Bohemian Hill, In Transition

Last week, I went to the grand opening of the new Fields Foods grocery store, which sits in the remnants of the Bohemian Hill neighborhood. Sliced, diced and demolished into a shadow of itself over the last seventy years, the neighborhood has lost much of any identity it once had. The first blow was the building of the Ozark Expressway, now known as I-55; such capricious wastes of land such as the giant exit ramp onto Gravois turned bustling density into a no-man’s land of worthless grass.

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Just look at those Sanborn maps that I posted a year ago; street wrapped around alley, around house, around alleyhouse. It was crowded, but it was a neighborhood full of spirit.

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Much has changed since my first post back in 2007. The vast open lot is gone, replaced with the grocery store. it really is a wonderful store, and a much needed addition to the Near South Side. The store employs local residents, and while it has high-end products, when I have visited people from across the socio-economic spectrum were well represented among the clientele. I was even impressed that the store’s website paid homage to the former Czech population who called the area home. The only problem is that the store sits back from the street; it could have easily been put along Lafayette itself with the parking in the rear, facing the ugly entrance ramp shown above. Likewise, another problem might manifest itself in the vacant storefronts of less competitive–no, let’s be honest, downright crumby–grocery stores that will lose business to this superior rival.

Below are pictures of some of the alleyhouses and other buildings in their current state as of January 2014.

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I can’t imagine the property values of most of these abandoned buildings not improving now that the grocery store has opened. Across Lafayette, the site of the former Darst-Webbe housing projects has been reborn in satisfactory, if not spectacular, urban in-fill that had held up in the decade since it was built. While the old Bohemian Hill is gone, it is encouraging to see that a new neighborhood is finally taking its place in the heart of the South Side.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Pete says:

    Spot on. Excellent post; I agree wholeheartedly with everything you said. It really is sad to lose a neighborhood, housing stock, architecture, history, etc., but at the same time, any relatively decent sign of life – new life – in a largely abandoned and decimated area (thanks, highways, like you said), especially in the form of a decent grocery store, many of which the city has lost over the years…I’ll take it. I think the net result is a “win”.

    Like you, regarding the design standards, setbacks, etc., that I have a bone to pick with, although STL has been notoriously lousy when it comes to that stuff. Back when I was a city planner (not in STL) I can vividly remember going many a round with big box retailers and the like over design standards; municipalities that had their act together would almost *never* give in to anything less than blending in with the surrounding architecture, regardless of the retailer. I wish STL handled their business the same way.

  2. Charlie says:

    I drive through this area often going from Lafayette Square over to Soulard. The changes have been pretty amazing in the last 18 months. Will be interesting to see how it all pans out.

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