There has been much talk recently about the fate of the former Del Taco building in Grand Center; the gas station turned taco stand was part of the Council Plaza development, which transformed the area in the 1950’s and 60’s as the nearby Mill Creek Valley was demolished to the east of Grand, creating what locals called Hiroshima Flats. But long before the rise of Grand Center as an entertainment district and St. Louis’s second downtown, it was a fashionable residential neighborhood, due west of the original core of the city. Above is the intersection of Grand and Washington.
Mere blocks from the declining private street of Vandeventer Place, in its time the most exclusive address in the city, people lived in squalor. Outside latrines besmirched the beautiful, but dilapidated Second Empire masterpieces that had long been cut up into rooming houses. Beyond a doubt, the living conditions of the streets west of Union Station and east of Grand were unacceptable, but the choice for wholesale clearance is debatable. Lafayette Square has proven that even the most rundown neighborhoods can be returned to their former beauty.
To the south, the stately Grand Viaduct took traffic over the Mill Creek Valley, carefully assuring that the middle and upper classes of St. Louis could avoid the more unjust living conditions of the city. Tomorrow, we will look at how the Council Plaza development helped reshape the heart of Grand Center.
All photos from “This is Our St. Louis” by Harry M. Hagen.
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I was a freshman at SLU in '58-'59when the demolition of the area East of Grand was completed (just before LaClede Town). That area had become a slum to rival any of the day in Chicago or New York. Like many redevelopment plans of the era, things just did not pan out over the long run. In truth, though, that area needed to be razed.Oddly, VERY little of the crime spilled over to the SLU campus; girls still hitchhiked down Grand to the Chem and Biology labs at the Med School campus. Times WERE different. Campus police pretty much consisted of glorified (male) metermaids.
Tom, I'm always interested in hearing more stories about this area. Would you be willing to write up more of your memories?
Sure, Chris.I'll ruminate for a few days and send you an email. Anything in particular? Bear in mind that these will be sorta "shotgun" memories of the area – I did not go exploring in them (as you do), as I was more concerned with school, scholar that I was (not)… I really was not that interested in what was going on there, in terms of a socio-economic, let alone architectural, experience.
Tom, just sort a sense of what Midtown was "like"–names of restaurants, etc would be appreciated.