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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My first original photography!

Hope everyone is having a splendid holiday season!

Thanks to my haul on Christmas day, I am now a happy digital camera owner.

Accordingly, I have snapped photos of the South Side all week!

If you want to check out my first work, which actually predated my own camera (I borrowed it from my sister), check out this Skyscraperpage thread.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holidays!

Here's an in-post poll.

Where did you do most of your shopping for gifts?

Free-form Answers welcome.

What percentage of your gifts did you purchase within the city of St. Louis?

What was your "mall count" in the shopping season?

Did you make it a point to support local businesses this holiday season? If so, which businesses did you patronize? Which did you find was the best shopping experience?

Spill all the beans about your holiday experience here. Please.

...and Happy Holidays, everyone!

Monday, December 22, 2008

A spate of National Register listings is a good thing for St. Louis

A map of St. Louis historic districts, minus recent additions (mentioned below).

The Landmarks Association of St. Louis and a couple private citizens have been working hard as of late to list more of St. Louis's historic vernacular architecture on the federal registry of historic buildings and districts: the National Register of Historic Places.

The National Register is important in St. Louis because, although it does not protect a building from demolition, it does open structures up to the state of Missouri's generous 25 percent investment tax credit.

In October of 2008, the Preservation Board considered the addition of a portion of the Marine Villa neighborhood to the National Register. Marine Villa is a wonderful reflection of St. Louis architecture, with its stock dating from the 1870s in early examples all the way up to the modern period (1960s). Red brick, Creole structures meet little modern bungalows in an odd but (in my opinion) somewhat cohesive building mix. While Marine Villa is in dire need of some tree planting, streetscape improvements, and better connections to the riverfront given its riparian nomenclature, a National Register district within the neighborhood might spur historic rehabs--the first step to an improved neighborhood.

Earlier in the year, the Preservation Board looked at the St. Cecilia Historic District (S. Grand (W), Delor (N), Virginia(E), Bates (S)). It includes 30 city blocks in south St. Louis. St. Cecelia is an excellent representative of St. Louis's early 20th Century late streetcar suburbs.

On this month's Preservation Board agenda, not one, but two districts are proposed. First, the "Liggett and Meyers Historic District", which is the portion of McRee Town that has not been demolished (west of Thurman, south of Park, east of Vandeventer, and north of Lafayette). Ecology of Absence has already discussed this addition (see "Folsom Avenue Blues"), which is the effort of the Garden District Commission, which had the other half of the neighborhood obliterated.

The other district is even larger--the Grand-Bates Historic Suburb District. Click the link to see the exact boundaries. A rough summation is that this district will take in several blocks to the southeast of Grand and Bates, partially from Grand to I-55. This district includes the impressive, tree-lined boulevard of Bellerive.

It was not long ago (2005) that the Gravois-Jefferson Historic Streetcar Suburb District was added to the National Register. Consuming nearly all of the Benton Park West neighborhood, much of Gravois Park, and parts of Dutchtown South, the district is St. Louis's largest in size and in number of contributing buildings. It is important because, with all of these recent additions to the Register, most of pre-1920 south St. Louis can now boast of historic district status--which raises property values and offers rehabilitation incentives all at once.

It's more than a shame that the original city of St. Louis has been mowed over multiple times: that old, compact Creole section hugging the river; the later manufacturing district that gave way to the Arch. It's also a shame that some of the earliest "suburban" outgrowths are also gone--Kosciusko, Mill Creek Valley, DeSoto-Carr, southern Old North St. Louis; most of LaSalle Park and Bohemian Hill; all the neighborhoods ringing downtown.

Even so, it's heartening to see that scrubby Dutch south St. Louis is recognized as historic. Fifty years from now, bungalows once taken for granted will appear all the more historic resources. A National Register listing for such properties certainly won't do any harm.

This is good news to break up the usual dour news as of late.

Friday, December 19, 2008

St. Louis goes ALL OUT with Stimulus Package Requests!

Check out the Stimulus Package request for St. Louis. (Officially titled, the U.S. Conference of Mayors MainStreet Economic Recovery Survey).

It contains $2.4 BILLION worth of streetscape improvements, transit improvements, airport, etc.


On the list:

  • $900,000,000 for Northside/Southside Metrolink expansion!
  • $3.0 million for City Hall Exterior cleaning/renovation
  • $1.3 million for Old North streetscape improvements
  • $4.0 million for Morganford (Arsenal to Chippewa) streetscape improvements
  • $35.0 million for "Fixed Lane Trolley Development--Serving "Loop"/Washington University"
  • $1.4 million for Historic Water Tower Renovations
And so much more!

How much that's on this list could possibly be approved? (By the way, the list contains the number of jobs the project is expected to create.)

Exciting to even see it all in print! I mean...nearly every streetscape would be rehauled!

Check it out for yourself.

UPDATE: St. Louis's request may be the nation's largest amount! I'll keep investigating.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My next project: Mapping SLU's demolition derby in Midtown for the past few decades

Wish me luck.

It's going to be a lot of work.

But I was inspired by this saddening piece of news (and I'm not overly pleased by SLU's proposed demolition of Laclede Street for new student housing, either. There are other viable sites. Try Olive Street west of Spring. It's vacant, large, and waiting for redevelopment. Or build taller, rather than wider, adjacent to, but sparing, Laclede Street).

Another mansion to be lost; a context, already faded, wiped away forever.

What will be the model to rebuild by? I shudder to think.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The New I-64 may border on scandal.

We taxpayers have spent millions.

The media nearly gave us heart attacks last year, predicting that the closure of the western portion of the "New I-64" project was an effective "Sorry, We're Closed" sign for the whole region.

And, after all of that, this is what we got?

I guess I should have looked at the plans more closely; I didn't realize it was merely a highway widening project. What a waste of money: turning old Highway 40, whose bridges actually had some character, whose roadway is actually historic, into the Page Avenue extension!

I truly thought that thoughtful design would go into new bridges; that clover intersections would be going on a "road diet" and give up right-of-way for future development.

I think that it's a scandal, in 2008, to be widening roads, for this much money and energy wasted, without consideration to non-motorized regional transit--no parallel project to expand light rail--just another widened road. It's our portly roads that ensure an ease of access in and out of the city that have proven so stifling to attempts to bring retail (and residents) back into the City of St. Louis.

This is a waste.

And it further christens the automobile, far and away, as the unrivaled king of transportation in the St. Louis region, especially after the failure of Proposition M, which would have plugged a Metro budget leak into the hundreds of millions. Instead, we as taxpayers have allowed those hundreds of millions to be shifted to car users, for the umpteenth time in St. Louis history.

I think it's a scandal. And I and other urbanists have dropped the ball; we should have acted sooner. Might it be early enough to intervene in the eastern section?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Amazing renovation on California at Cherokee

I am officially jealous of the mofo who gets to live in this stunningly rehabbed unit, right off of St. Louis's most urban and diverse and interesting commercial spine.

It's 3409 California. Here's the Craigslist posting.

Pre-Renovation Google Streetview Capture.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Filling in a (Donut) Hole on Old Route 66

I knew something didn't look right.

I truly do remember this sign from when I was a child. Why did they ever take it down? At any rate, it's back up, thanks to an intriguing Restore Route 66 grant from the state of Missouri. Kudos to remembering our autocentric history alongside our more urban history.

You can thank the Lindenwood Neighbor's December 2008 issue for this sweet bit of news. It's published quarterly by the Lindenwood Neighborhood Association. Check it out.

Shop St. Louis City!

While we're celebrating Highway Closure Month, the City (specifically, St. Louis Development Corp.) has decided to try and capture some of the retail sales pie from wayward motorists taking confusing exits into strange urban street grids for the first time in their lives.

The result is wonderful!

Shop St. Louis City!

It's a practical guide for shoppers, focusing exclusively on the city. The majority of the listings are local businesses.

Please use this guide to assist you in your holiday shopping.

Thanks SLDC!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"The New I-64"--A.K.A. Highway 40--a Freeway without a Future?

Is Highway Forty a member of the not-so-elite Freeways without Futures?

Not yet--but, on the dawn of the closure of Kingshighway to I-170, it should be.

Those who know St. Louis know that I-170--the Innerbelt--is a rough demarcation between urban St. Louis and suburban St. Louis (some say Lindbergh Boulevard instead).

Now that the western half of the former Daniel Boone Expressway has been completed (Spoede to I-170), we should really give a last minute look into the eastern half, which is simply not the same.

The western half of the New I-64 Project was a suburban, commuter interstate and nothing else.

Check out an aerial of the road network:

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It's clearly not an urban area.

Now check out the eastern half that is slated for closure in days:

View Larger Map

Notice anything?

Did the 1,300 acre regional park and neighborhood asset known as Forest Park enter your mind? How about the generally urban street grid that surrounds the interstate?

So, let's get this straight. We're spending millions of bucks to repave a highway, put up some sound walls, and knock down a couple bridges? Why not up the ante and urbanize I-64 from I-170 to Kingshighway, if not all the way into downtown? Yes, I am borrowing here from Steve Patterson's visionary post calling for the removal of St. Louis's superfluous interstates, to be replaced by something along the lines of Forest Park Avenues (ex: the stretch from Kingshighway to Market St., not the Parkway portion, which is a true expressway). It just makes sense. Congress renewed the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA, pronounced ice-tea). ISTEA allows funding to transform historic road corridors into pedestrian-friendly, landscaped, functional corridors. It allows for bike lanes, street lamps, sidewalks...everything.

The public has well gotten used to life without 40; the addiction to whizzing on and off this central artery is past the withdrawal stage. Why reintroduce the habit of overly convenient and anti-pedestrian highways in urban areas? With the money earmarked for rebuilding, we should construct something that honors the urban locales that have been affected by the endless buzz of traffic for decades.

I can think of one argument against the urban boulevard transformation for I-64 (other than that it'll slow some commutes). It doesn't truly solve the root problem of I-64/Highway 40.

THE FREAKING HIGHWAY SLICED THROUGH FOREST PARK!!! The Dogtown neighborhoods--Kings Oak, Cheltenham, Clayton-Tamm, Hi-Pointe--have been cut off from one of the region's greatest assets for so long. Due to the presence of the interstate, pedestrian entry to the park from the south is funneled into a couple roads, when the whole south side of the park should be so attractive as to be a prime address in St. Louis. The reality is that, if you live, say, here:

View Larger Map have an unnecessarly long trek to the Tamm overpass, the nearest park entrance. Or you could walk across the Oakland overpass, past the nightmarish I-64 Clayton Avenue exit/Skinker intersection, and thence into the park. Not. Pedestrian. Friendly.

Autocentricism has destroyed a vital connection between park and neighborhoods. The result is a "suburbanized" park in the process. Many people who live less than a mile south of the park will nevertheless drive to get to it.

I envision a buried Interstate 64. Forest Park could then be restored to its original footprint, which includes the section presently south of the interstate that some might assume was simply federal right-of-way from the start and not part of the park itself. The south side of Forest Park, then, could enjoy the brisk, urbane aesthetic of the Skinker and Lindell sides. Unfortunately, this might mean the need to remove the Hampton exit altogether, with Zoo and Jewel Box and Muny goers subjected to the Skinker or Kingshighway exits. The buried portion would extend for at least the length of Forest Park, if not farther.

Again, why spend public monies on recreating something that may not have a long term future as an asset to the city? I-64 may be a freeway without a future; burying it would reduce its obstruction of the jewel of the St. Louis park system from the deserving residents just south of the future construction zone.

In the meantime, scroll down City Park Avenue in New Orleans to observe an interstate-free, vital connection between a 1,300 acre park and an urban neighborhood (yes--they're just about the same size!). [It's New Orleans' City Park.]

View Larger Map

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Hyde Park Master Plan...and speaking of trees...

I warned you all about my busy week. Still, I feel compelled to apologize for this blog's sparsity.

Accordingly, since the City of St. Louis website is so unfriendly and doesn't do a good job advertising its content, I found this Hyde Park Master Plan worth a click (it's for the Park itself, not the neighborhood). All the necessary elements are to be found: creating a better entryway and gathering space right off of Salisbury, renovating the old fishing pond in the northwest corner; planting new trees, ridding of sick/dead ones...

While we're on that topic, does anyone know why the city has chopped down several trees in the median on River des Peres Blvd.? My mother called me today to ask me why, figuring I'd know. She said it looks like a murder scene: there's been a tremendous loss to the beauty of this stretch. If it's true, it's very unfortunate to hear. Can anyone confirm?

I expect it's because some of the trees are really close to the roadbed and just don't agree with wayward and speeding drunk drivers.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A brief, but enjoyable trip back to St. Louis

I took the train in on Wednesday, leaving at 1:45 p.m. from New Orleans. I arrived in Carbondale, Illinois at 3 a.m. on Thursday morning.

I left at 11:00 p.m. on Saturday night. So, when I say brief, I mean brief.

That doesn't mean I can be kept from urban/small business exploration in my short time.

Here are some random observations and experiences--

  • I went, finally, to Local Harvest Cafe for some breakfast. I ordered a pretty basic eggs and bacon type sandwich, but felt good about it since they support local farmers with everything on their menu. Oh yeah, and it was yummy! I'll have to return for lunch the next time I'm in town. Decor-wise, I was totally impressed. It's everything a cafe should be. Intimate, cozy, inviting...the tin ceilings were amazing and I loved the artwork (which paid homage to the building's historical commercial tenant (heating and cooling, I believe?)).

  • The city looked extraordinary clean in most parts. Keep up the good work not littering, guys.

  • I took my mom, aunt, and older brother to Murdoch Perk for some coffee because we were in that neighborhood doing some shopping (Nature's Aglow, people, I told you it was a wonderful place for gifts!). Let me just tell you upfront: I had the best hummus that I've ever had in my life at Murdoch Perk. Go NOW if you want creamy, somewhat spicy, delicious hummus, along with warm, soft, ever so slightly crisp pitas. Yummy.

