Boarded Up & Locked for Years; An Interview & Performance with Water Liars at The Palladium

St. Louis is indeed home to the world’s most famous parking lots. They often go empty, walked all over. Only a few care to learn of the immense cultural history buried beneath the pavement.

Back when it was cold out we spoke with Water Liars at perhaps our most prized musical landmark, The Palladium Building. Built by Grand Amusement Company in 1913 and open for business as a roller skating rink in 1914, the historic Palladium Building at 3618 Enright Ave in Grand Center (not to be mistaken with nearby Palladium Saint Louis at 1400 Park Place) harkens from a time when St. Louis was considered to be a very musically progressive city by the rest of the world.

The gangster operated Club Plantation moved to The Palladium Building from Vandaventer in 1940. If you were a jazz giant in the 1930′s and 40′s, you performed at Club Plantation.

When it comes to the area surrounding The Palladium Building in the early 50′s, it was the whole “blues had a baby and named her rock and roll” thing happening right under our feet. This was in part thanks to the first electric guitar solo performed years earlier by Floyd Smith, who regularly performed at the Palladium Building’s Club Plantation. This innovation in jazz at the time would help change the sound of blues guitar, and thus rock and roll, forever.

One might find his or herself in a bit of a conundrum when making claims to younger generations about how St. Louis totally changed the music world. Folks aren’t exactly flocking from far and wide to come check out St. Louis’ parking lots. It seems other cities boast about their culture while St. Louis city leaders have the perplexing habit of letting the city’s culture be torn down and covered up for diddley squat. It’s a sad, strange phenomena coming from a place that should be bragging about their cultural legacy.

It should be noted that the Palladium Building seemed to have narrowly escaped acquisition by the VA for possible demolition recently. At the time of the above video things seemed even more grim. Kevin Belford, author of Devil At The Confluence and contributing writer for NextSTL, has since submitted papers to the National Trust for Historic Preservation for the Palladium Building to be added to America’s Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places. Kevin’s efforts were successful. That’s a huge win as the VA appears to be backing down given some recent statements. And although this cat and mouse game of “will they or won’t they” seems to have resolved for the moment, a few questions must be asked. Who is interested in buying this property for renovation? And how can they actually purchase the building? As Kevin notes on his site devilattheconfluence.com, the Palladium Building is “the only landmark in St. Louis ever recognized as an endangered national treasure.” Surely there’s some ambitious jazz fans with deep pockets out there that would jump at the chance to save this building.

Here enters an interesting dilemma. The owner of the Palladium is essentially a ghost. The building is property of Five Star Realty, a falsified company with no actual legal documents filed with the state. The apparent owner refuses to return any attempts for contact. This is rather problematic as someone with money who sees the potential in this building would likely have a hard time talking shop to someone who doesn’t seem to exist. Any updates on this will be posted here.

As it stands today, the Palladium is a far cry from attractive. Deterioration is evident both inside and out. But the building is capable of flying high again with some serious tender loving care – and lots of money. In the past, demolition by neglect was still a real possibility, even when the damage was only cosmetic. But since the building has been up for historic review and successfully added to America’s Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places, the biggest threat is no longer the “demo by neglect” bill or even the VA, but rather further deterioration to the point where it actually does become a public safety issue.

With the current revival of Grand Center’s burgeoning arts community, it’s shocking to consider that this monumental cultural landmark isn’t being renovated and touted to the world as a must-see for any jazz aficionado or music lover.

Our history is America’s history. It’s 2014 and we still have incredible historic buildings that deserve our attention. Are we going to continue to let them be torn down for parking lots? Are we really going to let our heritage be completely erased? Or are we going to save our heritage and celebrate it out loud? It’s important to know that it is totally up to us to save these historic landmarks. If preservation remains a niche concern, we then accept a reality where St. Louis’ incredible music history lives on merely in storybooks for future generations. But if enough of us share the importance of preserving our history, the Palladium can be saved. When our local constituents see that a lot of their voters care about an issue, things can and do happen (think Flying Saucer Building on Grand).

Check out and share the video, where Water Liars were all for giving their take on the situation in between a few quick quips. Andrew Bryant jokes, “How’s my hair?” And while posting to his personal Instagram account @magnoliastate, he has a slip of the tongue and pronounces the building Pal-uh-dee-um.

Without hesitation, Justin Kinkel-Schuster mocks back in his thickest southern accent, “It’s an ol’ pile-a-deeums.” These impromptu off-camera moments make it proof positive that those who write the saddest songs make the cleverest jokes.

Passers-by often slowed down to take in the tunes. Even the birds gathered ‘round. Lyrics like “the world is just the things you keep to lose” took on new meaning. Perhaps those lyrics’ve aways hinted at more than lost relations. Maybe they even elude to glorious, decrepit buildings full of invaluable history.

Water Liars return to St. Louis on August 6th at The Duck Room at Blueberry Hill for the Open Highway Music Festival. Tickets here.

Like the Save The Palladium Building at Grand Center‘s Facebook page for updates.

Photos by Abby Gillardi