Chris Andoe On ‘House Of Villadiva’ And LGBTQ St. Louis’ Warring Tribes
For journalist Chris Andoe, St. Louis is the city he just can’t quit. He’s moved here three times, with stints in San Francisco, New York City, and his native Oklahoma woven in and around his years here. But St. Louis has been his muse, the city that provides him with his characters and an “ornate but rickety” 110-year-old home in which to write about them.
He calls that home “Villadiva” (a “deliciously pretentious name,” he concedes), and it’s the setting for key scenes in “House of Villadiva,” his new door-stopper of a book. A memoir-slash-story-collection with a sprawling cast of characters, only some of them lightly disguised, it’s a must-read for anyone interested in the machinations of LGBTQ St. Louis and Andoe’s soap opera-ready circle.
But “House of Villadiva” isn’t just referring to the physical domicile. In Andoe’s telling, the city is divided into tribes.
“St. Louis is a city of houses, whether you're talking about the gay community, the straight people, anyone, anybody,” he explained on Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air. “Everybody's in one, even if it's a family-related house. This is a place where roots go deep, and everybody has a community.”
Andoe’s great subject as a journalist has been warring tribes, specifically within the city’s LGBTQ community, which he says is not one house, but many. As the inaugural editor-in-chief of Out in STL from 2017 to 2020 and, before that, a columnist for the late Vital Voice, Andoe relished controversy and followed the stories wherever they took him, whether that was sex addiction or drug abuse.
He’s open about the foibles of figures everyone else takes with utmost seriousness, and openly bemused by what he sees as occasional histrionics from his foes. Not everyone, he acknowledged, appreciated his airing of dirty laundry.
“I have been in so much trouble, so much controversy,” he said. “When I wrote for Vital Voice, boards of directors would call on [editor] Darin Slyman to let me go.” He’s learned to pick his battles: “You've kind of got to calibrate it. You don't want too much.”
And yet what shines through in the book is Andoe’s love for St. Louis. It is deep and perceptive, befitting his status as a well-traveled transplant with an appreciation for the tawdry.
“I think people sometimes don't understand the level of gentrification in a place like San Francisco,” he said. “Twenty years ago, 75% of San Franciscans were renters, most of them on rent control. And so you had all those wonderful characters from the Haight-Ashbury, the summer of ‘69. But since then, landlords have learned how to exploit loopholes. … There's just nothing left of that old San Francisco. It's all tech.”
In the same way, he continued: “If you're standing in the middle of the heart of New Orleans, and you look at those wonderful louvered shutters, it's not New Orleans characters behind those shutters. It's Airbnb. All these cities are parodies, theme park versions of what they were.
“I'm so drawn to St. Louis for its authenticity, its layers and layers of history going back to the native Cahokia mounds, the largest civilization north of present-day Mexico, writings from French explorers about the Piasa songbird and how that struck terror in their heart when they saw it. … There's just so much here. And I love the people here, I love the characters here.”
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Paola Rodriguez is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.