Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Southwest Garden Neighborhood

Southwest Garden is a south St. Louis neighborhood bound by I-44 to the north, Tower Grove Park, the Missouri Botanical Gardens and South Kingshighway to the east, Scanlan Avenue and Connecticut Street to the south, Hampton Avenue to the west and Columbia/Southwest Avenues to the north and east:
5,745 residents were counted in the 2000 census, a 12% decrease from 1990.  74% white, 19% black, 3% Asian and 3% Hispanic/Latino.  There is a high occupancy rate of 90% on the 3,188 units split 43% owner/57% renter occupied.  But, things got even worse as far as residents from 2000-2010, another 18% packed it up.  Why I don't know.  But even some of St. Louis' best neighborhoods continue to lose people.  Racial breakdowns were similar where now 77% is white, 16% black, 3% Hispanic/Latino and 3% Asian.

The neighborhood is situated amongst better known neighborhoods like the Hill, Shaw and North Hampton.
But make no mistake, Southwest Garden has it's own identity, especially right around the botanical gardens. 
Southwest Garden is really a tale of two neighborhoods.  First is the area east of Kingshighway which seems older and more similar to the Shaw neighborhood.  The thing that really sets the eastern half apart and makes it special is the multitude of well maintained, tidy, beautiful multi-family dwellings and apartments.  The bending streets and courts in the northeastern portion of the neighborhood east of Kingshighway are amongst the coolest, most charming parts of the city.
There are many single family homes as well on the east side of Kingshighway, with Tower Grove Place and Shenandoah Avenue providing for some of the most serene stretches in the city:
On this next one, take note of the bungalow on the left.  This is viewable from Kingshighway, just south of Southwest Ave. and used to have a green Spanish-tile roof.  They are extremely expensive to maintain and this one went the way of the age of oil which is the cheapest roofing material today.  I'll miss it.
There are also charming courts in this part of the nabe.  The two best known are Gurney Court and Heger Court which are right off Magnolia.
The third was a new discovery for me and is right off Cleveland and is a courtyard completely lined with apartment buildings, a very rare sighting in my travels thus far:
As you can see, Southwest Garden is absolutely beautiful and certainly deserves an entry on the St. Louis resume for sense of place and tasteful architecture.

This neighborhood is a clear winner for many other reasons.  First, you are right next to the magnificent Tower Grove Park with it's wading pool, farmer's market, tennis courts, baseball/soccer/kick ball fields, ornate gazebos and gates, etc.  This is a fantastic and vibrant park to explore and enjoy.  There is always a lot of activity and organized events going on in Tower Grove Park.

There are scads of bikers, walkers, joggers, etc that utilize this park.  Here's the grand entrance to the park heading south on Tower Grove Avenue right at Magnolia Avenue:
Another institution that borders Southwest Garden is the Missouri Botanical Gardens, a National treasure.  MoBot is informally know as Shaw's Garden after Henry Shaw, the botanist and philanthropist that founded the site in 1858.  This place is so beautiful, no amount of photos will be able to describe; you simply have to take this place in at every season.  Arguably one of the most photogenic, serene and peaceful places in the city...country...world.  Almost any list you read, will include MoBot within the top 10 must-visit gardens in the United States.

