I collect old postcards, and one I received recently was of the New Jefferson Hotel (or Hotel Jefferson) in St. Louis. Who owns it now? Is it still open? -- Nancy Jolley, of Belleville
Once the grande dame of St. Louis hotels, the Jefferson is currently a dark, empty shell as it awaits a massive renovation that has yet to attract funding.
After six years in limbo, the ghosts haunting this historic building must be getting restless -- and what tales those spirits want to tell. Opening on May 1, 1904, the Jefferson was built to knock the gold-toed socks off the wealthiest visitors to the St. Louis World's Fair.
Standing at what is now the southwest corner of Locust Street and Tucker Boulevard, the imposing structure stood 12 stories high and had 400 rooms waiting for guests streaming in from all over the globe. The marble columns in its lobby supported a sculpted ceiling with designs evoking a forest. Gilded mirrors and rosewood furniture further complemented the plush furnishings.
No wonder the Democrats chose it as the headquarters for its 1904 national convention. It was an honor repeated just 12 years later, when President Woodrow Wilson camped there to accept his renomination, according to a history by the University of Missouri St. Louis.
In the Roaring '20s, police raids during prohibition didn't deter such celebrities as tenor Enrico Caruso and movie idol Mary Pickford from booking stays. When St. Louis Cardinal owner Sam Breadon traded Rogers Hornsby soon after the Redbirds' first World Series title in 1926, Breadon said that any fan who wanted to fight him could find him at the Jefferson any day at lunch.
The hotel proved such a draw that in 1928 an addition was built on the west side, doubling its capacity. The same year, the hotel added the Jefferson Plaza Garage, making it reportedly the only historic downtown hotel with its own original parking garage.
But the arrival of the Depression brought an end to the good times. The hotel began to lose money and eventually declared bankruptcy in 1944.
For the next quarter-century, major chains tried to keep it going, first Hilton in 1950 and then Sheraton in 1955. But by the mid-70s, its days as a luxury hotel were over. So, in 1977 it reopened as the Jefferson Arms Apartments, a residence for the elderly.
Since then, developers have been floating plans to rejuvenate this jewel, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. In 2006, Pyramid Construction bought the property and cleared out the tenants, saying it was going to convert it to luxury condos. Two years later, Pyramid went belly up with no work ever started.
Now, it is owned by McGowan Brothers Development, which bought the building out of foreclosure in 2010. It reportedly is hoping to turn the old building into apartments for young educators and a headquarters for Teach for America. But while still optimistic, the company has yet to secure the tens of millions of dollars needed to update the old structure.
So, at the moment, the regal grandeur of the Jefferson lives on only in the old postcards you can find on eBay or the 68-page Historic Places Register nomination form that you can access through "Hotel Jefferson" on Wikipedia.
Does anyone recycle Christmas lights? -- S.P., of Belleville
If you don't mind a little expense, you're sure to earn points with Santa by sending them to the Christmas Light Source Recycling Program.
David Robinson and Shellie Gardner say they have found a local company that pays a small amount for the scrap copper, glass and plastic. Robinson and Gardner use the money to buy books, puzzles and toys that are donated to the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation. They'll even send you a 10-percent-off coupon toward the purchase of new lights from them.
Just ship your lights in the smallest box and the cheapest way possible to 4313 Elmwood Drive, Benbrook, TX 76116. Include your email address for the coupon. For complete information, go to www.christmas-light-source.com.
What country takes its name from the Latin word for "southern"?
Answer to Tuesday's trivia: He shoots, he scores! And scores and scores ... On Feb. 7, 1976, Toronto's Darryl Sittler became the eighth -- and last player -- to score at least six goals in an NHL hockey game. (With four assists, he wound up scoring a record 10 points in an 11-4 win over Boston.) The Quebec Bulldogs' Joe Malone still holds the record with seven goals on March 10, 1920. And, of course we can't forget Red Berenson's double hat trick for the St. Louis Blues on Nov. 7, 1968. Sittler, by the way, would have a five-goal game just two weeks after his six-goal feat.
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or firstname.lastname@example.org or call 239-2465.