Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Gate District Neighborhood

The Gate District is a south St. Louis neighborhood bound by Chouteau on the north, I-44 on the south, Jefferson to the east and Grand to the west:
The Gate District was home to 3,491 people as of the 2000 census count (down 7% from 1990's count).  87% black, 10% white, 1% Asian, 1% Hispanic/Latino.  1,636 housing units were counted, of which 83% were occupied (36%/64% owner/rental).

What will you expect to see here if you were to make a day trip to the Gate District?  In short, the highlights are St. Louis University's medical campus, the Florist District of St. Louis' metropolitan region, the awesome Barr branch of the library on Jefferson (sorry my photos were crap, and I'm embarrassed of them.....I'll ask my better half to do it proper), the beautiful Lafayette Street which adds to St. Louis' resume as the best brick/stone European-inspired city in North America, and also the crappiest modern suburban junk I've witnessed to date within the borders of the city.

Let's start with the positive:  Lafayette Avenue and the adjacent streets, just north of I-44:

 
 
There is a good discussion of the Compton Hill Convenience Store and Deli on urbanstl.com:
A holding zone for the works of Cassily (Do you like the pretentious and mysterious tone of that last sentence?) If you're interested explore the Gate District just off Lafayette:
Per the Gateway District website:
The Gate District is named according to the many ornate gates bordering it's four newly defined neighborhoods including those which previously stood in front of the old City Hospital. The Gate District's neighborhoods include Buder Park, Eads Park, St. Vincent Park, and Lafayette Terrace. Each of the neighborhoods is represented by a neighborhood association in addition to the Gate District East Association. The Gate District is the largest "planned" community in the City's history.
This sounds a little overly-fractionated, no?  Do we really need separate sub-neighborhood associations within a neighborhood?  I mean we already have 79 neighborhoods, which I think could be consolidated down to maybe 60 or less.  Speaking of fractionalized, take a look at the map right around Nebraska:  this neighborhood is cut off with cul-de-sacs and Schoemehl pots galore.  It's like there's a missing north/south street between Ohio and Compton.

The website quotes this as St. Louis' largest planned community...oh no, this doesn't sound good.  But, the location is strong, across the street from Lafayette Square and is embedded beside the St. Louis University medical campus.  This should be a powerhouse, a desirable place.  But...trust your instincts when you read "planned community" in the late 20th, early 21st century.

Let's face it, some neighborhoods inspire, some don't.  Sometimes you just have to scratch your head and ask WTF happened?  I hate lumping a huge chunk of a city into one category, because there are some amazing homes and sights here.  BUT, you'd be lying if you didn't shine a light on the weird suburban experimentation that has gone on in this part of town. You've got to ask yourself who was at the helm when this disaster occurred?  
 
 I'm aware that when generations let neighborhoods slip for long enough, there are gaps, sometimes blocks of fallow land that must be filled.  Some intentions are better than others; these attempts at filling holes don't agitate me as bad as others.
 
Some are in the grey zone:
^Eads Square apartments.
But there are still many empty fields withing the Gate District.  Let's try to be smart and develop these with pride and vision toward the future.

 
 
Let's fill these empty spaces up with something special, we deserve it.
But to all those who are rehabbing stately homes and opening businesses and hanging on here; or to those that just want a new(er) house so bad and you don't want to leave the city...I will apologize if I've offended in any way.  That's not my intention.  My simple goal is to accurately capture my feelings and thoughts in a ~2 hour period of driving around the Gate District.  And try to describe how the Gate District fits in and compares to it's other 78 city neighborhoods.  There are people out there with sweat and $ equity in careful rehabs recent, on-going and planned; these are lauded efforts:
My intention is merely to show that some people's current day eyesores are some people's land marks and gold mines and neighborhood treasures:
 
And quick profits and short sighted fixes usually turn out for the worse.  Because the crap that builders put up today doesn't come close to matching the craftsmanship that occurred when America and St. Louis was a power house of pride and $.
There is a part of the Gate District a block south of Chouteau on LaSalle Street called the floral district where greenhouses, warehousing and distribution facilities exist around the botanical business.
 
St. Louis University has some fantastic buildings in their medical campus.  Some with great context and thoughtfulness:
 
Well done SLU, this is a nice mid-century rehab too...
Crave Coffee/church/day care is a nice use of an old church on campus:
Some with the best of modern intentions, but placed carelessly:
^The landing pad has been cleared and the mothership has landed....right on top of Peerless Furniture (locals will get this, others flummoxed).  For what it's worth, I've never seen a human being enjoying the day or the "lawn" on this important corner.  Never...it's a dead zone.
 
^Don't get me wrong, I like this building but the placement was wasted.
And then the not so pretty ones:
  
SLU has a major propensity toward massive surface parking lots and "green space" (read rabbit pastures).  I don't want to overly criticize them though for their late 20th century "acquisitions", as I think SLU is an essential partner in STL's future.  For the most part, I love their work (see Midtown), and I may be a little short sighted in that they are land grabbing cheap property that the people of the last 50 years shat upon.  I think the western portion of the Gate District will look better as SLU expands and figures out that St. Louis University is better served to look like Harvard as opposed to UMSL.  Aim high, not low American academia.
 
Grand still looks good in the Gate District:
 
This house reminds me of upper New England:
 
Has anybody been to Diner's Delight?
What's up with the old Sikorsky helicopters and Vietnam era jets (A7, F-105? can't tell)?  Probably have something to do with the LaSalle Iron Works, but not sure.
Any way you cut it, the Gate District is a strange, incongruous place.  My gut tells me we'll be thinking about how to reconnect the streets and forget the mistakes of the late 20th century and make this part of the city and a true neighborhood again.  I've taken the before shots, my kids will have to take the afters.

3 comments:

Matt M. said...

Much more thought should have gone into such a large infill project as today's Gate District. Your assessment of the area is largely spot on.

I must confess to liking the gray-n-white row houses near Jefferson on the south side of Park Avenue, however.

And Lafayette could once again be knockout with some strategic infill and a refurbished Garavaglia grocery!

Jim said...

I have to point out a rare oversight on your part Mark. You neglected to post pictures of the namesake GATES. When I lived across I-44 in the mid 90's this was a scary place. They (whoever "they" is) held a contest to design the gates. This was in the same time period they began building the new houses. The most memorable gate was a tall pointy orange pyramid-like thing at Chouteau and Compton. I thought most of them were ugly, but what do I know about art? Whatever you may think of the architecture, it's not the scary place it used to be.

Mark Groth said...

^Jim, thanks for the historical perspective. Yes, this used to be a real problem area for crime and thug activity. I think we, as a city, especially the south side neighborhoods hit rock bottom in that early nineties. I'm glad it's not as scary a place as it used to be.