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Paul McKee and the Clemens Mansion

April 28, 2020
March 2016: Chapel and Mansion

In July of 2015, headed home from a business trip via LAX, I noticed a familiar face hovering around the Business Select section of my Southwest Airlines gate – long before boarding was to begin. It was the infamous Paul McKee, so I walked over and started a conversation, introducing myself as a supporter of his Northside Regeneration project. He reacted with excitement but spoke only in broad terms about his “commitment” and planned “transformation”. I asked a few polite questions, thanked him for his time, and eventually boarded just a couple folks behind him in line.

January 2012: Secure Site

Filing onto the plane, I ended up taking the aisle seat directly in front of Mr. McKee and settled in for the long flight. Catching up on my backlog of magazine issues, I sipped a Tanqueray and tonic graciously mixed by hard working flight attendants, and almost forgot about the local celebrity sitting behind me. But when we landed and everyone started standing up to collect their belongings from the overhead bins, I couldn’t help myself.

October 2016: Open Floor Plan

“Mr. McKee – I meant to ask you earlier about your plans for the Clemens Mansion. It appears to be deteriorating rapidly despite your public commitment to preserve and restore it.”

March 2016: Deterioration

He immediately became defensive and asked “If you want to restore it, why don’t you put up the money yourself!”

October 2016: Abandoned

I responded that I did not have the financial resources for this undertaking, and for that reason (along with not being a developer) had not sought to buy the property. Why, if Mr. McKee did not have the funds to complete his promised restoration, did he purchase this landmark in the first place? Our exchange continued as such until we made it to the end of the jetway, at which point my conversation partner walked briskly in the direction opposite the airport exit.

March 2016: The View

I proceeded with routine of shuttle to garage to car to freeway, home. But because of the interaction, I was reminded to continue visiting and photographing the Clemens Mansion.

July 2017: Gutted

Unfortunately, this historic structure on Cass Avenue was demolished after undergoing a decade of neglect at the hands of its latest owner and a fire, breaking out almost exactly two years after the interaction described above, ultimately sealing its fate.

July 2017: Misplaced Hope

Paul McKee still owns the property today (as Northside Regneration, LLC), now a blank slate. Property taxes for 2019 remain unpaid as of this publishing date.

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Beauty Alley

February 3, 2020

I love alleys. From the narrow, fire-escape-dotted canyons of downtown, to those in quiet neighborhoods lined with chain link fences and small garages. Each has its own charm, but in St. Louis few of these alleys have names. One that does recently caught my attention.

Along the southern edge of the McKinley Heights neighborhood, just north of Gravois between Indiana and Shenandoah, sits Beauty Alley. No street signs identify this two or three block stretch, and as far as I can tell, no homes or businesses utilize its address. Despite the lack of identification on the ground, Beauty Alley is listed in directories and city records as far back as 1891, and appears on Google Maps today. But walking down this alley (or scrolling through the photos above), beauty probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. So why the name? Was it ever beautiful?

Unfortunately I’ve had trouble finding out anything substantive about this place. A 1909 Sanborn map (above) doesn’t show anything remarkable about Beauty Alley except its name – there’s just a bunch of wooden outbuildings like every other alley in the area. The only record of any interest I’ve been able to find is barely more informative than a street directory acknowledgement (but significantly more entertaining). Read it below, as seen in the November 25, 1898 edition of the Post-Dispatch:

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So Beauty Alley has probably always been off the beaten bath, or at least not well known. Maybe it’s just a name?

Maybe not. After tracking down the Compton & Dry view of this area from 1875, it started to make sense. The alley might not be identified by name on this map, but it is a beauty.

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Pedestrian Walkways of Princeton Heights

December 3, 2017

Last week I posted about a pair of Pedestrian walkways in the Northampton neighborhood, and am following up today with some photos of a similar duo in Princeton Heights.

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Like those in Northampton, the Princeton Heights cut-thrus are in quiet residential areas.  Walking down them shows you homes, backyards, alleys and garages: a cross-section of the neighborhood.

38813836091_27529f464c_c Local residents relaxing in their backyards or working in garages stopped us for brief but friendly conversations.  There is a real sense of community in this area, and the walkways are a really safe and pleasant piece of the public realm.

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The photos above show the Quincy Walk.  A couple of blocks east is a shorter walkway, the Bonita Walk.

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Finally, here is a map of the two walkways pictured and described above:

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For more images of these walkways and Princeton Heights , check out my flickr album for the neighborhood.

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Pedestrian Walkways of Northampton

November 29, 2017

This past weekend, while enjoying the wonderful weather that St. Louis had been graced with, I stumbled upon a mid-block pedestrian pathway between Hereford and Lawn in the Northampton neighborhood (AKA North Hampton, AKA Northhampton).

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Turning down the walkway and following it through the neighborhood is a delightful experience.  It provides a truly unique perspective on the area.  Each block has its own character and this cut through lets you see them back to back, witnessing the changes from single family to two-family to four-family to apartment block.

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Marked crosswalks provide an added level of comfort to the already safe-feeling path.  The streets this walkway crosses through are narrow and calm for the most part.

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Adding even more interest to this particular walkway is the curvature of the streets as they approach Kingshighway from the West.

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The backside of a block can sometimes be even more interesting than the front.

