Posts Tagged ‘North City’

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Cowan Street

May 2, 2011

Today I was randomly driving around the city when I passed what looked like a bombed out church just a stone’s throw from Interstate 70 on Prairie Avenue.  For some reason I felt a need to park my car and investigate on foot, a decision that led me to stumble upon a small and forgotten North St. Louis Street – Cowan Street.  The St. Louis Public Library’s Index of Street Names offers us a brief history:

COWAN STREET (E-W). Appeared in the 1854 subdivision of West Lowell. The name originated in the Irish and Scottish as “dweller in a hollow; worker in metal, a smith”. There is a Cowan, Tennessee, and a town and lake in Canada named Cowan. No specific personal attachment has been found for a St. Louisan, however. (Hyde Park & Bissell-College Hill)

Cowan Street

The current state of the street is terrible, with just two shells of unsalvageable buildings remaining on it.  Originally only one block long, the street was truncated into a dead end as soon as Highway 70 was built, severing it’s connection to Broadway.

Cowan Street on Bing Maps

Approximately 100 years ago, this little street was home to Wagon Making, Mushroom Tunnels, a Church, School, homes and more.

Cowan Street in 1909 - From a Sanborn Fire Insurance Map

Today, St. Paul’s Lutheran School is two walls rising from a pile of rubble.  As can be seen above in the screenshot from Bing Maps, the school was standing fairly recently, and even hosted basketball games.

St. Paul's Lutheran School

However small Cowan Street is, its loss is a loss for the whole city.  I hope that some new development is lined up to capitalize on this site’s visibility from the interstate, but have little reason to be optimistic.

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Urban Prairie

September 2, 2010

The only thing worse than this city’s abandoned buildings and surface parking lots, is the Urban Prairie that accounts for far too many blocks in North St. Louis.  One of the largest expanses of Urban Prairie that I have come across is in the area of North Market and 23rd Streets.  This area is just North of the Pruitt-Igoe site and is hardly better off than the rubble that remains from the housing project there.  At least the street grid is intact.

Looking South from N. Market and 23rd

It’s almost too depressing to try imagining what this intersection once looked like, but the task is made easier (but no less depressing) by the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of the area in 1909.

N. Market and 23rd in 1909

This intersection was home to a 5-story building that housed “Moving Pictures” in a neighborhood made up mostly of 2 or 3 story flats.  Just around the corner on 23rd was a “Beer Depot”.  Although this area was clearly not extremely dense (at least not in 1909),  I can count over 20 homes that faced the alleys on either side of N. Market between 25th and 22nd.  These alleys are still in place, but only a handful of buildings remain within eyesight of 23rd and N. Market.  A look back to 1875 shows another picture that stands in sharp contrast to the current condition of 23rd and N. Market (in 1875 23rd Street was 19th).

N. Market and 23rd (then 19th) in 1875

For me, these historical documents are just ideas of what could be here next.  Currently, the slate is all but clean.

Urban Prairie

Although this expanse of Urban Prairie is particularly large and depressing, it is by no means strange to stumble across a similar sight while traveling around St. Louis.  Demolitions that continue to occur around our city increase the amount of totally vacant land and decrease the stock of historic buildings with rehab potential.  One plus side to the current state of this land is that Paul McKee would have to really try hard to screw up its redevelopment.  A NorthSide project that narrowed its scope to the Pruitt-Igoe site and the Urban Prairie nearby would have hardly any current residents or legacy buildings to worry about and would serve the purpose of reconnecting neighborhoods that are intact enough to resurrect themselves.  Since McKee has announced that he will soon begin work on the Clemens Mansion, these deserted blocks nearby would be a great place for him to demonstrate his vision and possibly win support for his broader plan for the much larger chunk of North St. Louis he wants to redevelop.

For more on this area/subject matter see Built St. Louis’ Excellent tour of St. Louis Place and Slow Death of a City Block.

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New Investment on North Grand

July 17, 2010

Grand Center has been on a great roll this year and the whole area has seen dramatic improvement in my opinion.  While driving down Grand recently I was pointed out a newly rehabed building at Grand and Windsor Place just past the northern limits of Grand Center.  Justine Petersen recently renovated and moved into the Olivia building at 1023 North Grand.  The organization “helps low and moderate income families and individuals buy homes and build financial assets for the long term” which sounds to me like something that is good to have around.  Its building is the former home of The School of Social Economy (affiliated with Washington University).  Jones and Henderson’s Business College also called the Olivia Building home.

Ad for the Olivia Building May 18th 1903

Because of the building’s history, I am unhappy with the current owners for removing the original name (Google Streetview shows the building in its recent dilapidated state).

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1023 North Grand could read Olivia Building

The building has a lot of neighbors that could really use a renovation, and adding activity to the block is a really positive infusion of needed momentum to this dead zone that separates Midtown from North City.  Its bike rack, added to the fact that Grand has the best bus service in the city, really boosts the place’s attractiveness.

Bike Rack and Grand Bus

More projects close by have been recently completed or are in the works.  Just one block away, at Grand and Finney, another rehab was completed recently.  Two years ago the building was boarded up and not being used.

Grand and Finney - Summer 2008

Now it is in much better shape and had a clothing store in one of it’s Grand facing storefronts when I drove past today.

C.W. Fashion

Another couple of blocks away is a great example of the kind of infill we need just about everywhere in St. Louis.

PNC Bank on Page

This two-story building that faces Page half a block East of Grand is home to a branch of PNC National Bank, a refreshing site in an area with far too many storefronts advertising payday loans and surrounded by surface parking in every direction.  Grand is in pretty bad shape around this area but I see it improving.  Maybe the next renovation will be for the Douglas E Kelly Community Resource Center – advertised here 2 years ago.

1027 North Grand

Whatever it is, I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next development to report on.

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