  • I went to the Wedge on Bates and Virginia. It's a nice space and it's got good pizza. I didn't check the upstairs out, but it looked like they had a pretty good business for being so new. My mother loved the pizza so much she ordered one to go for later.

  • I also checked out Sasha's on Shaw, the new wine bar. The long storefront literally glows from the street with all of the lighting in the place. Like many wine bars, it's a perfect place to go if you want to both have some drinks and some conversation (no overly loud soundtrack in the background). The place is essentially split into two halves--one is non-smoking too! I'm actually not a wine person, and so opted for a vodka drink, which was excellent. It looks like their menu includes pizzas and light fare to accompany the wine. There's also a beautiful garden in the front of the building with outdoor seating. Just a word of advice: if you go, don't try to pry the front gate open to get in the place! The entrance is located at the southwest corner of the building! Overall, I was totally impressed. The place brings a wonderful vibe to Shaw.

That's all for now. It's finals week, and I have a 15-20 page paper, a presentation, and a final all due by Tuesday. Wish me luck!

Monday, December 1, 2008

I am thankful for...

It's a bit late, I know, to be spouting off uplifting Thanksgiving messages.

But I am thankful for strip retail centers with rear parking.

That is why the new retail center at Chippewa and Lindenwood (west of Hampton Avenue) just doesn't bother me. Sure, it likely won't house any local retail (UrbanSTL forumers report that it's a future AT&T store-Qdoba combo).

But, walk, drive, bike, scoot, or Metro by this somewhat autocentric portion of Chippewa and take a look at the effects of placing parking in the rear. The squat, one-story, sparely designed commercial building becomes something of an urban building, despite the odds.

Unfortunately, I don't have pictures of, well, anything from my brief return to St. Louis for the holiday. Regardless, check it out for yourself. It's truly a St. Louis first. (On a sidenote, I wonder how the residents along Lindenwood feel about visible surface parking from their front yards. Even though the parking technically faces the alley, some street trees or shrubbery should be planted to make this less visually disruptive to the quaintness of the adjacent residential neighborhood).

By the way, this blog will probably be pretty scant in posting until Tuesday, Dec. 9th--my final class of this long, long, difficult, time-consuming semester.

Nevertheless, I will have more on my return home later for you.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Amazing St. Louis Mid-Century Modern website

This is just to pass along this wonderful find:

I Love Bernoudy


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

More Mill Creek

From the St. Louis Globe Democrat collection, a shot taken from Union Station, at 18th and Market, looking northeast, around 1955.

This would have been the far eastern section of Mill Creek Valley.

No singular building in this picture looks like it could have been just that architectural gem to inspire people to fight for its salvation. Yet taken together, it's an important piece of the urban panorama. We need to make sure that whatever is to replace these "plain ol'" urban buildings is as built-t0-last as they were--and as plainly attractive and human scale.

Too often, they're lost because they fail to inspire. Their context of importance is lost over time.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

What a breach of trust and decency: New York Times travel writer deals St. Louis an unfair hand

I was going to do a post on the new Borders store in New Orleans. It just opened this Friday. I was going to talk about it (surprise!) in a positive light since the store took over an old funeral home, saved the facade, and now can boast of a pretty cool store: a great adaptive reuse.

But I stumbled upon a book during my visit that just pissed me off.

It's "Don't Go There: The Travel Detective's Essential Guide to the Must-Miss Places of the World" by Peter Greenberg. If that sensationalist, asshole-y title didn't tip you off, it might come as a surprise that Greenberg selected the ten most dangerous U.S. cities (via those ever reliable FBI Uniform Crime Report statistics, which warn viewers NOT to rank cities!) and systematically trashes every one of them.

Here is my recap (not a direct quote, but almost) of his St. Louis smear.

"Let me give you a tip for visiting St. Louis: exit at the airport, go south [sic] on Interstate 70, do not pass go, do not collect $200 until someone dumps you off downtown. Do the same for Interstates 64 and 55--do not stop until you see the river."

His point? The rest of the city is so devoid of anything interesting and is just so dangerous that you MUST not stop anywhere but downtown.

Cleveland voiced its protest over being labeled a "Must-Miss" destination. But the "Cleveland Plain Dealer" had to deal its discontent in a civil fashion. I don't.

Greenberg is an irresponsible idiot. A hack. What kind of travel writer can't discern any positive attributes about an entire city (a group of cities, actually)? Isn't that supposed to be his specialty?

I just cannot vent enough towards this moron.

I urge you to check the passage out for yourself at your local bookstore. After making your own assessment, please contact Mr. Greenberg to let him know what you think of his journalistic integrity.

I'll tell you my assessment: an insufferably stupid asshole that clearly is not qualified for his high-profile job.

Here's his Facebook page.

Email him your thoughts at !

Friday, November 21, 2008

Far-fetched Arch/I-70 Idea

Why not fill in the depressed section of I-70, which is aptly named, with water. Have a canal run down the middle of a newly streetscaped boulevard.

Build quaintly historicist two and three story mixed use buildings with modern touches on the east side (current Arch Grounds).

Make the street an urban street and give people a better way to take in the Arch and the Old Courthouse--by water!

Combine this with Steve Patterson's opening up of the Mansion House complex! St. Louis is set.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

In the old Mill Creek Valley "Slum"

2723 Pine Street -- September 1936.

Today, a part of the A.G. Edwards (I mean...Wachovia) campus.


3127 Laclede (circa 1960?).

Today, part of the SLU campus.

Thank you, Midtown Institutions, for your stewardship.

While we're on the topic, check out the sliver of a historic building just west of the still present Cupples House on West Pine in the heart of the SLU campus (photo circa 1988). They sure do have a thing for demolishing historic mansions.

Thanks, HABS, for depressing me as usual.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Demolitions in Shaw, Academy, and St. Louis Place on this month's Preservation Board agenda

See for yourself here.

What's really interesting is the Shaw property, on the 3900 block of Shenandoah. Sure, the building's roof is collapsed and it's in terrible shape. But the facade is prime for saving. Does the Board ever recommend this? Has something else happened to this formerly robust multifamily since Google Streetview rolled through in 2007?

View Larger Map

The proposed demolition in Academy, at 5115 Cates, is potentially damaging to a North Side neighborhood notable for its intactness. Despite this fact, certain blocks in Academy have witnessed one too many demolitions. The 5100 block of Cates has lost somewhere between five and eight structures from its blockfaces over the years. I'm not sure what the present state of this handsome building (below) is, but I would hope that demolition would be the last of last resorts.

View Larger Map

There's another proposed demo on the 1800 block of Warren in the Columbia House/Brewery National Register District. Unfortunately, I can't get a good image of this building, save for a Bird's Eye view through Maps.Live.Com. Again, it looks like one of the many gratuitous ("It's empty. Why not?) St. Louis demos.

It's small, incremental loss that compromises neighborhoods. Shaw may be safe in the long run--but this loss will certainly damage the integrity of the block. Ditto for Academy on Cates.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Lafayette Park, Detroit

I have a ridiculously difficult time embedding videos in my blog, so here is the link.

