Friday, June 18, 2010

The Covenant Blu/Grand Center Neighborhood

Covenant Blu/Grand Center is a north central St. Louis neighborhood bound by Dr. Martin Luther King Drive to the north, Olive Street to the south, Compton Avenue to the east and Vandeventer Avenue to the west:
 
The 2000 census data counted 2,758 residents (a decrease of 39% by the 1990s count) of whom 78% were black, 19% white, 3% Hispanic/Latino.  There were 1,721 housing units counted, 73% were occupied (11%/89% owner/renter).  The neighborhood website has no content on the city website.  Nearly 40% of the people split in 10 years.  Wow, that's staggering.  I think the bleeding has stopped or at least will be curbed due to some newer housing (mixed blessing) that has recently been built.  There are many homes that are in danger of the elements and demolition in this neighborhood.

But, luckily, there are 3 National Historic Districts in Covenant Blu/Grand Center (CBGC):
  1. Locust Street Automotive District est. in September, 2005 and expanded to include 3133-3207 and 3150-3202 Locust in February, 2008
  2. Midtown District est. in July, 1978
  3. West Locust and Olive Commercial and Industrial District est. in September, 2006
With all the housing issues that CBGC has, this is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful spots in the entire city.  Everyone knows Covenant Blu/Grand Center because of the Fabulous Fox TheatrePowell Symphony Hall, The Black Repertory Theatre, etc.  This is probably the arts center of the entire region, or at least it's billed that way.  There is a lot of good info on upcoming events, etc at the Grand Center website.

CBGC is one my favorite parts of town because it's a convergence of the burgeoning Midtown Alley, SLU's main campus and a gateway to the Central West End to the west and Downtown West to the east.  And it's one of the most photogenic spots in town.  My favorite approach is heading south on Grand between Delmar and Lindell:
Let's start with what I consider the hub of CBGC, which is the area between and around Olive/Compton/Spring/Delmar.

The Fabulous Fox Theatre:
If you haven't seen a show here, you are missing out.  Gawking at the lobby alone is worth the price of admission.

Third Baptist Church:
Strauss Park is my favorite pocket park in St. Louis, it reminds me of Manhattan:
While we're on my personal favorites, bear with me while I try to capture what I think is the best looking sky scraper in the entire city:
CBGC is home to vital institutions including KETC Channel 9, our excellent PBS station:
The Urban League:
The awesome Contemporary Arts Museum:
It's cool how the building follows the curve of the street:
The John Cochran VA Medical Center:
The region's National Public Radio affiliate KWMU 90.7 FM is currently in the suburbs at the University of St. Louis (really Bellrive/Pasadina Hills, MO)campus.  They are planning to move to CBGC at Olive and Grand ( into a new 27,000 sq ft building).  The Sun Theatre NEEDS to be part of this new addition, or some other use:
The former Woolworth's at Grand/Lindell has recently been renovated as a Big Brothers and Big Sisters office and a Craft Alliance center (it is handsomely lit up at night, adding to the vibrancy of the area).  Here's a picture circa 1993 from the awesome Built St. Louis website:
And here's what it looks like now:
^This has to be one of the best re-habs in the last 10 years!  You should see it all lit up at night.

