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Groth Guide to the Central West End
Published on Thursday, 03 November 2011 09:17
Written by Mark Groth
The Central West End is a St. Louis neighborhood bound by Delmar Boulevard to the north, I-64 and Lindell Boulevard to the south via Kingshighway, Vandeventer to the east and Kingshighway and Union Boulevard via Lindell to the west. The 2000 census counted 14,144 residents (4% decline from 1990s count) of whom 56% were white, 36% black, 5% Asian and 2% Hispanic/Latino. 9,572 housing units were 89% occupied, 26% by owners and 74% by renters.
The Central West End was one of a handful of central corridor neighborhoods that actually gained residents in the 2010 Census count (2% increase). Racial counts from the 2010 Census yielded 58% white, 28% black, 11% Asian and 3% Hispanic/Latino. Metro advocates are quick to point out that most neighborhoods increasing in population in the 2010 count were along the MetroLink lines.
It certainly can't hurt in attracting residents and this IS the most traveled station on the
Central West End is a St. Louis MetroLink Station, located in the Central West End at the intersection of Euclid Avenue and Children's Place. This station services the Washington University Medical Center, Barnes-Jewish Hospital, St. Louis Children's Hospital, and St. Louis University High (by crossing the pedestrian bridge that spans the highway). Bus connections at this station are located in the new Central West End MetroBus Center, adjacent to the platform and is accessible via lighted walkway at the east end of the platform. The MetroBus Center is located on the ground level of the Barnes-Jewish staff parking garage. All bus routes that serve the Central West End Transit Center, which is accessible on a lighted path from the east end of the platform. This is the most traveled station in the St. Louis MetroLink system.
CWE is arguably St. Louis' greatest, most vibrant neighborhood. It's got so much to offer that almost any right-minded city lover would desire to call the CWE home. Geez where do I start?
How about the location? CWE has direct proximity to
, easy access to I-64, the previously mentioned MetroLink/MetroBus access, a world-class hospital complex, multiple independent and chain restaurants, independent shopping/galleries, bars, mixed architecture, civilized movie theatre, public library branch, walkable streets, mid-century mod buildings, history, economic/racial/ethnic diversity, you name it....CWE has it all.
It's the perfect neighborhood for a date night, a must-stop on visitor tours of St. Louis and a great spot for lunch/dinner or a snack before heading to Downtown, Forest Park or many of the other nearby draws of Grand Center, Midtown Alley, etc. The presence of Barnes/Jewish, Children's Hospital and Washington University Medical School also make this a powerhouse employment area.
Secondly, this neighborhood is abuzz with pedestrians and street activity. It's a great place to people watch. No other neighborhood in St. Louis can match the big city feel. Downtown is coming close, so is
. But for now, I'm of the opinion that you can't top the CWE for the true "big city" experience. And in a town of only ~320,000 people, I think you'll be quite impressed.
This is one of those neighborhoods that you could take scads of photos on each and every block. There's so much beauty, architecture and charm here, it's overwhelming. As a result, I'm going to break this neighborhood into three parts as it's huge in overall area.
The first will be the westernmost chunk between Lindell, Kingshighway, Delmar and Union. This part of the neighborhood is largely residential. Some of the biggest and most beautiful mansions in the entire city are here. One of the most scenic stretches of east-west road runs right along the northern edge of Forest Park on Lindell Boulevard. Old growth trees and landscaped mansions line the northern edge of Lindell from Kingshighway to Union, and the best urban park in the nation lines the southern edge of Lindell. Most of these streets in and out of Lindell in the CWE are clearly marked as private with no trespassing. Sadly, on my visit today, it was being enforced; so you won't see many pictures of these stately homes on private streets.
Here are a few examples of the homes lining Lindell:
Union Boulevard from Lindell to Delmar is a nice stretch as well. The ornate gates of the DeBaliviere Place neighborhood line the western edge of Union. The eastern side has some awesome apartments and homes as well. The streets of CWE are largely lined with old growth trees providing shade, color and life to its streets, thus making photography a challenge, so I'll apologize for some rough shots. Union Boulevard:
Heading north on Kingshighway with an eye toward the west side is a pleasure as well....at least until you get to Delmar, but I'll get to that in a minute. From the ornate gates of Westmorland and Portland Place to the churches and chapels, Kingshighway in the CWE is a sight to behold. We'll sneak in a couple pics that others have managed to snap. If you want to know more, check out the incredible coffee table book, "
Westmoreland and Portland Places: The History and Architecture of America's Premier Private Streets, 1888-1988
". There is generally one or more residence listed for sale on various real estate websites as well if you care to get a peak inside one of these homes.
The homes are similar to the largest residences on the non-private Lenox and Pershing Place on the east side of Kingshighway.