Lafayette Park Detroit is much different than Lafayette Park St. Louis. It's not a case of urban regeneration, but of urban renewal. Mies van der Rohe designed the complex, completing it in the early 1960s. I don't know what the neighborhood it replaced looked like, or anything else about it, but the International style housing cooperatives that replaced it are fascinating to say the least.

Check the video out and be happy, at least, that this is not another historic streetcar suburb of Detroit that is crumbling into ruins.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ladies and Gentleman...

I present to you: a long needed, long ignored...

Office of Urban Policy!

Not to mention, here is President-elect Obama speaking about the prospects of more urban renewal (read: mass demolitions) for America's cities:

The response of some to these statistics is to call for still more demolition, abandonment and neglect of older and historic neighborhoods. In the last three decades we lost from our national inventory of older and historic homes 6.3 million year-round housing units. Over 80 percent of those units were single-family residences. The vast majority of them were simply demolished were thrown away as being worthless. These demolitions occurred at the very same time that the number of units of affordable to low-income households has fallen. In essence, America has been worrying about how to dismantle the barriers to affordable housing and the same time it has been dismantling the very homes that are, or could be, affordable.
Thanks to Squandered Heritage for the heads up!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Urban Renewal, 21st Century

Many of us urban planners like to think that the days where planning comes from a group of well dressed middle aged white men and is passed down to communities of all colors, ages, and incomes is over.

Really, though, it's not. Urban renewal is alive and well across the country. New Orleans is deadset on tearing down a 16 square block neighborhood known as Tulane/Gravier (or Lower Mid City) for a new Louisiana State University and V.A. combined hospital complex. Likewise, Baltimore has already torn down a swath of "Middle East Baltimore" for an expansion of Johns Hopkins.

I know, in New Orleans' case, sensible alternatives abound for the siting of these two important hospitals. There's, in fact, a moribund medical district already just to the east of their desired footprint that contains more parking garages and surface lots than buildings. It's ripe for redevelopment. But the city wants to build the hospital atop Tulane/Gravier--a poor neighborhood that was heavily flooded during Katrina. An unlikely renaissance seemed possible just post-storm, when a Tulane medical student organized the neighborhood with a new group called "Phoenix of New Orleans". But the LSU/VA Medical Complex talks led the city to declare the Tulane/Gravier neighborhood a no-permit zone. That's right. Since December 2007, the city will not issue building or demolition or rehabilitation permits for the entire area.

A row of houses--in varying conditions--in the Medical District footprint. Whole blocks of these distinctively New Orleans homes, some dating to the Civil War, will be torn down soon if current plans are approved. Photograph by Becky Houtman.

Ultimately, Tulane/Gravier will likely be felled (even as a National Register historic district). Why, in a city with an affordable housing shortage, in a city that has recently demolished nearly every public housing unit (attractive and sturdy as they were), in a city where there are many vacant and underutilized parcels in the current medical district, are they tackling Tulane/Gravier? It's a poor neighborhood with rundown housing. The development team wants that site "development ready". It's often that simple. That's all the justification that's needed.

“It was obvious the community was falling apart,” said Dr. Edward D. Miller, dean of the medical faculty and chief executive of the hospital since 1997. “I could see drug deals from my office.”

An East Baltimore row. Is this torn down now? I don't know. I'm trying to find pictures of the redevelopment area. But this should give a proper context. Photograph courtesy of bing7220's flickr page.

It's funny: it's as if poverty is synonymous with blight to the average person. It's an impediment to investment rather than an economic state of a neighborhood populated by people who have lower earnings, yes, but also hopes, goals, lives, jobs, dogs, front porches and back yards...

To my knowledge, though, St. Louis may be one of the biggest proponents of a "New Urban Renewal". Late 20th and early 21st Century neighborhoods that were "redeveloped" include McRee Town, Gaslight Square, and Bohemian Hill.

Perhaps these developments, especially the former two, seem beneficial to the city in the end. Slums were cleared away; poverty scattered; aging and unkempt buildings rendered nuisances no longer. McRee Town and Gaslight Square seem to have caught on to that elusive middle class population that the city has been seeking for so long.

But these developments have set an alarming precedent: that after enough decline, neighborhoods are unsalvageable and must be torn down. Imagine if this scenario had played out in Soulard, which it almost did, and Soulard were redeveloped into the neighborhood of Garden Apartments that St. Louis's hotshot planner Harland Bartholomew actually wanted.

Better yet, imagine the impoverished residents of McRee Town suing the Garden District Commission before they planted the current crop of passably urban but uninspired homes that replaced the neighborhood's history. Pretend that they won; that the redevelopment could have demolished only those buildings that could not have been saved. Imagine that a thoughtful cohesion of old and new breathed new life into McRee Town, rather than a coalition of wealthier neighborhoods and a self-interested major institution razing it and renaming it "Botanical Heights" in shameless self-promotion.

Might we be having so many problems with Blairmont? If McRee had somehow informed our elected leadership and citizenry that it's possible to forge a new neighborhood identity without all new buildings; that poor people can be mobilized to better their community if they see some investment and new jobs come with it--what would be happening on the Near North Side this day? Blairmont is simply a clever form of urban renewal, Smart Shrink, take your planning poison pick. It's secretive. It's top down. Though, after five years, we still know of no specific plans. Given this economy, whatever plans there were may even be scaled back at this point. But it doesn't matter. Irreplaceable architecture, St. Louis's best economic development asset, is being lost and there's no leadership to stop it, to stem it, to plan it. Citizens don't have the keys to that proverbial backroom where these dealings take place. So many have grown indifferent or inured to our city's stagnation.

The New Urban Renewal is much like the old in its mentality. Impoverished neighborhoods have, by virtue of their struggle, proven themselves not viable. The N.U.R. states that, once someone with greater access to capital comes along and sees a way to squeeze tax revenue out of an area, it should be torn down. There is too rarely the question: can we improve the neighborhood without replacing it?

But the newness of this round of Urban Renewal is that it's only those neighborhoods that have demonstrated a prolonged resistance to the recent better times for cities that are being bulldozed. Aren't these neighborhoods the ones that need the benefits of bottom-up planning and community sensitivity the most?

It is important not to forget, post-Barack Obama, that top-down planning still occurs. And it's still quite often wrong and misguided.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Sorry, St. Louis. You're not great this year.

Last year, St. Louis, and in particular, the Delmar Loop, was honored with the American Planning Association's first annual "Great Streets" designation. It was one of a dozen or so streets across the country selected for being special urban places--with exceptional architecture, public spaces, walkability, transit-friendliness, local retail and restaurants, and general character.

There were two other "Greats" that St. Louis did not appear on--Great Neighborhoods and Great Public Spaces.

Well, the latest Great Streets/Neighborhoods/Public Spaces lists honor cities like Baltimore and Boise, but no St. Louis.

Don't hang your head just yet.

You, yes you, can nominate a neighborhood or street or public space as one of America's great places. Read the FAQ for more details.

