Gate District Rising: More Modern Infill on Lafayette

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My favorite residential street in St. Louis isn’t a tree-lined Central West End boulevard of stately European mansions. No. It’s the quirky, edgy, ancient/future mashup called Lafayette Avenue running east-west through the Gate District. Along these ten blocks between Grand and Jefferson rises some of the best modern infill in the St. Louis region, all of it wedged between stunning relics old St. Louis — some renovated, some still shabby around the edges.

“How does the modern fit into the historic?” asks Mark Keoshkorian, who is just completing the first two units of a 12-unit project at Lafayette and California. It’s a question not always allowed in a city filled with historic districts, many requiring replica infill based on a historic model example. In Chicago or New York or in Keoshkorian’s native Toronto, the old and the new sit side by side. “When you compare and contrast those two next to each other, each one really enhances the other.” There’s an energy, a tension, a dialogue that happens in an architecturally diverse environment. “We do a disservice when we try to replicate the historic,” Keoshkorian adds. “It only works when you have a truly massive budget.”

Though banished from some districts, quality modern design has found a home in a few city neighborhoods — in Forest Park Southeast (The Grove) and in Boulevard Heights (the remains of old McRee Town) along Tower Grove Avenue. But the most interesting juxtapositions are rising in the Gate District.

Keoshkorian’s Metamorphi Development has completed at least a dozen houses between Compton and Jefferson. At 2831 Lafayette, a historic renovation gained a modern addition. Next door, a couple who sold their house in the neighborhood bought a vacant lot. Though not a Metamorphi project, the couple is building their modern dream home. Second Empire Victorians continue to see renovation along these blocks, as do brick and cast iron storefronts. Keoshkorian dreams of one day renovating the turreted Garavaglia Quality Foods building at the corner of Nebraska. For now, the Garavaglia family still keeps an eye on the place.

 

Keoshkorian’s current project will be twelve units in six buildings designed by architect Dave Mastin of St. Louis Design Alliance. The next two buildings will share a central courtyard. Formerly a school blacktop surrounded by a ten foot chain link fence, the site was purchased from the St. Louis Public Schools. The single family unit at 2757 Lafayette is listed for $415,000 and is built around a custom glulam, wire and wood central staircase.

 

 

Keoshkorian says he observes a growing interest In modern design among native St. Louisans. When he began fifteen years ago, nearly all of his buyers were transplants. Yet his last round of buyers hailed from St. Louis County, St. Louis City and Belleville, Illinois. Many of them have young children. Perhaps St. Louisans are changing.

The neighborhood along Lafayette is changing. An Aveda salon is open across the street, while Bob Cassily’s former studio stands a block east. And while the neighborhood is seeing a $500 million investment along its western edge with SSM’s rebuilding of St. Louis University Hospital, the genius of Lafayette Avenue is the way numerous small projects are creating a unique urban space. The Dominicans still pray every morning and evening in their priory at the western end of the street. They built a modern addition, too. The historic mansion next door to it at 3259 Lafayette is undergoing a complete renovation.

 

 

At the opposite end of the street, you can buy a giant (if lightly damaged) terra cotta pharaoh head at the architectural salvage shop that opens on Saturdays. The Barr branch of the St. Louis Public Library has computers and free wifi. And while there is little retail in the neighborhood, there is a hotel. Small businesses like law firms and the offices of Bailey’s Restaurants fill many of the storefronts along Lafayette. And people always love the salmon quesadillas at Ranells Market at the corner of Compton.

 

 

Nothing along this stretch of Lafayette is uniform. This street was not designed by Disney. Interstate 44 hovers within sight immediately to the south. One particularly misplaced suburban house sits awkwardly along Lafayette. There are still vacant lots ready for new construction. The overly wide road surface is begging for bike lanes. But for a street that survived when so many surrounding blocks were bulldozed and redeveloped, Lafayette Avenue through the Gate District is rising. And it is rising with a design vocabulary more diverse and more interesting than any other ten block residential stretch in St. Louis.

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  • Dahmen Piotraschke

    I’m sorry but if I am doling out ridiculous high rent or planting my feet in the city its going to be in a high rise apartment with one way in, and a security guard and door man. If I wanted a single family ranch home I would be in Webster Groves.

