Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A New Kind of Tower Rises Above Saint Louis

SATURDAY I made the climb to the top of the Compton Hill Water Tower, in hopes of getting some good panoramic photographs of the city.  It was a glorious, bright day, with temperatures comfortably in the 60s; the trees were in full bloom, and not a cloud was in the sky.  Unfortunately, the interior of the tower, encased in thick masonry and stonework, had a residual chill, the sky had a blue haze, the strong wind blowing in from the tower's windows vibrated even my sturdy tripod, and local temperature variations of the air caused visual turbulence, making the resulting photos rather mediocre.

Interior of the Compton Hill Water Tower, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA

But it is a fairly easy climb to the top (having been made with consideration for the comfort of Victorian ladies with billowing skirts and bustles, and men with top hats and canes) with a beautiful view of the City.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA from the Compton Hill Water Tower
Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis

Former Saint Henry:Immaculate Conception Church, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA from the Compton Hill Water Tower
Former Saint Henry/Immaculate Conception Church

Saint Pope Pius V Church, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA from the Compton Hill Water Tower
Saint Pope Pius V Church

Saints Peter and Paul Church, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA from the Compton Hill Water Tower
Saints Peter and Paul Church

Saint Alphonsus Liguori Church, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA from the Compton Hill Water Tower
Saint Alphonsus Liguori Church

Saint Margaret of Scotland Church, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA from the Compton Hill Water Tower
Saint Margaret of Scotland Church

Saint Francis de Sales Oratory, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA from the Compton Hill Water Tower
Saint Francis de Sales Oratory; Saint Agatha Church in the background

Among the many sightseers crowded into the tower's observation room, one woman remarked at how many church spires are visible.  Until the end of the 19th century, the tallest buildings in the world were typically churches.  That the most important building in a Christian city, the church, should be prominent, is common sense, both as a symbol and as a guide for pilgrims.

Panorama of Downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, USA from the Compton Hill Water Tower
Downtown Saint Louis


Downtown Clayton, Missouri, USA from the Compton Hill Water Tower
Downtown Clayton

North of the Compton Hill Tower, along the central axis of the city, are towers newer than steeples — skyscrapers — designed for commerce, industry, and law, as well as the industrial towers of smokestacks and grain elevators.   This narrow axis of tall buildings, terminated on the east by the Gateway Arch, and on the west by downtown Clayton, Missouri, aligns with the region's Central Corridor, where the power and wealth of the city concentrates.   Whereas a church's tall spire is inspired by the virtue of faith, a tall office building is instead informed by the virtue of prudence, as a way of increasing the usability of expensive real estate.  But not always.   The vice of pride can lead to the desire of tall buildings, and this can lead to ruination. But this is not merely a fault of the wealthy; it is almost a truism that Americans buy the largest house that they can afford.

As I drove back home, I was stunned to see a new kind of tower on the skyline; near my own neighborhood, unannounced and unnoticed until then; a minaret now rises over Saint Louis.

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