Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Tower Grove South Neighborhood (Updated March, 2017)

Tower Grove South (TGS) is a south St. Louis neighborhood located south of Arsenal Street, north of Chippewa Street, east of Kingshighway Boulevard and west of Grand Boulevard:
This post was updated in March, 2017 to include updates of rehabs along Gravois, Civil Life Brewing, Carpenter Library, Ritz Park, McDonald Park, Oertli Nursery and more photos.

Just a quick aside, I went on the Tower Grove South Facebook page to ask residents what has happened since 2011 when I did the original blog. I was overwhelmed with the neighborhood pride and goodwill. The Oertli Nursery, new turnover of businesses along Morgan Ford, Civil Life and Matt The Cat all came up...a testament to the pride and community that continues to evolve in this neighborhood. TGS'ers love their neighborhood.

I think this may be one of the top three most populated neighborhoods of St. Louis at 14,749 people counted in 2000 (w/ Bevo, Carondelet and Dutchtown) which was still a loss of 2% from 1990s count.  It's got a nice mix of people ranging from 55% white, 31% black, 8% Asian and 4% Hispanic/Latino, easily one of the most racially diverse neighborhoods in the entire city.  There were 7,308 housing units, 86% occupied.  The split being 48%/52% owner/renter occupied.  What a nice blend of all things, people, price ranges and owner/renter.  A 10% population loss was observed in the 2000-2010 timespan, but the racial breakdown remained nearly unchanged.

TGS is a major urban success story of the last 15 years.  It's got the makings of the perfect St. Louis neighborhood:  a stunning park within walking distance, 2 major commercial districts, fabulous architecture and a strong neighborhood association.  The bad news is, it experienced a 10% loss of residents from 2000-2010, even our nicest neighborhoods continue to post losses as TGS is down to 13,333 people.  Anyhow, this is still a highly desirable neighborhood and I'd put it up there as a clear top 10 for St. Louis places to live, work and play. The neighborhood has a progressive feel.
The housing within the neighborhood is quite diverse, but typical St. Louis through and through.  This is a rather large neighborhood in area and there are several distinct sections.  There are industrial areas, on the western edge as the stretch of Kingshighway in TGS is largely national chains including the only Pet Smart and Home Depot in St. Louis and many automotive operations including the curious pink building with all the classic American and European sports and luxury cars. This place is now gone and is a jam packed used car lot...so it goes.
Then there is Tower Grove Heights which includes the largest single family homes and recent two-family rehabs to single family properties just south of Arsenal to Utah and east of Gustine to Grand.  This part of TGS even has it's own neighborhood association and branding.
There are some more modest homes south of Utah to Gravois.  The stretch of Gravois and homes right around it and south to Chippewa are pretty rough, with a lot of unkempt properties and idiotic behavior.  The north side of TGS is certainly different than the south side.  Take a drive through this part of the neighborhood and you'll know exactly what I mean.
This part of the neighborhood also has an unsightly suburban shopping center anchored by a Shop-N-Save.  Aside from the ugly site, this are some pretty handy businesses that help serve the area within this shopping center.
Failed fast food experiments compete with street suburban setbacks, parking lots and drive thru's sit along Gravois:
But enough of that, the rest of TGS is worth celebrating.

Since this blog originally published in 2011, there is some highly encouraging rehabbing going on from the Tower Grove Neighborhood Community Development Corporation. I can tell you first hand from living in these parts for awhile now, the dignity brought to these properties has made a major change on the open dealing and general dumb behavior on this stretch of Gravois. TGNCDC is an asset, here are some examples of the work:
There are some cool sights and great watering holes on the Gravois, Chippewa and Kingshighway perimeters.
Just north of Chippewa on Holt Avenue is a city treasure, Civil Life Brewing Company
Now let me tell you, you have to go in to see what I'm talking about. First of all, the beer is excellent. Even though I'm of the German and Czech blood, this is some fine English beer. Most of my friends claim Civil Life as their favorite beer in town.

From the moment you walk in to this non-descript (from the outside) building, you feel right at home. The interior bar and set up is perfect. Homey, nice bartenders, games on the shelf and...well, a civil atmosphere that is chill and relaxing in a genuine way. I love it here. The sandwiches offered up are among the best in town. It is kid friendly outside with a beer garden that is reminiscent of the small town taverns east of St. Louis in Illinois. 