While visually stunning and architectural interesting (you can see all there orders of classical columns here: Ionic, Doric, Corinthian), the buildings have struggled to find new uses. The latest attempt for St. John's (below) would include a catering business and the relocation of Sanctuaria, a Mexican tapas and cocktail restaurant from The Grove. Residents within 500 feet of the church property would have to approve the liquor license. Meanwhile, concern venues and other ideas have been shot down by residents. The buildings continue to deteriorate.
Heading north on Kingshighway to Delmar, you make a left and head west toward Union. This is where the reminder occurs that you are in a city that has lost 500,000 people in 50 years. Even in the swankiest of neighborhoods Delmar tends to be the gateway to years of disinvestment and neglect. Heading west on Delmar from Kingshighway, many of the homes and businesses have been razed leaving vacant holes such as these:
The corners at Delmar and Kingshighway are pretty unsightly with fast food joints and largely vacant cinder block strip malls that do their best to cheapen the look of this classy neighborhood.
But there are certainly exceptions along Delmar including some still-standing old homes, a shuttered filling station with much potential for re-use, a funeral home and the
Third Degree Glass Factory
which occupies some very cool buildings:
Back to the overwhelmingly positive elements...the homes in this part of the CWE are elegant and mixed well with apartments and condos. Congrats to all those who care enough to invest in and maintain these relics:
Check out the copper flashing on the apex of this St. Louis classic...damn I love this town:
The backsides of some properties, many with butler's quarters, are as attractive as the fronts:
CWE is exclusive for sure...to own a home...but living here is highly attainable as there are affordable (and no less classy) apartments all over with reasonable rents. The census data indicate that ~70% of CWE'ers are renters:
This part of the CWE is largely residential; hence, not as vibrant as the eastern parts of the hood, but man is it pastoral and beautiful. There are amenities like schools and churches and some small businesses, but again, what you get here is quiet, beautiful urban spaces.
For example, the
New City School
has renovated a classic former school building that is built right into the fabric of the neighborhood and has anchored a part of the neighborhood that at one point was completely neglected and falling apart. Now it's a true site to behold with lots of current upgrades underway as of my visit. This school was started by CWE residents back in the late 60s/early 70s:
In 1971, the School’s founders purchased our “friendly castle” at the corner of Waterman and Lake Avenues. The building, built to house Mary Institute in 1901 and later serving as Lutheran High School, had been sitting vacant for years. Again, New City School served as an important anchor in the Central West End with the purchase and incremental renovation of this landmark building.
This is one handsome educational setting:
There are other signs of noticeable residential pride and hard work as little pocket gardens and plantings line many of the public areas throughout this neck of the CWE.
Cheers to all the good people who maintain this area and help keep it the regional draw that it is. Sometimes we forget how big an investment in time and money people make to live in St. Louis. These old homes are not cheap to purchase and maintain. It's as much a labor of love as it is to renovate a bombed out shell in an up and coming neighborhood. Sure, the upper crust are buying homes here; but they are sometimes overlooked by the urban warriors in other neighborhoods. They could easily pack it up and take the easy (Wildwood) route. People who live here seem as committed to city living as anyone fighting it out in other/lesser neighborhoods.
One of my favorite scenes in the entire city is from the Steinberg Ice-rink in Forest Park. If you turn around to face the CWE to the east on a chilly winter night you'll be provided a view of the city lights and skyline of the CWE. That leads us to the second chunk of neighborhood which is the northern part between Lindell, Kingshighway, Delmar and Vandeventer.
This is the CWE that I think most people in the region identify with as it has most of the restaurants, entertainment and easily recognizable institutions.
The Chase Park Plaza is a familiar place for most St. Louisans at Lindell and Kingshighway:
The Chase has a commanding presence from quite a few vistas in 1,300-acre Forest Park as well:
The Chase was former host of
Wrestling at the Chase
, The Miss America Pageant, performances by the Rat Pack, Bob Hope and many others. I remember Wrestling at the Chase broadcast on Sunday mornings on KPLR-11. For those who are old enough to remember, I give you this flashback:
The Chase is still a swanky hotel among other things, with bars, restaurants, a multi-screen
, etc. It's a St. Louis classic.
The building that sits directly east is being renovated as luxury apartments and has been re-branded as the
. This used to house the amazingly unique KPLR Channel 11 TV station. The station still exists, but left St. Louis and moved to programming as bland as its suburban location. Here's to new life for a historic place!
The Schlafly Branch of the St. Louis Public Library is just east of the Chase:
Lindell Boulevard, which runs right through the middle of the neighborhood is one of St. Louis' finest stretches of east-west streets. It is an interesting mix of mid-century modern, 60's curiosities, high rises, and unfortunately some suburban styled strip malls and fast food joints.
