Over the next two weeks, leading up to the Fifteenth anniversary of St. Louis Patina, I’m going to be looking at the Old North St. Louis neighborhood. In many ways, it’s the area of the city that first got me interested in the preservation of St. Louis way back in the fall of 2006 when I was still living in Washington, DC, and planning on moving back. I was looking at Rob Power’s Built St. Louis, and his look at Old North. Things have dramatically changed, and in other ways not at all, but some things are better and other things are worse. We’ll first look at North Fourteenth Street, which is the commercial heart of the neighborhood. It was an almost completely abandoned pedestrian mall when I first looked at way back in 2008.
But it was dramatically redeveloped over the course of the first years of the second decade of the new millennium, and what had once been vacant and in some cases collapsing buildings are now beautifully rehabbed commercial storefronts and apartments. Marx Hardware, a staple of the neighborhood, is further to the south and is apparently going to close with the current generation.
But unfortunately, all these years later, many of the storefronts are still empty; there are just not enough people to provide the critical mass to fill these with businesses. Many are rented out at discounts, from what I understand, to artists and such. The apartments are occupied.
And the lessons of the past have been learned; pedestrian malls just don’t work in America, even if they are very successful in Europe. In May of 2008 and May of 2009, construction had just started. In May and June of 2010, construction was well underway. You can see some of these buildings from May of 2016 and August of 2010.
And of course, Crown Candy Kitchen has held on now for over a century. The Fourteenth Street Mall has been renamed Crown Square in honor of this holdout, and the restaurant and candy store still draws long lines on the weekends.
Sadly, a longtime mainstay in the neighborhood, La Mancha Coffee, which was directly across Fourteenth Street from Crown Candy, which served residents of Old North, closed on St. Patrick’s Day of 2022 after a decade of operation. It will be difficult to replace them.
The long line of Greek Revival rowhouses behind Crown Candy have never been abandoned.
They were once common in this city, and are now rare.
It’s hard to believe that I photographed the house above in May of 2008 as a giant pile of rubble. Now it’s been over a decade since and it’s a beautifully restored house that is someone’s home.
The houses above and below are still in good shape. You can see this row from August of 2017.