While Grand Center and the surrounding neighborhoods are now well-known respectively for being the theater district of St. Louis and acres of parking lots and desolation, the area first saw life as a wealthy residential section of the city. While photographs commemorate the 1880-1900 housing stock of the area, very little of it remains, replaced by newer historic houses, skyscrapers and theaters.
But if you look closely, there are survivors of that earlier, more tranquil era of the neighborhood. On nearby Belle Place, a couple of houses scattered amongst later houses and vacant lots remind still stand.
This amazing Italianate country house sticks out on its block, several decades older than the surrounding building stock, and out of fashion by the Twentieth Century.
Nearby, a stately house with a Mansard roof represents the Second Empire history of the neighborhood. Interestingly, its newer neighbors have not survived.
Looking at the Sanborn Map for the street, it looks like there were probably numerous other Italianate and Second Empire houses on the block; the newer houses are four-squares but the map shows slender houses, more reminiscent of the older architectural styles.
If you look closely, you can see these first houses built on these streets all over the area west and east of Grand.
A building that has long sat dormant after what appears to have been an abortive attempt at rehabilitation is now on the chopping block, according to Cherokee Street News.
Admittedly, the building looks a little rough around the edges when you look at the roof line, in what has rightly been termed a bad mansard.
But it’s critical that the street wall of Jefferson Avenue, the heart of the city east of Grand, maintain its integrity, so it does not turn into Natural Bridge Avenue, a street now largely denuded of its storefronts and its character.
Supposedly it’s going to be demolished for greenspace, despite the previously mentioned vacant lot across the street that could serve that purpose.
Once one of the densest parts of the city just west of downtown, and lined with row after row of houses, the area west of Jefferson is now one of the most desolate areas of the city.I did find three buildings clinging to life on Lucas Avenue just west of Beaumont, and despite being abandoned, they still show their strong workmanship and quality materials.I’ve never seen this before, but when they knocked down the house next door, they left a fireplace hole unsealed, along with two flues.The stately houses next door look like they’re in mint condition; I thought the slate roof tiles were actually new.Looking closer, they look original, but they’re still in such great shape. These houses could be the centerpiece of a new neighborhood of in-fill, but I’m afraid they’ll be torn down before that, despite their prime location.The sturdy Italiante rowhouse below still exudes a sense of class and quality.The cornice is still intact, revealing the high quality of the original carpenter work.
There has been much talk recently about the fate of the former DelTaco building in Grand Center; the gas station turned taco stand was part of the Council Plaza development, which transformed the area in the 1950’s and 60’s as the nearby Mill Creek Valley was demolished to the east of Grand, creating what locals called Hiroshima Flats. But long before the rise of Grand Center as an entertainment district and St. Louis’s second downtown, it was a fashionable residential neighborhood, due west of the original core of the city. Above is the intersection of Grand and WashingtonMere blocks from the declining private street of Vandeventer Place, in its time the most exclusive address in the city, people lived in squalor. Outside latrines besmirched the beautiful, but dilapidated Second Empire masterpieces that had long been cut up into rooming houses. Beyond a doubt, the living conditions of the streets west of Union Station and east of Grand were unacceptable, but the choice for wholesale clearance is debatable. Lafayette Square has proven that even the most rundown neighborhoods can be returned to their former beauty.
To the south, the stately Grand Viaduct took traffic over the Mill Creek Valley, carefully assuring that the middle and upper classes of St. Louis could avoid the more unjust living conditions of the city. Tomorrow, we will look at how the Council Plaza development helped reshape the heart of Grand Center.
All photos from “This is Our St. Louis” by Harry M. Hagen.