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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Okmulgee, OK

Okmulgee, Oklahoma was your typical small town in its state. An oil boom sent a wave of optimism running through the town in the 1970s, and the later oil bust brought it to its knees.

Unlike many small towns, Okmulgee didn't simply fold under the pressure of hard economic times.

It innovated.

Specifically, it became one of the many Oklahoma "Main Streets" via the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Today, the city can boast of:

  1. 200 historic rehabilitations
  2. 109 new businesses
  3. 144 new jobs
  4. a decline in vacancy rate from 50 percent to 10
  5. and finally, an average commercial space rental rate that has more than doubled on average

Another case study of how preservation pays, Okmulgee can be explored further by clicking here.

The reason I present it to you is that there's a beautiful, concise quote--one that I'd like hearing from St. Louisans' mouths rather soon.

“Gone are the days when we would sit back and react to bad news. Now we go out and make good things happen.”
Linda S. Milligan, board chair, Okmulgee Main Street
If the declining dust bowl can do shape up, so can we!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Neighborhood Tours

No, that's not St. Louis, but its neighbor and rival to the north, Chicago.

Not surprisingly, Chicago, with 77 "Community Areas" that are further subdivided into neighborhoods, offers tours of its many enclaves.

Here is a quick description of the tours:

Mine the city’s hidden gems, its neighborhoods. From South Side neighborhood Beverly on the new Beautiful Beverly tour to historic parks on the new Garfield Park & Beyond tour, Neighborhood Tours showcase the arts, culture, history and people of Chicago. Approximately 4 hours long, Neighborhood Tours include light refreshments. Admission: Adults $30; Seniors 65+/Students with valid ID/Children 8–18 $25.

Why does St. Louis not offer tours of its neighborhoods?

There are many possibilities in a city St. Louis's size.

What would your perfect tour be?

Northside - Southside - Central Corridor?

African American - German - French - Italian - Bosnian - Vietnamese - Other Ethnicities?

Specific neighborhoods or groups of neighborhoods, such as Central West End, Lafayette Square, the Hill, the Ville, Old North St. Louis, Downtown, Tower Grove South and East, etc.?

Would you do a nightlife tour, and if so, where would you go?

How about an eatery tour?

Or a historic churches tour?

Would you do a walking tour, a car tour, a van, a bus, bike, helicopter, balloon, segway (I put that one last for a reason!)?

The possibilities are many.

I'm always taking people around the city, so it got me thinking. Why not set up a booth at America's Center and offer tours of the city? Cater them to visitors' interest (history/architecture, nightlife, dining, etc.) and get some sort of vehicle and go.

The Chicago Neighborhood Tours seem like they're very popular.

Again, I ask, what kind of tour of the city would you design?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Redemption vs. Green Space: Churches doubly strike at the built environment this month.

Click here for the latest Preservation Board agenda.

On it are not one, but two attempts by churches to demolish our history.

Why? Inevitably it's for green space. Or a "community center". Or, even if they don't indicate it to the Preservation Board, it's for parking.

One house is at 1244 Temple in the city's once opulent West End neighborhood (not to be confused with the more vague reference to anything west of the Central West End as the "West End").

Luckily, Bob Bettis of the Cultural Resources Office recommended denial of the permit for demolition.

It is just such a home--yes, it's vacant now--that, when demolished, can forever alter a block for the worse. Pretty soon, the creeping notion of an urban prairie descends upon the neighborhood aesthetic, and then you've got the recipe for several more demolition applications.

In the second case, this time in the Old North St. Louis neighborhood (and the Murphy-Blair Historic District), the Cultural Resources Office gave the thumbs up to a faith-based organization (highly respectable as it may be) to proceed with demolition of an 1880s-era Italianate building that was in bad shape.

If there's any neighborhood poised for revitalization, it's ONSL. If there's any neighborhood that needs to preserve absolutely every remaining building to truly revitalize, it's ONSL.

You simply can't convince me that this organization could not find a nearby LRA lot for super cheap on which it could have built its proposed new construction.