One thing, though, is that the APA doesn't seem all that friendly to "most improved" districts. They want areas with "strong identities" and unique local flavor. Do they know the A-bomb that hit St. Louis called deindustrialization/flight of wealth?

I would really like to nominate Cherokee Street to see how they would react. It doesn't fit what appears to be the APA mold--an established street that has enjoyed unequivocal success and has all the elements to remain successful. But what street is more fascinating than Cherokee Street?

Cinco De Mayo 2008 on Cherokee Street. Photograph from

It was once one of the ubiquitous and bustling urban business districts that used to be much more common before commerce moved off of small urban streets and onto highway exits and strip centers. It remained notable in St. Louis even after the auto age only for its length and its onetime success as district. Now it's a schizophrenic, gritty delight of a street, changing with each passing day. It's an arts district in the west, a Hispanic business district in the middle, an antique district on the east.

It's got:
> an anarchist collective bakery;
> one of St. Louis's only local record stores;
> one of its only Art Supply stores;
> an "Arts Compound";
> a magnificent but defunct Brewery awaiting redevelopment;
> the Casa Loma Ballroom;
> restaurants of various Hispanic ethnicities found in very few other spots in the St. Louis metro;
> a saxophone museum;
> a vegan diner (the city's only);
> one of the most haunted places in America;
> one of the last of the old St. Louis Greek Revival mansions (a New Orleans escapee?)

...and so much more.

I think, in addition to Cherokee, that Old North St. Louis could be a great nominee for Great Neighborhoods. Their resolve and determination to improve the neighborhood stands up to any neighborhood in the nation's definition of success.

Anyone want to help me nominate? Let me know. 2009 is not that far away!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Macklind Business District: tackling the challenges of running a local, independent business together

The Macklind Business District is not especially attractive. It can't claim the grandeur of South Grand, nor the gritty urbanity of Cherokee, nor the opulence of Euclid. Most of the businesses along the stretch are housed by urban, but understated one-story commercial buildings.

But make no mistake. There's something very special about Macklind after all.

Four of its businesses have decided to cooperatively take on a poor retail environment in St. Louis City. First, which four am I talking? Nope, not the delightful neighborhood hang out at Murdoch Perk, a much needed coffee shop in the heart of the middle class Southampton neighborhood. And no, not Macklind Avenue Deli, which is both a wonderful deli and something of an upscale liquor store.

The first is Manzo's Kitchen at 5346 Devonshire (at Macklind). It's a business that's been around for over 50 years selling Italian meats and groceries. Though it's housed in a small storefront, it's a nice neighborhood grocer/lunch spot/deli counter that's eminently walkable.

The second is Nature's Aglow II, next door to Manzo's at 5350 Devonshire. The first thing you'll notice about this place is the unbelievably friendly staff (ask for Darla!). The storefront, again, is small, but the place packs a surprising amount of gift store wallop. The centerpiece of the shop's offerings is organic candles. Sound too frou-frou for your much more dressed down significant other? Well, take one of their fact sheets about traditional candles and see if you ever buy one again! Apparently, burning a traditional candle in your house is like parking a semi in your house, while running, for a whole day! Even if you don't buy that, give these candles a chance. Next to the hundreds of candle scents are various sundries that make excellent birthday or anniversary surprises. Where else in the city of St. Louis can you do one-stop shopping without a car quite so easily?

The Big River Running Company storefront at Macklind and Nottingham. Photograph from their website, linked below.

The third is Big River Running Company at 5352 Devonshire. They're an athletic store that specializes in running/jogging gear. They'll even make you strut your stuff, observe your gait, and recommend the proper shoe. Right now, and until November 22, they're having "Store Wars", pitting their West County location against this, their walkable (or runnable?) South City store. Bring in five or more canned goods and earn a chance at a $100 Big River Running gift certificate. And please, help the South Side win this competition!

The fourth and final store is HomeEco, at 4611 Macklind. They call themselves "your Green General Store". That's pretty accurate. If you're one of the ecologically sensitive sort, the store carries everything from those now omnipresent energy efficient lightbulbs to recycle bins to "green" furniture to hemp-made pants. No kidding.

Why do I choose these four?

Cleverly, they have decided to promote one another's business. Purchase something at any one of the four stores. Secure a receipt. Take said receipt to one of the other stores. Receive 10 percent off your purchase.

I was delighted when I heard this. All four businesses are within a stone's throw of one another. All offer very different products and services. Instead of going it alone, they offer this simple cross promotion that I can tell you, from personal experience, goes a long way! Though Macklind is extremely walkable and pedestrian friendly (not a wide street, not hugely trafficked), it's easy for most St. Louisans to pull up in a car, get what they want, and leave. This promotion reminds people--hey, this is a business district! Stay around and shop for a while.

It's very difficult for small, local, independent businesses in St. Louis. Especially now, with a sunken economy, people are willing to take fewer spending "risks". A lot of times, a name brand wins out just because shoppers know what to expect, or can more easily secure a parking spot, or both. It's this simple kind of cooperation, this cross promotion, that will help to cushion these four very special businesses from the fate that has befallen so many of their less innovative predecessors--shuttering.

Please, support the Macklind Business District and take advantage of this small but important promotion. Local and unique retail needs you! Remember, more of your dollar will stay in the St. Louis economy.

Love the place you live? Invest in the place you live!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Vote today!

So St. Louis watched the debates in greater numbers than any other city.

Well, let's make sure the voter turnout is just as exemplary.

Without offering an explicit endorsement, I ask you to vote, in part, according to this all too important question:

Who will best address the problems of our cities? Who is most connected to those problems? Who do you think offers the best solutions?

If you need help finding your polling place or having any other Election Day questions, please click here for the City, or here for the County.

I'll be watching the results of St. Louis County's Proposition M vote--the tax increase to fund Metro's operations and expansion--very closely.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is a threat to our cities and I won't stand for it anymore!

I know, I know.


Who could resist the show? What kind of scowling, bitter scumbag of a human being would protest a show that, in tearjerking fashion, delivers domiciles to the deserving?

"Move that bus!"

You know the show I'm talking about.

S0-and-so is a nurse who is also a single mother. She works 16 hours days and her 13 year old daughter watches the three younger brothers and two younger sisters when not at school herself. Or some other iteration.

Then, Extreme Makeover's "Ty" drops in, sends them on their way to a vacation, while the show's crews pull down their old, outmoded home and replaces it with a much more glamorous (and much larger!) new one.

Actually, I speak in facetious-snide tone, but there is something truly insidious to this show. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition has been tearing down historic homes all over the country. Rarely are the houses they demolish even in considerably poor shape. Sometimes, they're simple local vernacular style homes. Other times we're talking beautiful farmhouses over century old.

And yes, they tend to build something that, if not matching the scale of the neighborhood, at least passably references its surrounding context. And yes, it appears high quality (who can tell, though?).

But it's simply unconsciable what they do with some of these historic homes. I'll get to why in a bit, but first, take a look at some of the before and afters.

