Richard W. Lemen, Northeast Corner of Compton and Gravois, c. 1930, Lemen Streets and Sewers Collection, Rare Books and Manuscripts, St. Louis Public LibraryIn my dreams I have this fantasy where I win the lottery, and among other things, I secretly purchase all the crumby autocentric stores and used-car lots along Gravois east of Grand through straw buyers, and rebuild a pedestrian-friendly urban environment–you know, like what used to be there one hundred years ago. I’m not expecting Gravois to go back to being two lanes wide, which is what it was originally before being widened, but at least go back to where it wasn’t a traffic sewer like it is now. Where stately buildings, like the one above, anchoring the northeast corner of Compton, Gravois and Jefferson, could rise again. You can see the newly built Roosevelt High School in the Tower Grove East neighborhood.
And which now is a crumby used car lot, which frequently illegally parks cars on the sidewalk and street. You can even almost see how the concrete curves like it used to around the old triangular building.
Growing up out in the suburbs, I never understood why people constantly ripped on used-car salesmen so much; in fact, I even had friends whose fathers sold used cars that were wonderful parents and respected members of the community. After a little while living in the City, and talking to people who had bought cars from these places, I realized why they have such a bad reputation in American society. Also, many of these places don’t even sell ever those cars in their lots, but are fronts for drug dealing and prostitution.
There is this gem of a Second Empire apartment building; my friends own it and it has been in their family for generations. It is a labor of love for the City and family. But normally, who would want to invest right next to a used-car lot? I love the house below; it probably dates to the 1860s or 70s, and the front door is now in what was the basement. You can see it was constructed before street grading; I could have sworn I took a picture of it before.
Across Gravois, on the triangle of land in Benton Park West formed by Gravois, Wyoming and Minnesota, was the amazing hulk of the Union Brewery owned by Otto Stifel. It later became Falstaff Plant No. 2.
It’s hard to imagine Gravois so mellow that delivery trucks parked on it, over there on the left. It was demolished in the 1950s, for the lovely now-abandoned wasteland you see below. The old power plant, now a cat sanctuary, can be seen behind it to the right.
Thankfully, the old offices have been converted into Refab, which takes old architectural elements and furnishings and resells them or makes new furniture from old wood. It is really a great business you should check out.
Gravois Planing Mill is also located where it has been for the last century. These sort of light industries still work well in an overall residential environment.