The building approved for demolition is located at 2605 Hadley. The one denied, now twice, is on the same block at 2619-21 Hadley.

When the Board reviews demolition, it should consider not only the condition of the building, the likelihood for redevelopment, historical significance, and historic context. It should also consider the viability of proceeding with the proposed development on a different site.

It doesn't make sense to have historic context as criteria for demolition approval/denial when the Board, in piecemeal fashion, allows enough scattered site demolitions across the city to guarantee future approved demolitions on the basis of diminished context!

And churches! I am getting so tired of their "green space" pleas. This city has a wonderful park system, and nearby vacant lots can be handily turned to such green space if need be.

I think that the Board of Alderman should pass a "green space ordinance" that forces any entity that wants to develop green space as part of a development conduct a study for the need for such green space, that they demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that this green space will provide more economic, social, and cultural development than would the existing structure(s), AND that they develop a long-term plan for maintenance and landscaping of the site, including signage, fences, and other equipment.

The same stringent review process should be put into place for proposed parking lots as well.

It seems the Board just isn't looking at the big picture ever. All of these individual permit reviews have caused near-sightedness.

Churches--which already receive tax benefits--should have to have a development plan approved by citizens of the Ward when they acquire a certain number of parcels. Their wanton demolitions seem, well, selfish and quite against the future of their home neighborhoods.

Back from St. Louis

What a greet weekend and another nice trip back to St. Louis.

I made it over to the Stable on Cherokee for some pizza, but that was my only experience at a brand new place. I did hit up perennial favorites Sameem's on South Grand and Blues City Deli in Benton Park. All were excellent. The Stable's space is particularly impressive.

One of my favorite parts was giving one of my mother's friends a tour of the whole city (but mostly north--she's from and still lives in South City). She doesn't leave her neighborhood too often and told my mom she'd like to go driving around and see the city when I got back in to town.

It was a great experience for all involved.

One moment of humor came when Mom tried to pretend that she knew the St. Louis history I was spouting off.

As we passed the Blairmont-owned former Schnucks site near Cass just north of downtown, I began to explain what the Kerry Patch was before I was interrupted by Mom.

Mom: Oh, I know what that is!

Friend: What is it, then?

Mom: It's when...a patch of people...came down to St. Louis...from Kerry, Indiana!

She said it so proudly, as if she'd really gotten it correct. Kerry, Indiana! Hah...there's a Gary, but is there a Kerry?

More on my trip back later. As always, forgive me for the hiatus from posting when I make my returns home.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A plan to commemorate St. Louis's original street grid, including its French names.

I was surprised to run across this West End Word article.

Afftonian and Francophile Thomas Mack wants to see signs put up downtown that reflect the city's founding French heritage.

While this quote is curious:

But [downtown Alderman Phyllis] Young raised a concern about the precedent Mack’s proposal might set. “The Hill might want to implement Italian names, and the Bosnian community might want to do honorary naming of streets in the Bevo area,” she wrote in her letter to Mack.

She totally misses the point that this is not about celebrating an ethnicity, but our founding heritage.

I say go for it! It's a smell step, but a smart one in recognizing that we have a history to be proud of.

One suggestion: a pole in a sleeker, black color looks more appealing than that construction-fence-gray.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Ballpark Village: don't build an artificial office park!

Wait a second.

I'm not anti-office space.

With a recent article from the P-D expressing that two major law firms are looking at a new home in Clayton (OR a fresh bundle of tax incentives from the city to remain downtown!), we need workers downtown.

But why do we have to stress the "development" of sites? Isn't this a very suburban notion--to take a chunk of land, neatly plan it so as to screen out all unwanteds and funnel in all desires, to control for the expected and the unexpected?

Ballpark Village--and I believe Steve Patterson has expressed the same view over at Urban Review--should be subdivided and rezoned. The city should put through-streets in the site. The lots can then be sold off.