Wilmington, DE



First gut reaction: it fits in very nicely with the neighborhood overall. Sure, they ignored the gentle curvature of the neighboring building's windows in favor of the noticeably blocky kind. And they certainly didn't find room to add the bay windows so characteristic of the old house. But, nice job, right? Well, in this particular show, the mother had to take care of a special needs child who was unable to walk. Therefore, she had to carry him up the stairs. In her new home, there's an elevator. I understand that the old home was not really working for her. But is it impossible to build a new house on a vacant lot nearby, or rehab the structure to include the elevator (on the show, they said no, it was not possible)?

Here's another, this time from Geneva, New York (already blogged):



Again, it's all right. But why not "makeover" the historic home--in the above case, a 150 year old house!

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition has come and gone in St. Louis. The show actually selected two properties locally, one home and one business. Luckily, both were outside City Limits (the home in Shrewsbury, the business on Manchester out in West County). Why luckily? Again, a small, quaint, older home was sacrificed for a neotraditional new house.

Extreme Makeover is threatening because it sells, quite successfully, that time-tested concept that old = bad and new = good that has threatened cities and historic preservation for decades. Worse, it does so in such a way that makes it hard to challenge. When it's a husband whose wife has recently succumbed to cancer on the receiving end, how can a preservation-minded citizen stand in the way of a bungalow bash-'n'-build? Worse still is the way in which the buildings are torn down. The show's host, Ty Pennigton, is known for his zaniness (usually to awkward excess). And so, he never fails to find some "creative" and bombastic way to demolish the home. In one show, the homeowner loved cars. So he enlisted several old cars to literally lasso the house and pull it down. In another show, a group of rough-and-tumble bikers took the house down by a couple dozen sledgehammers.

The demolition becomes a spectacle when it should be a lesson. In our now more ecologically aware culture, why tear down a perfectly good building? It's wasteful, saying nothing of the value of the history lost in some of these buildings.

It speaks to that damaging "bigger is better" mentality that keeps a lot of buyers away from smaller lots in central cities. But it goes beyond that, since the show doesn't always tackle urban lots anyway. It's about how old houses are characterized and how the show's need to entertain the A.D.D.-afflicted viewership needlessly erases salvageable and often attractive houses from the landscape. The show depicts old house dwellers as needful of the charity of a brand spanking new house when they might simply need an addition in the rear of the structure and a coat of new paint on the exterior.

Rehabs are slow and boring. The end result isn't as dramatic as a new Craftsman-influenced mansion in place of a blase but sound little bungalow. But rehabilitations are better for the environment and allow future generations a connection the past that is lost with each "teardown" that this show encourages.

I will not stand for it anymore.

Friday, October 31, 2008

In Memoriam: the Olympia at 3863 West Pine/200 N. Vandeventer

It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, constructed in 1926.

The Olympia apartment building fell victim, as many nearby structures did, to SLU "campusization".

It suffered from that mentality that a college campus, whether urban, suburban, or rural, must offer students a bucolic retreat from urban life.

SLU demolished it in 1993.

Here is the site today.

View Larger Map

At least the parking lot that replaced it is well obscured. Right?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Good News/Bad News Round-up

> Downtown St. Louis Business reports that the southwest corner of 14th and Washington may soon see some actual construction. It's a glassy contemporary building. Though it's built across several old lots, it's still more to neighborhood scale than the cancelled Skyhouse development. Plus, it's nice to see what looked like a useless demo (the old Ehrlich's Cleaner's building) actually be vindicated.

This is Good News!

> The St. Louis Preservation Board approved the demolitions of two structures on the 900 block of Locust Street--for a turnabout for the proposed Indigo Hotel. The city's Preservation Board (repeat that to yourself) allows a developer to demolish two urban buildings in the city's central business district. What decade is this? Our CBD is too tattered, too anti-urban already to be allowing for further demolitions, especially for such an autocentric land "use". This is all around bad planning.

This is Bad News!

> Word is, on the Urban St. Louis forums, that the old industrial building near the Kingshighway Viaduct on Dagget Street in the Hill is threatened with demolition for a new mixed use development. One of the forum members claims the plans, which are to be made public tonight, reflect a development that would be beneficial to the neighborhood. I just hope they'll save the facade of the structure.

I have to Abstain on the Good/Bad declaration until I see the plans.

> Metro's next extension will be from Clayton to Westport. While I think that their priorities should be with the Northside-Southside line, I understand that St. Louis County will be voting on Proposition M next week, and they need to demonstrate a commitment to transit in the County. Any expanded rail service to the region--especially if better planned than the Cross County extension in terms of station design and pedestrian friendliness--is a benefit to the region as a whole.

This is Good News!

That's all for now. I may append later.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

One of the last remaining historic buildings on Cass Avenue is gone

Demolished on May 5, 2008 for $15,000.

The city was decent enough to take a picture of the new vacant lot on September 9, 2008:

Annually, the number of demolitions in neighborhoods like Jeff Vanderlou is simply staggering. So are the costs to demolish.

Each year, Jeff Vanderlou becomes more like parkland owned by the LRA (and, of course, Blairmont) than the dense urban neighborhood it once was.

Did the jokes-for-candy Halloween ritual start in St. Louis?


I asked someone here in New Orleans if she had her joke prepared for trick-or-treating.

She replied with a blank stare.

Then I found out: it just may be a St. Louis-created ritual!

It looks like Des Moines does it too, but is it possible that this is a St. Louis original?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

In Memoriam III: 2620 and 2622 Arsenal

A nice duo of buildings was destroyed for Millennium's proposed Fleur-de-Lis at Benton Park development (for parking, if I recall correctly). The status for this project has recently changed from "Dead" to "Possible", rebranded as the Hydraulic Brick Lofts. The Urban St. Louis forum thread has more details.

Even so, wouldn't it have been nice to leave these buildings standing? Surely a site plan could have been devised for either development that would have respected these structures? If not, can't we just make sure we don't demolish anything until we're ready to build?

2622 Arsenal

Demolished March 2005
Cost: $10,500.00

2620 Arsenal

Demolished March 2005
Cost: $12,500.00

The site now:

View Larger Map

Couldn't their execution have been stayed? This is what $23,000 buys?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

In Memoriam II: 2915 Minnesota

According to the St. Louis Community Information Network site, 2915 Minnesota--the rare flounder house--was demo'd on October 2, 2008.

Here's a picture of it pre-demolition:

The trees out front of the former flounder house in this Google Streetview capture now obfuscate a vacant lot.

View Larger Map

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

In Memoriam: Cherokee Street

2622 Cherokee St. (at Texas)

Demolished 4/14/06.

View Larger Map

Why do I post this today? I'm going to search the city's website for recently demolished buildings to visually assess the impact of the building's absence on the surrounding neighborhood. This particular demolition threatened an intact business district and blockface, removing perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle, the corner.

To search for yourself, proceed to the City of St. Louis Community Information Network - City Data.

A neighborhood history, briefly

Kosciusko once was a neighborhood that might have made Morgan Quitno blush.

See for yourself in this piece that made the 19th Century New York Times:

(By the way, Lesperance Street was a street that only ran through the old Kosciusko neighborhood. It still exists today, though I'm not sure that it's publicly accessibly anymore (or that's it's even marked as Lesperance anymore).)

