Monday, May 24, 2010

The Academy Neighborhood

Academy is a north St. Louis neighborhood bound by Martin Luther King Drive to the north, Delmar Boulevard to the south, Union Boulevard to the west and Kingshighway Boulevard to the east:
The 2000 census data counted 3,797 residents (down 32% from 1990's count) of whom 98% were black, 1% white. There were 1,729 housing units counted, 72% occupied with a nice mix of owner/renter properties (54%/46% owner/renter split).  The 2010 census counts were not kind to Academy, another 26% loss of residents indicating the continuing trend of black-flight out of North City neighborhoods.  Racial demographics remained about the same from 2000-2010:  96% black, 2% white, 1% Hispanic/Latino and 2 Asian people.

Academy doesn't have a website on the city page, nor is there any easily accessible historical info that I could find on the web.

So what is Academy like?  In my 2 hour tour, I'll say that this is one of the most in-tact neighborhoods in north city.  By intact, I mean, most of the original housing stock is standing, and largely livable.  This is not to say there aren't falling structures, fallow lots or seriously decaying properties, but the contemporary suburbanite builders have not yet tarnished or cheapened the landscape (with the exception of the fast food/junk food restaurants on Kingshighway. 

Make no mistake, this is a beautiful place.  One that is sitting in wait for someone to take this part of the city on.  This is a rehabbers paradise.  I think this is one of the prettiest neighborhoods in the city; the homes remind me of Tower Grove South.  For the most part, Academy just needs some polish and investment.

Some of the streets like Cabanne and Raymond Avenue are showplaces.  If I were wealthy, I'd buy up all the properties and rehab them.  This could be one of the premier neighborhoods in St. Louis with a little TLC and $$$.  Not unlike Visitation Park to the west, there are very well cared for homes mixed with homes currently under rehab and those that are falling into disrepair, or falling to the ground.

Page Avenue could be my favorite east-west street in St. Louis.  It too sitting in wait for a rebirth of TLC and investment.

Academy is remarkably consistent in the size of the homes.  They are almost all 2 or 3 story, tightly constructed homes not unlike Shaw or Tower Grove South.  But Shaw has more apartments, Academy is largely single family homes or duplexes.  The old brick four square homes are everywhere.  One thing that stood out to me was the high number of stone-fronted four squares.  Here are just a few (there are many, many more) in various states of repair:
Another unique site in Academy is THE widest alley I've ever seen.  This one is a block north of Kensington, I wonder if it was once a street car line or other railway:
 There are some AMAZING, mind blowing places here.  Soldan High School and Clark Middle School (along with the Edward Hempstead school on Minerva) are 3 schools designed by renowned architect William B. Ittner.  Soldan was erected in 1907 for less than $800,000.

I couldn't get any good photos of these because (ironically enough) there were professional camera/film crews photographing them.
The Cabanne branch of the library is a stunning work of art still in use since 1908:
 Delmar, another great east-west St. Louis street has seen better days in Academy.  There are several strip malls and fallow lots.  There is still huge potential though, as many original structures are boarded up and waiting their turn to shine again.  And it's home to Vespa St. Louis, a righteous scooter dealer.  Here are some sights along Delmar:
This north of Delmar thing is a real downer for me.  I know it's such a played out boring story in St. Louis.  It's time to turn this around.  Something's got to change.  This has to be an institutional, political dividing line of the city.  This had to happen on purpose.  I'm not smart enough, or informed enough to understand how this  happened, but North City was cut off from resources and investment and care.  It's time for someone (let's start with a mayor) with chutzpah, money and progressive intentions to turn our city-wide, state-wide, region-wide, heck, national attention to these fading, beautiful neighborhoods.  Yeah, I realize that's very easy to say; but, I think Academy is ripe for a grassroots rehabilitation effort, not unlike Soulard, Benton Park, Lafayette Square and Old North St. Louis.  It would need a kick start or the backing of the politicians and entreched city establishment to pull it off though. You have no idea what an underutilized, or even lost, resource places like Academy are for our city, state and nation.  Anyhow, I think the "north of Delmar" stigma is holding Academy back.  It shouldn't; but the current fact remains, Delmar is the damn dividing line in this town.

Case in point:  driving northbound on Kingshighway from south city, you pass through the Central West End which has some of the finest buildings in town.  The wealth and vibrancy is clearly apparent.  Then you hit Delmar and it's like the lights were switched to off.  There is a shuttered National or Schnucks in Fountain Park at the NE corner, a shuttered video store on the SE corner of the CWE and then as you drive north of Delmar and look to your left there is nothing but fast food joints, most closed down, some still open.

