Posts Tagged ‘North St. Louis’

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Urban Prairie becomes Urban Farm

August 11, 2013

A couple of years ago I wrote about a large expanse of Urban Prairie in the St. Louis Place neighborhood.  While I’ve driven through a few times since, I haven’t really taken the time to stroll around the neighborhood again until this afternoon, when poor road conditions on North Florissant prompted me to park my car and inspect it for damage.

Water Feature Urban Park

St. Louis Place Park – Plenty of green space was planned into the neighborhood.

Luckily my car was fine, and without anything on the calendar decided to let my feet and camera guide me around the neighborhood to the west.  This led me through St. Louis Place Park to St. Louis Avenue (St. Louisans have always been proud of the city), where a homeowner wondering why I was photographing her property directed me to revisit the prairie only a block or two away.  As I took her advice and started walking south, I was shocked to see large cornfields filling up many of the vacant blocks.

Corn - Urban Farming in North St. Louis

Urban Scarecrow and Farm in St. Louis Place

Over the course of the next hour or so that it took me to explore the 10+ blocks of mostly demolished city, I chatted with numerous people who live or work in the neighborhood and pieced together some of the story.  A local firefighter and resident each credited the crops to the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation (which has an urban farm in East St. Louis).  Some saw the city maintaining them.  Others thought that corn looked pretty out of place, that rebuilding a mixed use neighborhood should be the priority and that Paul McKee would probably continue his track record – in the tradition of previous developers – as a serious disappointment at best.  The consensus was that none of the crops are intended for human consumption.  Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find any additional information on the internet (please share if you know more).

Downtown St. Louis Urban Farming

Freshly Planted

Although I agree that new urban buildings would be much much better than cornfields, I think that the conversion to farmland is a positive.  While visiting the town of Valmeyer, Illinois a few weeks ago (devastated by the flood of ’93 and mostly relocated to a nearby hilltop), I saw that many blocks of the former downtown – street grid still in place – are now soybean fields.

Downtown Old Valmeyer, Illinois

A strange sight, but I imagined it  at the intersection of 23rd and N. Market.

North Market and 23rd Street in St. Louis Place

August 2010

Cornfield at 23rd and N. Market

August 2013

Old North St. Louis also has a program to open up vacant lots for projects like this sunflower garden:

Old North St. Louis (ONSL) Sunflower Garden

Sunflowers in Old North

Below are more photos from today of the urban farm in St. Louis Place:

Soybean Farm in North St. Louis

Soybeans near 22nd Street

Urban Farming

Fire Hydrant and Manhole Cover

Survivor in the Urban Prairie

Abandoned Home and Cornfield

Feed Corn on an Urban Farm in North St. Louis

Corn Growing in St. Louis Place

Urban Corn Crops in St. Louis Place

Fire Hydrant on Urban Farm

Cornfield in North St. Louis East of Jefferson

Downtown over a Cornfield

Urban Farming in St. Louis, Missouri

Corn on the Corner

They say this is not edible

Red Corn Silk

Visit my St. Louis Place flickr set for more.

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North Sarah Update

June 16, 2013

The North Sarah Redevelopment Project‘s second phase has really started to take shape.

Vandeventer, Grand Center, New Construction

North Sarah Phase II on Vandeventer looking north from Bell.

Three 2-3 story mixed use buildings facing Vandeventer Avenue just across the street from Grand Center’s western edge are the most visible signs of progress.  Although I am unaware of the plans here, similar buildings from phase I have live/work spaces facing Sarah.

From a 10/26/2012 Post-Dispatch article:

The front room doubles as a living room and waiting room, and a big sliding door covers half the interior wall. Roll it one way and an office appears off the waiting room, ready for business. Roll it the other, and the office disappears and a kitchen appears off the living room. A bedroom and laundry room are in back.

Driving/walking down Sarah you can see that most of these spaces are now occupied by small businesses (these shots taken on a Sunday evening):

Live/Work, Redevelopment, North St. Louis, Small Business

Diversity Gallery on North Sarah

Health care on North Sarah

Williams and Associates – Addressing Minority Health Disparities

Health care on North Sarah

Call of Duty Home Health Care Services

Many of the storefronts have more subdued signage that is hard to see while driving past, but the fact that almost all are advertising small businesses is very encouraging.  Across the street construction is underway on another portion of Phase II.  Hopefully commercial space of some sort is included in this new building as well.

New construction in the Vandeventer neighborhood

North Sarah Phase II – Mixed use building going up on the west side of Sarah

Now that the live/work spaces have occupants, maybe we’ll hear news about the planned grocery store soon.

Nothing inside, but the sliding door look promising.

Grocery Store on North Sarah

This is an exciting development, and I truly hope that it encourages infill development between Sarah and Vandeventer that allows at least some of the surviving historic homes to stay.

