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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Bright (Green) Future for McRee Town?

Unlike Dotage, the 17th Ward has a fairly regularly updated blog keeping St. Louisans abreast of developments in that section of the city (Central West End, Forest Park Southeast, McRee Town, et cetera).

One of the most exciting bits of news covered by Blog 17 is a newly announced redevelopment plan for the old section of McRee Town not razed for the Botanical Heights development.

On the 4200 block of McRee, Urban Improvement Construction (UIC) has proposed a green redevelopment of nearly the entire block -- 16 historic renovations along with 12 new LEED-certified homes.

Blue buildings are existing, to be rehabilitated; yellow are proposed new construction. Image is courtesy of Blog 17.

Brent Crittenden of UIC and the Central Design Office (CDO) also spoke of UIC/CDO's plans for the corner building at McRee and Tower Grove, located diagonally from their main offices.

While this building has been allowed to degrade over the past years, under the plaster finish that now covers the façade is a glazed brick former Standard Oil station, with white glazed brick and a bright red cornice. We intend to restore this vintage filling station and outfit it as a small corner café. Our hope is that this café will provide some vibrancy to the neighborhood and become a long term icon and meeting place.

To me, this is a great step in the right direction towards revitalizing McRee Town. While I'm quite sure Botanical Heights has stabilized its surrounding neighborhoods, I do wonder if a more sensitive infill-based project like that proposed for the 4200 block of McRee would have been even better. I even like the design philosophy suggested by UIC/CDO:

Maintaining and restoring as much of the historic character of the neighborhood is important to us for many reasons, both culturally and architecturally. Our firm has developed an expertise in the restoration of difficult rehabs and we hope to showcase that ability in this project. On the new units, we plan to build homes that match the proportions and materials of the existing homes, but in a more contemporary design that appeals to a design conscious buyer.

We need more infill housing across the city that walks the fine line between homage and challenge to our architectural heritage.

Below is one of the homes slated for renovation, including facade improvements:

Image courtesy of the City of St. Louis

I have always thought McRee Town to be a sadly and unnecessarily overlooked part of St. Louis; having I-44 and heavy industry as a neighbor on nearly all sides doesn't help too much. That said, this is actually part of the neighborhood's history, having sprung up around the looming Liggett and Myers Tobacco Factory on Park Avenue. Thankfully, the remaining portion of McRee Town is now a historic district under the Liggett & Myers name. I am glad to see it may not be too late to appreciate what's left of this small, but classic south St. Louis neighborhood.

Please check out Blog 17's item on the redevelopment here, which includes the full interview with Brent Crittenden,


STLgasm said...

Thanks for the update. I will never call the neighborhood Botanical Heights. Highway 40 will always be 40, Kiel Opera House will always be Kiel, and McRee Town will always be McRee Town!

Anonymous said...

gasm, why? The backward looking progressives in this city have always confused me.

STLgasm said...

Because I'm sentimental, that's why. And I don't think being sentimental and progressive are mutually exclusive. Why change McRee Town's name to some generic name like Botanical Heights? McRee Town has history, and I think its insulting to rename an entire historic neighborhood that many people have pride in. How many "Heights" neighborhoods do we need? Should we change the name St. Louis to "Missouri Heights"?

Chris said...

Tradition is what gets people to respect your city. There are places in Rome, Italy that have had the same name for three thousand years, and millions of people flock to them every year as tourists. Names that stay the same give a city a sense of place. It is not backward looking.

I for one would love to see McReeTown reborn; if we can fix that neighborhood, we can fix any on the South Side.

Doug Duckworth said...

"While I'm quite sure Botanical Heights has stabilized its surrounding neighborhoods..."

Really? Lot's of rehabs occurred after the mass demolition and anti-urban street closures?

McRee Town was renamed in order to remove the memory of negative press. Chosen Botanical Heights as a marketing term in order to get people to move there as its "close" or connected to MOBOT...if you ignore the highway that, with the Gate District, caused the neighborhoods decline. It really was called Botanical Heights because MOBOT was one of the largest proponents at demolishing the neighborhood. If only residents of Lafayette Square could pool resources, demolish the Gate District, and rename it Lafayette Gardens or something Orwellian as such. This, I think, would be real progress.

Chris, I don't think we fixed anything and hope we don't try this method anywhere else.

That being said I do believe this proposal is a great idea. Too bad it didn't happen around 2000 before the area was devastated! Quite ironic, don't you think?

Unknown said...

I was shot in McRee Town at the beginning of this year. People talk about being sentimental - sentimental towards what? A bunch of abandoned crack houses?

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