Update: These houses on James “Cool Papa” Bell Avenue were demolished in the spring of 2017.
St. Louis doesn’t have a lot of what I call “true” rowhouses, which are houses are all constructed together, and in many ways structurally they are really long buildings sitting parallel to their street front. In contrast, cities like Baltimore consider rowhouses almost a civic religion–a beautiful one at that but one that would shock many St. Louisans used to at least three to six feet in between their houses. Indeed, most houses left in St. Louis that sit close together but not touching were considered “suburban” in their inception. But let us turn back to these “true” rowhouses. Take this beautiful row on the former Dickson Avenue, built in 1891 on the Near North Side. Still to this day, all of the houses are on a single piece of property, and the city considers it one building.
But it has front doors, back doors and porches like a regular row of nine houses. In reality, much of St. Louis inside Jefferson was built in this way. Take Walsh’s Row, for example. There was not really a stigma of even the wealthy living in row houses throughout America.
Heading down to the South Side, to Texas Avenue, we find another elegant rowhouse development. Built in 1888, these houses still sit on two parcels, and are condominiums.
The original stained glass windows remain in the front windows. I really like these houses; they don’t have the stern rigidity of the other rowhouses’ facades, but have a nice undulation to their parapets.
Why did St. Louis abandon rowhouses in this sense of the word? Sometime around the 1870’s, St. Louisans stopped building their houses touching each other, and the urban character of the city changes west of Jefferson. With the clearing of Mill Creek and the central city in the name of progress, these specimens of the first century of St. Louis are now even more precious.