As I discovered over in Compton Heights earlier this summer, an old stone retaining wall can foster a fascinating story. Take this one, on the 2900 block of Locust. As can be seen in the Sanborn maps below, it was a large mansion, probably in the Italianate style, and sat just west of St. Charles Borromeo Roman Italian Catholic Church. That’s interesting, an Italian saint’s namesake in Midtown? I dug further, and discovered that the church was actually purchased from the earlier St. John’s Methodist Episcopal Church, more famous for its next location at Holy Corners. I didn’t realize the Roman Catholic Archdiocese had ever bought a church from another denomination in St. Louis, but they did just that in 1903. And not surprisingly, my friend Paul Hohman was there when it was torn down, after closing in 1982. The house next door then gets interesting; records show that it was the house of Thomas McKittrick, possibly a railroad executive, who apparently helped found the Missouri Bicycle Club when he lived in the house in 1885. His son, also tragically died at the age of 15 while living there. Then later, the house clearly became the rectory for the new St. Charles Borromeo church next door, as the Rev. Caesar Spigardi passed away in the house in 1931.
Just look at St. John’s before it was taken over by the Archdiocese; surrounded by mansions of the elite members of St. Louis. It was also fascinating to learn that there clearly was an Italian population in the neighborhood at the turn of the Twentieth Century–the newly arrived immigrants crowded into the old mansions that were already 30-40 years old by World War I. I now remember that a friend’s father remembers Lindell/Olive being lined with Italian-American “hash houses,” serving up food from the old country. I suspect those restaurants, now dwindled down to one, Vito’s, are remnants of the Italians who once lived in Midtown.