus. In 1940, it held 3,844 patients. When jurisdictional lines were redrawn, it stayed put and became a landmark in South City. (Notably, the asylum and the dome of the Old Courthouse were designed by architect William Rumbold.) And, its name evolved over the years: from ‘asylum’ to ‘sanitarium’ to ‘state hospital’ to its present moniker, St. Louis Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center (SLPRC). That mouthful more accurately reflects the healing work being done there today—212 ‘clients’ are housed in a newer series of 14 cottages and four wards completed in the 1990s at 5300 Arsenal. That’s just a thumbnail, of course, of what’s happened over 150 years. I’m eager to know more. Aren’t you? We can tomorrow! A lecture and discussion are slated for 7 p.m. Oct. 10 at St. Louis Public Library’s central branch, an iconic building in its own right. Librarian, archivist and author Amanda Hunyar will provide a behind-the-scenes ‘tour.’ Learn about the 5400 Arsenal building’s role in the evolution of mental health care in St. Louis, as well as the very history of the city itself. Hunyar’s book, St. Louis State Hospital: A 150-Year Journey Toward Hope, will be available for purchase after the program. Free parking is available in the Central Library’s lot off 15th Street.

creve coeur 
Authors to appear at the annual Jewish Book Festival are preparing to discuss their works being showcased among a dizzying array of books Nov. 3 through 15 at The J (Jewish Community Center). The keynote speaker is renowned fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi, whose high-end brand was made accessible to the public through his partnership with Target. His book: I.M.: A Memoir. His presentation: 7 p.m., Nov. 3. Dave Itzkoff, culture reporter for The New York Times, will share his experience researching and writing Robin, a biography of the late, great Robin Williams. He appears Saturday, Nov. 9. There are to be at least two volumes presented and many lively discussions on Jewish food. (Who knew? To paraphrase the old cliché: Put any two Jews together, and you’ll get three quite strong and very loud opinions on Jewish food.) Did we say ‘dizzying’? There’s the compelling true account of a plot to infiltrate and destroy Auschwitz from the inside. For contrast, take a graphic novel that anthologizes the film script Salvador Dali presented to his friend Harpo Marx: Giraffes on Horseback Salad … which MGM rejected. (Harpo, supposedly, had nothing to say about it.) How about A Rosenberg By Any Other Name: A History of Jewish Name-Changing in America? (It didn’t begin and end at Ellis Island, natch. You knew, of course, that presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders was born Bernard Gutman.) Still not tempted? Then consider Nov. 13, when Julie Satow discusses her history of The Plaza, NYC’s legendary hotel that was bankrupted by none other than Donald J. Trump.

the metro 
For anyone seeking the fountain of youth, Forever 21 is not where you’ll find it. (Not like it ever existed; allegedly while searching for the mythical water feature, Spanish explorer Ponce de León took an arrow to the chest at the ripe old age of 47.) A mall retailer targeted to teens, the fashion chain has declared bankruptcy. In its Chapter 11 filing, the company reportedly states it will close as many as 178 U.S. stores, as well as pull down the mall gates on brick-and-mortar operations in 40 other countries, including Japan and Canada. As business remains brisk in Latin America, those locations will be unaffected, for now. Meanwhile, Forever 21 has confirmed its store at West County Center will shutter but has yet to divulge whether any of the other three locations in the metro will close as well. Staffers we contacted either said their stores would be unaffected or referred us to the website, which helped not at all. But if what’s happening to Forever 21 is consistent with recent retailing news, from Nine West and Mattress Firm to Sears, the chain is not long for this world. Industry observers say malls that already have lost and not replaced anchor tenants gradually shed what’s in between, too, and the mall itself fails. It’s happening more frequently, all over. Chesterfield Mall gave up the ghost, and I’d surmise South County Center isn’t long for this world. Nothing lasts forever, least of all so-called ‘fast fashion,’ which is designed to be tossed after one season and not a frayed thread more. So, Forever 21—BuzzFeed refers to it as ‘Briefly and Fleetingly 21’—is only temporary. But you’ll probably be able to find their flimsy garments online for, like, eternity.

grand center
October in a town that loves baseball more than anywhere else is bound to be off the hook, regardless of how the Redbirds fare in the postseason. Folks could even go crazy! Year-round, diehards take selfies with the Harry Weber bronzes of Stan The Man, Ozzie and Bob Gibson. But there was a major-league baseball team here back in the day when Griesedieck Bros. beer might have been the brand vendors sold at Sportsman’s Park. Find out what was up with all of that at the premiere of A Baseball Legacy: Fans Remember the St. Louis Browns this Sunday (Oct. 13) in the Nine Network’s Public Media Commons. A follow-up to 2018’s The Team That Baseball Forgot, the film features the personal stories of fans and former players, as well as efforts being made by the Browns Historical Society to preserve these memories. St. Louis Browns memorabilia will be on display and merchandise available for sale, including copies of a special magazine commemorating the 1944 World Series between the Cardinals and the Browns. Yes, that happened. Fans other than unapologetic and indefatigable baseball-card collectors know who George Sisler was, or how the Negro Leagues superstar pitcher Satchel Paige figured into the history of the long-defunct AL team. The Browns, of course, packed up, moved to the East Coast and changed their drab hues to orange and black when they became the Baltimore Orioles.

notable neighbors

maryland heights
As much as I love this columnist gig, I must confess that I now have another life goal: To schlep equipment to the next out-of-town performance of violinist Nikki Glenn. Known as the ‘yacht violinist,’ Glenn performs on yachts and cruise ships—that is, when she’s not working 9-to-5 here as an accounts receivable specialist, singing duets with her husband and mentor Charles, or playing for private parties in select venues ranging from country clubs to The Ritz-Carlton. OK, about that schlepping: I’d have to travel to south Florida. But don’t cry for me. Glenn’s footprint is compact. She can perform in a space as small as 5-by-7, so she doesn’t have a backbreaking stack of Marshall amps to unload, lug up the stairs, down the hall, through the kitchen, to the freight elevator and, finally, backstage. Then, when the night is over, repeat in reverse. Whew! No sweat—her gear is compact, lightweight, state-of-the-art Bose. Now, about those big, very expensive boats, some upwards of $40 million, moored in the still waters where she plays, usually set up on the flying bridge of a yacht: It’s quite the view from her perch. “There’s always a boat that has a helicopter on it,” she says. This will be the classically trained violinist’s fifth season of playing two luxury boat shows: November in Fort Lauderdale, February in Miami. She’s also been a featured musician aboard Norwegian and Carnival cruises. This all developed from an idea that percolated awhile in a unique artist’s very, very active mind. In 2014, she drove to Florida to ‘walk’ a boat show and landed a gig aboard a $20 million yacht. (Not surprising in the least: To fully describe Glenn’s approach, one would need to add about three syllables to ‘sophisticated’ and four or more to ‘effervescent’!) Using adult-contemporary backing tracks from the likes of Toni Braxton, Diana Krall and Norah Jones, her string stylings create a mood that encourages conversation, not interrupts it. “It has never ceased to amaze me how many musicians look down on ‘background’ music gigs,” Glenn says. “I’ve found that people really do listen—and they appreciate it when you don’t look like you’d rather be having a root canal.” And, since inquiring minds need to know, where’d she go to high school? She graduated from the esteemed Interlochen Center for the Arts, a fine arts boarding school near Traverse City, Michigan. Visit