Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Benton Park West Neighborhood

Benton Park West (BPW) is a south St. Louis neighborhood located west of Jefferson, southeast of Gravois, north of Potomac and Cherokee via Compton:
The 2000 census counted 5,438 residents (down 4% over 1990's count), of which 59% were black, 30% white, 5% Asian and 6% Hispanic/Latino (one of the most diverse in the city).  2,540 housing units were 73% occupied, 35% owner, 65% rental.  The decade from 2000-2010 saw even more resident losses, losing another 19%.  Racial shifts were negligible.
BPW is a rare neighborhood without a park within its official boundaries, but it abuts both Gravois Park and Benton Park.

A brief history from the website:

"By the mid-1860s, the St. Louis neighborhood of Benton Park West was already a community that could provide for the basic needs of its residents. There were carpenters, builders, stone masons, dairymen, gardeners, market owners, grocers, saddle and harness makers, a blacksmith, a midwife, and two saloons to serve the area of about 50 city blocks.
Benton Park West was considered a working-class neighborhood and a German community. While most of the residents were working class, many owned their own businesses. There were also come very prominent residents. Many of the beautiful homes the working class immigrants built remain in their architectural grandeur today.
The are 2 main things that make me think BPW falls into the "up and coming" category.  1 is the continuing retail and business development along Cherokee and Jefferson, the other is the grass roots rehab efforts and artist community that has taken root here.  The 35% ownership rate recorded in 2000 will probably go up; hopefully so will the residential numbers.  I don't know what the perfect mix is between owner/renter, but it feels like it should be much higher than 35%, maybe 60-75%.

Cherokee is clearly one of the coolest streets in this town.  From the Casa Loma Ballroom to art galleries, bakeries, bookstores, coffee shops, clothing/accessories, bars, taquerias, independent grocery store...this place has a great feel.
 This place reminds me of Tulum, Mexico:
 Foam at the corner of Jefferson and Cherokee is one of my favorite coffee shops in town, there is always good music playing in the background and the offerings are quite delicious:
Sights along Jefferson:
Sights along Gravois:

I have always wished this was a taqueria.  It could have a walk up counter and outdoor seating.  It would signify the area as the Hispanic part of town to folks driving along Gravois.  It could be the western doorstep to the delicious and amazingly cool latin stuff heading east all the way to Jefferson.
The homes stand true to the "working class" description noted in the website quote above.  This should be marketed as a strength.  Proud, nice smaller homes to attract young people, singles, couples and those that don't have big families.

If you've been following this site, you know I'm a big fan of fire escapes.  These two are unique in that they are on the front of the homes facing the street.  The second one even blocks most of a window...very unique:
I'm also developing a fondness for these metal awnings with letters on them:
Some other local flavor:
As with many neighborhoods, Gateway Greening has been working with local groups to bring community gardens to the city.  BPW is no exception.  If it were up to me, these would be in every neighborhood within the city!
There are some really cool studios and businesses to be found in BPW not on Cherokee:
 Vitrolite is one of my favorite building materials:
BPW is still a little rough and dirty.  Not in a hopeless way, it's just a little more gritty than its neighbors including TGE, Fox Park, Marine Villa and McKinley Heights.  It's certainly not a scary place, it's an exciting place teeming with life.  It's got a big city feel (non-Manhattan NYC comes to mind) in that it is racially and economically diverse.  This is one of the only places in town that I've heard Spanish music blasting from speakers.  I love Hispanic/Latino culture, food, etc.  So if you're like me, BPW is a place to check out and explore.  There are many grocery stores, taquerias, plate restaurants, etc to check out.  The annual Cinco De Mayo festival is a blast.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love your aesthetic and your observations. I visited Benton Park West for the first time during the 2012 Cinco de Mayo. As a former Chicagoan, I am deighted by the youth and energy on display in this and other neighborhoods in STL. All we need is to get the word out. . .