Imagine, instead of the Church’s Chicken, stately mansions once sitting on this exact stretch of North Grand just blocks from Powell Hall. Luckily, some of those houses still exist, but sadly, they sit in a state of decay. In the background, the last vestige of Twentieth Century St. Louis’s failed housing projects, the Blumeyer Homes, possesses the last Modernist high rise built for the Housing Authority.
Take this house, for example; its various colors of brick tell a fascinating story. While there was obviously once a residence here, at some point in what I suspect the 1920′s, it acquired a one story storefront facing Grand. If I remember correctly, this was a funeral home until only a year or so ago, and perhaps that use precipitated the expansion. This was the period when Grand Center had changed from a tony residential quarter to a bustling and sometimes a little run-down commercial district. I would imagine that the hearses passed through the arch on the left side of the facade. Eventually, a silly Colonial Revival front was added, and the front wall of the expansion received another story. It now sits vacant and trashed, with abandoned and probably stolen vehicles sitting in its parking lot only a block or two away from Powell Hall.
This beauty, below, was for sale for only $24,000 a couple of years ago; its sits across from St. Alphonsus Rock Church. Slathered with white paint, it would easily go for a million dollars in the right neighborhood of St. Louis. There is a certain irony to that.
On the side streets, many of the houses still stand, though they are not in the best condition. I do not fathom why an area so close to a dozen cultural attractions is so undesirable.
At least the Rock Church is still standing proud, and even restored since a fire a few years back. But I must admit to a certain disillusionment with the leadership of this institution and others in Grand Center, such as the St. Louis Symphony. Simply being a small island of stability, beauty and cultural or religious significance is no longer good enough for me. These institutions must start allowing sediment to accumulate on their shores, allowing their islands to grow. Simply hiring private security to keep out the neighborhood is not a solution, and morally untenable. Oceans of blacktop are ridiculous, and embarrassing. The institutions of Grand Center must start working harder to bring a real, urban neighborhood to Grand Center. I can see how this could easily happen in an isolated corner of the city, but a dumping ground for old, or possibly stolen, cars existing two blocks from Powell Hall is just kind of pathetic.