Looking back on streetcars running through St. Louis’ west side

Looking back on streetcars running through St. Louis’ west side

St. Louis was once the nation’s premiere streetcar city. The maps below show just how extensively the streetcars gridded the city to meet transportation needs. The St. Louis Car Company produced the most widely used street cars in the country. As cars reigned supreme over St. Louis streets in the post-war period, the streetcars became a target of the automobile lobby and were ripped up or paved over following their closure in the 1960s.

1903 Streetcar Map
1940 Streetcar Map

Today’s reminders of the streetcars of yesteryear are lackluster and few. One might spot a chunk of exposed rail at the bottom of a pot hole, both a reminder of what was destroyed and the city’s current inability to meet infrastructure needs. This inability is due to the region’s abandonment of public transportation and sustainable land use for sprawling land use patterns permitted by the personal automobile. The Hodiamont right of way is another clue of the old network. It an overgrown alley now, but it is poised to become a future greenway. And the Loop Trolley is, well, the Loop Trolley.

Below are some gifs from footage of streetcars on the west side in the system’s final years.

Looking toward Pershing from the SW corner of Pershing and DeBaliviere. Judging from the curve in the rails, this is before the construction of Forest Park Parkway.
Looking north on Debaliviere toward Moll’s Market. The Winter Garden can be seen on the right.
Looking south on DeBaliviere with a full historic streetscape. Many of the buildings on the right were torn down. All that remains on that block is the domed bank building.
Looking north on DeBaliviere. The Winter Garden stands proudly behind the streetcar. This site built for the World’s Fair (as the Jai Alai building) was once home to a professional hockey team. It was unceremoniously demolished in the ’60s for a supermarket that had a short run.
A streetcar turning from McPherson onto Walton with the Chase in the background.
A streetcar heading north on DeBaliviere with the famed Garavelli’s in the background on the right. Garavelli’s was something of a terra cotta palace in its heyday.
Looking west down the Delmar Loop from inside the streetcar.
Passing Moll’s Market. The clock seen out front sits down at Laclede’s Landing today. Moll’s was the biggest grocery store in St. Louis when it opened.

These images show a vibrant city. In the 1960 census, the city population was 750,000. The west side neighborhoods had seen a huge population boom in the post-war period and were beginning to integrate racially. This was in part driven by the massive displacement of urban renewal in the heart of the city.

From these videos, it is hard to understand how, just 10 years later, the city would claim that these neighborhoods were blighted. I have seen hundreds of pictures from the neighborhood, but there’s something about a color video of life in the neighborhood that gives a new perspective.


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