My parents and I had just finished a meal at Sqwires Sunday afternoon when we decided to walk around the Lafayette Square neighborhood. We love open houses, and spotted a sign for one of the new luxury in-fill houses built on the southeast corner of the Park. These are the houses targeted by the “Anti-Gentrification Arsonist,” as I have dubbed the perpetrator; Gilded Age, the company who built them, came back and are now finishing the houses. I have to admit, Gilded Age does a pretty good job of urban-sensitive in-fill, most of the time.
I say most of the time, because right around the corner, south of the renovated City Hospital (another Gilded Age property) they are engaged in the wholesale destruction of a sad and mutilated neighborhood named Bohemian Hill. A half a year ago, there was a flurry of opposition to the creation of a suburban style strip mall across the street from the City Hospital condominiums, and I saw an opportunity at the open house to ask a Gilded Age representative how the planned development was coming together.
She informed me that they had already started clearing the site, which I confirmed later with a visual inspection. The trees shown below in the picture I snapped a couple of months ago are now, how shall we say it, mulch.
From what I gathered from the representative, the project is going ahead in the original configuration: a large, horseshoe shaped strip mall with a grocery store anchor. Built St. Louis has an excellent page dedicated to what has been lost, and what is still threatened.
A casual observer might say that the forested wasteland is perfect for a shopping center, but an old satellite image shows that it was hardly barren a few years ago. It’s a classic trick of St. Louis developers: buy perfectly good housing, leave it abandoned for a decade, and then tear down the now-decrepit building. Only a sentimental fool would want to save a severely deteriorated building, right?
What I can’t figure out is why Gilded Age would want to have a giant, mercury vapor lit parking lot right out the front door of their largest rehabilitation project at the City Hospital. Do they really think they’ll sell more condos by ruining the view out the front door?
The good news is that the remaining portion of Bohemian Hill seems safe; the houses still seem occupied, including three that were actually designed by Washington University architecture students. They were/are actually thinking about tearing down not only historic structures, but houses that were built as in-fill less than a decade ago. One can only hope that the second half of the project doesn’t go through; maybe Gilded Age is happy with the western strip-mall and will leave the rest of Bohemian Hill alone.
What is perhaps most saddening is how deftly Gilded Age dealt with the opposition to their development on Bohemian Hill. I cruised around the web, including the very active Urban Review STL forums for a while, and couldn’t find any other site that has realized that preliminary clearance has begun for the dreaded Orwellian named “Phase III.”
Update: A very nice grocery store, Fields Foods, and a Walgreens have opened on the site.