It will be interesting to see if Lindell will continue to take hits such as the suburban malls and the loss of the curious San Luis Apartments (former DeVille Motor Hotel)...now a (take a guess) surface parking lot (with fewer parking spaces than the old building). The Archdiocese evicted the retirees in the building and then allowed it to deteriorate over several years before seeking a demolition permit and claiming it to be too costly to renovate. Thus fulfilling their desire for more parking.
A dedicated group of concerned citizens (
Friends of the San Luis
) spoke out and protested over the planned demo of this building and the church's lust for more surface parking. They lost out to the powers that be, and now you have a cheap looking dead zone/parking lot in one the most high profile streets in the city. At the time of demolition, local aldermen were working on a plan to disallow one-story infill in the CWE, claiming the need for more density. Some of those same people supported the demolition of the San Luis.
From this(the buildings outlined in red had already been demolished before the San Luis fell):
A pocket park was added to the parking lot to make the bitter pill a little easier to swallow. Sadly, the original design could have brought life, and the only public playground in this part of the CWE, to this space (see:
Missed Opportunity: CWE Gets a Bad Neighborhood Park
). What we have instead is a bland and dead courtyard of sorts:
An early design:
The final product:
But don't get me wrong, Lindell is really cool and has some good examples of modern infill. In fact, Lindell is the location for the
Modern St. Louis
Mid-Century Modern Walking Tour that covers Lindell in the CWE and extends a few blocks farther east into
Covenant Blu/Grand Center
Lindell Mid-Century Modern Walking Tour by Modern-STL.com
Here's some stuff you'll see on Lindell through the CWE:
Literally tucked in among the 1920's towers and the brutalist Bank of America building is
. The epononymous name lets you know they're high-end digs! And they are. Apparently designed to keep those willing and able to shell out $800K+ for a residence, but unwilling or able to maintain a CWE manse, in the CWE, the units have sold slowly as the building hit the market just as the economy collapsed. It's a great addition to the CWE and somewhat easy to overlook as its modern hulk blends incredibly well with the historic street wall.
There are some big holes in the CWE. The Doctor's Building was demolished more than three years ago now for residential infill that has yet to happen. The site remains a fenced vacant lot.
The AAA building may be on the way to the chopping block after AAA agreed to sell the building to a developer as it no longer met their needs. It would be replaced with a traditional CVS and a couple storefronts in another building that would house AAA. Not everyone's a fan of demolishing such a unique building (see:
Disfunctional Ward Development Exploited by CVS to Demolish Landmark Building in St. Louis
). Unfortunately it's not located in a recognized historic district and has no local landmark protection. It's also stuck in the 18th Ward, which means there's no required demolition review before it can be demolished.
Alternatives have been presented, we'll see what happens:
is a work of art. It took nearly 80 years to complete. Ground breaking was on May 1st, 1907 and the final touches were finished in 1988:
It's truly impressive and needs to be explored - a couple shots from others of the inside:
Rosati-Kain, a private all girls high school has been at Lindell and Newstead since 1922:
Restaurants are housed in many interesting places, with equally nice outdoor dining settings:
New condos and apartments are common as this is a highly desirable place to live:
Olive is an awesome street as well through the CWE. There are more vacant buildings than Lindell; but the potential to be a future signature street is there. Signs of much renovation and life exists on the eastern section of Olive including a boxing gym, a wine bar and the renovated Field School which is now apartments:
This guy just screams "CENTRAL WEST END!", or at least what many in the CWE aspire to be:
The stretch of Olive west from Taylor is brimming with huge potential. So far Bowood Farms is among the first to invest in the transformation of this part of Olive. Here's what it looks like:
This nice reuse of older buildings came with somewhat of a cost as a building was razed to make way for a surface parking lot. Two steps forward, one step back right?
Bowood Farms has demolished other buildings here as well. Maybe it's tough to shoe-horn a plant nursery into an historic neighborhood, but overall it's tough to see Bowood as anything other than good for the area. Here are some of the cool properties between Taylor and Bowood Farms, imagine the potential of this strip:
The western edge of Olive ends at Washington Blvd. with these angled homes and the Samuel Kennedy pocket park.
Another prominent area within this part of the neighborhood near Boyle and Olive was once called Gaslight Square. This was the hub of St. Louis entertainment and cool from the 1950's through the 1960's. All that's left are a couple signs commemorating the era. There's a lot of good info here, take a look:
Apparently, the joints got pretty seedy and of course the idea was to close up shop, then let the buildings rot in neglect and then of course knock em down and build some new homes. Sound familiar? Yet, the streets in this part of the neighborhood are lined with beautiful trees and the new homes look pretty nice. This was a City of St. Louis Land Reutilization Authority project that acquired and held vacant land for decades and eventually built what we see today. It's considered by many to be a good example of how that process can work well.
