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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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