Sunday, September 19, 2010

St. Louis Place Neighborhood

St. Louis Place is a neighborhood in north St. Louis, bound by Palm Street/Natural Bridge Avenue on the north, Cass Avenue to the south, N. Florissant Avenue to the east and Jefferson Avenue to the west:
Take a good look at the map.  The area to the south is Carr Square which was largely cleared for such projects as Pruitt-Igoe and the current 1980's looking apartment complexes.  Cass Avenue serves as the dividing line for the old street grid vs. the recent-past failed attempts at urban renewal in this part of town.  Just take a look at how damaging the projects were to St. Louis' early street/neighborhood design.  It's good to see St. Louis Place holding on to it's 19th Century grid.

St. Louis Place, not unlike virtually all north city neighborhoods (Baden is an exception) took a beating from 1990 to 2000, losing 27% of its residents.  They are down to 2,763 people, 88% black, 10% white and 1% Hispanic/Latino.  There were 1,395 housing units counted, 67% of which were occupied.  The owner/renter split is 40%/60%.

Here's a statement from the scant St. Louis Place website:
This neighborhood is primarily a diverse working-class community that has been the first home for many St. Louis families.  We welcome first time residents as well as people returning to their roots.
The description of diversity is not one that strikes me both after reading the stats and seeing the neighborhood.  If there are 276 white people living here today (the stats are 10 years old) I'd be surprised.

This neighborhood has seen better days, no doubt.  There are the problems that plague many city neighborhoods and especially north side neighborhoods.  Unused urban prairies, crumbling housing stock, abominations/failed attempts from the 1970's-1980's and contemporary construction both decent and not so much.  I'll show examples of both.  There is no walkable business/retail within the neighborhood that serves the area to provide the essentials of decent food (fast food joints appear to be the only option), clothing, or anything the normal household would need to exist.

This was once an amazing neighborhood settled mainly by German immigrants.  There are 3 approaches in St. Louis Place that are among the most stunning in all of the city.  The first is on N. Market heading east from 19th street toward Hogan Street.  This is the site of a former Catholic church (St. Liborius) at an intersection that is arguably one of the most beautiful settings in the city.  My pictures sadly don't do this approach justice, and I'll have to go back to properly document this intersection when the sun is setting to the west.  Some background on the church:
A church was built at Hogan and North Market Streets in 1857 and schools were erected in 1859 and 1865. The present church as completed in 1889 and featured a 265 foot stone lace-work steeple similar to that of Freiburg Cathedral in Germany. This was removed in 1966. The present school was built in 1886 and the rectory in 1890. The church is notable for its imported altar and stained glass windows. Source
The second treasure of St. Louis Place is St. Louis Avenue which is straight up amazing through this part of town.  There are several streets in St. Louis that should be heralded as some of the best in the nation, and this is one of them.  You won't believe how beautiful this is; and, imagine what could be with some investment and new ideas.
This is the first I've heard of the Griot Museum of Black History.  It's housed in a beautifully restored building right along St. Louis Avenue:
More beauties along St. Louis Avenue:
The third charm of St. Louis Place is the former Columbia Brewery which was purchased by Falstaff in 1948:
1948:  Falstaff purchases the Colombia Brewery, which becomes plant 5, in St. Louis and becomes listed on the New York Stock Exchange.  This company had been opened in 1892 at the corners of 20th and Madison Streets in St Louis. In 1906 it had merged with the Independent Breweries Company, which also had been part of the Griesedieck's first brewing enterprise. It was the showcase brewery for Falstaff, and tours were held at this plant, not plants one or two. The Colombia brewery in East St Louis (which brewed Lemp Beer in 1939), which produces Falstaff for a short period of time, is closed. The buildings are sold for a mere $35,000.  The East St Louis site was torn down to make way for a Sears store, which later becomes the offices of the public schools. Falstaff also move their headquarters to the Continental Bank Building in St Louis.   Source
This former brewery was converted to apartments starting in 1987.  The areas surrounding the brewery are among the nicest spots in the neighborhood.



















Many of the dwellings in and around the former brewery are contemporary, but don't stand out like a sore thumb.  In fact, they fit in quite well, and seem to bring the highest level of density to the area.  There were people on the streets walking dogs, kids playing, etc.  Something not evident in other parts of St. Louis Place.
As you can see this is not a neighborhood without hope.  There is huge potential to regain the original feel of the neighborhood, especially around the brewery and around the 3 grand churches that still exist.  I was surprised that St. Louis Avenue isn't heralded more, as in my opinion, it is among the most stunning architectural examples of St. Louis brick we have to offer.  This part of town, must be saved and restored.  I have hope that the amazing successes and positivity being seen in Old North St. Louis just to the east will continue to St. Louis Place.

