Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Tower Grove East Neighborhood

Tower Grove East is a south St. Louis neighborhood bound by Shenandoah to the north, Gravois to the south, Nebraska to the east and Grand to the west:

The 2000 census data counted 7,211 TGE residents of whom 52% were black, 38% white, 6% Asian and 3% Hispanic/Latino.  They lost 8% of their population from 1990-2000.  Its 3,485 housing units were 79% occupied, 39% by owners, 61% by renters.
A little background from the website:
The neighborhood was originally part of La Petite Prairie, which was settled by the French in the early 1700s. Grazing land was held in common, and farming land was divided into long narrow tracts. The commons system was abandoned around 1800, and the land began to be sold into private hands. By the 1850s much of the property was owned by German Catholics, recent immigrants from Germany’s 1848 civil war. The German dairy farmers found it ideal as pasture land. They built comfortable homes and began creating a community toward the end of the 1800s. Blocks were developed, upon which many of the prosperous German immigrants built grand homes.
Entrance Gate, Tower Grove Park Grand Ave. and Halliday, c. 1870
Entrance Gate, Tower Grove Park Grand Ave. and Halliday, c. 1870

The owners and builders in the early days of Tower Grove East were for the most part siblings, cousins and extended family members of the prominent Germans living in Compton Heights. Thus architectural trends originating in Compton Heights and Flora Place influenced the designs of homes on South Compton, Shenandoah and several of the other residential avenues. Like Tower Grove Heights, these residences were built on the four-square plan. The typical house is a pyramid or hipped roof on a two-story cube. Often, a pressed brick or limestone course separates the stories. The original developers then varied the theme through detail choices. Attention was heavily focused on the entry, cornice and windows. Buyers would often choose the architectural elements from pattern books that illustrated multiple styles of windows, doors, stairways and fireplace mantels. Thus the interiors of the homes in Tower Grove East are full of surprises. The often austere exterior facades typically hide a wealth of richly designed entries with carved fretwork; built-in hall benches, mirrors and bookcases; wood paneling; stained-glass windows and elaborate staircases.
This section of the city is my favorite.  Shaw, Tower Grove South, Fox Park, McKinley Heights, Compton Heights... and of course Tower Grove East.  There has been an amazing amount of investment in this neighborhood in the last 10-15 years.  This used to not be such a nice place to live or even drive through.  I've seen some crazy stuff in my time living in the city; and there used to be a lot of bad guys living and doing business here.  I witnessed some drag racing in this neighborhood that made my head spin.  There were guys blocking traffic on the side streets so these guys could drag race their cars in the neighborhood.  This kind of ridiculous behavior doesn't exist today.  Investment is up, people who care and want to live here are in higher numbers.  The poor stewards of properties are being displaced by those who want and can care for these aging beauties, and their hard work and investment is starting to really pay dividends.  Those who have lived in TGE for years are now reaping the benefits of sticking it out through the rough years.  Call it gentrification, call it up and coming, call it a pendulum swing back toward the original pride of the neighborhood, what ever you want to call it, you can't deny there is cumulative positivity in this neighborhood that is growing and starting to tip the scales of negativity to something more healthy and sustainable.

TGE is stunning.  Walk down the streets and be amazed.  Most streets are lined with mature trees and classic homes.  From the mansions near Grand to the more humble, but no less stately, smaller homes, this place is a virtual candyland for St. Louis lovers.  It has all the housing styles that make us the world class architectural city that we are.   I took over 200 photos of this neighborhood.  I couldn't stop being amazed.  Each block, each street, each home has something worthy of appreciation.

Today was a beautiful St. Louis spring day, and the neighborhood was buzzing with activity.   Dog walkers, stoop sitters, rehabbers, stroller walkers, bicyclers, cars being washed in the streets, flowers being planted, yard sales popping up.  People were in a good mood, I struck up some nice conversations with many TGE'ers and there is a good feel here.  I spoke to a woman probably in her 70's who was so proud of her home, I asked her if the neighborhood is nice and she commented that it's gotten much better in the past few years.  She's seen the ups and downs and is feeling good about the direction the neighborhood is headed in.

Fox Park and McKinley Heights are similar to TGE, but I did notice a few things that stood out over those hoods.

First, TGE has some great garages:
Secondly, there seem to be more flowering trees than any other neighborhood I've seen.
Thirdly, TGE seems to have some of the most attractive corner properties in the city.
The churches are amazing, as are the schools.  The spirals adorning the entry to Shenandoah School are my favorite in the entire city.
Churches of various faiths:
Roosevelt High School is a work of art.
St. Elizabeth Academy has a beautiful campus within the neighborhood.  This approach to the campus is the most stunning (my photo doesn't do it justice).  It totally fits in with it's surroundings. 
Attractions and amenities wise:  Tower Grove Park is a short walk, as is the Grand South Grand restaurant strip that graces Tower Grove East.  Grand really looks good in TGE, with the exception of the Schnucks property (dirty, crude store) and the grocery store at Maganolia has seen better days as well.

I must plug my favorite TGE restaurant the Shaved Duck.  This place has delicious baked beans, mashed potatoes, brisket, pulled pork, etc.  Meskerem, Jay's International, Sekisui, Cafe Natasha's Kabob International are all places worth checking out as well.
TGE is home to the greatest asset on the St. Louis FM dial- KDHX 88.1:
Some other sights along Grand:
Some TGE nuance:
The homes north of Arsenal are a little more polished than those to the south.  The homes closer to Gravois are rougher.  But it's the homes that make this neighborhood what it is.  I took so many photos, I'll try to list some of the best examples of the varied styles within TGE:
I really like this next one.  If anyone know the architectural style, or what these homes are called, let me know.  It's the porch that makes them so cool:
I'm bullish on this neighborhood being the next Lafayette Square or Soulard or Holly Hills because there are very, very few empty lots (they do exist in small numbers) and the original housing stock survived the roughest years from ~1960-1990.  You have to see this neighborhood, and walk it's streets to realize what a special place this is.  Get out and enjoy the spring weather and take a walk in a part of town you've never been to before.  Something awe inspiring is around every corner in this town.