Here are some sights along the perimeter of the gardens:
The Missouri Botanical Garden is such an amazing asset to our city.  People from all over the world visit the gardens and the tidy homes and apartments of the Southwest Garden Neighborhood provide a stunning frame to the west and north.  In fact, the beauty and energy of the botanical gardens seems to spill out of the park right into the tree lined streets and beautiful front yards of the buildings that flank the perimeter of the park.  Many lush landscapes exist in the immediate area and the seem to accentuate the garden.  In addition, the architecture and overall tidiness of the properties is a compliment to the park in itself.  I think Henry Shaw would be proud.  Here are some scenes right around the garden:
There are also rows and rows of 1920's era bungalows near the garden:
Not yet convinced the Southwest Garden is a great place to live?  I'll go on.  There is also a public park within the boundaries of SWG:  Sublette Park with its tennis courts, baseball fields, pavilion for parties, etc.  You have great interstate access with I-44 at the northern edge of the neighborhood.  There are many essential services and amenities within walking distance including the brightly lit, kid-friendly Kingshighway Branch of the library:
The excellent South City YMCA, complete with basketball courts, indoor/outdoor walking tracks, fitness center, indoor pool/waterslide, skateboard park, childcare, etc.  This place is another regional treasure.
The property immediately adjacent to the YMCA is the Midwest Soccer Academy and the beautiful St. Louis Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center:
That prominent place in the background was built on the highest point in St. Louis.  It is visible from many, many places throughout our beloved city; note the dome splitting this SWG alleyway:
The 1869 building is one that almost everyone has seen, and the dome itself was restored in the 1990's for future generations to behold.  The building was originally called the St. Louis County Insane Asylum, and was changed to the City Sanitarium in 1910 and then the St. Louis State Hospital in 1948.  The original buildings were in the countryside at the time they were built (source).
Here are a couple Southwest Garden vantage points of the domed building today:
Businesses include one of the most civilized/tidy Schnucks in the region, and countless independent bars, restaurants, etc).  A Walgreens (on the site of the former Carriage Bowl), the Central Visual and Performing Arts high school, World's Fair Donut, one of the coolest, old school, soulful donut shops in town:
Gringo Jones, Bug Store and much, much more.
 So that's the east side of the nabe.  Neat and tidy, one of the nicest concentrations of rental property in the city...heck even the alleys and garages are scrubby Dutch:
Hang on, we're not done...there's much more.

There are some very familiar sites along Kingshighway including Courtesy Diner, the best slinger in town (for my money).  But I'm a novice, you had better check in with the city's slinger expert.  Back when Missouri was a smoke em if you got em state, the cigarette smoke used to be the final topping on the slinger. The jukebox has some tasty selections as well. 
Light industry and construction companies occupy space on the southern most reaches of SWG:
Some recent development in SWG includes Vandeventer Avenue which is on a road diet with lane reductions between Kingshighway and Shaw.  New sidewalks, street lights and trees are underway.
Here are the full plans.  It really looks great and it's good to see this kind of thoughtful consideration given to the pedestrian and the streetscape, but frankly, I would have chosen another street to use such funds.  There simply aren't that many pedestrians in this neck of the woods, this isn't a commercial district like Grand, Hampton, Jefferson, etc...but maybe this is a "build it and they will come" type scenario.  Either way, this section of Vandeventer will be pretty handsome and if the 1929 Wade School could find new use as dwellings or otherwise, it would be a great stretch.  Here are some sights along Vandeventer:
I'd love to see the original paint/signage under that contemporary wrap:
There is an empty property on Kingshighway just south of the library that has been vacant and fallow since I can remember.  This seems like such a prime spot for development, I'm surprised no one has invested in it:
The second tale of Southwest Garden is the area west of Kingshighway which really looks and feels a lot like the Hill on the north side and like North Hampton to the south and west.

Here are some handsome businesses and familiar sites along and near Arsenal in this part of SWG:
The Italian heritage of the Hill spills over into SWG, bringing cigar shops, salons, a roller skate shop, delis, markets, stores and eateries:
 There are several storefronts either under rehab or ready for new life:
Even the firehouses and police stations are works of art in SWG:
Many of the homes are modest single families; much more sided and less brick...but hey, this is the Brick City, so you're never far from those STL red clays:
There are several newer suburban cul-de-sacs lined with modern vinyl, attached multi-car garaged spectacles.  If this is your thing, SWG is certainly somewhere you want to check out, because the city just doesn't have many of these suburban settings:
So as you can see there's a little something for everyone here.

Other random things of beauty/interest I came across:
Hey, go spend a day at the Missouri Botanical Garden, have some lunch and take a walk around Southwest Garden, you won't find a more peaceful snapshot of our great city.  Congratulations and cheers to all those good landlords and owners who take care and maintain a great mix of homes and apartments.  Your efforts do not go unnoticed!  Keep it up.

2 comments:

Timothy said...

Love this blog and your neighborhood tours! Considering moving to STL and this is a great guide to interesting neighborhoods in America's most under- appreciated city!

Lauralew said...

Second what Timothy said--used to go to "Shaw's Garden" literally once a month when we lived in the Metro East but never stopped in the neighborhood surrounding it. Again, Husband remembered it from the early 80s as dangerous. I had forgotten about all of the shops in the area and it was nice to see the photos that reminded me.