A great TGS place.

Two of my favorite TGS buildings are the former South Side National Bank tower at Grand/Gravois and the Carpenter Branch of the St. Louis Public Library. Lest we not forget that the South Side National Bank building, built in 1928, and one of the city's best examples of art deco architecture nearly went the way of the wrecking ball for a.....take a guess.....ding ding ding....Walgreens.  This ridiculous and short sighted idea to raze this classic for a crappy suburban-box Walgreens was nixed largely in part to a grass roots effort by urbanists, architectural lovers and preservation groups.  For a respectable tribute to this building, check out Built St. Louis.
The Carpenter Library is the last of seven Carnegie Libraries constructed in St. Louis. It is a work of art in and out. Go in, look around and notice the people who are using the library; it is about an accurate representation of the racial/economic mix that TGS offers. It really is a great place with a great vibe.
Tower Grove South is certainly an exciting and active place buzzing with activity.  Let's start with South Grand.  These days the area has been successfully branded and has survived and grown for enough years that it is a destination spot for people all over the region. 
The west side of Grand is in TGS, the east side in, you guessed it:  Tower Grove East.  You can't go wrong with a stroll through Tower Grove Park and end up at Mokabe's for an excellent cup of coffee or Tower Grove Creamery for a Missouri-made scoop.  Or, gelato, sushi, pizza, tattoos, used books, vegan, Thai, Chinese, hookahs, Vietnamese, Afghan, Lebanese/Arabic, good ole American comfort food, you can't miss here!  All of these places are in old store fronts and create quite the urban vista:
There is a tremendous variety of offerings on South Grand and most restaurants in the area offer outdoor dining as well, adding to the street level activity.
Grand Boulevard itself is undergoing another renaissance of sorts with their new Great Streets Initiative.  The traffic lanes were reduced and the sidewalks are being widened.  This is a FANTASTIC thing for the pedestrian experience.  A free parking lot is under construction behind the Commerce Bank in Tower Grove East to accommodate the growing number of regional visitors. 
New street trees, curve bump outs, etc are planned from Arsenal south to Utah.  If you ask me, they should have gone all the way down Grand to Meremec, or at least Chippewa.  But I'll take baby steps over the status quo.  Here are some drawings of the plans:

The work on the east side of Grand is nearing completion, and the western side is undergoing major construction:
Here are some "after" views of the streetscape improvements from 2017:
Another recent addition to the strip of South Grand in TGS is the addition of Ritz Park a small pocket park that hosts movie nights, live music, lectures, community gatherings and protests/celebrations. The space used to be a little parking lot, so better use for sure.
For a neighborhood the size of TGS it is hard to believe there is only one city park within it's borders. Sure I already mentioned the sprawling Tower Grove Park to the north of the neighborhood, but McDonald Park is the only intra-neighborhood park. It is located at Bent Avenue and Utah Street. Since my 2014 blog on McDonald Park, there has been some much welcomed work invested in the park. Volunteers planted a monarch butterfly garden with milkweed and other perennials that brought a fresh new look to the north east corner entrance.
Installations of artwork now grace the fencing along Bent and Utah.
The students at nearby Marian Middle School made some doggy bag dispensers and installed them around the park.
It's good to see the community embracing this long-neglected little park.

There is a soccer field that is in desperate need of aeration, seeding and fertilization. This being the only park in the neighborhood...it can happen. And the field is used by nearby St. Margaret of Scotland CYC soccer teams for practice.
One of the best TGS news items of the last 10 years is the rise of ANOTHER commercial and entertainment corridor on Morgan Ford from Arsenal to Fyler.  This area is called many things:  MoFo, Skinny Town or simply Morgan Ford.  Several great places have sprung up and created a nice cohesive, walkable area that attracts all kinds of people.  Soccer fan?  Check out Amsterdam Tavern.
Typical friendly South City bar?  Check out Tower Pub.
For some of the coolest mid-century mod stuff in town, check out Things from the Attic
The building above is now a human foosball place, if you have kids, you've been here for birthday parties, school functions, etc.
City Park Grill, 3 Monkeys, Local Harvest Grocery, Grove Furnishings, Eat Sandwiches, pizza, pastries and donuts and Stella Blues are also good calls for fun along this evolving strip.
The former Tin Can is now the City Park Grill:
Public sculpture installations along the strip add to the vibrant feel of this street.  This one sits in front of a coin op car wash:
For more examples of the street art, check out this site.

