Groth Guide to St. Louis Place

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St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STLSt. 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 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 its 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%. But then from 2000-2010 the neighborhood gained 163 residents, or 6%. On a north side where future population loss seems a given, is this one place that is on the way up?

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.

The original steeple was removed in the 1960′s and the church has been vacant since the 1980′s. An auction was held in 1993 and the ornamentation and details were stripped from the inside. These behemoths still visually anchor neighborhoods across north St. Louis, but for how long. Is there any chance that St. Liborious will still be standing in 30 years?

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

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As usual, Built St. Louis has a great pictorial history. Here’s just one:

stlib-overall_Built St. Louis

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. Luckily, there’s a nomination for historic district designation in the works for St. Louis Place. Let’s face it, it’s going to require tax credits and more to keep this beautiful area intact.

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

A flyer produced by the Preservation Research Office:

Proposed Saint Louis Place Historic District

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:

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

More beauties along St. Louis Avenue:

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

The third charm of St. Louis Place is the former Columbia Brewery which was purchased by Falstaff in 1948 (from falstaffbrewing.com):

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.

This former brewery was converted to apartments starting in 1987. The areas surrounding the brewery are among the nicest spots in the neighborhood.

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

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.

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

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:

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

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:

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

There are 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:

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

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:

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

Luckily, there are other historical points of interest in St. Louis Place such as the Clemens Mansion (uncle of Mark Twain) which has been slated for a $13M renovation by a team including Paul McKee for some time. The renovation is once again on hold and after owning the historic property for several years, nothing beyond the most basic stabilization has occurred. It’s still very possible that these buildings will be lost. There is an excellent summary of the property and some great photos by Built St. Louis.

clemens-web

clemens2

Here’s the view from Cass Avenue today:

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

And a fancy rendering of what the McKee extreme makeover might look like:

Clemens_McKee rendering

There is another really cool building that houses the Grenadier’s Club:

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

But that’s the relatively 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:

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

Urban prairies:

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

Falling and crumbling structures sometimes block the streets, and certainly block many of the sidewalks.

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

There are many more like the above examples.

Most of the schools that once served the area have been closed:

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

Like many former St. Louis public school buildings, Jackson continues to sit empty, awaiting a buyer that likely will never appear:

Jackson School for sale

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

But there is the cool mid-century modern Blewett Middle School:

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

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. Of course, it’s in danger of losing much more:

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

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. I couldn’t tell what the structure in the middle was, but a helpful reader says it’s a water play area.

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

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:

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

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.

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

This Budweiser painted ad has held up well over the years.

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

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”:

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

This business along Jefferson Avenue has several awesome examples of fire escapes and other architectural niceties:

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

This ghost sign says “bowling alley” and you can tell by the shape of the building where the lanes were:

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

If you are a fan of “flounder houses”, I believe there are several examples in St. Louis Place. Information for the City of St. Louis website:

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.

Here are just a couple that I think qualify as flounders:

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

St. Louis Place neighborhood - STL

^ That last one is a classic.

It would be great to see Habitat for Humanity bring their modern flounder to St. Louis Place as they’ve put up a few, along with another traditional St. Louis design across Florrissant Ave. in Old North:

Here’s to a brighter future for all of St. Louis!

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  • dempster holland

    This is the classic old St Louis neighborhood. In the late 1960s and early 1970s
    there was an active neighborhood group that was funded by the War on Poverty
    and the Model Cities program. Some of the building styles that the new urbanists
    object to were fostered by these groups, who saw suburban models as a plus,
    not a minus. Some (most?) people like a grassy front yard; being some distance
    from the adjoining house. and a nice back yard. That is, most people like the
    suburban style. Such a style is what the well off have always enjoyed–take a
    look at Portland Place and Westmoreland in the central west end. Are we sur-
    prised that the working class and middle class likes the same style? The houses
    on St Louis place also show these attributes. Now the consequence of this increase
    in private space is a decrease in density, and hence a smaller demand for retail
    stores, schools and churches. So the St Louis place shows all the cross-currents
    of the contemporary American legacy city

    • John R

      Actually some of that newer housing stock is not bad and lacks a primary suburban feature…. the curb cut to an attached garage.
      Also, does anyone know the status of McKee’s planned pilot program of new homes in Saint Louis Place? Last I recall, several builders were selected year or so ago but I have not heard anything since… the only thing concrete I’ve been hearing about the project is infrastructure work on Cass and Jefferson.
      Anyway, great write-up Mark and this can be a great neighborhood once again!