Posts Tagged ‘Olive’

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Projects in Grand Center Advancing as Promised

June 25, 2012

It’s been a while since I last wrote about Grand Center, and since then a lot has happened.  The neighborhood has been improving at a remarkable pace, with a lot more investment than we’re used to seeing around the city.  KWMU’s new home, UMSL at Grand Center just opened, and the building is a great addition to Olive Street.  I haven’t seen any signs of work on the proposed plaza behind this new building  but hopefully it’s still in the pipeline.

KWMU Grand Center

KWMU’s new Location on Olive Street

Just across Grand, the Metropolitan building renovation is a big project that will dramatically improve the look and feel of Grand Center’s center.  The Metropolitan Artist Lofts, as the project is being called, are scheduled to open September 1st and I’m getting excited.  As one of the largest buildings in the neighborhood, and one that has had a few failed attempts at rehab, the reopening of the Metropolitan Building will be a major psychological boost to Grand Center.  The activation of this building should also help to link Grand Center with SLU and Midtown Alley given its placement at the intersection of these three districts.

Metropolitan Artist Lofts

Just a couple blocks up Grand is another new sight.  The Grand Center Public Art area finally has its third installation.  Entitled “A Chromatic Confluence,” this colorful, interactive sculpture is quite unique and worth checking out.

A Chromatic Confluence

Particularly fitting is that this art installation is right across the street from the Grand Center Arts Academy.  Already home to Cardinal Ritter High School and Clyde C. Miller Career Academy (not to mention SLU), Grand Center is really establishing itself as a neighborhood that values education.

Grand Center Arts Academy

Another new addition to the neighborhood that this blog has reported on in the past is Sweetie Pie’s Upper Crust.  Located on Delmar about halfway between Grand and Spring, the restaurant is a little bit isolated by parking lots and an abandoned building or two, but that doesn’t seem to be discouraging any business.  Riding off the success of the TV show “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s” (which really shines a positive light on the city of St. Louis in my opinion), as well as their delicious food, this new location looks like it’s going to be an attraction of its own.

Sweetie Pie’s Upper Crust

Grand Center has had an ambitious list of projects queued up, but after seeing so much recent success  I am confident that we will see many of them come to fruition.

Just for fun, here are some more photos I’ve snapped around the neighborhood in recent weeks:

NPR UMSL St. Louis Grand Center

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Hotel Ignacio Opens

April 22, 2011

St. Louis University’s new Boutique Inn, Hotel Ignacio opened its doors this month.  This accomplishment follows numerous Midtown Hotel projects that never made it much farther than the planning stage (except for the very small Grand Center Inn).  Midtown is a pretty major destination in St. Louis with assets such as SLU, The Fox, Powell Hall, The Moto Museum, Chaifetz Arena, Pappy’s Smokehouse and The Best Steak House all within a couple of blocks of the hotel.

Hotel Ignacio - Across Olive from SLU, Just a Block from Grand and Grand Center, and Right on Locust Street in Midtown Alley

The hotel’s placement is very nice for the growth of Midtown Alley, helping to anchor its Western end along with Triumph, The Moto Museum, MotoEuropa, The P.W. Shoe Lofts and the recently opened Field House Bar and Grill.

West End of Midtown Alley

In the near future, hotel guests and area residents alike will be able to enjoy Frozen Yogurt from Flying Cow Frozen Yogurt Company set to open this summer in a newly renovated building just East of the hotel.  It’s neighbor is currently an Art Gallery with some cool looking work on the walls and pedestals.

Art Gallery and Hotel Ignacio

Other recent additions to Midtown Alley such as the Urban Chestnut Brewing Company (which makes delicious beer) and the Double Apple Cafe and Hookah Lounge are bringing more people to the area and increasing its visibility.  My hope is that we won’t have to wait too much longer to have the large parking lots separating Grand Center from Midtown Alley replaced with useful buildings to create a continuous urban space.

Parking Lots in Midtown Alley and Grand Center

A large Parking Lot right in front of the new hotel is a bad first impression and I hope that SLU will realize that a parking garage with first level retail is a better way to go.  The enormous glut of parking in Midtown remains its biggest problem in my opinion, and only by rebuilding the city where it has been torn down to create these parking lots can we get this neighborhood to reach its full potential.