Here's one of three churches that are prominent works of art: 
There are some with an eye on St. Louis Place's future such as suburban developer Paul McKee who has some new ideas with his NorthSide project which spans St. Louis Place.  But it appears that he's not well received by the "legacy" and "thanks McKee" spray painted messages throughout the neighborhood that the natives are not hopeful and resistant to new ideas, investment and money (although I'd bet dimes to dollars that the anti-McKee commentary came from people who don't live in SLP). 

Here's a McKee property with such commentary:
There's plenty of reasons to be pissed at McKee for not doing anything about brick rustlers and other ass holes that choose to destroy/dismantle these properties for a meager profit instead of getting a job like the rest of us.

However, one of the things I've always thought curious is that because McKee is a white suburban businessman who doesn't live in St. Louis, he is viewed with full-on skepticism and suspicion by people who live in his proposed development area and the city in general.  Maybe rightfully so, we'll see.

Whereas, the new developments that were openly ushered in by the current regime of neighborhood groups, aldermen and churches in recent years are decidedly suburban and awkward in nature.  I hope McKee would be able to leave behind a more sustainable legacy than these:
I hope readers know that I'm not criticizing the efforts of those who think the above is the answer for North City. We need more residents in the city...duh, and apparently, this is what people who want to live in St. Louis Place want.  I don't know what the answer is, but I'm pretty sure that no one will be documenting the importance of these suburban styled new homes in 100 years.   I think we can do better, that's all I'm saying.

There are other stretches of buildings that have either re-realized their potential through tasteful rehabs or are sitting in wait for some new uses to contribute to a cohesive, important place:

Luckily, there are other historical points of interest in St. Louis Place such as the Clemens Mansion (uncle of Mark Twain) which is slated for a $13M renovation by a team including Paul McKee.  There is an excellent summary of the property and some great photos by Built St. Louis here.

Here's the view from Cass Avenue today:
There is another really cool building that houses the Grenadier's Club:
But that's the good news, there is bad news too.  Urban prairies, ramshackle properties, almost no business/retail (outside of fast food chains), brick theft and dumping of all kinds are evident throughout the neighborhood.  There are public health and safety concerns everywhere.  On public dumping, these scenes usually tell a story, or at least provide a vignette of contemporary urban street life in a decayed neighborhood.  Frankly, I'm fascinated with them; this scene of the empty oven cleaner can, huffing hose and stuffed animal was one I thought worth sharing:
 Urban prairies:
Falling and crumbling structures sometimes block the streets, and certainly block many of the sidewalks.
There are many more like the above examples.

Most of the schools that once served the area have been closed:
But there is the cool mid-century modern Blewett Middle School:
One of the early St. Louis families of politicians/merchants were the Mullanphy's; and one of their former buildings appears to have lost one of its balconies recently:
There is a drastically underused park (St. Louis Place Park) at it's center that is lined with new homes to the east and old homes to the west.  If anyone can tell me what this structure used to be, I'd be appreciative:
This could and should be the central gathering place for the neighborhood.  It isn't today; and the streets are intentionally closed to prevent traffic in this area.


Enough of the negative side, the fact is, this neighborhood needs to be embraced.  It should be on the endangered list and saved.  Another example of a building that is on the dividing line between Carr Square's contemporary apartments and the older structures in St. Louis Place.  One such example is the Cass Avenue Bank:
There is an excellent summary of the property as well as some great photos on the Built St. Louis website:
According to the original bank's web site, the building went up in 1915, as the second home for the Cass Avenue Bank, later the Cass Bank & Trust Company. The bank moved out in 1927, and leased the building to the Post Office afterward.
There is a lot to like here if you are fan of rust belt cities, here are some sights that caught my eye today.
 This Budweiser painted ad has held up well over the years.  
I believe this "Where's there's life...there's Bud" ad campaign was from around 1960.  As per this story from that same year:

To promote its slogan "Where there's life . . . there's Bud," the Anheuser-Busch brewery has spent $40 million. Last week it filed suit against the Chemical Corp. of America, which makes a floor wax that kills bugs too. Its complaint: the chemical company's new slogan—"Where there's life, there's bugs"—tended to "disparage" Budweiser. Chemical Corp. blandly rejoined that its inspiration was really 18th century English Poet John Gay, who wrote: "While there is life there's hope, he cried." The court, in a temporary injunction, told Chemical Corp. to apply bug killer to its own slogan.