This is the best of both worlds--"development" mentality and urbanism. With an aggressive zoning overlay district, the city could indeed get a Ballpark Village-like development, meaning that a certain percentage of these private lots would have to be dedicated to offices, would have to be so many or so few stories in height, would have to have the same setback and signage requirements, etc.

BUT, the site's land would be competed over, producing a more diverse and potentially much better and much more organic "development".

Jane Jacobs called downtown megaprojects "cataclysmic development"--meaning that if too much money goes into one place at one time, the flood of money drowns the place. It drowns its authenticity and its connection to the dozens of surrounding blocks that were developed without such incentives and excitement and "District-ification". It becomes an island of investment, a fad to be discarded once the novelty has washed away with the money.

If the land that BPV rests upon is truly valuable, private developers will snatch up the lots. Due to the market, they may just erect the office towers that are currently being discussed. But some enterprising developer may also find it useful to develop rental apartments that overlook the stadium. The Ballpark Lofts have certainly done well, according to the Post.

So why restrict development and turn a couple city blocks into an artifical "Village" when we could have good ol' urbanism do the work?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Recontexualizing residential in Midtown/Grand Center...

Often, on this blog, I speak of grave threats to St. Louis's diminished (and diminishing) urban context.

There are too few examples of sound, aesthetically pleasing infill reclaiming sections of lost urban landscape. The North Side has plenty of plots of land on which to evoke the old, dense urbanism of the past, but these opportunities have mostly been undercut with cheap construction, not enough trees, and no retail/commercial anywhere near the neighborhood. A lot of those things are understandable in such a disinvested area.

But what about a city's self-conscious Arts District?

In St. Louis, that's Grand Center/Midtown. And that district's two anchors, Grand Center Inc. and St. Louis University, have been all too happy to steward Midtown's residential (and mixed use and industrial) context off the planet.

Rather than see the scattered residential buildings as assets to redevelop the neighborhood, both entities ignored them entirely, watching them decay into convenient parking lot opportunities.

Exhibit A - The Central Apartments

Exhibit B - 3740 Lindell

Exhibit C - Wagner House

And that's only from the past year or so!

It's incredible that there was little outcry over SLU's haphazard demo's. Midtown's residential context--one that once housed upstart St. Louisans in very dense but luxurious quarters, eventually alongside the lower classes--is nearly gone.

Luckily, a new context is arising in the ArtHouse development.

Eco-friendly, attractive, contemporary, urban, dense--these are great features to add to Midtown. This development, though not affordable to anyone but an upper middle class, is definitely a start at turning Midtown around. It could once again be a residential neighborhood if this wise developer's plans catch on.

Of course, I'd like to see some diversity in the neighborhood, both of types of buildings and people, but ArtHouse is a great rallying cry for bolder design and urban intimacy, even perched on their little hill as the units are.

I look forward to one force in Midtown/Grand Center trying to restore and recontextualize rather than destroy and leave lifeless strictly utilitarian surface lots.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Did no one tell me we're back in 1993? Homicides in city hit the 90-mark.

It appears that Moore's killing is the city's 90th of the year. As of 10 a.m. on Monday, Police spokeswoman Erica Van Ross said that there have been 89 homicides in the city so far this year. At this time last year, there were 65 homicides. That’s an increase of 24.


Gun buyback programs?

More police on the streets?

Announcement of a revolutionary public school reform effort?

More inducements for pedestrians to be walking the streets and keeping an eye out for such crimes?

What can we do to stop this?

Forest Park Southeast to Receive Much Needed Streetscape/Infrastructure Improvements

Before I headed off to the University of New Orleans, I lived in a cozy apartment in Forest Park Southeast, a.k.a. the Grove. You might recognize it.

View Larger Map

No, I did not live inside the restaurant (the delectable Sweetie Pie's), but rather above it.

I loved living in the Grove, but coming home each day only reminded me of how much Manchester needs a makeover. Of course, as I've referred to in previous posts such as this one, I think many St. Louis streets could use the median treatment. It adds greenery, helps aid in pedestrian crossings, and beautifies a street. Of course, it requires maintenance.