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Discovering this walkway and experiencing it on foot had me searching google for more information as soon as I got home.  That’s when I came across the St. Louis Urban Connections Project.  Take a look – this mapping project shows pedestrian walkways all over St. Louis.   In addition to the “Lawn Walk” (which is the one I’ve described and shown above), it highlights another in the Northampton Neighborhood, and a similar pair in Princeton Heights (all new to me).

Northampton Walkways

I’ll follow this post up with another showing the pedestrian walkways of Princeton Heights.  If you’re in the area, seek out these interesting neighborhood tours.  Check my Northampton Flickr page for more scenes from this portion of the city.

Update 12/3/2017: After linking to this post on Twitter, the resulting conversation taught me a few new things about the Northampton neighborhood (or North Hampton, which is apparently the preferred name).  Within it are two strong neighborhood organizations, Kingshighway Hills and Tilles Park that essentially split the city-defined neighborhood along Macklind Avenue (although Tilles Park extends into the Lindenwood Park neighborhood up to Watson).

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North Sarah Redevelopment – Phase 3

March 28, 2017

The North Sarah Redevelopment has continued to grow, and its most recent phase appears to be nearing completion.  The project was an early topic for this blog, and has now inspired a follow-up.

To provide a bit of background: McCormack Barron Salazar broke ground on phase 1 of the North Sarah Redevelopment Project in 2011 centered around Sarah and CD Banks.  They completed phase 2 on Vandeventer in 2013.  The current phase included a re-working of Turner Park, and extends new construction west to Whittier.

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Looking Northeast towards the corner of Sarah and CD Banks

The new Turner Park is attractive, and retains two structures from the previously existing park.  A new landscaped walking path with benches and gardens wraps the park that was previously dominated by a softball field.  Gone is the chain link fence that once lined its perimeter, and the addition of a playground appears to be quite popular.

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Turner Park looking South from Sarah and CD Banks

Unfortunately, three historic homes have been demolished as part of this phase, in addition to the few that were previous casualties of the project.  The most recent set were documented by VanishingSTL back in July of 2014.  Since the development includes dwellings for as few as four families, working around existing building stock should have been a great problem.

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Finney Avenue looking east towards Sarah

A stroll through more in-tact nearby blocks of the neighborhood presents an argument for preservation.  The home pictured below is directly across the street from the three residences referenced by vanishingstl in the link above.

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A few blocks to the west (and just a block east of Ranken Tech) is a great collection of commercial/industrial buildings that are awaiting a new use.  Enright Avenue immediately to the south has few “missing teeth” (at least west of Sarah), and showcases the very best of St. Louis residential architecture.  Buildings along this corridor are in various states of repair, but the success of North Sarah along with a steady stream of infill/rehabs on Delmar and to the immediate south elicits optimism.

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Enright Avenue in the Vandeventer Neighborhood

North Sarah feels nice to visit.  At least one of the live/work spaces includes a useful and interesting retail store.  Turner Park looks great.  Hundreds of new residents have moved in within the last five or so years.  The North City Food Hub is set to open this summer in the never-really-occupied anchor retail space at Sarah and CD Banks.

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Looking North on Sarah

This project has done a lot of good things, and in terms of form and materials it sets a great example for urban development in “less-desirable” (i.e., North of Delmar) portions of the city.  The problem is that it’s repetitive in a way that’s visually boring.  It’s a poor match for the smaller scale, incremental development that makes up much of the surrounding area.  It’s too big because it has to be in our “economy of scale” age.

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It’s the little things.

I don’t have the answers here, but we must find a way to attract investment from a variety of developers that can tackle one to five lots rather than 50 to 500.  The North Sarah project has done a good job in its three phases, but whatever phase 4 is it needs to try something different.  It’s the little things that make a neighborhood great.

Further Reading:

Slyvester Brown’s STL American Column on the North City Food Hub: http://www.stlamerican.com/business/business_opinion/a-new-model-for-developing-north-st-louis/article_519f6618-a6ca-11e6-ae49-334af5ff88f0.html

 

 

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Top of the Parking Garage

March 16, 2015

Downtown St. Louis has far too many parking garages that deaden the streetscape and ugly-up our beautiful built environment.  In the spirit of optimism, these garages are definitely good for one thing – providing public access to breathtaking views otherwise reserved for the occupants of corner offices.  Below are some of my favorite Downtown St. Louis parking garage rooftop photographs.

Terra Cotta Detail

Olive from Garage Mahal

Met Square

Union Trust Lions (and Pidgeon)

I-64

17th and Washington

Union Station

Railway Exchange

Locust Street

Looking Southwest

Purina

Car Park Village

Wainwright, etc.

Looking East

9th and Olive

PET Building

Old Post Office Roof

SLU Law and Courthouses

Tucker

Pine Street View of the Soldier’s Memorial and Plaza Square

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Cementland in 2015

January 21, 2015

I first wrote about Cementland in early 2010.  Now, just over three years after the tragic death of Bob Cassilly, the site is slowly becoming another St. Louis landmark forgotten by all but Graffiti Artists and Urban Explorers.  The following are photos of this incredible place in its current state.  I still maintain hope that an individual or group will attempt to fulfill Cassilly’s grand vision, but it’s a long shot.

Cementland in 2015

Northwest Corner

Train Tracks

Reeds

Reflections

Bench and Sculpture(s)

Bridges

Edge of a Bridge

Near the Entrance

Cementland

Downstairs

We need to save this place.