But we lost a lot of our heritage, history and cool with Gaslight Square. VanishingSTL did a fantastic 2 part series on Gaslight Square. Read
. And there is an impressive photo gallery
And of course KETC (the
Nine Network of Public Media
) has done a nice piece on Gaslight Square:
Here are some shots of what used to be:
Today, the area looks like this:
Moving on to Delmar, there are a lot of cool old buildings, mostly vacant and a lot of open space due to demos:
But what really makes this part of town standout is the cohesive shopping, dining and entertainment near and around Euclid, which serves as the heart of the CWE:
Originally home to Saks Fifth Avenue and other high-end stores, this commercial block has been revitalized and is now home to a mix of retail and restaurants.
The older homes, apartments, condos and general spaces are beautiful in this part of town. Some are better cared for than others. One reason is the spotty nature of historic districts in this part of the city. Home in an historic district can qualify for historic tax credits and have largely been maintained and restored. Those not in an historic district? They exist in a precarious state of near disrepair. These homes are simply too large and expensive to maintain without credits. Once again, the presence or absence of trees gives a pretty clear indication of the level of maintenance:
The Tennessee Williams condo building - the writer lived in the apartment building (which he famously hated - though more to do with his difficult family situation than the building itself) during the 1930's and it became the setting for The Glass Menagerie:
The mansions on Maryland near Kingshighway have been converted into condos, one per floor, and fetch $500,000 each:
Pretty nice, eh? As in the westernmost part of the CWE, there are many gated, private streets. So, many of the most elegant homes are not featured here. Some opportunities for great spaces and infill exist within the residential areas:
The third chunk of neighborhood is the southern part between Lindell, Kingshighway, I-64 and Vandeventer.
In many respects, this is the working part of the Central West End, with the huge hospital complex (employing 12,000+), the Central Institute for the Deaf, Resale Row (Goodwill, St. Vincent DePaul, Salvation Army outlets, etc on Forest Park Blvd.), light industry/distribution, research and development incubators, world class biotech firms and a successful magnet school (Stix Early Childhood Development).
The largest tower of Barnes-Jewish facing Kingshighway is slated for demolition and replacement wihtin the next decade and the adjacent park, once contiguous with Forest Park before being amputated by Kingshighway, will see new buildings as well. The area is seeing unprecedented growth that's expected to continue for another decade or more. The only downside? Several streets have been closed, making the area not so easy to access or explore.
The new BJC headquarters building at Euclid and Forest Park Parkway is just now being completed. It replaced the Ettrick building and another along Euclid. There will be street front retail on the Euclid side:
Take note of the Maya Lin designed fountain within the Michael VanValkenburgh (the same guy redesigning the Arch grounds) plaza outside the new BioMed 21 building near the MetroLink station.
is responsible for the nighttime ambiance!
The Cortex research facility is a great example of sleek modern architecture, built to the street with parking hidden in the back.
Solae also has a really attractive set of buildings in this part of the CWE. The good and the bad is that there's plenty more room for more of this. Quite a few blocks stretching from the medical campus to basically SLU has been blighted by the city, labeled "
" and designated as a redevelopment zone:
And some other miscellaneous light industry and distribution both past and present:
You know it's gotta be fun to work here...sad sacks need not apply:
Central Institute for the Deaf:
The old Shriner's Hospital:
While delayed several years, a new Shriner's Hospital will be built on a parking lot between the CID and Stix, moving to the medical complex from Frontenac:
Stix Early Childhood Development:
There are plenty of retail and entertainment establishments in this part of the neighborhood, centered on Euclid and farther east on Sarah as well:
The Center for Emerging Technologies, a collaboration between several regional institutions has repurposed a couple connected warehouses, one of which was home to the Dorris Motor Corporation, which existed from 1906-1928. A second Dorris building at the corner of Laclede and Sarah was one of the first buildings in the neighborhood to be converted to residential lofts.
Unfortunately, other buildings within "Cortex" continue to be demolished and are likely to remain vacant lots for years to come (photo via Vanishing STL, story
High-tech crime data center tucked into the neighborhood (and recently expanded):
And plenty of residential both new and old, from high rises to lofts to efficiencies to homes:
This section of Euclid is undergoing rapid change that will link the growing medical center to the more traditional epicenter of the CWE a couple blocks north (between Lindell and McPherson). A new streetscape plan has been developed and awaits funding:
Dorris Lofts then (West End Lofts can be seen in the background):
Vibrant, successful, thriving, bustling...the Central West End has it all!
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