Our Water TowersMarch 25, 2011
St. Louis’ three Standpipe Water Towers are monumental historic structures which two of our city’s neighborhoods have been blessed with. Often referred to as being three of only seven surviving historic standpipe water towers in the country, it is a miracle that they were able to survive all of the urban-renewal related destruction that occurred within our city limits over the last century. Unfortunately I have no idea which other historic water towers are in the same category as ours, but Milwaukee WI, Chicago, IL, Louisville, KY, Cincinnati, OH, and New York City all have old towers that appear well cared for and maintained. The same could possibly be said for the Compton Hill Water Tower, but our two Northern water towers are under-appreciated to say the least.
I know that I am not the only one who feels this way about the Grand and Bissell Water Towers. Their powerful presence needs to be better used to improve the North St. Louis neighborhood that they reside in. Daron Dierkes has recently written two articles in his excellent blog St. Louis/Elsewhere (here and here) on the water towers and the College Hill neighborhood. His ideas are great and I’m sure the neighborhood residents have many more ideas. As I walked around the neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon, I saw churchgoers, yard workers, porch sitters and others enjoying the beautiful day. Some people visited the small business strip on Grand just West of the Old White Water Tower that is home to several active businesses such as The Obama Meat Market.
Unfortunately, my photograph above shows the edge of East Grand’s surviving historic commercial buildings. As seen in the first photo above, the entire circle around the Grand Water Tower is empty grass lots. Thanks to whitewall buick on Flickr I am able to include a photo of the circle around the water tower that was taken in 1942.
The photo is focused on the water tower, the buildings surrounding it taken for granted. Today, we are lucky to be left with the Water Tower and mostly intact residential streets around it. The loss of circle hugging commercial buildings from around the Old White Water tower is a tragedy, but could also be looked at as another opportunity for a future developer to take advantage of.
I predict that the preservation of these landmarks will pay dividends for the College Hill neighborhood and for the City of St. Louis as a whole. Those people who prevented these structures from being destroyed over the years were saving them for this stage in the city’s life. Although the North Side is emptying out at a scary rate, there is still a lot of greatness in what is left.
For more information on the water towers visit http://www.stlwater.com/watertowers.php.
Also, see my College Hill Flickr Set for more photos of the Water Towers and of the neighborhood.