That's why I was happy to hear about the creation of the Grove Community Improvement District (CID), recently approved by the Board of Alderman.

This is from the 17th Ward Website

Neighborhood residents, business and property owners have joined together to form the Grove Community Improvement District (CID). The purpose of CID is to develop a comprehensive plan and budget to meet the needs of Manchester Avenue. After receiving feedback from various groups within the community, those involved in creating the CID aim to use funds to enhance security, plant trees and flowers along Manchester, repave and maintain new sidewalks, increase street cleaning, pursue marketing opportunities and coordinate economic development activities. The Grove Community Improvement District will allow Forest Park Southeast to compete with neighborhoods like the Central West End, South Grand and the University City Loop.

There's also an article about the CID here.

Streetscape improvements are long overdue for the Grove.

While you wait for new sidewalks and lighting on your way to Atomic Cowboy, check out the new Forest Park Southeast welcome sign/entry marker. Thanks to my good friend (and roommate at the Manchester apartment) Joe Decepida.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Preservation Pays; look at the Missouri Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit Act

A 2001 study of the effects of historic preservation on Missouri's economy bolsters the argument that most preservationists already know: preservation makes dollars and sense.

Still, it's nice to see that St. Louis has benefited so much from 1997's pivotal Missouri Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit Act. It is likely the only proven economic development tool that the city has under its belt, which rendered the decisions to demolish Bohemian Hill, Gaslight Square, the Century Building, and McRee Town all the more frustrating.

Here are some maps from the report.

The above map shows that St. Louis, by 2001, had received an overwhelming share of the benefits of MHPTC activity.

The ZIP Code map reveals a Central Corridor bias.

Finally, this listing of the top zip codes reveals that 63104 (Soulard, Lafayette Square, Fox Park, McKinley Heights, LaSalle Park, some of Benton Park) had received the most MHPTC projects in the state.

63108 (Central West End) was number two. Other city ZIPS, including 63110 (Forest Park Southeast) and 63103 (Downtown West) also made the list.

Though this report was early on in the MHPTC's life, it nevertheless demonstrated an immediate and tangible impact. Those living in St. Louis don't need to read the report to realize that much.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Dozen Distinctive Destinations: Ste. Genevieve, MO

Ste. Geneveieve, Missouri was recently honored as one of the 2008 recipients of the National Trust's annual Dozen Distinctive Destinations, a title that reflects an area's uniqueness and its commitment to historic preservation to maintain its distinctive character.

Says the Trust:

One hour south of St. Louis is the thriving community of Ste. Genevieve, whose charm and ambience is rooted in its singular collection of 18th century French colonial structures - a concentration greater than anywhere else in the United States. The town boasts more than 150 pre-1825 structures, many of which are open to the public, including gems such as The Bolduc House (1785), The Amoureaux House (1792), the Felix Vallé State Historic Site, built in 1818, and the 1806 Guibourd-Valle House with its Norman style trusses. Visitors can also tour the historic Memorial Cemetery where many of Ste. Genevieve’s distinguished early inhabitants are buried.

Below is the town's Bequette-Ribault House:

Congrats, Ste. Gen--yet another community to realize and embrace the value of preservation.

Anheuser-Busch sold to InBev

This is no business news blog. Still, I can't help but have the terms "stagnant stock", "globalization", "shareholder interest", et al. on my mind.

All I can say is:

In the great big town,
there was a Brewer
And a Department Store chain. And a Chrysler plant.
And a picture of--
A Clydesdale underneath the Moon.

Goodnight, A-B!

Goodnight, May!

Goodnight, Chrysler plant!

Goodnight, Moon!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Spanish Government House - St. Louis, 1783-1804

This Colonial structure is long gone, submerged first by a manufacturing/warehousing district along the riverfront and next by the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

Still, HABS has some drawings of site plans that were researched back in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

That's the Spanish Government house. A series of similar structures lent St. Louis a French/Spanish Creole feel that is now only truly possible to experience here in New Orleans' own French Quarter.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Isolated Buildings Study - Chicago/Gary

A friend and classmate of mine, Larry Massey, forwarded me David Schalliol's project of documenting sole-survivor scenarios among buildings in Chicago and in Gary, Indiana.