And, AND, there is also intra-neighborhood business and entertainment that is of equal value to the main commercial corridors.  Hartford Coffee, Oak Hill True Value Hardware at 4100 Connecticut, Black Thorn pub at 3735 Wyoming, Gustine Market, A Walk in the Park Pet Grooming/Boarding, etc.
A couple other TGS businesses are worth mentioning including Carl's Service which is home to one of the tidiest, old-school automotive repair shops in the city:
Then there's the one of a kind G&W Sausage on Parker just east of Kingshighway.  G&W has some of the tastiest Bavarian selections in town, and when waiting in line to place your order at the meat counter, you will be offered a cold Busch beer; or if you're with the special lady, she may be offered a dixie cup of blueberry schnapps.  There is nothing better than heading for the mountains while perusing choice selections of German classics!  In a town that owes so much to it's German heritage, you just don't hear German being spoken...chances are good that you'll hear it here. 
Gustine Market is the perfect, run in and pick up a snack, enough for lunch, an extra pile of wood for the fire, or that missing ingredient for dinner. They have great local stuff including a healthy selection of beer.  The employees are kind and welcoming...a great neighborhood place.
The fun just never ends.  TGS is one of the most walkable, vibrant places in town.  So why not live here, right?  Well you've got plenty of options.  From the swanky homes on Utah:
To the perfect examples of American Foursquare homes made popular in the 1895-1930 time period to the renovated 2 families, now large single family homes:
The homes on Arsenal face the park and are no less stunning:
To the more modest and affordable homes south of Utah and west of Gustine:
Check out this garage:
There are also so handsomely renovated multi-unit properties both old and new:
The west end of the neighborhood is a mix of industrial and residential. Some of the best news to hit the neighborhood of late is a 6.38 acre plot of vacant land just south of McDonald Park at 3405 Bent Avenue was donated by the Oertli family (owners of nearby Guarantee Electric) to the Missouri Botanical Gardens for a nursery to grow hardy plants for use at the garden. The nursery will be called the Oertli Family Hardy Plant Nursery:
A generous donation by a local family has created a significant opportunity for the Missouri Botanical Garden. The Oertli family has donated 6.38 acres of land to create the Oertli Family Hardy Plant Nursery. The Nursery will alleviate the space constraints in the current Missouri Botanical Garden greenhouses to maintain permanent collections and conduct research and propagation work to support conservation programs. It will eventually allow the Garden to produce at least 95 percent of the plant material for its annual displays, most of which the Garden currently buys. (source)
Tower Grove South is a complete neighborhood and has come so far in the 23 years I've lived here, it's a model for all up and coming neighborhoods in St. Louis.

17 comments:

Adam said...

yay! LOVE the TGS! great coverage, mark!

Mira Cope said...

Great article on my neighborhood -- Thanks!

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Bob D. said...

Don't give up hope on the population yet. I know a lot of the properties here in TGS are conversions from muti family to single family. For instance, my house was formerly a 2 family flat and now is just... me - but it went from a somewhat run down cheapy apartment to a rehabbed place that probably generates much more tax revenue (sadly at my expense).

Mark Groth said...

^Bob D., this is what I suspect hurt many of the south city neighborhoods in the last census. On one hand, it's "right-sizing" the city for modern living...

mochick said...

My sister lives a few buildings west of Mokabee's, and I love visiting her neighborhood! 3634 Arsenal is my favorite house on the street! I'm seriously considering moving to TGS after my youngest graduates high school.

Lauralew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark Groth said...

^Hi Lauralew. St. Louis is a drastically different place than it was in the 80s. TGS has improved so much, it's a top 5 choice for neighborhoods in STL if you ask me. It is a huge neighborhood. The southern edge is drastically different than the north. The closer you are to Tower Grove Park, Grand and MorganFord, the better. The edge along Gravois is pretty dirty and has a lot of knuckleheads out and about. Tower Grove Heights is a showplace. Any big city I've been to has it's nice streets and it's not so nice streets. TGS is one of the more complete neighborhoods. Hope you end up here...

rosemary said...

