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Lafayette Square

As mentioned in the earlier post on 755, the Lafayette Square neighborhood would have been partially demolished in the construction of the North South Distributor. Ironically, not everyone apparently at the time was opposed to the prospect of interstates surrounding Lafayette Square on three sides. First of all, some homeowners liked the idea of having a cozy little enclave cut off from the city, while other property owners, shamefully abandoning the city, were angry that they weren’t going to get money for their property in a state buyout.

Regardless, large swaths of Lafayette Square are still intact, with an interesting mixture of mansions, townhouses and factories that encroached into the neighborhood when it started to decline in the early 20th Century.

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As can be seen on the side of this townhouse, as the neighborhood declined and the wealthy moved to the Central West End, single family houses became boarding houses. You can actually see a bricked-up side entrance that probably led to the second floor of the house. The owner at one time apparently allowed Domino Sugar to advertise on the side of the then-boarding house. The house is typical Second Empire style, modeled off of French Architecture with its Mansard roof.

Update: A new house has been built to the left of the house above; the Domino Sugar sign is now no longer visible.

Happily, after decades of residential redevelopment in the area, restaurants and bars have moved into the area, making it a true 24 hour neighborhood. Restaurants such as 1111 Mississippi and Sqwires have moved into old industrial buildings that have been renovated into modern spaces.

In the distance, behind Sqwires is the old City Hospital, which has been renovated into condominiums. I actually know people who were born in the old hospital before it closed.

Above is what I call dead space, an ill-informed attempt to create a “pocket” park–right across from a gigantic city park, no less. It sits empty, and one can imagine a homeless or indigent person setting up shop in the underused space. Worse, it sits on a corner, which is supposed to be the best places for businesses to thrive. I’m not certain, but I think they’re going to build a mixed use store/apartment building on the site.

Here is a detail of the ornate woodwork of the Second Empire style, though I think it’s painted a little too garishly, even for the Victorian Period.

Above is one of the grandest mansions in Lafayette Square sitting across the park in splendid glory.

Around the corner from the mansion is the first private street in American, Benton Place.

Here are two examples of houses that were probably built speculatively at the same time on Benton Place.

As is common throughout history, the wealthiest neighborhoods sat on the high ground, enjoying cool breezes and sitting far from malarial swamps and streams that you would find in the old Mill Creek Valley slums. In the distance is a view of Midtown around Grand Center, with the Continental Building dominating the skyline.

Unlike today in suburbia, where houses turn away from the street and line the front of houses with blank garage doors, people in the Nineteenth Century welcomed passersby with elegant details such as this fountain facing Benton Place.

The restoration of Lafayette Square is a triumph of people–not government–taking control of their own neighborhoods and fighting back the crime and despair so common in other areas of the city. The Lafayette Square neighborhood has remarkably low crime for an area so deep in an American city. Residents make it clear that criminals feel out of place, as opposed to neighborhoods where criminals rule the streets after certain hours of the day–if not all day long.

My one quibble with some of the restorations in this neighborhood is that people have cleaned up the houses too much. Some houses are elegant, equipped with modern appliances, but still show their graceful, century old history–their patina. Sadly, other houses have been so over restored that it’s difficult to tell that they weren’t built ten years ago. Simply a matter of opinion, I imagine.

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