For more photos of this development, see my flickr set: North Sarah Redevelopment

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Near North Riverfront

June 2, 2013

The New Mississippi River Bridge is coming along quickly, and will soon raise the visibility of the Near North Riverfront neighborhood, and its main drag North Broadway.

Mound Street Bridge, Mississippi River, Cass Avenue Bridge

New Mississippi River Bridge from Broadway and Mound

This section of Broadway has a fairly intact built environment and is home to many businesses.  Admittedly it’s in pretty bad shape, but the potential here is humongous.

Near North Riverfront North Broadway Revitalization

Warehouses on North Broadway

Although the thoroughfare is major and many of its buildings are large, the street still has a human scale.  One of my favorite parts of coming here on the weekends is the large number of people out on their motorcycles (presumably many of them are in the area for Shady Jacks).

Motorcycle Tricks Wheelie

North Broadway is already a pretty cool place

Because this area is about to see a lot more traffic, developers will be tempted to build truck stops and drive-thrus with giant billboards and signs to advertise them.  Competitions for who can build the biggest and newest gas stations (or chain drug stores, etc.) have destroyed enough of our great intersections and commercial strips.

Highway Advertising, Urban Blight

Downtown St. Louis Interstate 70 Billboard

I hope the city is working to ensure that development around the new bridge will help knit together the neighborhoods north of downtown, rather than create more barriers in the form of auto-centric development.  670 Million dollars is a big investment that St. Louis needs to take advantage of.

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North Sarah Redevelopment Moving Past Phase I

November 11, 2012

Phase I of the North Sarah Redevelopment celebrated its grand opening on October 16th.  This is a project that I have written about in the past, and the type of development that we definitely need more of in the City of St. Louis.

North Sarah and West Belle in November 2012

In the press release that followed the grand opening of Phase I, it was revealed that a grocery store would be one of the development’s retail tenants.

The community includes a mix of two and three-story buildings, plus almost 12,000 square feet of commercial, management and community space, which will include a small, locally-owned, fresh food grocery store.

The developers here also demonstrated an extremely encouraging understanding of the community’s 21st century needs.

Vincent R. Bennett, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of McCormack Baron Salazar said, “Sustainability means a lot of things: reducing a building’s impact on the environment is just a piece of this.  The sustainable features at North Sarah also include creating healthy living environments for our residents by reducing toxins and ensuring sufficient air flow. The community is walkable and connected to transit, keeping non-drivers like seniors and the disabled from becoming isolated. And the fresh food grocery will provide healthy living choices that will sustain our residents in the long-term.”

While Phase I is still getting its finishing touches, work continues on Phase II.  This work is apparent on the west side of Sarah between C.D. Banks and Finney, and along Vandeventer between W. Belle and Finney.

North Sarah as seen on Google Maps

I was hoping that this phase would include at least one renovation.  Unfortunately the home pictured below has been demolished.  Several Homes North and West of Turner Park appear to be headed for demolition as well.

Alley Between W. Belle and C.D. Banks near Vandeventer

I truly hope that the urban character of the development is maintained as it expands into Phase II.  Although I have no idea what the next phase will be like (hopefully not like the new strip mall on Vandeventer between Finney and Cook), some clues can be gathered from the newly launched website for the development.  Check out the rendering’s redevelopment of Turner Park.

Turner Park at W. Belle and N. Sarah

I hope that the developers are working with the neighborhood’s existing residents on this.  It would be a shame to remake the park into something that nobody would use.  See my photos tracking this development’s construction here.

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North Sarah Project is a Good Role Model

September 15, 2011

Construction on an exciting new development is underway in North St. Louis.  On the east side of North Sarah, between Belle and Cook, what was recently urban prairie is now being transformed by St. Louis based McCormack Baron Salazar Development.

North Sarah Redevelopment

The area in question here was once the Sarah-Finney Business district.  In Ain’t But a Place, Miles Davis reminisces about the area.

Luckily the area is going to have some business activity returned to it.  Unlike almost every new project that I have seen in North St. Louis, this one includes mixed uses: both residential and commercial spaces.

Homes under construction along Finney

The project also makes use of green technologies such as permeable pavement for the sidewalks.

Permeable Pavement

Building setbacks are pretty much non-existent on the buildings to contain commercial space, and quite small on the residential buildings.  Density appears to be relatively high, and parking looks like it will be hidden behind the residences, but also allowed on-street.  Each intersection has eight curb-cuts and well marked crosswalks.  The pedestrian experience has not been overlooked here.

New Commercial Space on North Sarah

Directly across Sarah from the southern half of the development is Turner Park, home to a softball field and playground.  Along the southern edge of development on Belle is an in-tact block of the kind of homes that make St. Louis what it is proud to be.