Below is his description:

These Isolated Building Studies are the visual confluence of my interests in urban dynamism, socioeconomic inequality and photography. By using a common composition to eliminate physical variables from these solo subjects, I hope to draw our attention to new ways of seeing the common impact of divergent investment processes on Chicago neighborhoods.

You can read more for yourself here and here.

Schalliol's photography speaks to the importance of these individual structures despite their apparent lost context. After all, the presence of so many of these holdouts, these unlikely islands of urbanity, presents its own context when viewed all together: the disinvested city, more often than not.

Check out the amazing, heartbreaking, surprising photo collection that, despite the extraordinary status of the subjects of the photographs, truly reveals that preservation is more about preservation of urban context than any one building itself. Or at least it should be.

Check out Ecology of Absence's post on the Near North Side Greek Revival structure that is about to expire after a slow, painful death process. As noted on that blog, the Near North Side, built up in the mid-18th Century, used to feature whole rows of this sparely-ornamented but elegant style. Now, would-be survivors like 1219 Clinton are reduced to freakish scars on an increasingly pristinely green landscape.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

We're #52: thanks, P-D!

Why does the Post-Dispatch dwell on population figures that will likely be challenged and reversed as has happened for the past six years in a row? At least the article was good enough to mention that fact.

Why not entitle the article "Census says #52; city prepared to challenge" if they wanted to stay the least bit neutral? Better yet, why not be outright optimistic and entitle the article "St. Louis's Census slide likely in error".

Now the STL Today forums are abuzz with the talk of the imminent demise of the city.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Testy Travelers Pan St. Louis

Every once in a while, I spy on Yahoo! Travel’s reviews of St. Louis (and now New Orleans, too) just to see what visitors to the city think. Typically, there are a series of four- and five-star reviews (the top of the heap) that laud the accommodations, attractions (read: Arch and Busch Stadium), and dinner on the Hill. Then you will have your occasional ranter, someone who is either a St. Louis resident with a bone to pick or a true traveler who simply has either an extremely small and closed mind or is just pissed that someone at their hotel treated them poorly. These are the one- and two-star reviewers; those that straight down the line report their experience as awful.

Still, I couldn’t help but cringe at some of the comments.

Hold on tight. I respond.

Oh wow - where do I commence? I had to come here for four days for business - I wish my employer would have selected the alternative of Indianapolis! I never once felt safe downtown, hospitality was at a minimum, and quite frankly there was an overall element of fear and hopelessness present. St. Louis is the type of city that should be razed, re-designed and re-structured for the contemporary era.

Dear Anonymous1:
Thank you for your Sim City-players’ perspective. Unfortunately, you didn’t likely step past your downtown hotel’s doorstep. Do you think you’re qualified to say that an entire city—or even neighborhood—should be razed?

Wow! It appears that people either love or hate STL, with vistors being overwhelmingly against and natives appearing to overwhelmingly for. Why don't I, as a rational, intelligent visitor, provide a fair and balanced review.
The locals aren't as bad as they are made out to be - they are not overly friendly or helpful, but they're not completely miserable people either. I asked for directions and received generally pleasant responses.
Now, what STL needs to do is really "clean up its act" per se, or have the city sanitation department work a bit smarter. Too much garbage, junk and other items lying around. The water quality could use a re-evaluation as well.
Given that, there are some decent sites here, traffic isn't terrible (just avoid rush hour - remember, I-64 is closed!). And yes, as a non-smoker, I do find the smoking appaling, but there are alternatives in Ballwin, a rather nice suburb 15 minutes to west and completely smoke-free. Or, you can zip across the river to Illinois, provided you avoid East St. Louis and vicinity.
Do your homework, be extremely patient and tolerant, and you should have no problem in STL.