Another of the more unique sites in Academy is the former business of Mr. Lee Nixon, otherwise known as "the Rose Man".  The Rose Man used to sell roses and teddy bears at night clubs all over St. Louis.  He was admired by people all over the city for his amiability, kindness and generosity.  Sadly, he was shot and killed in a random act of gun violence at a Washington Park, Illinois night club in June, 2008.  Here's a nice write up from the St. Louis American.  And here's what Mr. Nixon's place looks like today:
The signs above the windows:
Anyhow, Academy is a largely residential neighborhood so let's take a look at the current housing stock.  I tried to capture the wide range of conditions and styles:
  Here are some of the few exceptions to the St. Louis four square:
And some other miscellaneous sites of interest:
The churches of Academy:
So Academy is sitting there waiting for some more attention.  Those that have stayed are doing a great job keeping up the homes and alleys and streets and yards.  They just need more caring residents to help preserve the past to make a better future and continue to hold back the tide of negativity that has plagued north city for far too long.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

The extra-wide alley is the "Suburban Tracks," according to google maps. It's an old railroad/streetcar line that is referenced in "Meet Me in St. Louis." The author of the book that inspired the movie lived at 5135 Kensington. The back of that address' yard runs into the tracks. I believe the house was torn down. The "Suburban Tracks" was also the route of the Hodiamont line, I believe.

STLgasm said...

Nice! Yes, the #15 Hodiamont streetcar line ran through the "alley" that you captured. Actually, the Hodiamont bus utilized this right-of-way up until a couple years ago. It's amazing to see how the neighbhorhood blossomed around transit. This neighborhood was very heavily Jewish before the population migrated into U. City. Great pics.

Mark Groth said...

^Thanks for the great info on the street car line! That was my suspicion.

David said...

Where is that unusual house with the dome located?

Mark Groth said...

^David, I believe that home is on a corner of Raymond and Academy.

Ryley said...

Great post (as usual). The state of North STL always makes me profoundly sad. All that wonderful architecture left to rot. Redevelopment like the recent efforts in Old North are extremely encouraging.

Amy said...

I'm looking for more information about the Jewish families who lived in this neighborhood (which has such a gorgeous architectural history!) in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Do you have suggestions of where I could look.

Also - you mention duplexes as well as single family homes. Do you know if they were also duplexes around 1910?

Thank you for the wonderful photos!

KC in texas said...

Your blog is great. I am relocating from DFW to St.Louis and was looking for detailed information on the local neighborhoods. Thank you after reading you reviews I am strongly considering moving to the Academy neighbood.

Wayne Brasler said...

My father drove the Hodiamont line. It is indeed the streetcar which figures into "Meet Me In St. Louis" and originally the line ran all the way to, believe it or not, Florissant, with a branch to Ferguson.'"Suburban Tracks," also known as "Suburban Track" and "Suburban Trax" was the name given to the right-of-way after the rails were pulled up. Another Suburban Track exists in Brentwood at Brentwood Blvd. and Deer Creek, where the Brentwood and Kirkwood lines ran. The powerhouse building still stands. I rode the Hodiamont streetcar every day of my life in St. Louis before coming to Chicago in 1964 and indeed the neighborhoods around the line were beautiful, well-kept and peaceful. And often elegant. The schools were considered the most beautiful in the nation. I attended Laclede High School, Soldan High School (briefly), Normandy High School and Harris Teachers College two years, all related in some way to the streetcar line.
Wayne Brasler
University of Chicago

Anonymous said...

hi i just moved from renting in the academy neighborhood for a year. i also did community work there. sadly, 5135 kensington has was demolished. also the average rent for a 3 bedroom in the area is $450-800/month but it is very ghetto. My landlady on 5084 enright ave actually came upstairs into my apartment and stole my wallet. alot of homes are broken into by burgulars through the basements in the warmer months. any rehab projects are certain to be looted. there is also alot of copper thefts in the area. I do not recommend buying a building in this area for rehab if either of the adjecent buildings is demolished because the neighboring foundations supported each other for the last 100+ years. I really loved living in this neighborhood but there is a lot of drugs and murders in this area. if you still arent discouraged then be prepared to fight for everything you believe in if you purchase a property or move to this neighborhood!

Blogadamn said...

I bought a home on Kensington several years ago before the market crashed. The neighborhood appeared to be on the rise until then. I am constantly being broken into. I actually had to brick in my back door and I am going to backfill it completely in. I would think the landlords would be more selective when renting their homes out. It is the kids of the transient renter population that are doing the damage. They live in the home for less than a year and it is destroyed when they are evicted. This leaves the landlord with a huge bill to fix the home to rent out again. The actual homeowners there seem to care about the neighborhood. I hope the landlords get better renters or the neighborhood gets better landlords.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in this area ... first on 5100 block of Enright and later over my father's deli at 713 N. Kingshighway. It was, on a scale of 1 - 10 then ... a 6 or 7. As you moved away from Delmar and Kingshighway, the neighborhoods were well middle-class and well kept. In the mid 50s it started to change and it only took a few years for it to crash. Then they started removing all of the trashed buildings so, take a drive, and look for yourself. The person who "read" about the neighborhood ... please don't commit to anything until you personally visit. It's depressing .. and all the good intentions in the world will not change it until the present populations if priced out of the are for good.

