Saturday, May 15, 2010

The West End Neighborhood

The West End is a north St. Louis neighborhood bound by Page to the north, Delmar to the south, city limits to the west and Union and Belt to the east via Maple:
The 2000 census data counted 6,438 residents (down 27% from 1990's count) of whom 95% were black, 2% white and 1% Hispanic/Latino.  There were 3,347 housing units counted, 78% occupied (30%/70% owner/renter split).  Wow, 27% of the residents split between 1990 and 2000.  That's one of the bigger losses in the entire city during that time frame.  But to be fair, 85% of the city's 79 neighborhoods saw a loss in population (strictly numerical, not statistically significant) from 1990-2000.  Either way, a 27% loss of residents still ranks the West End in the top third of the most porous neighborhoods with residents fleeing like crazy at the end of the 20th century.  The good news is, West End actually had a numerical gain in residents in the 2000-2010 timespan.  Census data counted 6,574 people:  85% black, 8% white, 4% Hispanic/Latino and 2% Asian.  Hopefully the bleeding of people has stopped and this neighborhood can stabilize.

This is another St. Louis neighborhood that borders Delmar Boulevard, the widely accepted dividing line between north and south St. Louis.  It's true, almost without fail, you drive north of Delmar and the neighborhoods showing the most decline are apparent.  It doesn't take an astute eye to make this observation.  It's quite an unfortunate, but obvious dividing line for our city. 

That doesn't mean this isn't one of the cool neighborhoods in town though, because in my humble opinion, it certainly is. 

But, the West End neighborhood, has struggled for the last 40-50 years.  Yet, there's hope.  First of all, a lot of people still live here and it's proximity to Wash U and the recent upgrades on the East Loop bring some momentum to the area. 

I am fascinated by these north city neighborhoods like Visitation Park, Academy and Hamilton Heights.  You get to see the remnants of the best intentions of the fore fathers and the beautiful care, workmanship and pride they put into making these neighborhoods special places.  However, you also get smacked in the face with the careless behavior patterns of those in charge and those that have lived here and contributed to the decline, or simply turned their collective backs and walked away from this place. 

With all that, the potential is still HUGE.  The West End has some of the best architecture in the city.  Readers not familiar with St. Louis, especially north St. Louis, let me tell you this is one of the nicer neighborhoods on the north side.  By that I mean, most of the people that live here are generally cordial and civil, unlike other places you'll find in north city.  I observed quite a few city pride stickers on cars and city flags hanging from homes.  This is an encouraging sign for me, because I just don't see a lot of that STL pride north of Delmar (ONSL is the only exception I've personally witnessed so far).  I had many a good conversation with people on the street about what I was doing, and was greeted with hand waves and head nods.  This is not a scary, dangerous neighborhood...I will get to these places in future posts.   I'm saving those for last.  The West End appears to have some of the best economic diversity in north city.  There are rich and poor here and everything in between.

The West End has some of the most beautiful mansions in the city.  There are well cared for ones, and dilapidated ones.  The worse news is, the ~50 years of neglect has left acres of fallow ground.  Many, many original homes have been demolished and cleared.  Many of these fallow blocks still exist as described.
Other blocks have been developed with contemporary construction materials and styles making this part of St. Louis look like Anytown, U.S.A.
What are you gonna do?  No, these houses don't add to the urban fabric or originality of the historic neighborhood.  But, they add residents and obviously there's a market for these suburban styled dwellings in the city.  I'm happy to see these homes filled with people and they appear to be well cared for and tidy.  I just wish some urban planning would have gone into the late 20th century construction in the West End.  Infill is necessary.  I'm just not convinced this kind of infill is sustainable.  What will these homes look like in 50 years?  Will they just be torn down for something new(er) or will they be maintained?  Either way, these blocks and streets don't fit in well with the rest of the neighborhood and they don't add to the rich architectural history of St. Louis.  Another missed opportunity for good infill; but, there are plenty of other areas that are ripe for good, dense urban planning.  And mixed use would be great here, as there are very few businesses within the West End (Delmar excluded). 

The photos above paint the picture of parts of the West End that are completely suburbanized.  There are other examples of new homes mixed in with the originals:
 
See what a difference that makes?

While there are many examples of new houses that pay little respect to the history of the city, all hope is not lost.  It's not as bad as the Gate District, where the fallow ground and new construction is more haphazard and the only reminder of the original neighborhood is along one or two streets.

