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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The "Other" West End

St. Louis's "West End" Neighborhood can cause quite the confusion. Many refer to the bustling and popular Central West End by the same shortened name. Others think of the "West End" more in its historical sense, taking in an area from Kingshighway to city limits, Page Avenue to Forest Park.

Today's West End neighborhood is considered a solid part of the North Side, being located north of Delmar. Most people don't consider that this neighborhood shares the East Loop with Skinker-DeBaliviere; contains one of the oldest houses in the city; was indeed once part of that nebulous and larger West End region that was defined by its wealth and prestige.

If you read the History of Urban Renewal in St. Louis, you'll discover that the West End (current definition) was one of the city's countless "urban renewal" areas. Usually this meant mass demolition for new construction and green space. However, the West End was a late urban renewal zone. By the dawn of the 1970s, Pruitt-Igoe and like-public housing projects were rapidly losing favor. The federal government's Model Cities program contained public participation requirements for urban redevelopments receiving federal funding; through this more democratic approach, mid-century planners were beginning to hear the voices of unrest and upheaval. To their surprise, many low-income residents liked their neighborhoods and did not want to see them cleared outright.

Accordingly, in the West End, the intent was rehabilitation of the bulk of the neighborhood's fine homes. The plans also called for a popular crime-deterring technique of the 1970s, one that has scarred the city throughout--street closures and other disruptions to the grid. Sadly, planned rehabilitations in the West End Urban Renewal Area were outpaced by demolitions. The street grid was still marred as planned, in many cases.

Today's West End has little relation to the better known Central West End, socioeconomically or otherwise. There are some new homes:

These homes are located on the 5800 block of Clemens. Their presence is probably a good sign for the neighborhood, though their execution could clearly have been better. Driveways should be banned in most of St. Louis's urban neighborhoods, including the West End. In addition, the city should probably discourage the brick facade-vinyl siding phenomenon in a well-articulated urban design guidelines. Still, the several blocks that have witnessed these new homes are at least no longer desolate.

Even better, the West End contains one of the city's most picturesque and historic private streets--West Cabanne Place. It has sustained some high profile losses, but for the most part is intact. For a great history of the Cabanne area, please make sure to see the immaculate Vanishing St. Louis post: "Survival and Loss on the West End's Cabanne Avenue".

The West End neighborhood is also notable for hosting several examples of a relatively rare American housing style--the Shingle-style house. West Cabanne Place has several--as does Bartmer Avenue centered on Belt.

Unfortunately, last month's Preservation Board meeting saw the unanimous approval of the demolition of one of these rare housing types. 5594 Bartmer was requested for demolition by an adjacent property owner who had built a new home and was worried about the condition of this neighboring home. It is pictured below, courtesy of the St. Louis Community Information Network.

Vacant for many years, 5594 was given several reprieves by the Preservation Board in the past in order to find a fitting owner. Such an owner never materialized. Now the house will be demolished.

The West End has lost another important building recently as well. The 30-unit building at Goodfellow and Cabanne is no more. Courtesy of Vanishing St. Louis:

The West End was likely once not too much unlike its neighbor to the south, Skinker-DeBaliviere. That is to say, it contained lots of large apartment buildings like that above and many unique, turn-of-the-century single-family homes. Despite its many losses, it's not too late for a neighborhood like the West End. Urban design guidelines, a neighborhood-wide National Register nomination, re-opening the neighborhood's street grid and, who knows, maybe the Loop Trolley, could all help to get the neighborhood back on its feet. We shouldn't forget the two West End attributes when we rebuild any neighborhood in the city--uniqueness (see the rare Shingle style houses that call the neighborhood home) and density (its formerly numerous apartment blocks).


Brian said...

People complain about vinyl siding on new construction homes in the city; I think attached garages and driveways are a bigger problem with recent infill.

Mark Groth said...

"Driveways should be banned in most of St. Louis's urban neighborhoods, including the West End."

Which neighborhoods are you suggesting be exempt from the driveway ban? Aren't all St. Louis neighborhoods urban by definition?

Matt M. said...

Well, certain neighborhoods, like your own (Boulevard Heights) have suburban-formatted streets for which driveways are appropriate. See also St. Louis Hills Estates; subdivisions west/south of River des Peres but still within city limits; etc.

If I were being purely historicist, I'd say driveways in the West End were fine because some of the homes actually developed with the car in mind and provided buyers driveways. It was once very rural, after all.

Still, the West End has reconstituted itself as an urban neighborhood for which driveways are not really appropriate.

Matt M. said...

^Btw, I don't mean all or even most Boulevard Heights streets are like that. But there are a handful of subdivisions off of Morgan Ford and Germania that are suburban-formatted.

Mark Groth said...

Yeah, I agree, BH has many mid-century areas. Such areas exist all over the city, usually mixed in with the more urban or uniquely St. Louis homes. In fact, I wish the city had zoning rules that would outlaw driveways and attached garages in the historic neighborhoods. Unfortunately, I find them almost everywhere i go.

Vegetable Lasagna said...

I tend to agree with you for most of the city, but actually there is precedent in this area in particular.
he 58-6000 blocks of Cabanne, Clemens, and Cates all have many houses with driveways, even the turn-of-the-century ones. I would have preferred the new houses to largely forgo them, especially where there is an alley.

But, the old houses they replaced had quite a few with driveways. Many of them likely pre-dated the household auto, I'm guessing that they were access to the carriage houses. This area has much wider lots than most of the city and I think it was just the way the surburb was laid out (less urban).

Thomas Hill said...

The houses are beautiful, even the abandoned ones. Too bad they are about to be demolished. If these houses are renovated, I think they will be more beautiful than ever. They may do the repainting, changing its roof, its windows and vinyl siding. Boston has an abandoned house before so I decided to buy it and remodel it again.

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