More Photos of Hotel Ignacio

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High Ball Alley

October 9, 2010

Grand Center is one of St. Louis’ coolest areas, but has some pretty bad problems.  I would say the that the biggest problem is one shared with Downtown and other city neighborhoods: it can’t keep people around after events.  People drive in to see shows at The Fox, The Sheldon, Powell Hall, The Black Rep etc., and then hop right back into their cars and drive home.

Grand Center from the North

Some do have a bite to eat at Kota Wood Fire Grill, The Best Steak House or the new City Diner @ The Fox before hand, but theater/concert patrons only add business for the hour or two directly preceding their show.  Looking at a map of Grand Center, the explanation for this phenomenon is pretty obvious.

Ample Parking

Although the view from Grand is wonderful, most of Grand Center is made of parking lots.  The only thing to do is park and then leave.  For Grand Center to be the entertainment destination that it could be, the parking lots must be replaced with something!  Clearly parking is necessary, but surface is not the answer.  We need some parking garages with stores, bars, restaurants and clubs on the first floor and we need mixed-use infill everywhere else.  To make this task easier and reduce the amount of land in need of development, I propose adding a North/South street in between Spring and Grand from Olive all the way to Enright.

Grand Center Avenue (or High Ball Alley!)

This short Avenue also creates much more walkable blocks that improve the friendliness of the pedestrian experience.  Looking at the map I became curious if there was once a similar street in place breaking up these long blocks, but according to the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps from 1907, no such street existed.  What did exist, however, was a short street connecting the back of the St. Louis Club to the Olive streetcar.  On the map it is labeled “High Ball Alley.”

A little bit of Google investigation yielded more about the drink than the alley, but proved quite interesting nonetheless.  Apparently the Highball had been invented in Grand Center at the University Club during the late 1800s, and had become a very popular drink at the area clubs.  Somehow, over time, the streetcar conductors changed the name of their stop along this stretch of Olive, from the St. Louis Club stop to Highball Alley.  This spot, that was once popular enough to have its own name and streetcar stop, is now a pair of surface parking lots.

High Ball Alley Today

I think that Grand Center’s revitalization would get a huge boost from the creation of an extended High Ball Alley.  Doesn’t it sound like a great place to meet for a drink?

References to High Ball Alley/The St. Louis Highball:

http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0101a&L=ads-l&P=10786

http://www.oldandsold.com/articles16/american-travel-18.shtml

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Midtown Alley

June 27, 2010

Ever since I first rode my bicycle down Locust Street East from Theresa (as a SLU student and Grand Center resident) I have considered this area one of St. Louis’ coolest.  Once known as “Automotive Row” and recently re-branded as “Midtown Alley,” this district has many advantages including its 2005 placement on the National Register of Historic Places.  It is centrally located and in close proximity to SLU, Harris-Stowe and Wells Fargo Advisors not to mention Grand Center and existing residents of the immediately surrounding area.  It has a fairly intact built environment with fewer gaps in the street-wall than most of St. Louis and it already had a few churches, residents and many small businesses scattered throughout it (most notably on Washington Avenue which has a Limousine Business, a Sign Maker, Salvation Army Harbor Light, Grand Wig House, several auto-related businesses and more).

Washington Avenue in Midtown Alley in 2007

Unlike many concentrations of commercial activity in the city of St. Louis, Midtown Alley is not restricted to one street.  Washington, Locust, Olive and all the streets that connect them are part of this district and each have been benefiting from recent investment.  Midtown Alley also has short, walkable blocks (which Jane Jacobs is a big fan of) and an ability to expand in any direction it wants!

Map of Midtown Alley

In the last few years the area has improved dramatically, particularly along Locust and Olive Streets.  Restaurants, nightclubs, barber shops, residences, offices of professionals and more have made the decision to move into Midtown Alley.

Motorcycle Event Outside Moto Museum

There is a motorcycle museum, a tanning salon, a boutique clothing store, a Taekwondo school, a recording studio, a very popular rock venue, the Black Alcohol/Drug Service Information Center, and more.  SLU is opening a boutique hotel in Midtown Alley next year and next door on Locust will be a Motorcycle Dealership (SLU had better have a lobby that connects Locust and Olive).

Hotel Ignacio and MotoEuropa

This is from the website of the Tour de Grove bicycle race (which included the Midtown Alley Grand Prix:

Moto Europa coming July 2010, Moto Europa located at 3410 Locust is the latest addition to a true motorcycling destination right here in StLouis, MO. Attached to the Moto Museum and the Triumph Grill Moto Europa will offer new Ducati and Triumph motorcycles combined with a beautiful state of the art dealership and providing customer service second to none. Opening July 30, 2010.

