We come up the steep incline and reach North First Street, where the above photograph captures the street in 1968, right before the grand plans for redevelopment had begun. Interestingly, old fashioned street lights had already appeared. Below, on the southwest corner, a plaza that appears to still be incomplete replaced the vacant lot where the old Switzer Candy Company buildings stood. I covered their tragic loss in one of the first posts I ever did for this website way back in May of 2007.
Moving north from the corner of Lucas Avenue and North First Street looking at the west side of the street, we encounter the hulking mass of the Christian Peper Tobacco Warehouse which takes up the east side of the block to Clamorgan Alley on the west. His family still lives in St. Louis.
The southern three-quarters is a simple design, an addition to the original Italianate building to the north, which we’ll look at in a second. The walls, according to fire insurance maps, are two feet thick at the base and taper up to sixteen inches at the top. Tobacco is heavy when bundled into bails and stored in large quantities!
If I remember correctly, the warehouse was originally redeveloped into a small shopping mall and offices, but I believe it is now apartments in the most recent refurbishing. There are surely wonderful views of the river.
Then we get to the famous building on the end, which was designed by Frederick W. Raeder for Christian Peper.
Opened in 1874 as a tobacco warehouse, the Italianate cast iron building is one of the last, and as far as I know the largest of what was once hundreds in St. Louis. The others were destroyed in massive urban renewal projects in the mid Twentieth Century. New York City now makes millions in marketing its famous cast iron buildings, but St. Louis sent its same buildings to the landfill or scrap yard. Great job, St. Louis!
This building was one of the few I captured back in 2010.
Looking down Lucas Avenue from First Street, we see one of the parking garages that is now blocked off and sitting abandoned. It will either need to be fixed up or demolished. It is not protected by a levee or floodwall, so redevelopment is tricky. Looking at fire insurance maps, we see the lots along this block were already empty by the early Twentieth Century.
There are some nice brick arches on the parking garage facing the city. I have received word that the parking garage is marked for demolition.
Looking down, we see more blocked off thoroughfares, in this case the alley behind the east side of First Street.
More surface parking generating little tax revenue and little street life.
Looking at the east side of North First Street in the photograph below, a shocking realization dawned on me: past the three buildings in the foreground, all of the historic fabric to the south has been lost since
The building below was actually a stove manufacturing company known as the First Street Ironworks. It started as the Buck Stove and Range Company in 1875, and I suspect that is around the date of the building’s construction.
As can be seen below, the building seems to sport a more elaborate paint scheme than it did in 1980, though it is abandoned now.
On the corner is late 1970s or early 80s in-fill, which is empty, as far as I can tell. It is an interesting building and fits in well, in my opinion, wrapping itself around a couple of old structures.
This sign for the President Casino on the Admiral is now historic; that gambling boat on the once storied excursion craft was the first in the City of St. Louis so this door should go in a museum–no seriously.
I find the backs of these buildings to tell interesting stories.
This lonely building sits on the other side of the MLK Bridge.
And is that a beaver running into the undergrowth?
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Ah, Sundeckers! Fond memories of the Decker Dog….
Minor observation – I don’t think that very first photo can be from 1968. I’m fairly certain the blue car approaching the intersection — which may be a city vehicle with a light bar on top — is a Chevy Celebrity from around 1984 or so (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chevrolet_Celebrity). The white box truck looks like a Ford from the late-70s/early 80s as well. I think you might have a mid-80s photo here.
Ah, great observation! I was suspicious, too, because of the presence of the “antique” streetlights–why would they have been there in the 1960s? But I had gotten that date straight from the Library of Congress, and dutifully transcribed their information. They must be wrong.
Pretty sure that’s a groundhog instead of a beaver. 😊 Note the short tail. Still cool, nonetheless!
Oh, you’re right, and would make more sense so far from a body of water. Shows how vacant the area is…
No, it’s a woodchuck.
So many treasures and opportunities are squandered. The powers that be seem to be content with withering and slow decay. I can’t even imagine how many of these beautiful cast iron façade buildings have been destroyed. So much damage was done to build that boring arch grounds. There was an expensive attempt to liven it up but besides reimagining the museum, all that was accomplished was a landscaped pedestrian overpass that should have been part of the original plan. They tore out most of the trees, only to replace them with more trees, a complete waste of money. The reasoning was the usual, ‘the trees are diseased’ excuse. It would have been so great to have a couple of streetscapes of one of these beauties preserved. The Mid-Century modernists had no vision and seemingly no knowledge of the historical importance of the site.
I won’t go back to the Arch museum after the horrible, unprofessional behavior of the National Park Service officers on duty at the security checkpoint. I thought we lived in a democracy, not a police state. I could be wrong.
Aside from what was lost from the development of the Arch grounds; Sadly, we would have been left with an extension of the now defunct Lacledes Landing and no Arch. Unfortunately, the hyena-criminals have taken over Pride Rock. Crime has left these areas undesirable for commercial development, and / or residential occupancy. Crime is the reason honest hard working Americans left the city for greener pastures in the first place. We can blame white flight, but that just implies that whites have to present in a community for it to sustain itself. Developers can have the best visions to redevelop an area to create a viable, healthy neighborhood. But what small business owner wants to put everything on the line when smash and grabs are on the uprise? These brazen teenagers commiting break-ins, carjackings, etc. know that they’re untouchable and have nothing to lose, and it’s only going to get worse.
Who with the means would choose to move into the heart of that type of community? An area where there are little to no entertainment, shopping, work options, etc. There really isn’t a reason to go downtown other than for sporting events, or a parade anymore. There are no attractions on the riverfront anymore. St. Louis shouldn’t have let downtown die in the first place, and now that cancer is spreading to the surrounding communities.
Yeah, we have a problem when my friend and his wife get hit in his brand new work truck by teenagers in a stolen Hyundai, and the police tell them there were only ten police on duty in all of South St. Louis at that moment, and the teenagers laugh at my friends’ misfortune right in front of the police.
Crime is the problem, but what is the cause? Decades of poverty, rust-belt abandonment, red lining, institutional racism, systemic breakdown of the family unit, and an elite power structure in tandem with greedy developers that has spent decades draining the city of resources and investment. St. Louis County has more suburban ‘fiefdoms’ of any major population center in the United States and most of them were expressly designed to keep black people out. The result is the most segregated city in America and a inner city struggling with a low tax base that would ordinarily support a better educational system as well as city services and a bigger and better trained police force. It’s the price of neglect and a serious lack of vision to maintain a complacent status quo.