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 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). The 2010 census counts were not kind to Academy, another 26% loss of residents indicating the continuing trend of black-flight out of North City neighborhoods. Racial demographics remained about the same from 2000-2010: 96% black, 2% white, 1% Hispanic/Latino and 2 Asian people.
The 2020 census counted 2,355 people, another 16% decline. The racial breakdown in now 87% Black, 5% white, 5% 2+ races, 2% Hispanic/Latino and 1% Asian.
125 housing units were lost since 2010 and occupancy is 70%.
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. 2021 update: the city has since added a website for Academy, here’s the brief history mentioned:
“The Academy area was part of the westward expansion of the city and the rapid development of the Central West Corridor prior to and following the 1904 World’s Fair. Established as an upper-middle-class community, this area was predominantly white until after World War II. After the war, the area saw an increase in African-American population. Currently, the area is predominantly African-American.”
So what is Academy like? In my two 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.
***In October, 2021 I revisited the neighborhood and the following includes updated commentary and photos.***
Misses On Original Tour
The majority of the neighborhood falls within the Mount Cabanne/Raymond Place Historic District. The area north of Page Boulevard is not included in the historic district. There is a distinct difference in the two areas. The north of Page part is fading faster than the southern section.
A didn’t include the former Blind Girls Home building on Page, which was recently converted to housing for mentally challenged folks. It’s one of the few highlights of positive change along Page.
I didn’t include the Boo Cat Club on Union.
The homes were built for the then growing middle class of the city, including a large Jewish population. When the B’nai Amoona Temple was located on Academy, a large Jewish population called the neighborhood home in the 1920s and 1930s before they cut bait for the burbs in the County.
“As with many other Jewish congregations, the members of its community moved westward as they accumulated more wealth and prestige. Their first locations, in the City of St. Louis, were rented properties. In 1885, they were located at 824 Washington Avenue and in 1889, 13th at Carr. Not until 1906 did they own property, and they continued following their congregants into St. Louis County in the following years.” (source)
The building on Academy is now a Missionary Baptist church.
There is a gorgeous building on Wells Avenue that I missed in the first post, what caught my eye was the familiar SLPS sign that reads ‘Area 1 Northwest Soldan Southwest”. Michael Allen at the Preservation Research Office did a wonderful write up on the history of this building back in 2009. Per Allen, it was originally built for Mt. Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church back in 1928. It closed due to suburban flight and SLPS bought it and it became Wells School, then Emerson Branch School, then Northwest/Soldan/Southwest high school administrative building. It closed in 1995 and has been sitting vacant since. The roof is gone and it is open to the elements.
Academy only has two north/south streets on the interior of the neighborhood making the blocks seem really long. This is pretty unique and really makes for some sweeping street views.
While I pointed out the abundance of stone fronted homes, I did not mention the amazing turrets, corner towers, triple dormers and curved bay windows.
Another miss was not pointing out the wreath and floral decorative details that dominate several blocks.
The gorgeous Cabanne Library was recently renovated and updated.
Both Page and MLK have degraded over the last decade. This is troubling and unfortunate. There are a couple examples of continuity in Academy, but largely these vistas are ones of gross abandonment and the end of once thriving business strips. Vacant lots are way more prevalent today versus 2010.
While Delmar is still a mish-mash of suburban strip malls, vacant lots and abandoned buildings, there are some new signs of life. Infill and rehabs are needed. The strip mall needs to go.
The incredible former market on Hodiamont Tracks is falling further into disrepair. I did a post on the potential of this building as a streetcar museum in the Additional Reading section. Something has to happen quickly or else.
NextSTL – Demo Alert: 5200 Cates
The troubling decline of the former St. Mark’s Catholic parish buildings, including the school is on display. A fire and copious copper and architectural theft has occurred. It stands today as a hulking tribute to gross abandonment. Help is needed now, lest it head to the landfill and be wiped from the history books.
There are very few examples of new construction and infill. They exist, but are few and far between. They are lower density, with large gaps vs. tightly built to match their neighbors like the original build out.
There are signs of rehabbing taking place, but it is not obvious or apparent on every block. They are happening slowly, but not at a pace that the average person would drive by and think the area is on the mend and money is flowing back into the neighborhood. I spoke to a couple old timers who have lived in Academy for decades. They are concerned that the place is falling further into abandonment and unlivable conditions. But know, there is a smattering of much needed rehabs underway.
What Are The Future Needs?
There are plans by Great Rivers Greenway to convert the former Hodiamont streetcar tracks to a pedestrian path and greenway. They are seeking neighborhood input now. This will be a massive boost to the area, and the greenway would go right through Academy, connecting it with the suburb of University City, MO to the west and Covenant Blu/Grand Center to the east.
This will be fun to watch over the next decade.
Soldan High School is a beautiful building in a gorgeous setting. I’d love to see another SLPS school merge with Soldan to fill it up and bring it to capacity. Meaning, I’d like to see this school retained by SLPS as opposed to sold for apartments. This is a historic place worthy of being a feather in the cap for the district.
Other than that, I feel what is needed ASAP is investment. All hands on deck to save this place from further decay and abandonment. First, help the long time residents get loans. Rising property values will help. Investment and racial integration needs to happen. There is commentary to fight gentrification (see stop sign to the right).
I get it, but we aren’t there yet. It’s more of an emergency situation on saving this amazing place. The people who stuck it out need to stay and reap the rewards that more investment and residents will eventually bring.
Lots of quickly degrading and nearly gone properties exist, way more than ten years ago. Lots of sex workers on the streets in these parts. They always want to talk to the white guy on the Honda scooter with a camera around his neck.
Again, this is one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in all of the city. It needs money and attention now. The following are examples of just how special the architecture and vibe is. Just as there are board ups on nearly every block, there are many more proudly occupied homes.
Keep your eye on the next ten years, this is a critical time for Academy.
Additional St. Louis City Talk Reading