Belle Avenue

Sarah is a key connector to the north side, and activating this corridor is a great step toward inviting St. Louisans into the north half of their city.  With the success of the Gaslight Square redevelopment to the south and close proximity to everything in the city, I am extremely optimistic about this project.  Even without these advantages, however, the good urban planning involved makes this development a great asset to the city, and will hopefully set a good precedent for future ideas.

For more information about the project and the history of the area, please see the links below:

History of the Sarah Finney Business District

Comet Theater on Finney

NextStl Forum Topic

Construction Details

Flickr Photos


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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.

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Our Water Towers

March 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 WIChicago, ILLouisville, KYCincinnati, 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.

Bissell and Grand Water Towers

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.

East Grand Commercial Survivors

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.

North Grand Water Tower - 1942 - Courtesy of Whitewall Buick on Flickr

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.

Bissell Water Tower up Bissell Street

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.

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St. Louis Velodrome

March 23, 2011

While surfing around on YouTube recently, I came across a Living St. Louis video on the St. Louis Velodrome, a bicycle racecourse in North St. Louis.  Apparently this current Velodrome is a replacement for one in Forest Park that sat in the area created by the Kingshighway Jog.

After watching this video clip I had to try out the Velodrome.  Although it was interesting to see, my used mountain bike and I were clearly unprepared to properly appreciate the unspectacular loop of asphalt.

Penrose Park Velodrome

Instead of spending time on the Velodrome I ended up exploring the neighborhood on my bicycle.  The Mark Twain neighborhood turned out to be pretty cool.  I found a couple of stretches of brand new brick houses right across the street from Bellefontaine Cemetery that were surprisingly good looking.  There isn’t a whole lot of new construction in North St. Louis, so I was particularly happy to see good quality infill here.

Old and New in Mark Twain

Seeing this Velodrome and the living neighborhood around it was a very positive experience, reminding me how much this city has to offer, and how much of it I have yet to explore.

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A Scary Sight

December 12, 2010

While searching for an interesting route home from the Union Seventy Business Park, I turned South onto Clara from Natural Bridge and ended up on at a dead end. Clara becomes one way at Hebert (a one way street), and when I tried to continue down it, I hit a problem.

Hebert, Blackstone and Ashland when most of the homes were still standing

The street did not actually end, it just became impossible to drive down.

Blackwell Ave Blocked off by Trash

In addition to the trash in the street, all of the manholes on the block were missing their covers.

Uncovered Manhole on Blackwell Ave

I haven’t been able to dig up any information on whatever is going on over here but I am guessing it has to do with the train tracks that lie just to the North-West.  Or it is simply about removing blight.  If the later is the case they haven’t done a great job yet.  This has to be something that happened pretty recently, but it has been in about the same condition since at least late summer.

Blackwell Street in October

This is not what we want our city to look like, but we have to remember that parts of it do look like this.

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Catalpa (Gwen B. Giles) Park

April 9, 2010

Catalpa Park (renamed the Gwen B. Giles Park in 1986), in the Cabanne Neighborhood, sits basically at the intersection of the old Hodiamont Streetcar line’s Right of Way and North Skinker Blvd.

Gwen B. Giles Park (Formerly Catalpa Park) From Hodiamont Ave.

I have driven past this park many times on Skinker and have always wanted to visit the unique, fortress-like playground that makes up its North-Western portion.

Upon actually walking around the park (which was completely deserted on this beautiful Friday afternoon), I found what would have been my dream park as a child.  I can’t even imagine the variety of games that could be played here.

Objects that invite climbing are scattered all over the two bridge-connected hills which make up the main play area. Unfortunately, in addition to all of the wonderful objects of play are discarded beer cans and soda bottles, fast food and snack wrappers, cigarette boxes and liquor bottles (along with broken glass as accompaniment).  The modern looking bathrooms here are boarded shut and the entire park just seems abandoned.  Even the water fountains have been removed.  One corner of the park includes a sculpture of a seal which has clearly seen better days.

Basically, this park is just like too much of our city.  Beautifully planned and put together but doomed to fail at the same time.  As far as I can find out online, this park was most recently renovated (at least the playground and “comfort station”) in 1980 as part of a park rehabilitation project, so when it was renamed for Gwen B. Giles (a local civil rights activist and Missouri’s first female black Senator) in 1986 it may have been in pretty good shape.  I personally believe however, that the real fate of the park was the 1966 last run of the Hodiamont Streetcar and the 1969 “construction of the Skinker Parkway from Maple to Page,” both of which occurred when the park was very young (it was established in 1959).  Seeing the park/city in its current shape is pretty depressing, but its existence symbolizes the incredible potential for the infrastructure we have inherited from our Great City’s past.  Turning the park around could really be a simple as adding a couple of trash cans (there are only two on opposite sides of the park) and bringing out the community one weekend for cleanup.  See more photos I took of the park here.

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