14 comments:

Matt M. said...

I lived in Tower Grove East briefly. Definitely one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city as well. EXCELLENT photography in what looked like beautiful weather, too.

I was worried those traditionalist infill homes were going to turn out trashy, but they look kind of sharp!

Joy said...

Thank you so much for telling the world what those of us in TGE already know; TGE is a solid city jewel!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for showcasing our wonderful neighborhood! As a TGE resident and block captain, it's awesome to see some appreciate what we have as much as I do!

Cara Marie said...

I live in Tower Grove East, at Sidney and Grand. Thank you so much for showcasing out lovely neighborhood!!!

Lauren said...

Thanks for such a great article, Mark! I love TGE and am proud to live there. The buildings and the people are so diverse, it's an awesome place to walk and live.

Legal Eagle said...

Looks awesome Mark!! Great work!

Chris said...

I live in Tower Grove East; all that rosy stuff that is happening is occurring in the 300-400K portion of TGE. For us non-wealthy residents, it is much different picture:

"and there used to be a lot of bad guys living and doing business here."

And they still do on my block.

"This kind of ridiculous behavior doesn't exist today. Investment is up, people who care and want to live here are in higher numbers. The poor stewards of properties are being displaced by those who want and can care for these aging beauties, and their hard work and investment is starting to really pay dividends."

Not on my block; business is good for slumlords.

"Those who have lived in TGE for years are now reaping the benefits"

My house has gone down in value since I moved in because the rampant, unchecked thuggery and drug dealing on my block. Children have attacked my neighbors and gone unpunished because the police won't charge them with a crime. My longtime neighbors say this is the worse it's ever been.

I literally have to leave my house on weekends because I am afraid for my safety. Yes, I've called the cops over 100 times during the time I've lived in TGE, and they rarely if ever respond.

Mark Groth said...

^Chris, thanks for reading. I don't pretend to be an expert on these neighborhoods from driving through them for one day. That's why I value your feedback. Not everything in TGE is flowering red buds and Mayberry....I'm not that naive, but I am a cup half full guy. It's my opinion that this neighborhood is in the "up and coming" category along with Penrose, BPW, Marine Villa, etc. It sounds like you've stood your ground and called the cops >100 times. I commend you for not giving in to the "thuggery" and tucking tail and leaving. May I suggest following up with your NSO and alderman on the police not responding to your calls? That has worked for me in the past. And if TGE continues to not be your cup of tea, please investigate other not so "up and coming" neighborhoods like say Boulevard Heights or Princeton Heights. These are extremely safe, affordable and peaceful city neighborhoods.

Thanks again for sharing your perspective on TGE. For my future reference, I wonder if you could tell me the street name and nearest intersection you are refering to. I will go back there and take some photos; I'm very interested in revisiting the tough parts of town in 5-10 years and posting before and after shots.

Melanie said...

I'm a newer homeowner in TGE in the $100K range (not the $300-400K range mentioned above) and I positively love the sense of community between renters and homeowners on my block.
There is still crime, there are still gunshots, and there is still trash now and then... but when it comes down to it, it feels like a neighborhood of *neighbors*... poeple who look after each other a lot more than they did in the ritzier areas I've lived/rented in... I agree with the assessment that it's a neighborhood on the upswing. And we're all getting ready for the fantastic things to come on South Grand this summer!

Matt M. said...

Great to hear, Melanie! Sad to hear, Chris.

I know you've been having problems. A good thing to remember is that it's often one group causing most of the problems as opposed to systemic issues. I don't know if this is true in your case, but most places I have lived, the good to rotten apple ratio was tilted heavily in favor of the former. It's just that the latter tend to rain on the parade.

Hang in there and let us know how/if the block captain position pays off (assuming you're signed up and ready to go).

KimQ72 said...

I just found this site through a talk thread on Yelp and I'm so glad that I did! I loved reading about all the different neighborhoods. As a TGE resident I especially appreciate this particular post. And I must admit that I did a happy dance when I saw my house (under the Dutch Boy sign) in one of your photos.

stlcatlady said...

Mark, I just found your FABULOUS blog, and am so glad I did. I'm having a field day this morning over coffee reading your archives and enjoying your wonderful pix. As a resident of TGE in the "less polished" areas, I feel we still have lots of work to do, but I also do feel that the work is getting done, even if a bit painfully at times. Again, thanks for the wonderful write ups and great pix. Love 'em!

Anonymous said...

Greetings from Ireland! I just saw the house I grew up in and where my mom still lives in TGE, in your collection of photos. Dublin is cool but these pictures made me long for home! Nice job!

Anonymous said...

I'm confused. The article states, "The neighborhood was originally part of La Petite Prairie, which was settled by the French in the early 1700s." I know Cahokia goes back to the 1600's. I know the Jesuits tried and failed to establish a settlement at the mouth of the River Des Peres, (Hence the name.). So how is it La Petite Prairie was settled in the early 1700's but the trading post that became St Louis wasn't established till 1764? Is the writer suggesting the suburbs come first?