I too am fearful to go to tower grove area, used to live there from 1973-1996.

Was robbed 3 times, (twice in the last yr that I lived there).

Heather said...

^Rosemary, my husband & I moved to Tower Grove Heights in June 2010 from Michigan. We are both musicians and professors at one of the local universities and thirty-somethings. We LOVE our neighborhood and are trying to find a home to rehab/buy here (we currently rent). We have dogs that I walk daily all over the place, including through the Park, and I often run there alone, without feeling like my safety is at risk (only in daylight, of course). I feel very safe, the neighbors have been welcoming from the start, and all of the business owners are just as friendly and gracious. The neighbor kids call me Miss Heather (which pleases my southern-born heart!). We don't have children yet, but I would be thrilled and proud to raise a family in this true city neighborhood! I bet if you come back and visit you will be pleasantly surprised!

Anonymous said...

So glad to see my old neighborhood making a come back! My family owned a home in the 3900 block of Potomac from 1959 til the mid-70's. My girlfriend down the street & I used to walk to the Carpenter Branch to get books when we were kids & did you know that large commercial section between Gustine & Spring south of Potomac used to be the Good Shepherd Home with a concrete wall around it. I'm sure it was a wonderful piece of architecture but they tore it down to build a Venture Shopping center (don't know what's there now). I recently attended the funeral of a beloved former teacher at St. John's Lutheran on Morganford & was pleasantly surprised to see all the new businesses that have since emerged on Morganford & I too had a friend who lived on Connecticut that was robbed in the 90's. I do hope this part of town makes a come back & who knows - I just may move back there again someday!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your post!

We moved away from Juniata in 2006 when my husband got a job in Atlanta. We miss taking a short walk to the corner and deciding whether to get Vietnamese, Thai, Italian, sushi, or any of the other offerings that were so close.

P.S. You posted a picture of my house and made me miss it.

Anonymous said...

Loved this. Thank you! It really helped me with my school Project.

Unknown said...

Thanks for this blog! I lived on Parker Avenue in a four family flat from 2011-2013 and I miss it terribly. While I can understand the resistance to multifamily housing, this street combines single and multifamily housing harmoniously. Everyone in the neighborhood takes great care of their property. I always heard people just generally refer to the area as "southtown" though. Seems like it is a subdivision of TGS. The Kingshighway Hills Neighborhood Association serves the area. They have a map here: http://www.kingshighwayhills.com/map.html

Anonymous said...

G&W Meat Market is great,-it is a St. Louis institution. It is great walking in on a crowded Saturday morning with the call "Who wants a beer?!?!" Their meats sets a standard. The people then seem to migrate to The Hill for lunch.

Vito and Gina said...

I lived in TGS from 2002-2010 and loved every minute. I rented in a four-family just behind now-Three Monkeys (from an amazing landlord who lived in the area, not way out in the county!). I credit the Tin Can (RIP) with much of the revitalization in the immediate Morganford area. Stella Blues, Tower Pub (it was Winfields when I moved in, and has dramatically improved as Tower Pub with hands-down the best patio in TGS) and Three Monkeys followed. These businesses (in addition to the retail shops) really increased the foot traffic and made it a destination. When I moved in, it was a little rougher but I didn't know any better, not being from STL, and I moved to an urban area on purpose. I was finally in a position to purchase a home in 2010 and desperately wanted to buy a home in TGS but didn't want to do any rehab (I'm not handy) and everything "already done" was out of my price range, so I ended up in Southampton. Nothing compares to TGS and I still miss it every day! (BTW, for reference, my car was broken into once in TGS in 8 years, and my car was been broken into once in "super safe" Southampton in less than a year.) As you can see, I'm a huge TGS fan and would encourage ANYONE to buy OR rent there!

Anonymous said...

My family lived on Hartford St. in the 1950's. We loved it! We went to Horace Mann Elementary. We used to walk to the Carpenter Library. Hartford Coffee used to be Tomboy's market. Us kids use to walk up there nearly every day for our mom. We used to walk to Tower Grove park to go swimming every day in the summer. We played outside every night until it was dark. What wonderful memories!!