Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Grand Center: Beyond the Boulevard

As urbanists have been saying for years, neighborhoods ultimately need people living in them for them to thrive. Simply having a whole bunch of theaters that are empty 90% of the year is never going to revitalize what was once the second downtown of St. Louis around Grand Blvd.

My tour of the area will focus on the residential portion of Grand Center, which is rapidly disappearing not just by neglect, but by the active purchasing and demolition of perfectly stable buildings for parking lots. The building below represents a beautiful example of the architecture in the area: slightly ragged, but possessing a strong tradition. The building below is based off of Brunelleschi's Foundling Hospital in Florence. It sits empty, and hopefully a wise owner will purchase and renovate it before Grand Center gets ahold of it.Below is one of my favorite buildings in St. Louis. What was originally a Romanesque Revival mansion has underwent various fascinating alterations over the years. As is common in many 19th Century wealthy neighborhoods, mansions became outdated and their original inhabitants moved west to presumably the Central West End. The mansion in questions became a boarding house, and rather interestingly, a storefront was built out the front to the sidewalk line. I have seen examples of this in Washington, DC and Chicago in my own travels. What is absolutely cool is that if you look closely at the spot where the old front door was on the right, you can see how the "renovators" reused stone in the construction of a staircase hallway combined with newer brick. The rooming house was then accessible from a long hallway that came from the front sidewalk. It will take a very creative renovator to reuse this house. Nearby, you can actually see the trees that once sat between property lines, shading houses that are now long gone.Below is a picture of the excuse Grand Center used to get a perfectly stable apartment building demolished in the last couple of weeks: some minor spalling on the exterior wall. The building was perfectly fine; my parents even parked their Mercedes-Benz in the shadow of this building. Let me tell you, if my paranoid parents were not afraid of this building collapsing, no one should have been. Vanishing St. Louis and Ecology of Absence have excellent entries at their blogs on the vanity of the demolition of the Central Apartments.
Below is a beautiful house that apparently has been partially renovated; it sits contextless surrounded by parking lots on all sides. I think I read somewhere the owners are going ahead with renovation; almost certainly they receive constant pressure to sell out and donate their historic structure to a landfill in the name of "progress."Above you can see the fire escapes that lends one to believe that this house too was once converted into a rooming house. Below is the front of the house, with the stickers still on the new windows. This house seems to belong to the first generation of houses built in Grand Center, and predates the period at the turn of the 20th Century when the area became a center of the theater scene in St. Louis.Across the street is this severely altered boarding house that I am afraid almost certainly will face the wrecking ball in the next few years. Certainly we could argue that it would be a small loss, but yet, with hard work, the front of the building could be restored to its previous appearance and use.This picture is self explanatory; the wreckers who demolished the once certainly stately home at this address did not complete the conquest, so to speak, leaving the front steps intact as a sad reminder that tax-paying, business-generating people once lived at this now dead lot.Why this shingle style house has survived is beyond me; it's a little rough around the edges upon closer inspection, but nevertheless, it represents the way Grand Center should be treating its historical buildings.Below is a great example on Vandeventer of the housing/commercial stock so sorely needed in Grand Center. St. Louis University is a large prestigious university with great students aching for a REAL neighborhood around their school. Washington University's students helped revived the Loop, and SLU's students could do the same for their university's neighborhood. SLU has to stop demolishing everything in sight if they expect to improve their image as nothing more than a university in a black hole. I recently talked to a gentleman that went to SLU in the 1950's. He spoke fondly of eating at hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurants east of the SLU campus in admittedly a rough neighborhood back when he was a studnet, but yet he is saddened that SLU's response to this rough but stable area was to bulldoze everything in sight. As long as a building is still standing, there is hope for it.


  1. Lovely pictures, Chris.

    Not related, but have you ever seen this website?

    It's hard to believe that such things exist. Amazing archive there.

    I especially like this one that I call, "What did you do during The War, Grandpa?"

  2. Wow, those are really cool. They also recently discovered a bunch of color photographs of German cities taken right before they were bombed in World War II. I don't know if they're published in any one place yet.


A Blog detailing the beauty of St. Louis architecture and the buildup of residue-or character-that accumulates over the course of time.