Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Botantical Heights Neighborhood

Botanical Heights, formerly named McRee Town, is located south of Chouteau Avenue, north of I-44, west of 39th street and east of Vandeventer:

This neighborhood was familiar to me from driving by on I-44 for years as a kid. It was my definition of "the slums". It looked like a place where no one had any pride or hope. However, the old homes drew my attention and maybe sparked a curiosity in the formative years that helped eventually draw me to St. Louis. Since I've lived here and started paying attention to city issues, I recall that the Missouri Botanical Gardens was pivotal in erasing much of the original housing stock and history in this part of the city (McRee Town), renaming it and developing it with suburban styled new homes. Here's a great piece from local writers Michael Allen and Claire Nowak-Boyd on this recent history. The old bulldozer theory.

Here's a little background info from the Botanical Heights website:
"Botanical Heights is the area bounded on the west by the East side of Vandeventer curving around to the eastern boundary of 39th Street, and south to Interstate 44 at Lafayette. Developed from 1880 to 1930 as a mixed use neighborhood, we continue to be home to large distributing and manufacturing businesses, along with small businesses. Since 2004 Botanical Heights has been populated with nearly 150 newly constructed single family homes and townhomes constructed by McBride and Sons Homes. Additionally, there are a number of historic home rehabilitation projects underway in the neighborhood as well. As residents we appreciate our multi-cultural community, and its close proximity to bus lines, Metrolink and Interstate 44. Missouri Botanical Garden, Tower Grove Park and Cardinal Glennon Hospital are all part of our community. Other amenities include quick and easy accessibility to Downtown St. Louis, St. Louis University and its hospital, and the cultural resources of Grand Center."
Now let's take a look at who lives here. From the 2000 census data:  the total population was 1818 people, that's a 31% decline from 1990. In 2000, 88% of the population was black, 6% white, 2% American Indian, 2% Hispanic/Latino, 1% Asian, 1% Pacific Islander.  Another massive decline was estimated in the 2010 census count.  781 people packed it up and left...43%.  It appears Botanical Heights has hit rock bottom.  It can only get better, right?

More from the 2000 Census date:  of the 539 households in Botanical Heights, 80% were 2 or more/household, 90% of those were family households. Of those 72% were unmarried, 85% of which were female with no male.

And the housing stock in 2000:  65% occupied, 35% unoccupied. Of the 65% occupied, 78% was rental property.

So there's some stats, history and background information on Botanical Heights, now let's take a look at what this part of the city looks like.

Starting at the SW corner near Vandeventer and Lafayette right by I-44. Some, if not the majority of the original housing stock is unoccupied as cited above in the 2000 census data. Here's an example on Blaine:

Yet, the housing that is occupied is as proud, charming and stylistically mixed as most other old St. Louis neighborhoods; although facelifts , TLC and of course rehab $'s are in order. Just down the street on Blaine:The intersection of Tower Grove and McRee Ave is seeing new life. 2 of the 4 corners are rehabbed or in the process of rehab. Note the ornate mortar and pestle on the orange building. Also note the nice color combinations on the facades.

What the stucco happened here? Check out the original glazed brick chimney protruding from this place. The place above is slated to be converted to a cafe per a large scale, exciting development plan including the relocation of the much respected City Garden Montessori Charter School.
Here's the before and after for the City Garden Montessori plans at the corner of McRee and Tower Grove Avenue:
before
after
Read the full story on Botanical Groves here.

In addition to the typical St. Louis housing stock, there is also the new McBride and Sons homes mentioned previously. Upon my visit, I found the actual houses to be quite attractive. There are alleys, and the streets are built on a relative grid. The homes appear to be almost completely occupied, and they are being cared for.
The houses are nicely arranged and varied in style. They are not your typical garage in front, big yard suburban lots. However, the whole area, which is a large part of the neighborhood, seems unfinished and deliberately disconnected from the other parts of the neighborhood.

There are cul de sacs that are gated off and there are general connection issues that block access to the awesome Shaw neighborhood to its south. Blocked access at Thurman and Blaine; and the blocked access to Shaw at Thurman and Lafayette:And then there are huge swaths of the area that are undeveloped grass fields. I assume there were supposed to be more homes built at some point.
So there's a look at the housing stock. Now the exploration took an amazing twist toward the north side of Botanical Heights. This was my favorite part of the neighborhood. It's home to some amazing in-use factories and warehousing. As can be seen in the map above, much of this area is industrial and home to the Frisco railways.
Check out this cool power station near Folsom and Thurman:

There are several large businesses occupying this industrial area. The warehouses and factories are works of art and the properties are extremely clean and manicured. I will definitely be back here to get more pictures and explore further.

Here's the handsome Decorative Trade Finishers building on Folsom:And part of the huge Willert Home Products facility, also on Folsom:

Check out the cool old smoke stacks, formerly the Star Tobacco Company, one of the largest tobacco brands in the 19th century, run by Liggett and Meyers Tobacco Company:There are some other curious buildings in the neighborhood, Wolfgangs @ 1449 39th Street certainly fits the bill. It's a costume and accessories business in this funky building and property:


What a great discovery in the industrial areas! Hidden gems, indeed. I had a blast and will be back with the good camera to make a proper photo album of this thriving area that seems stuck in a time when St. Louis and America was a very different, industrial place..

***July, 2011 additions to original post***

Botanical Heights continues to see signs of a re-birth.  I recently got a tour of several South City community gardens, and Botanical Heights has a really great set up at the corner of Folsom and Thurman.  The newly installed garden has a native prairie planting:
Several raised beds for fruits and vegetables:
There is ALSO a fruit tree orchard on the eastern edge of the garden:
 The gardeners who set this up had assistance and support from Gateway Greening.  The garden appears here to stay as there is a permanent water source on the property.
 As this garden matures it will provide a very beautiful and eye catching place of positivity.

And if you are standing in front of the garden and you peer to the south west you will see something equally as eye-catching on a formerly fallow plot of land at the corner of Blaine and Thurman:
This project is billed as Plastic(k) Pavilion:
The design of the Plastic(k) Pavilion was developed by a Washington University graduate architecture class led by Professor Ken Tracey along with community input, addressing safety concerns and preferences on appearance. Students are constructing the structure as well and should be complete in the next few weeks. Residents are currently organizing to find funding and designers for the playground that will be constructed adjacent to the Plastic(k) Pavilion.
 Read the full story here.

This kind of public sculpture is fascinating to me, and is EXACTLY the kind of projects we need in all neighborhoods that have vacant land.  Congrats to Botanical Heights for the amazing strides.  I see very good things to come in this part of town.

3 comments:

Tim said...

Really enjoyed this post, pics, history, links... Very interesting to learn about this neighborhood and its recent transformation. I'll have to take my own personal tour soon.

Looking forward to learning more about the other 78 neighborhoods!

Joseph said...

Great post. I just back from a bike ride in which I inadverdantly found my way into this neighborhood. I went up and down McRee ave and I gotta say I was not exactly inspired to stick around. I guess being right next to Shaw and MoBot sets some high expecatations.

Mark Groth said...

Yeah, McRee will not wow you. It was a real surprise to me that the industrial north end of the neighborhood held the real architectural treasures.