  • Dahmen Piotraschke

    I like these Europeanise modern urban homes/flats. It only helps the area which is not the safest, unless you are gated in, and can roll right onto 44. The surrounding area on South Jefferson is decent, but just a flyby road with a crazy busline…which leads directly downtown or to south city. This is where the proposed north-south tram line would traverse down Jefferson and then Broadway, down to south county, and if u want to get to north county, you would go thru downtown and up Natural Bridge…it would help traffic tremendously, since the Metro train is an absolute fail, unless you are a visitor and can go from the airport to downtown…the train is almost 30 yrs. old, and only one new line has been built…which is a fail nobody thinks to use, and the train goes all the way thru damn Illinois!!miles of wasteland. Time for new lines and a tram, something with forethought. OOPS..I digress.lol

  • Robert Barquero

    Love the idea of preserving some, adding some modern, and rehabbing what is salvageable… seems like a winning combo… I just wish all the new didn’t look exactly the same….give each one its unique flare/pop….

  • Darlene

    2840 Lafayette is the best design by far!

  • Kevin Farrell

    I live nearby and love what Metamorphi has done in the neighborhood. I do love modern architecture but have not been thrilled with some of the modern infill residential nearby.. But, I think these designs work well with the historic surroundings. BTW, Metamorphi’s first project was the conversion of an old building(s) at the corner of Compton and Lafayette. They did a beautiful job of converting these old commerical spaces into modern residential. Only complaint? can’t afford to buy these new homes.

  • Framer

    Good stuff. I’m gonna have to get over there and take a tour through the ‘hood, since it’s been a while.

  • John

    I love modern architecture, and it is great to see the investment. I would like to see more modern housing developments in St. Louis, as long as the modern structures are built with quality workmanship and high-end materials…and fit well with the existing environment.

    Simple, modern design can be rich and sophisticated or cheap and basic. St. Louis needs and deserves more rich and sophisticated modernism.

  • Matthew Conner

    These new homes have really brought a great new feel to the neighborhood. I have a listing at 2855 Lafayette and I hear from buyers all the time how impressed they are with Mark’s homes.

  • David Hoffman

    Love it. Finally a neighborhood that embraces modern day architecture in the city. Variety is the spice of life.

  • Jakeb

    It’s so refreshing and exciting to finally see modern infill in the City gets some ‘legs’. Baby steps, but this is going to catch on.

  • Ben Harvey

    IMO the Gate District is what we can realistically expect for the majority of North St. Louis when it comes back. Won’t be anywhere near the original density and have a very scattered urban fabric. Better than nothing but not great either.

  • It’s trilling to see the neighborhood come along. While this article understandably focuses on the residential aspects of the neighborhood, a cornerstone project and commercial space along the avenue which you missed is the redevelopment of the Lafayette Garage and Repair Company Building at 2710 Lafayette, now home to Spry Digital with neighbors Rescued Furnishings to the west. We have seem some beautiful buildings go away, namely the Hodgen School, but with infill projects like these, it’s flipping the district from awkard to attractive. I’m glad the neighborhood is finally getting the attention it deserves. Now, just need a coffee shop and cafe.

    • Whipple

      Rannells is a cafe of sorts , at compton and lafayette

  • Dominic Ricciotti

    While I haven’t lived in St. Louis since 1961, I was really gratified on a visit a few weeks ago ago driving along Lafayette in the Gate District. This neighborhood really has great potential for being truly urban and the quality of the design of the modernist infill is very high. This should be a model for the entire city.

    By contrast walking through Lafayette Square you can’t tell what’s authentically historic and what’s new infill–though the square is quite lovely. But it would be so much more exciting if there were a few modernist accents like the Gate’s new examples.

    • jhoff1257

      Much of historic Lafayette Square is still largely intact, but I do agree that it would be nice to see some more modern infill on the few remaining vacant lots in that neighborhood. Having said that I think it’s a plus that you can’t tell the difference between what’s old and what’s new. Take a look at Clinton Peabody (it may be Near Southside now, just east of 18th/Truman) and you can see a stark difference between cheaply made historic replicas, and the quality infill that has been built in the Square.

