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.


  1. mushroom tunnels?

    • Yes! I’ve had trouble finding more information on mushroom tunnels, but apparently they existed on Cowan street just East of the Lutheran School in 1909.

  2. Hi, my name is Jessica and I stumbled upon your blog while researching abandoned school lots. Do you know of any abandoned schools with a blacktop in relatively decent shape? I’m a ballet dancer and I’m looking for free outdoor space to put together a show for some of the talented dancers in this city. Any input would be really helpful! Love your pictures by the way, even if they are often a little derelict!

    • That sounds really awesome. Unfortunately I cannot think of any abandoned lots that have nice blacktops! I will however put my scouts on the job and see what I can come up with.

    • Just an idea- there are several churches for sale in the area- including (last time I looked) a beautiful one on Kingshighway & (I think) McPherson. I wonder if the realtors might be willing to facilitate a show, to draw attention to the property. Depending on where the lot is in relation to the bldg it could be a nice backdrop… (If it were art-ish area it would help turnout as well- Maplewood, Benton Park, CWE, Soulard, Lafayette Square…) Good luck!

      • Good idea! There is an amazing church for sale @ Washington and Kingshighway (Designed by Union Station Architect Theodore Link) and the parking lot behind the building is worth checking out for sure. Depending on how good the condition of the parking lot has to be, there is a larger lot in front of a former Schnucks just a short block away at Delmar and Kingshighway that is a very prominent and visible location.

        Picture of the Schnucks Parking Lot:

        Old Shnucks and Delmar and Euclid

  3. Interesting blog. I will have to look more closely at the sidewalk markers out here. Boston made the mistake of cutting off the Italian neighborhood with a highway in the 50s and only recently repaired the damage by putting the whole highway in a tunnel (the so-called Big Dig) with a park over it, at tremendous expense of course. What they called “Urban Renewal” in the 60s caused them to tear down my grandparents neighborhood. I find I generally hate almost everything new and lament everything that is gone. They hardly ever replace anything with something that’s actually an improvement. But the Rose Kennedy Greenway park is certainly better than the central artery of the John F. Fitzgerald expressway was. Cheers!

  4. […] read about this devastated block on Exploring St. Louis, and I headed up to check it out […]

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