Academy is a north St. Louis neighborhood bound by Martin Luther King Drive to the north, Delmar Boulevard to the south, Union Boulevard to the west and Kingshighway Boulevard to the east. The 2010 Census shows a neighborhood that is quickly disappearing. The 2000 census data counted 3,797 residents (down 32% from 1990’s count) of whom 98% were black, 1% white. There were 1,729 housing units counted, 72% occupied with a nice mix of owner/renter properties (54%/46% owner/renter split). Then from 2000-2010, another 1,000 residents, or 26% left. Over two decades, Academy has plumeted from more than 5,500 residents to 2,800. Many of the solidly built homes and business may still be standing, but perhaps not for long.
Academy doesn’t have a website on the city page, nor is there any easily accessible historical info that I could find on the web. So what is Academy like? In my 2-hour tour, I’ll say that this is one of the most in-tact neighborhoods in north city. By intact, I mean, most of the original housing stock is standing, and largely livable. This is not to say there aren’t falling structures, fallow lots or seriously decaying properties, but the contemporary suburbanite builders have not yet tarnished or cheapened the landscape (with the exception of the fast food/junk food restaurants on Kingshighway.
Make no mistake, this is a beautiful place. One that is sitting in wait for someone to take this part of the city on. This is a rehabbers paradise. I think this is one of the prettiest neighborhoods in the city; the homes remind me of Tower Grove South. For the most part, Academy just needs some polish and investment. With so many people leaving, it’s hard to see how this happens, however.
Some of the streets like Cabanne and Raymond Avenue are showplaces. If I were wealthy, I’d buy up all the properties and rehab them. This could be one of the premier neighborhoods in St. Louis with a little TLC and $$$. Not unlike Visitation Park to the west, there are very well cared for homes mixed with homes currently under rehab and those that are falling into disrepair, or falling to the ground.
Page Avenue could be my favorite east-west street in St. Louis. It too sitting in wait for a rebirth of TLC and investment.
Academy is remarkably consistent in the size of the homes. They are almost all 2 or 3 story, tightly constructed homes not unlike Shaw or Tower Grove South. But Shaw has more apartments, Academy is largely single family homes or duplexes. The old brick four square homes are everywhere. One thing that stood out to me was the high number of stone-fronted four squares. Here are just a few (there are many, many more) in various states of repair:
Another unique site in Academy is THE widest alley I’ve ever seen. Actually it’s Suburban Track, the right of way for a streetcar to what was then the city’s suburbs. The Hodiamont Line bus used the same ROW for many years. The fact it hasn’t been altered speaks more to the lack of development in this area than its usefulness, but what a great historic remnant of a bygone era:
There are some AMAZING, mind blowing places here. Soldan High School and Clark Middle School were both designed by renowned architect William B. Ittner. Soldan was erected in 1907 for less than $800,000.
St. Mark’s Parochial School:
The Cabanne branch of the library is a stunning work of art still in use since 1908:
Delmar, another great east-west St. Louis street has seen better days in Academy. There are several strip malls and fallow lots. There is still huge potential though, as many original structures are boarded up and waiting their turn to shine again. And it’s home to Vespa St. Louis, a righteous scooter dealer. Here are some sights along Delmar:
This north of Delmar thing is a real downer for me. I know it’s such a played out boring story in St. Louis. It’s time to turn this around. Something’s got to change. This has to be an institutional, political dividing line of the city. This had to happen on purpose. I’m not smart enough, or informed enough to understand how this happened, but North City was cut off from resources and investment and care. It’s time for someone (let’s start with a mayor) with chutzpah, money and progressive intentions to turn our city-wide, state-wide, region-wide, heck, national attention to these fading, beautiful neighborhoods. Yeah, I realize that’s very easy to say; but, I think Academy is ripe for a grassroots rehabilitation effort, not unlike Soulard, Benton Park, Lafayette Square and Old North St. Louis. It would need a kick start or the backing of the politicians and entreched city establishment to pull it off though. You have no idea what an underutilized, or even lost, resource places like Academy are for our city, state and nation. Anyhow, I think the “north of Delmar” stigma is holding Academy back. It shouldn’t; but the current fact remains, Delmar is the damn dividing line in this town.
Case in point: driving northbound on Kingshighway from south city, you pass through the Central West End which has some of the finest buildings in town. The wealth and vibrancy is clearly apparent. Then you hit Delmar and it’s like the lights were switched to off. There is a shuttered National or Schnucks in Fountain Park at the NE corner, a shuttered video store on the SE corner of the CWE and then as you drive north of Delmar and look to your left there is nothing but fast food joints, most closed down, some still open.
Another of the more unique sites in Academy is the former business of Mr. Lee Nixon, otherwise known as “the Rose Man”. The Rose Man used to sell roses and teddy bears at night clubs all over St. Louis. He was admired by people all over the city for his amiability, kindness and generosity. Sadly, he was shot and killed in a random act of gun violence at a Washington Park, Illinois night club in June, 2008. Here’s a nice write up from the St. Louis American. And here’s what Mr. Nixon’s place looks like today:
The signs above the windows:
Anyhow, Academy is a largely residential neighborhood so let’s take a look at the current housing stock. I tried to capture the wide range of conditions and styles:
Here are some of the few exceptions to the St. Louis four square:
And some other miscellaneous sites of interest:
The churches of Academy:
So Academy is sitting there waiting for some more attention. Those that have stayed are doing a great job keeping up the homes and alleys and streets and yards. The city needs everyone here to stay and preserve the community that remains. They also need (a lot) more caring residents to replace those who have fled and to help preserve the past to make a better future and continue to hold back the tide of negativity that has plagued north city for far too long.