High Ball AlleyOctober 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.
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.
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.
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.
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: