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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The City of Fenced Off Corners

I knew that the gut-wrenching demolition pictures of the San Luis would affect me deeply. This would be true even if something fabulous were to replace the San Luis--and not a life-sucking parking lot.

Yet I realize that our fragile, broken city still steams on.

It's saying a lot for St. Louis that its urban allure is still irresistible despite all of its puncture wounds.

Eric Sandweiss called St. Louis "The City of Fenced-off Corners" at the turn of the 20th century. Fenced-off corners referred to the tight-knit immigrant-run neighborhoods that were almost entirely autonomous and therefore largely disconnected from City Hall.

I think it's still true today, but it's in a much more literal sense. There are fenced-off corners of vibrancy, activity, and urbanity (the Central West End, Soulard, Lafayette Square). There are fenced-off corners in the sense of their isolation (N. Broadway and the stranded portions of Hyde Park east of I-70; and the example below...). There's not a connected city yet (or ever?).

But these unending pockets make life in the city so incredibly rich for the urban enthusiast!

I often wonder if I would even enjoy a St. Louis that took all the steps to stitch together these fenced-off corners. A part of me, the planner part, screams yes! this is exactly what drove you to remain a long-distance resident and not just another expatriate.

Yet that other part of me (it doesn't have a name) thinks the city is better for its fences.

Take these two examples. Both are in south city. Both are nooks now, but were once stitched into the larger fabric of the city. I-55 is the fence in both situations.

The Post-Dispatch reported on the first one. It was part of the Contemporary's Open Studio event. It's Keith Buchholz's studio at 4615 Oregon. This P-D write-up indicates the studio is a "circa 1810 farmhouse", though I highly doubt anything that old existed in this part of the city. The funny thing is, though, that it's so hidden at this point, who would ever know?

See this Streetview below? It's the building up those stairs, shrouded in all the greenery:

It's so intriguingly hidden. I should be furious though. The ruinous path of I-55 completely isolated this section of, what is it here, Mount Pleasant? The neighborhood's streets are essentially a series of cul-de-sacs shaped by I-55. Instead, though, it makes me want to explore even more than if the neighborhood were whole.

And take this B&B in "Benton Park"--this definitely related more to Soulard before the onslaught of I-55.

It's the Brewers House on the 1800 block of Lami, just west of I-55. It's a stunning Civil War-era house on a very historic block that is fenced in by the interstate to the east and the brewery complex to the west. Some friends of mine stayed there for New Year's a while back. It backs to the interstate (how many thousands of cars and people pass per day?) yet it might as well be in the country.

Have you ever seen it?


Well, you've got some exploring to do, some fences to climb.


Michael R. Allen said...

Keith's studio is indeed as old as the Post says it is. There are many very old buildings in the Carondelet area.

Matt M. said...

Really? Wow! Is that one of the oldest buildings in the city?

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