      • Dominic Ricciotti

        I don’t disagree with you, but I do remember a friend driving me around Laf.Sq. in the early 70s when it was just coming back–many, many holes. While some faux historic infill is certainly acceptable, I simply think that more sensitive modernist additions, those that respect the scale, proportions, and materials of the historic fabric would have added something distinctive. (I’m not talking about cheaply made historic replicas, of which fortunately there seem to be none in Laf. Sq.) In fact there are a few buildings of later vintage (quite old probably) in the square that are not at all respectful of the square’s historic character. There are even a few 3-story apt blocks with sunporches that seem to be lifted from the CWE and dropped indiscriminately in the square–totally out of place.

        I marvel at how in 50 years the once decayed neighborhoods of Laf. Sq., Soulard, Benton and Fox parks are lovingly coming back to life. Never since leaving StL in ’61 did I ever think this could happen.

  • Guest

    How does the “modern” fit in with the “historic”? Should a Pollack never be hung next to a Rembrandt? Like good art, good architecture inspires. We appreciate each piece individually rather than lump them together as a whole. That’s the way it should be.
    This latest offering is wonderful, as is that stretch of Lafayette.
    “We do a disservice when we try to replicate the historic. It only works when you have a truly massive budget”….Mr. Keoshkorian, kudos…!!!

  • Whipple

    Really a missed opportunity at Jefferson and Lafayette, doubling down on suburbia hurts established have a like laf square (looking at you fields foods) and more rapidly changing ones like the gate district. We’ve capped development at an incredibly low ceiling by making every commercial development totally suburban. Will the gate district ever be a place? No, we’ve assured that by design.

    • Whipple

      Established nabes like*

    • Nick

      I’d say the existing neighborhoods around the ‘suburban’ infrastructure, such as Lafayette Square, are doing just fine. Many other examples of this in StL too, including many neighborhoods that have returned from the brink. Perhaps you should broaden your horizons of what ‘acceptable’ infill is in this city.

      • Whipple

        Um, this infill is great, the stripmalls abbuting it are not.

        • Nick

          I’m just saying that, obviously, businesses such as Fields Foods are built the way they are because that serves the residents of the neighborhood better. Most customers of Fields Foods probably prefer to drive there…unless they only live a block or two away, which isn’t the case for most LS residents. I’m sorry this doesn’t conform to your vision of what the neighborhood should be, but it makes perfect sense why things are the way they are…and until the area increases in density greatly to where multiple grocery stores (or whatever business you have in mind) can succeed, I wouldn’t expect things to change much.

          • Whipple

            Just keep lowering the bar

          • Nick

            Just keep whining about irrelevant points.

          • Whipple

            The entire point of this blog… ur denz

          • David Hoffman

            Not a lower bar. Modern does not equal inferior. Victorian homes were the modern homes of their era.

          • Whipple

            Um, this infill is great, Nick loves the strip malls in formerly urban places, I don’t, that’s what we are talking about, save a lot and fields foods, not this infill. The low bar is the total shit suburban strip malls they shoehorn into formerly urban places in the central city. Time to stop, functional cities have. I understand that st louis isn’t functional, so it’s a bit like putting the cart before the horse. But destroying the cart isn’t the answer either.

          • Nick

            I’m sorry, it’s just I get tired of your constant negative bs on here. I mean, the entire point of this article is about some cool infill going into a neighborhood, and all you have to say is ‘wahhh, but the strip malls down the street really suck wahhhh!’ It’s like, seriously, get over it. I’m all for constructive criticism, but those strip malls aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, so why put so much emphasis on them? Besides, the neighborhoods around them are awesome, so why not look at the positive developments in those areas of the city just for once for chrissake

          • STL Forever

            Agreed. There are too many positives that outshine the negative energy Debbie-downer-type posts. Let’s celebrate the positives of new, outside-the-box infill housing in STL. Even certain parts L.A., New York and other large U.S. cities have a mixture of urban and suburban.

          • Whipple

            The strip malls are NEW, they weren’t there before, but now they aren’t going anywhere soon? Ok, protect the strip malls with historic codes, you have officially jumped the shark

  • Alex P

    While usually I avoid this stance, it’s also great that this is all visible FROM I-44. It’s important for suburban commuters, visitors, and those passing through that preferred the Arch view over I-270, to see new new construction so close to downtown.