Dear Anonymous2:
Thanks for your observations. I’m not sure where you stayed, but litter isn’t the greatest issue with the city. Did you happen to attend after a large festival or conference? And the water quality? Not sure if you’re aware, but St. Louis was recently selected as having the best-tasting drinking water in the country by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Yes, Ballwin is nice—and smoke-free(?). You do realize that Ballwin has nary a tavern that might even hold smoke, right? And thanks for the predictable East Side potshot as well. Next!

Are you people intoxicated? I grew up in the sewer of STL and left as soon as I could. How can you possibly give five stars to a city well-known for consistently having one of the highest violent crime rates in the U.S.? Miserable summer weather and crippling ice storms in the winter? Extremely small-minded and uneducated people? Roads with potholes that would engulf a 747? Extremely over-hyped restaurants with poor service? Yes, I am a "local/native" and I will tell you - it's not worth the time or effort to visit St. Louis. I left six years ago, moved to Orange County, CA and enjoy nice weather, clean smoke-free air and beautiful women, none of which are present in STL.

And for all of the local geniuses who state that the zoo is "free" - wrong again, it's paid for by the 1 percent city extortion tax on your salary, scholars. St. Louis has two things in common with Chicago - lousy hockey teams and extremely corrupt government!!!!!

Dear Anonymous3:
Where to begin? Let me ask you a couple questions. Can you tell me when the last crippling ice storm hit St. Louis? Name me one sizable pothole that New Orleans—a widely loved and appreciated city—couldn’t trump in at least one hundred different parts of the city? Where are these potholes? Could you provide an example of an over-hyped restaurant? And, the free-of-admission Zoo, etc. does not come from the “1 percent city extortion” tax, but rather the Zoo-Museum Tax District, which collects from property taxes.

I wonder if people like this guy realize that a place couldn’t possibly be so dystopic. All of the women are ugly? All of the roads in terrible shape? Smoky air? Doesn’t this guy live in Southern California. Yikes.

“Very Disappointed”:
We stopped on our way between Oklahoma City and Indianapolis. We won't go into details, as our experiences were very similar to a lot of visitors (substandard lodging - we stayed at the Holiday Inn at I-44/Lindbergh- , poor attitudes/customer service, etc.), be we cannot recommend visiting St. Louis at this time. Amazingly, we have always enjoyed visits to Kansas City, which is a much nicer city some 230 miles away from St. Louis. In conclusion, St. Louis is not the best of places to stop and yes, I'm sorry to say, the locals really don't care for tourists. And there is much more to life than baseball, smoking and eating fatty foods.

Dear VD:

Try staying within the city limits and then making a comment.

I could go on, but they get more and more depressing, many employing the term “ghetto” and poking at St. Louisans for “never having left the city” and being extremely stupid, mean, and fat (perhaps there is justice in this world--people rude enough to mock peoples' appearance and educational levels being treated rudely themselves?).

What St. Louis are these people traveling to?

I suppose the honest truth is that the city is not all that amenable to your traditional tourist. There aren’t many places to shop and the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission directs visitors to the suburban malls anyway; there’s not enough signage to guide tourists downtown or elsewhere; too many awesome and exciting neighborhoods are “off the beaten” path, and Metro doesn’t provide schedules or benches to encourage more transit usage; downtown, where most people formulate opinions about the city, is still a sub-par area for entertainment compared to other downtowns across the country. Now, as a local, I understand that St. Louis has come an extremely long way since its nadir. Tourists who come to the city aren’t looking for excuses; they’re looking for entertainment.

Still, it appears that these people (keeping in mind it could be the same bitter person posting several reviews) have a very negative perception of the city. It would behoove the CVC to view some of these comments. Apparently, many people are appalled at the smoke-friendliness of the city, the rudeness of people, and the lack of welcome to outsiders. If only, though, we had more information about where these people stayed, where they ate, and what other sites they visited, we could lob all of our own brand of vitriol right back on them. (I kid.)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Mini-Tour of Historic Carondelet

Thanks to a combination of Norbury Wayman's History of St. Louis Neighborhoods and improvements in online mapping technology (; Google's StreetView), we can now take an online, no-calories-burnt tour of St. Louis neighborhoods!

