Take a look at the two Sanborn maps above and below, showing the Bohemian Hill neighborhood approximately one hundred years ago; note the density, the narrow streets, the alleys lined with houses and businesses. Now take a look at this satellite image and compare. The differences are striking; what had once been a tight-knit, if maybe a little dilapidated neighborhood has almost been completely destroyed, first by the interstate, and then by urban renewal. Part of the larger Frenchtown neighborhood, the district of rowhouses built around the Civil War south of downtown and featuring some of the oldest buildings in the city, Bohemian Hill has suffered greatly.
There is still one very compact block left; due to ownership and other good fortune, we can still see what a beautiful neighborhood this area once was. I covered the impending demolition of this block almost four years ago here and here; obviously, the economy spared these buildings and the threat of eminent domain.
Closely examining the houses left on Bohemian Hill, it becomes apparent that much of the housing stock postdates the platting of the neighborhood. Most likely the original houses were torn down and replaced with newer houses in the late Nineteenth century; apparently people still saw this neighborhood as desirable until the mid Twentieth century.
Read more about the proposed development here, which seems to be dead; however, the threat of demolition probably is preventing the renovation of these stately houses. After all, who would want to renovate a house only to have it seized by the government?
The two buildings below, while not wildly exciting, illustrate a form of construction once very common in the neighborhoods east of Jefferson; on the left is the house facing the street, while on the right is an alley house. Once built to maximize density in an inner-city neighborhood, they fell out of favor and most were demolished around the country due to their reputation for poor living conditions.
Across Tucker, or 12th Street as I believe it used to be called in this area, is a testament to what could have been, or honestly, what still could be with sensitive in-fill.
I don’t believe the city of St. Louis will truly revive until desirable neighborhoods buffet all sides of downtown; on too many sides wastelands and slums keep downtown isolated from the city it serves.
Read about some of the activity on Bohemian Hill here in the last ten years.
Update: In early 2013, one house was demolished, while another was rehabbed.