St. Louis has been earning bad press from crime for centuries now.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A historic day in St. Louis

Today's rally for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama in St. Louis underneath the Arch. I have to admit: this photo nearly gave me chills. For once, I felt like the Arch Grounds were a vital public space, a veritable D.C. Washington Monument Reflecting Pool.

On some political blog I was reading, someone even noted a great irony: that Obama rallied about 100,000 supporters (yes--that's the largest rally so far in this country!) in front of the courthouse where Dred Scott, in 1857, was deemed not a citizen of the United States due to his African ancestry. What a triumph for the bygone soul of Mr. Scott!

The photo is from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch story "Huge crowd hears Obama".

Just look at that crowd!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Surprise! I agree with Ecology of Absence on the McPheeters Warehouse demolitions, but...

I disagree on one major point. Click here to read Michael Allen's poignant analysis and criticism of the demise of a once important portion of the industrial north riverfront.

Michael Allen says this:

I have pushed off writing further on the now-demolished McPheeters warehouses on Lewis Street just because doing so seemed fruitless. After all, there is no way to return the important lost buildings, and little point in aggressively emphasizing the obvious -- that the demolition of the warehouses was probably city government's biggest preservation failure of 2008.

Well, of course I object to this statement. It's a lot of what I do on this blog, why it's called "dotage"--I long for the city in the vintage photographs I post on the site. I long for the buildings condemned to demolition to remain a part of the cityscape--just as they did when this city functioned as a city. I long for a city government, a populace that values its history and heritage and takes action to bolster that history and heritage.

But we don't have that.

Historic preservation is inherently backward-looking. That's not an attack on the field. It's a recognition that the goals of preservation are illuminated by the decisions--good and bad--that have been made in the past.

What is the context of the neighborhood that remains in 2008? What has been lost at this prominent corner? Do the residents of the neighborhood know there used to be a magnificent theater where that unsightly parking lot is today? Do they know that the demolition of Mill Creek Valley and Gaslight Square forever tore the physical link St. Louis had with so much of its culture, so much of its heritage? Do they know that that industrial neighborhood they drive by everyday on the riverfront (Kosciusko) used to be a thriving Creole neighborhood not unlike Soulard?

St. Louis's historic buildings contain the code to rebuilding a dense, prosperous urban area that is walkable and scaled to the human, not the god's eye of the planner or the politician.

Dwelling on their loss, their squandering, is not merely whining, nor useless. It's a necessity. Future generations need to know that St. Louis was born as New Orleans and will die as Youngstown, Ohio if we do not make an effort to plug the bleed.

Protecting threatened resources that are still present is, of course, the priority of preservation. So is securing the future of stable resources, so that they may continue to enjoy that stability. But we need more people to dote on senseless loss, to complain about it, to wonder why our leaders and why our fellow citizens don't care enough to see a city so great act like one.

There is no way to bring back a wonderful and needlessly lost building. But there is, no doubt, a lesson in each felled building that requires dwelling upon. There's a fading context of urbanity in St. Louis, they say. How much longer do we wish to peer at photographs and consume the texts of our failures without changing the picture, turning the page altogether?

The Ivanhoe Business District should not be struggling

In the most recent issue of St. Louis Magazine, the editors whittled the innumerable restaurant pool in St. Louis down to the best 35. But the issue contained a farewell to departed restaurants as of late: of course, Balaban’s was featured. Can’t forget Busch’s Grove, either. KoKo, formerly of 3257 Ivanhoe, was on the list as well. The editors noted (I don’t have the magazine in front of me right now, and it’s not online) that a new restaurant would be filling the space, but that the site was perhaps “cursed”, having turned over multiple times in the span of a couple years. It turns out that this new restaurant is Bistro Toi, an Asian and Pan-European restaurant, to use its own descriptors on its web site.

(Take a tour of the Ivanhoe Business District below, from Google Streetview):

View Larger Map

Some wonder if an upscale or even mid-priced restaurant can make it in the Ivanhoe Business District after KoKo failed. But I say: why not? The Ivanhoe district has all the ingredients for success as an urban business district.

The district, located on Ivanhoe between Arsenal and Fyler, is very walkable. It is also very drivable, since Interstate 44 is right around the corner. There’s also a bus line that serves the area, and a fairly nearby Metrolink station in Shrewsbury.

Crime is not a major issue in the neighborhood.

Parking, while not as easy as pulling into one of a couple thousand spaces in front of a big box shopping center, is still relatively easy and plentiful.

The surrounding population is, for the most part, middle class.

Here are some stats from the city’s website about the area around Ivanhoe (specifically, from the corner of Scanlan and Ivanhoe). The numbers are derived from the 2000 Census.

½ Mile Radius:

Population: 3,751
Average Household Income (1999 dollars): $51,282
Pct. of households earning over $60,000: 37.7%
Pct. of households earning over $100,000: 9.2%
Pct. of residents with at least “Some College” education: 45.1%

1 Mile Radius:
Population: 17,881
Average Household Income (1999 dollars): $43,169
Pct. of households earning over $60,000: 24.3%
Pct. of households earning over $100,000: 4.9%
Pct. of residents with at least “Some College” education: 44.2%

While this is totally unempirical, let’s look at a control area: one with a lot of successful businesses, restaurants or retail: South Grand (at Connecticut).

½ Mile Radius:
Population: 8,567
Average Household Income (1999 dollars): $37,876
Pct. of households earning over $60,000: 17.7%
Pct. of households earning over $100,000: 5.3%
Pct. of residents with at least “Some College” education: 33.5%

1 Mile Radius:
Population: 38,706
Average Household Income (1999 dollars): $35,397
Pct. of households earning over $60,000: 15.7%
Pct. of households earning over $100,000: 4.7%
Pct. of residents with at least “Some College” education: 32.5%

Now, you might argue that South Grand draws from a much larger area than Ivanhoe, and so it is less reliant on its nearby demographics. But that’s the whole reason I’m astounded at Ivanhoe not being one of the city’s most occupied business districts. It is in perhaps the most stable neighborhood of any district. Sure, it’s not a hotbed of pedestrian activity, and it’s not all that dense, but clearly there is a concentration of middle class residents that do their shopping/dining somewhere. Why did they not support KoKo? Why is Ivanhoe off most St. Louis residents’ radars?

Is St. Louis simply lacking in local entrepreneurs? Or is it that loyalty to malls and other more autocentric shopping/dining ventures convinces a potential small business owner not to even try it out? With the failure of the St. Louis Marketplace on Manchester (though reasons for that may not be entirely its own doing), I would hope that residents would demand more small-scale, local shopping and dining options. But time and time again, we opt to build Loughborough Commons and Southtown Centers at our prominent intersections. Ultimately, no matter how occupied these shopping centers remain, no matter how well they’re maintained, no matter what desired corporate tenants they attract, they’re ultimately damaging to a walkable, human scale business district like Ivanhoe.