Just a couple of Norbury notables from Carondelet and the Patch:

First, from Steinstown, a Carondelet German sub-neighborhood.

The iconic Steins Row, at Steins and Pennsylvania, built somewhere between the 1840s and 1850s:


The Jacob Stein House - 7600 Reilly, built sometime pre-Civil War (not a great picture at all)


Confederate General John S. Bowen's residence at Michigan and Kraus, built 1850(?):

View Larger Map


American Gothic House at 5801 Minnesota. The city claims it was built in 1892; it was likely built much earlier, perhaps 1850s:

View Larger Map

This is a truly rare style for St. Louis. Most Gothic-styled homes were built before the Civil War, and, due to the style's association with religious architecture, it was used sparingly in residential settings. This is unabashedly Gothic, however. And it appears occupied and a splendid contributor to Greater Carondelet's impressivly diverse architectural cache.


John Krauss residence, built 1842, located at 122 E. Davis (just east of Broadway):

The above representation couldn't capture a good front facade shot due to foliage, but you can tell from this perspective that this is one stately home, occupying its own block.

Sixth, and finally:

The Lyle House, inside Carondelet Park, built 1842:

These early structures provide a link to past that not many St. Louisans know to appreciate. While colonial and antebellum St. Louis is largely erased, it is good to know that some of the town of Carondelet (annexed by the City of St. Louis in 1850) has indeed survived.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Hypocrisy in north St. Louis

This from the Post-Dispatch regarding Bob Cassilly's Cementland (a 54 acre 'amusement park' in an old cement plant's grounds in north St. Louis):

Cassilly has floated vague ideas for the site for years, but was forced to reveal his plans a month ago after St. Louis and the village of Riverview ordered Cassilly to stop work on the property. The site straddles both cities, but to no one's surprise, Cassilly never obtained permits from either. Meanwhile, his crew built a large castle on the property where Cassilly's children would play during visits.
[Emphasis mine]

Isn't it funny how someone else's acres of ordinance-breaking demolition by neglect gets a free pass from the city; but a man who is engaging in some real and creative economic development for the city is caught sans permit pretty handily?


Corner-hugging buildings to be extinct in St. Louis?

The latest from VanishingSTL: a North Side building demo'd for no apparent reason in July 2004. But take a look at the subject.

And another heartbreaker:

Look at the carefully calculated recess from public to private space that these units offer. It is not just a cynical statement to say that nothing with such attention to delightful nuance will ever occupy this spot again.

These cleverly curvaceous buildings remind me of the Fountain Park beauty rightfully lauded once upon a time by B.E.L.T.'s Toby Weiss:

Thank the heavens that this one has not yet seen "emergency" demolition! The pleasant building seems to literally embrace the oblong Fountain Park that is its neighbor. With any luck, it will get snapped up by some enterprising developer or some passionate resident with some spare change and time.

Let's jump back to the first example, located at MLK Jr. Blvd. and Glasgow:

View Larger Map

Take a look around. The city has respected the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. enough to repave the street, replace sidewalks, introduce ADA compliance, and add historic-esque street lighting.

Do these infrastructure improvements even matter when we erase places, when we pull down old buildings for no reason, with no plans?

More innovative leadership is needed to deal with a decaying, but irreplaceable stock of buildings in the city of St. Louis. A passive Building Division cannot engage in preservation advocacy, and our Preservation Board was designed to be "balanced" (meaning that there would have to be members whose interests are seen as counter to preservation--like realtor Mary "One" Johnson). Therefore, citizens need to both demand better leadership that has a better grip on what type of future residents want for their city AND to lead by example themselves.

That vacant lot at Glasgow and MLK, Jr. was a clear net loss for the city.

So why are we silent?

I am going to do a bit of research on the myriad ways other cities deal with vacant, but historic buildings. Look for a series in the future from me about "unlikely" preservation successes--that is, when people see potential and do not let it slip away. Perhaps in light of the 2008 presidential election, and specifically its Democratic nominee's slogan, I'll call the series, "Yes, We Can!"

