The Threat to Historic African-American Music Venues in St. Louis
|The Club Imperial|
Club Imperial, Corner of Goodfellow and W. Florissant Avenues
Located at the very northern reaches of the city at an oddly shaped intersection, the Club Imperial featured numerous famous acts over the years, including the Bob Kuban Orchestra and even Ike and Tina Turner. George Edick, the owner, simultaneously brought in top notch local acts while breaking down racial barriers in the 1970s. When the club closed, the upstairs ballroom became a banqueting hall. The building remains in good condition, and the first floor still hosts a series of shops facing the busy intersection.
The former site of the Cosmopolitan Club in East St. Louis
Cosmopolitan Club, East St. Louis
Our last "club" should serve as a cautionary tale of what happens when we neglect our musical heritage. The Cosmopolitan Club in East St. Louis helped launch Chuck Berry's career (see his touching visit to the club prior to demolition from Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll), but now stands as a vacant lot. I've often found it frustrating that St. Louis doesn't give Chuck Berry enough credit for his role in the birth of rock 'n' roll, and certainly the Cosmopolitan Club deserved preservation, if only to show the rich cultural heritage of our region.
And yes, preservation of these buildings will cost money, but it is money well spent. Cities around the world, from Salzburg, Austria and its Mozart House, or Bonn, Germany and its Beethoven House, have shown that preserving the built environment where the great works of our shared musical heritage began is good economic policy. It is time for St. Louis to reap the financial and cultural rewards of promoting our critical and undervalued role in the creation of modern music. In fact, it is well overdue.
Special thanks to Andrew Weil, director of Landmarks Association of St. Louis, and Lindsey Derrington for providing information about these venues.
Chris Naffziger writes about architecture at St. Louis Patina. Contact him via e-mail at email@example.com