The Mystery Wall on Oregon Ave, Gravois Park

Update: The mystery remains, but I did revisit the street in 2015. The fence has been removed.

I was driving around the streets south of Cherokee Street a couple of weeks ago when I spotted this strange sight: a large retaining wall blocking off Oregon Avenue just north of Miami. What a lot of people don’t realize is the terrain of the city is very much the product of grading that occurred a century ago, smoothing out hills and filling in ravines and sinkholes.

But why did the developer of this block keep the street level, instead of grading it gradually down to Miami Street?? The two staircases on either side of the wall are now fenced off, which is another oddity.

The massive foundations of the apartment buildings also point to the dramatic drop in elevation; interestingly, though, the alleys behind this block of Oregon are sloped, and are through.

I checked the Sanborn maps, and you can see that the block was very late in being built out; the apartment buildings that line the street date from 1922-24, while the houses on the surrounding blocks are from the turn of the century.? Perhaps there was some sort of business here; likewise, maybe the developer wanted to create a nice quiet street without through traffic.

Sadly, Miami Street is synonymous with urban decay along much of its length.? This building across the street is severely damaged and deteriorating.? Does anyone know what is going on with this block of Oregon, and why it was built in this manner?

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Frank says:

    I did a post about this spot a while ago, spurred by the same curiosity. I came to believe, perhaps erroneously, that the drop-off had something to do with the old streetcar system. Here’s my post: <a href=";

  2. Chris Naffziger says:

    Frank, thanks for the very cool link to your photos and discussion. I think I’m going for the rocky outcropping as the culprit; there’s just no room for a streetcar to turn around in those spaces. The fence was definitely built to cut down on drug dealing, and I’m not surprised to hear that that street had been a haven of drug dealing.

  3. Tom Maher - Kirkwood says:

    Thanks for the additional photos, Frank. I remember this street from when I was a teen in the late ’50s, following directions to a party; they were given by some wiseacre South City guy who knew the bumpkin from Kirkwood would be totally confused. And I was…
    It’s amazing that the concrete panels are free of graffiti; maybe the taggers are afeerd of the neighborhood as well?
    Also – I wonder how the green stair handrails have survived scrappers; maybe they are not brass but are just painted?

  4. Matthew Mourning says:

    This is Gravois Park, FYI.

    1. Chris Naffziger says:

      I don’t consider this Gravois Park; it’s much closer to Benton Park. Arbitrary? Yes.

  5. SB says:

    Benton Park (the park) is more than two times as far from this wall as is Gravois Park (the park). Additionally, Benton Park West (the neighborhood) does not even have a park after its name. But, we seem to be in a post-factual world.

    1. Chris Naffziger says:

      From the about page:

      “I also took the liberty to gerrymander the boundaries of neighborhoods to reflect a more historical and realistic approach to the way neighborhoods exist as urban villages interacting with each other. I apologize if your neighborhood was edited out of existence, or if you feel like you dont live in the neighborhood I say you do. For example, I consolidated the Dogtown neighborhood into one, cogent whole, ignoring the three or four smaller neighborhoods that the city claims to exist. Talking to people who grew up in Dogtown, no one ever called their neighborhood Clayton-Tamm or any of that nonsense.”

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