CIVIC

UnHeardOf STL: The Interactive Audio Map That Tells Downtown’s Untold Stories

 

If you walk past 1019 Pine Street, you’ll be in the shadow of The Hotel Majestic St. Louis. One of several Downtown buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, this iconic hotel was built in 1913. Of course, any building that has stood for more than a century is bound to be full of stories—like the story of Buddy Walton: hairdresser to the stars.

Buddy Walton rinsed, cut, and styled the hair of Eleanor Roosevelt and Joan Crawford along with countless other celebrities and politicians—and he got his start in the heart of Downtown St. Louis. Walton’s journey was equal parts glamorous, brave, and inspirational. But stories such as his, along with countless others in Downtown St. Louis, have been buried in the back of history books.

That is, until UnHeardOf STL resurrected them.

Launched on June 1, UnHeardOf STL is a free interactive audio map of Downtown St. Louis that tells the diverse stories of the city through cinematic audio experiences. The pilot series features ten bite-sized episodes, including the legend of Stagger Lee and the story of the Lemp family’s once-thriving brewery.

Of course, there are plenty of other historic neighborhoods to explore in the St. Louis area—so why emphasize Downtown?

“The Downtown area sees millions of visitors every year, both residents and tourists, and there is a high concentration of compelling stories there, but many of them go untold or overlooked,” says Adam Frick-Verdine, founder of UnHeardOf STL. “We wanted to contextualize the area in a way that was accessible and entertaining for people of all ages—audio stories have the power to do just that.”

Accordingly, Frick-Verdine tapped more than 50 local writers, historians, artists, sound engineers, and actors to produce this one-of-a-kind docuseries. The team began recording in March at the St. Louis Public Library’s Creative Experience studio and Shock City Studios. The project is partly funded by the Regional Arts Council and the Missouri Humanities Council, in partnership with KDHX and STL Style among others. 

UnHeardOf STL is a non-profit project, so the crew had to get scrappy and creative with promotion. During launch week, ambassadors set up mini activations at the exact locations where the stories originally took place. UnHeardOf STL is also partnering with the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission to spread the word, working with the Landmarks Association of St. Louis and others to develop walking tours, and is developing street decals to prompt on-site engagement with content.

The project, which is also syndicated as a podcast, has been an instant hit, with more than 1,000 listeners in less than two months. According to Frick-Verdine, early feedback from audiences has been overwhelmingly positive. Even Maxine Clark, the founder of Build-A-Bear Workshop, is a supporter.

“It’s truly empowering to see people get excited about what we’ve built so far,” says Frick-Verdine.

This leads to the question: What stories should listeners expect from UnHeardOf STL in the future?

“The list is very long,” said Frick-Verinde, grinning. “But we’re confident that this homegrown project can change the artistic, media, and cultural landscape of Downtown St. Louis.”