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy 4th!

...from New Orleans.

I'm really missing my traditional attendance of Fair St. Louis right now. When mushrooming fireworks sprawl across the summer sky, framed by the Arch, I cannot deny that monument's majesty, how much it truly has come to symbolize "home" for me.

Of course, St. Louis's independence day is August 22 (1876)--the day the City-County split was voted upon, which would, after some controversy, loose the noble city from the greedy county's grip.

I kid, of course.

Happy Independence Day!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Carondelet Commons?


I never expected the Steins Broadway developer's proposed rehab-arama in Carondelet and the Patch! 300 Units! I guess that's the best strategy: propose new units during a downturn; investors realize by the the time of construction that the market could be totally different (and better).

One of the best parts of this announcement is this:

The renovation of the former Coca Cola syrup plant at 8125 Michigan Ave. into 78 apartments and about 20,000 square feet of commercial space, along with the construction of 16 new apartments nearby. This would be in partnership with Rothschild Development, which developed the former St. Boniface Catholic Church, 7622 Michigan Ave., into the Ivory Theatre.

That's this building right here. (Sorry, Street View wouldn't go on Michigan, actually. But it does give a sense of the scale we're working with.)

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I see this location as having major potential for a neighborhood grocery store. I know, I know, Loughborough Commons is perilously close by, its newly minted Schnucks underwhelming (but satisfying) shoppers all over the South Side and South County. But at 20,000 sq. ft., a perfectly functional and MUCH more walkable grocery store could serve the venerable and highly urban Patch neighborhood (or, "South Carondelet" as it's referred to in the article).

There's another possible setback, but one which I think is false. This site isn't on a major street. How would anyone know that it's even there?

The beauty of pedestrian-oriented urbanism is that the buildings are not intended for the destination-oriented shopper, those auto-mobile, if you will. It's intended to be used, as an amenity, for neighborhood residents. To be sure, many, if not most, residents would drive anyway. But it's still at a perfectly urban scale that would encourage many to walk. Such a store would be St. Louis's first walkable full-service grocery. For that alone, it would be monumental.

I am reminded of New Orleans' Uptown's Whole Foods store in an old transit depot on the famous seven-mile retail and restaurant-laden Magazine Street.

While this picture (credit goes to Walter Parenteau's flickr page; click the photo to visit the page) does not hint at the incredible number of pedestrians who filter in and out of the shed, nor the seamless blend into a mixed-use neighborhood, take my word for it. This store is a neighborhood amenity. Take a look on New Orleans Craigslist...the Whole Foods is listed on most ads for an Uptown apartment.

Now, I'm not necessarily pushing for a Whole Foods, or a Trader Joe's, being, as they are chains, but suffice it to say that they are far superior to the best Schnucks is going to give us. They emphasize healthy, organic foods as well, often purchasing from local farmers. In short, if a local guy could pull this location off, great! Otherwise, I would welcome a WF or a TJ!

Anyhow, here's to hoping the Patch becomes an even more viable and functional urban neighborhood as all of these rehabs and new constructions become reality. I am crossing my fingers that it will happen. Just to taunt the larger and more suburban neighbor--why not call the Coca-Cola Syrup factory Carondelet Commons? It, after all, would be more truly a commons.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A Coming of Rage Story

There’s profound disappointment in your voice when I say no that’s no longer there;

no; that belongs to the wildflowers; the ghetto palms; there’s a piquing curiosity in your brow; why so many prairies in the Fourth City?; there’s a sweeping anger at the loss whose pangs you never had to feel; directly; whose stinging slap; the idiocy of it; you experience; only in an unquenching visual dosage;

something by nothing begot;

but your fire is kindled nonetheless; and you leave an arm; a heart; an eye; on a clearcut lot; and don’t worry; the pictures like fangs of mangled stained glass; come together to reveal a sacred biting whole; worthy of veneration;

if only more blood had been spilled sooner.

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