There is "Keep Out"  and then there is "Keep the @#$% Out":
This business along Jefferson Avenue has several awesome examples of fire escapes and other architectural niceties:























This ghost sign says "bowling alley" and you can tell by the shape of the building where the lanes were:
If you are a fan of "flounder houses", I believe there are several examples in St. Louis Place.
The flounder, sometimes called a half-flounder, is a house type which appears to be unique to St. Louis. The flounder is a narrow house, usually two or two and a half stories tall, and one or two bays wide. Entry was most often from the side elevation, which sometimes had a two-story gallery. Since these houses were exclusively working class homes, decoration was limited, confined to segmental arched windows and perhaps a corbelled cornice. Flounder houses were especially appropriate for dense neighborhoods, where space was at a premium. They were often constructed as alley buildings, sharing a lot with as many as two larger tenement buildings. Flounder houses can be found in the City's oldest neighborhoods, Old North St. Louis, Hyde Park and Soulard.  Source
Here are just a couple that I think qualify as flounders:
^ That last one is a classic.  Here's to a brighter future for all of St. Louis!

6 comments:

Sean said...

the structure in st. louis place park sprays water during the summer. basically a giant sprinkler for kids to play in. i live in old north st. louis and travel through the neighborhood everyday

RAY DENHISON said...

Great post. I looked at several houses in the this neighborhood about 30 years ago, hoping to buy. I knew several people renovating in the area back then. Beautiful homes. A little rough around the edges, but a great close in location.
ray at www.architecturastlouis.blogspot.com

Michael R. Allen said...

Great post, Mark. I am currently working on preparing a National Register of Historic Places historic district nomination for the neighborhood core around the park and down St. Louis Avenue. I will be blogging about this project as it moved forward.

Chris said...

Big fan of St. Louis Place neighborhood. For three years I worked at a homeless shelter located at Cass & N 13th St. and I used to spend HOURS driving this neighborhood along with ONSL before and after work. Sunshine Ministries where I used to work has rescued few buildings right on the edge of the neighborhood approx. (Cass & Mullanphy) and have served the neighborhood well with those facilities. Additionally they purchased the St. Liborius rectory and resident men who are in a 13 month rehabilitation program live there now. I don't know how many times I dreamed of re-starting a congregation at St. Liborius or having the old Clemens place renovated and starting a church there. I'm so glad that McKee is going to save the Clemens house, I was really fearful that it was a goner. The blocks and blocks of vacant land in this neighborhood is one of the greatest tragedies in the city, IMHO. Unused land just sitting there. I, too, hope that ONSL's revival will overflow to the West and begin to fill in that vacant land, but I do hope that it's done with urban style architecture and thoughtful planning. Blewett is now the Alternative Education North - run by the judge. We had Alternative Education South right across the street from us in Carondelet, but they've moved elsewhere, and now the Lyon school is sitting vacant.

stlexplorer said...

Great Post! St. Louis Place is one of my favorite Neighborhoods as well and I agree that St. Louis Avenue (at least in St. Louis Place) is one of the most beautiful streets in the city. I often show pictures of houses along St. Louis Avenue to people and ask them to guess what neighborhood I am showing them. I hear Lafayette Square and Benton Park as common guesses but so many people have no idea North St. Louis is home to such beautiful buildings! All they see is abandonment. In this case, however, the urban prairies that make up so much of St. Louis Place are ideal to start building new urban developments with a clean slate! If the hole in the middle of St. Louis Place were to be filled up with new mixed-use development, the rest of the neighborhood could be saved as well!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful piece! My family is from this neighborhood. We moved out in the 70's but our heart is still St Louis Place. My father went to the Sacred Heart grade school which now houses the Black Museum.The large white building in the photos I think was the Kowsikoski Funeral Home. I am surprised you didnt photograph the Polish Falcons building at 21st and STL ave. It is still alive and well. Every year on the second week in Sept there is a Polish Festival there attended by thousands of people. It is sad to see the condition of the area now but it holds tons of wonderful memories.