Here's one of the greatest opportunities for improvement in the area; I can't believe this building is sitting empty right at the intersection of Grand and Olive:
The City Diner, a longtime fixture in the Tower Grove South neighborhood recently opened a second location in the Humbolt building just north of the Fox:
There are some other places just east of Grand including Kota Wood Fired Grill, the Best Steak House and Jazz at the Bistro:
There is new life in a building just east of Jazz at the Bistro, which was nicely reworked to house a salon and a couple other businesses:
Some other cool sights in this part of CBGC:
Other places of interest include the Moto Museum, Triumph Grill, Hotel Ignacio, Drake Plaza and other sites along Olive:
Some interest and opportunity along Compton:
St. Louis University still has a big presence here.  As much as I love SLU and want them to do well, they are freakishly obsessed with surface parking lots.  Unfortunately, they are dead set on destruction of historic buildings in favor of catering to visitors and tourists that spend a mere matter of hours here and don't live here.  They love branding the lots too:
There are scads of surface parking lots in this part of town.  The signs are actually pretty cool.  But it just seems like such a waste.  How many shows do the Fox and SLSO book in a year?  Seems like a high price to pay.  But, we can reverse the trend, right?  Build a large multi-level parking garage with street level retail and be done with it.  Well moneyed and vocal people from the suburbs are scared to walk a block to get to their destination, and it hurts our heritage and historic continuity of our city.
All right, now it's time for the not so good news.  There is some bad suburban stuff dropped right in the middle of CBGC called (I believe) Compton Place.  It's not my style and it adds nothing to St. Louis' resume as one the finest architectural cities in the country, but there are there are the old gems north, south and west of this large "community":
Urbanist types are critical of faux-historic new housing, but I think it works way better than the previous example.  Here's what I mean:
Although, my preference for infill is more on the mod/cutting edge contemporary design:
^Man, wouldn't that be a sweet place to live?  This is the kind of daring architecture we need as infill.

There are streets and streets and blocks and blocks of abandoned homes north of Delmar.  I hope more and more people decide to live close to the exciting, invigorating, inspiring areas of the city and choose to rehab these aging beauties.
There are some nice parts of CBGC holding on:
Gateway Greening, one of St. Louis' greatest resources, has a home base of sorts in CBGC at the Bell Garden:
There are a few noteworthy schools to mention.  Cardinal Ritter College Preparatory and the Clyde Miller Career Academy.
Cardinal Ritter:
The churches are awesome, as usual in this town.  You have the famous St. Alfonsus "the Rock" Church which was dedicated in 1872 and was struck by lightning in August, 2007 which resulted in a 5-alarm fire.
And others:
A tribute to a St. Louis classic:
And some other miscellaneous sites.
Next time I visit CBGC will be to get a vanilla shake at City Diner, and head over to Strauss Park to enjoy my new book Devil At The Confluence, a history of pre-war St. Louis blues music (thanks sis).

    3 comments:

    Allison said...

    Mark,

    My name is Allison Reilly and I am the St. Louis Liberal Examiner for Examiner.com. This is the first time I'm reading any of your posts, and this is only because a friend posted a link of yours on his FaceBook page.

    First, I wanted to say that I enjoyed reading your newest post, especially since it was about my neighborhood. I do kind of resent the comment that the new housing looks "suburban", because I live in that housing and it really isn't all that suburban underneath the looks.

    Second, I graduated from SLU. Yes, they do like their parking lots. Yes, they do like their branding. The university just cares a little too much about its external appeal. Nonetheless, the university treated me well during my four years there.

    Thirdly, I'm all the more curious to hear about what you've learned from your neighborhood tours. As the Liberal Examiner, I'm looking for article ideas as well as ways to localize the bigger issues. I'm hoping you've gained some valuable insight on your adventure and that I could tap into it somehow. For example, are there any national issues that have hit St. Louis neighborhoods harder than others? What makes St. Louis neighborhoods unique, and unique from each other?

    Good luck to you and keep up the good work!

    Anonymous said...

    That little neighborhood does look painfully suburban = cheaply, mass developed. But something is better than nothing.

    Mustang said...

    Mark,
    I encourage you come back to the area and update this portion of your blog. I only work in this neighborhood, but have noticed significant changes over the last 4 years. The Metropolitan Building is now occupied, the Sun Theater has been renovated and the area next to KETV has seen some improvements, among others in the area.
    It would be really exciting if the old church across from Cardinal Ritter College Prep was to be renovated. It looks like it could tell some great stories.
    Thanks for creating this blog. It has helped me figure out this confusing city/region.

    Keith