Grand Center–of Nowhere

Update: The Sun Theater has been renovated as part of the Grand Center Arts Academy, while the Missouri Theater was renovated into the Angad Arts Hotel.

I recently traveled down to the Grand Center area to see the street festival. I have rarely seen this many people in Grand Center.

In fact, despite the recent renovation of the Continental Building, which has now apparently devolved into a glorified dorm for SLU partiers, there has been little to no building for new residents in decades.

And quite to the contrary, the area’s many cultural institutions seem to do little to make the area any more than an urban office park. Seen below the Masonic Temple’s parking garage. The owners clearly never planted anything the entire summer, or for years. Every plant seen in this picture is a weed, including thistles and dandelions.

Below is the University Club Tower–the old one. Like many institutions, the University Club bailed on the city and built a new tower in the suburbs. Ironically, this loss of an institutional history may, and I stress may, have led to its now impending demise. Would it have survived if had stuck to its guns in the city that gave birth to it?

Despite some horribly misguided additions, including a poorly matched elevator tower and a hopelessly dated penthouse, the building still exhibits its refined sense of style. Below is a detail of the side of the University Club Tower.

Below is the entrance to the University Club Tower, with its impressive stone arch and cartouche.

The top of the building apparently featured a club where the titans of St. Louis industry gathered.

Below is the entrance to the Humboldt Building, one of the many finely decorated buildings along the heart of Grand Center.

Here is the Missouri Theater Building, though the theater itself has been demolished.

Below is Powell Hall, which is home to the St. Louis Symphony. They stuck it out in Grand Center in the 1960’s and should be applauded for it.

This picture below shows how to waste prime frontage space along one of the busiest streets in St. Louis, with none other than a cinder block wall masquerading as art.

And yet again, a useless grass lawn right across from Powell Hall. Does this piece of vacant land help or hinder Grand Center? You tell me; on one of the busiest days of the year for Grand Center, not a single person was even lying in the grass. Can someone say useless green space?

The Veterans’ Hospital, a much needed service in a city like St. Louis, manages to become a detriment to the area. Sitting like a strange, futuristic space ship, the hospital could have been built in any number of more convenient places, but instead, they demolished one of the greatest concentrations of Gilded Age mansions in St. Louis to build this monstrosity.

The Sun Theater represents great opportunity for the area, if it can be renovated before facing serious neglect. I will admit that Grand Center is trying hard to fill the space.

And here are yet more of the vacant parking lots that sit empty 90% of the year. All of the parking lots in Grand Center could easily be condensed into two large parking garages, if the organizations in the area weren’t so selfishly guarding their little parking fiefdoms.

While the view of the Central West End is beautiful from Grand Center, we shouldn’t be able to see this if the neighborhood was as thriving as it should be. Just as it was fifty years ago, Grand Center needs to fill these lots with buildings–which will block the view–but provide the lifeblood to revive this neighborhood.

Up next, I will document some of the housing that is still left in Grand Center, and if utilized effectively, could begin the revival of the residential portion of the neighborhood.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Brent says:

    Don’t forget about the churches in that area. Third Baptist elected to stick it out in the neighborhood a few decades ago, and now they’re seeing a rebirth there. If you haven’t been in, it’s worth it to see the old building and how they had to grow around it when Grand and Washington was a crowded and busy intersection.

  2. Chris says:

    That’s a good point; I should have mentioned the Rock Church as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.