Anonymous said...

I purchased a beautiful historic home here in the Academy area. I am loving it here. I am white and I have not seen any other white folks around either.
I have met 8 of my immediate neighbors and they are the kindest most protective friendly neighbors I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and being surrounded by. No one even spoke to me in my old neighborhood.
Here my home owner neighbors are all very house proud, taking pride in keeping up and maintaining their beautiful historic homes. Most of my neighbors also are very established and have lived in their homes for over 20 years. They are extremely vigilant and really look out for each other and now lookout for me and my home as well. My neighbors welcomed me and support those who come in and purchase a historic home in need of repair and fix it up. It makes their property more attractive and valuable and they don't like living by unsafe empty boarded up homes. I always look out for my neighbors as well and will alert them to any suspicious behavior I should see around their property as they do for me. That interaction is what makes a great community neighborhood that is safe for everyone.
Security doors and alarm system is a necessity, especially to protect your preservation work in progress before you move in if you leave it empty after purchase, and just common sense for after you move in for safety and to protect your belongings.
All worth it for getting the opportunity to afford to purchase a huge historic architecturally gorgeous home right in the city near everything for a fraction of the cost of homes on the other side of Delmar. There are so many amazing specimens of varied architectural styles here mostly 2.5 to 3 story homes here. On every block there are several empty homes for sale for a steal and just waiting to be given love and brought back to life.
It makes me cry to look at them and think that if someone does not purchase them they will just eventually fall to the ground and all that historically significant beauty will be lost forever. Equally as bad is a rehab that strips all the historic elements from the home to make it look like a 90's modern condo inside. It would be best for historic home aficionados who would do all they could to bring the homes back to their previous splendor of a bygone era inside and out.
This is a truly diamond in the rough gorgeous neighborhood and I am so happy I moved here when I did. I think people are crazy to pass up this neighborhood.
Just look on realtor.com at the prices and how much gorgeous house you get for the money. they are mostly all
"as is" purchases. So bring appropriate inspectors and reputable contractors in to quote how much it will cost to repair. There are even some 'For Sale By Owner' signs around.
It's a tree lined historic home lovers paradise that allows even those like me with very limited income to live in and fix up a large beautiful historic home in the city.
It is located right by Kings Hwy and the Central West End and centrally located near everything. I am seeing more and more homes in the area being purchased and fixed up. Hurry before they are all bought up by developers who fix them up and and render them to expensive to purchase.

peachgirl said...

I have rented and also bought a house and rehabbed it. Yes, there are issues in Academy. First, there currently are no standards. So people can buy properties, throw it together and rent it out $-600 if they can pull section 8 they get $800. This brings a lot of temp residents to the area. They end up moving before lease ends or evicted for complaining about the crappy rentals. These residents don't really involve themselves with neighborhood because they don't plan on staying.
2ND, due to most of the neighborhood is vacant, either owned properties by private owners, lra, or developers, there is not a lot happening other than the houses rotting away. Makes it hard on the homeowners and new owners who are trying to improve properties and the neighborhood. Everyone I know who bought a house and rehabbing has had issues with plumbing or electric wiring stolen. My house i'm rehabbing was broken into 7 times before I got a dog. Haven't had any problems since she's there. It's very hard when your sitting in between 3 vaco's no one cares about and not get any support from the local govt, city officals, police, or neighborhood associations. It almost feels like they don't want to encourage individuals because they would rather the blighting to continue for the developers.
I love the neighborhood and have set up 3 community gardens and try to organize and encourage people to buy and visit the area. There is quite a bit of development going on Delmar and Kingshighway. The area is changing and will be changing in the future.

Anonymous said...

My Grandma lived at 5056/5058 Cates in the 1930-1940's. I would like to know what the neighborhood was like then. The architecture I see now---what is left---is still beautiful. In the 30's, it must have been grand...

Anonymous said...

I just discovered this blog, and am really enjoying reading about all these neighborhoods. I live on the S. Side, but try to drive around N St. Louis any chance I get, and love neighborhoods like Academy. The houses along Page have the potential to be beautiful. I was stuck by the very personally depressing picture of the school on Academy (it's just north of Page). Unless I am way off, that was St. Martin DePorres elementary. My father was principal there through the late 70s and early 80s. I have some great memories of times spent there, but it looks like it has fallen into some deep disrepair.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in this neighborhood and my family still live in that area. It has changed a lot since the 0's and 90's. I haven't been to St. louis for about five years until this past summer, and was amazed to see how empty that area has become. Even with the high turnover in the area it is still ghetto. However, I would love to rehab a few of those houses. The potential is endless.