The rest of the West End ranges from the immaculately well kept mansions and proud homes to slowly decaying former beauties to homes falling in on themselves.  The good news is, there are strong pockets and entire blocks and streets that represent the best of those investing, entrenched or simply hanging on and proving to be good stewards of their part of town.  I've tried to intersperse the goods, bads and uglies together to show a snap shot of the wide range of homes/styles and various conditions you'll find in the West End today:

Are these next two clapboard houses?
The cool looking Hamilton Apartments:
One of several old folks homes:
Back to the houses:
Driving along Skinker, you wouldn't even know the West End is a cool place because of this kind of thing:
But a quick detour off the main streets takes you back into the fascinating blocks revealing some of the best St. Louis has to offer:
And the LRA and shuttered structures waiting in line for someone who cares:
And some mid-century experiments that didn't pan out:
But wait, there are more stunning places to take in:
Page Avenue is a straight up amazing St. Louis street.  I love it!  And it looks relatively good through the West End.  It gets much worse toward Fountain Park though.
Again, the West End has huge future potential.  It could be a draw for people of all kinds and backgrounds, not just the uni-culture that exists today. 

There has been tremendous progress in the east Loop with the Joe Edwards draws of the Pageant, the Moonrise Hotel, Pinup Bowl as well as Big Shark Cycles, Binions, the recently (unfortunately) shuttered Miss Saigon.

There are also many holes and vacant buildings along the north side of Delmar all the way from the Metrolink stop to Belt.  There's lots of potential here though, as the U. City part of the loop is built out, and options to extend the activity of the loop extend east into St. Louis from University City.


As I mentioned above, there aren't many intra-neighborhood businesses, put there are a few:

 
Back to the Metrolink stop.  This neighborhood is one of the lucky ones to be connected to the red line.  Each Metrolink stop has sculpture or lighting that set them apart from the rest.  This stop has a beehive honey comb piece that is my favorite in the entire city:
^I read somewhere that we decorate the things we hold dear.  That's why I'm a proponent of sculpture in public transit stations.

You've got to check this neighborhood out:
And some of the downsides:
There is some new construction (Wash U?) just north of the Metro Park and Ride lot:
And the islands are being rebuilt on Skinker, a huge improvement over the crumbling ones that have been there for years.

The churches are as beautiful as any other neighborhood.  My favorite mid-century modern church can be found in the West End.  This is just one shot, there are many other amazing angles/perspectives on this one.
Don't get me wrong, there is much neglect here and many contemporary mistakes were constructed from the 1970's-2000's.  But, this can all be fixed and the West End may be one of the greatest north side neighborhoods in St. Louis. 

If you've been following my neighborhood profiles, you know I am a big fan of old signs.  There are some gems in the West End:

^That was my nickname in high school.

9 comments:

BC said...

That home with the 2 tall dormers is crazy! So cool

Mark Groth said...

^BC, I've never seen so many unique styles in one neighborhood.

Hilary said...

Astounding.

Thank you for documenting all of this, and thank you for sharing it with the rest of us.

smegsgirl said...

Thank you so much for your reviews, I was born and raised in St. Louis, but have not lived there for many years, recently I have been thinking about moving back and was looking for info on the West End, everything you said only confirms what I was thinking! Thanks

Anonymous said...

Great post! West End has definitely got some character.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info. We are thinking of buying in the area, but I cannot believe you did not include the Link house (built by Theodore Link, architech of Union Station).

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post on the West End. Very informative. I've been living on Etzel between Hamilton and Hodiamont since 1996. First as an apartment tenant and now as a home owner raising my family. Though there is still some "drama" which many associate with the city, this area has changed much in the time I've lived here. Thank you again!

Anonymous said...

West End resident here: Awesome neighborhood, awesome folks, awesome houses, and some real garden activity going on. Just hoping the fabric stays intact post-Trolley...

Susie S. said...

Beautiful post. I'm an STL native currently living in Chicago, but hoping to buy a home when I return in a year or so. I was looking into the West End neighborhood because I saw a listing for a mansion (mansion!) for only $99,000. In fact, it's right across the street from that mid-century Methodist church you pictured. The neighborhood looks so pretty and well-maintained (at least from what I can see on street view.) This neighborhood just goes to prove that we can't make sweeping generalizations about the North Side.
Here's the listing if anybody is curious: http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/5459-Bartmer-Ave-Saint-Louis-MO-63112/2988650_zpid/