Personally I’m excited.  And not as a Motorcycle fan.  The transformation this area is undergoing is just incredible.  And the best part is that Midtown Alley is not alone.  It is just one of many places around the city that people are rediscovering.

Anti-Aging and Wellness Center next to Arch Taekwondo

Areas where people concentrate themselves generate economic and social activity that makes our city a city.  We can never have enough of these places where St. Louis actually looks like a real city and we can really learn a lot of lessons from seeing what works when redeveloping neighborhoods.

Midtown Alley's Grand Opening was September 26th 2009

The slow and organic growth that Midtown Alley has been experiencing has actually been going pretty fast!

Locust Street in 2008 - The Two Buildings on the Right are now the REO Lofts

I commend Midtown Alley and its businesses/organizers for their great work.  Pappy’s attracted the New York Times to Midtown Alley (even though they didn’t name drop it) and I’ve been recommended the chicken wings and sandwiches at The U, the pizza at The Good Pie and recommend to others the beer at the Buffalo Brewing Company (and the food).

2 Buildings SLU is converting to Apartments and Retail

Unfortunately, despite all of the success Midtown Alley has had, it still faces some pretty big obstacles.  Just like the Loop owes much of its success to Wash U, SLU and Harris-Stowe are key to the success of Midtown Alley.  Although they literally touch Midtown Alley, both institutions have turned their campuses inwards leaving fences to face the outside world.  Olive Street already suffers from it’s extreme width that discourages pedestrians from crossing it.

SLU's Face Fence to Midtown Alley

If SLU were to add street entrances to it’s buildings along Olive and allow students and staff to enter from the inside OR outside of the campus, people would be better able to take advantage of what the school’s prime location has to offer.  In addition, the blight of surface parking between Midtown Alley and Grand Center must be addressed.  If re-connected, these areas could benefit each other greatly.  I recommend driving through Midtown Alley at the very least.  While a lot of what it has to offer is still just potential, that potential is still great.

More photos of Midtown Alley.

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St. Louis Sidewalk Company

January 30, 2010

A few months ago, I was walking down Olive Street when I looked down and noticed this:

St. Louis Sidewalk Company - 1110 Clark Ave.

What a cool piece of history!  I had to learn more.  A visit to 1110 Clark Ave. didn’t yield anything new for me:

Former Home of the St. Louis Sidewalk Company

But Google searching brought in a little more information.  I found a reference to the company in a discussion of a lawsuit filed over a patented method of laying sidewalks (which sounds to me like the way sidewalks are laid today) invented by either two men, Kelleher and Grimm, of the St. Louis Sidewalk Company in 1892, or one man, Mayhew in 1890.  The next reference I found was to a contract to pave either the sidewalk in front of the Garfield School along Jefferson, or to pave Jefferson itself.

From Board of Public Schools Official Report - August 13th 1889

I then tracked the Garfield School down to Jefferson and Wyoming but when I visited I found that the school was built in 1936 leaving a slim chance that the original sidewalks were kept if the original school was even built on this same site.  Although I don’t have too many more leads on this particular company I will continue keeping my eye out for similar sidewalk markers that could reveal some of St. Louis’ past.  I found several other websites/blog posts related to these “sidewalk markers” including this post from Centers and Squares, and History at Our Feet: Buffalo Pavement Markers.  As much as I love to see fresh new sidewalks around the city, I now must wonder what hidden treasures may have been lost in the replacement process.  Here are the few photos I have relating to this post.

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Ghost Sign on Centene Center for the Arts

January 27, 2010

Today, while reading Misfit Stream, a great River des Peres resource (there is so much information out there about this river), I stumbled upon a historic photograph with a familiar looking building – the Continental Life.

Olive looking towards Grand in the 1960s(?)

Just above and to the left of the bowling pin on the right side of this photo is a painted sign for the INTL ASSN of Machinists.  This same sign is still visible today on what is now the Centene Center for the Arts.

Centene Center for the Arts - Grand Center

Although it is quite faded, the wording is still fairly legible at the right side of this photo.  The harsh juxtaposition of a busy, dense, street with one that is now all but abandoned is a little bit sad, but it should inspire us to restore Grand Center into an area that better reflects its Grand history.

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