For no reason other than that these corporate stores are familiar and convenient, the shopping centers win out over the small business districts. And yet, it’s the South Grand, the Morganford, the Macklind, the Manchester, the Ivory Triangle, the Euclid that truly defines the character of our city.

Why should a restaurant on Ivanhoe fail? It can’t be about the money. There’s enough aggregate income in the area for an upscale restaurant. It simply has to be that those with the money drive to more car-friendly and visible and well-known areas. Ivanhoe isn’t cursed, as St. Louis Magazine says. It’s just one of the many blacklisted old school business districts that are struggling to compete with stale, inferior, less interesting chain stores and restaurants. These types of placeless places have an edge because we allow them to. Not enough St. Louisans “go out of their way” to support local businesses. Not enough of them realize that investing dollars into your local economy—as opposed to sending them to the corporate headquarters of, say, Qdoba, wherever that may be—means investing in the place you live. Even if you spend more dollars at a local place than you might at a chain, more of your money is going to local employees and is funding local services. The “local multiplier” is huge and is not advertised enough. It's funny that Republicans and Democrats alike don't want to rely on foreign oil, and want to create energy locally, but they can't make the same connection with their retail/restaurant dollars. Invest in the place you live!

For these reasons, Ivanhoe shouldn’t be struggling.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"Notable because it is so typical"

This Federal style house (transitioning to Greek Revival) at 3811 Kosciusko in the Marine Villa neighborhood is somewhat rare in the St. Louis of today. Yes, it's still there (and appears occupied!).

But the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) architects and engineers had this to say of the property, circa 1940.

Survey number HABS MO-1172
Building/structure dates: 1857 initial construction
Building/structure dates: 1859 subsequent work
Significance: This 2-1/2 story, brick house, built in 1857 and 1859, is typical of the upper middle class homes of the day; notable because it is so typical.

Emphasis mine.

If only it were still true.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Preservation Board Agenda for October

It's that time again--Preservation Board agenda time. Typically, I navigate to the website and almost immediately cringe. Usually, there's an item or two in a stable neighborhood (Lafayette Square or Soulard, to name two instances), which, before opening their individual reports, I assume that they're either new construction or rehabilitations--not demolitions.

Then I see the various North Side neighborhoods and fear the worst. Is it another church sacking historic resources for a parking lot? Is it a non-profit who wants to tear down a block face to provide new affordable housing? Is it an alderman weary of complaints about a particularly troublesome vacant house in a rundown neighborhood? Regardless, I figure another tooth will be punched out, and the overall smile will suffer.

So I opened this latest agenda, and, shockingly, no demolitions were immediately apparent. (For some reason, this month's agenda does not allow you to click each property and see a PDF file. Maybe they just haven't put the reports up yet?).

In fact, there seems to be some good news.

National Register nominations make me very happy. Sure, they don't protect a neighborhood from demolitions directly, but they do offer tax incentives and a(n often) coveted "historic" label that can be used to market a neighborhood to buyers. This month, there appear to be two districts being considered: Marine Villa and the Sts. Mary and Joseph Parish Historic District" at 6304 Minnesota.

Streetview of Marine Villa - 20xx Chippewa Streetscape:

View Larger Map

Streetview of Sts. Mary and Joseph:

View Larger Map

There are also two single-structure nominations: the Cheshire Inn and Lodge (partly in Clayton) and the Railway Exchange Building, a.k.a. Famous Barr Building a.k.a. Macy's.

That's all excellent.

But some major demolitions did slip in there: sneakily, they're hiding underneath the item on the "Restoration of the Board of Education Building...".

Downtown St. Louis Business blog has already covered the impending demolition of two handsome, historic, human scale buildings that are increasingly rare in downtown St. Louis (they're on Locust Street). And he hit all the points I was going to, including this gratingly obvious one: these buildings should not be felled for a turnabout. Remember the Ambassador Building anyone? It is unconscionable to allow such a needless autocentric use to take out two usable, rehab-friendly historic structures that could actually be incorporated into the proposed hotel anyway. DTSTL Biz also points out that no one's sure how much another downtown hotel is even needed.

Should we really be tearing down anything historic in a downtown whose resurgence has been almost solely based on its remaining historic stock of buildings? I say no, and so does Brian at the DTSTL Business blog.

This one's worthy of an email/call combo to Alderperson Phyllis Young of the Seventh Ward. Please contact her to express your disapproval of the needless demolition of two historic buildings downtown for a turnaround/cab stand.

National Register nominations = good.

Demolition of National Register eligible buildings = bad.

Simple as that. Right?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Is this facade "improvement"?

On the St. Louis Development Corporation (SLDC) website, there's a facade improvement program that I've never heard of. I'm unsure whether or not it's still active.

There are also three examples of "before and after" shots that are meant to display the efficacy of the program.

Two seem just fine.

4601 Pope



and 813 Skinker:



Both are those are fine, restrained examples. You don't need to slap foundation and eyeliner on a natural beauty.

But what about this example?

5001 Gravois @ Morganford



I grew up about three blocks from this site. Even though I was fairly young, I remember talk in the neighborhood about how transformative this facade improvement was. To be sure, it was very exciting to have a florist in the neighborhood, and especially one as classy as Russell Florist. But my concern is with the buildings themselves, especially the one angled towards Gravois (the one on the left in the pictures). This looks to me like a more restrained 1960s remuddling of an early 20th Century storefront.

Facade improvements are much needed in Bevo, along both Morganford and Gravois. The old storefronts need greater window space to create an active business district. Beyond facades, the sidewalks need to be replaced. New lighting would certainly help. New neighborhood banners--with recognition of the Bosnian presence--would go a long way as well. There need to be more frequent trash cans and benches--you know, the basics. And, if at all possible, there needs to be a way to slow down traffic on both streets.

Perhaps a traffic circle at Delor/Morganford/Gravois and my now-stale suggestion of a median along Gravois?

These improvements would be transformative.

I'm just not sure this facade improvement at 5001 Gravois was truly that. We should be emphasizing the historic details of these buildings, not covering them up.

I wonder if there was some better reason they tackled the buildings in this light than simple corner-cutting.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Restaurants, coffee shops, you name it--they should have bike racks! Dutchtown's Urban Eats, (3301 Meramec, 63118) which is officially at the top of my list of places to try the next time I'm in town.

Here is a picture of their bike rack:

They're also hosts to numerous neighborhood and community events.

One even dealt with bicycles--the "Blessing of the Bicycles" in front of the glorious St. Anthony's church on Meramec. Check their website out for more info.

I've had the pleasure of having tried another bike-friendly establishment: Cafe Ventana (3919 West Pine, 63108), which not only has a row of bike-shaped bike racks, but also a striped "bike lane" in its parking lot.

These two restaurants are leading the pack, St. Louis. You need to catch up.

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Dotage St. Louis -- Blogging the St. Louis Built Environment Since 2008

Topics: Historic Preservation, Politics and Government, Development, Architecture, Urban Planning, Urban Design, Local Business, Crime and Safety, Neighborhoods, and Anything Else Relating to Making St. Louis a Better City!