Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sole Survivor, Kingshighway at Chippewa

This wonderful building on the northwest corner of Kingshighway and Chippewa is the remaining reminder that four buildings once graced this important intersection in South City. Instead, the other corners have become a wasteland of parking that detracts and diminishes the intersection. Perhaps in its next incarnation we can hope for something better. Seriously, a Walgreen's, Applebee's and a Jack in the Box? Wasn't there a Famous Barr at this intersection back in the day?


  1. Some of the history for this corner...

    Where Applebee's sits, there was first proposed a Huck's convenience store. The Southampton Neighborhood Association opposed the gas and convenience store in favor of a sit down, family restaurant. Applebee's soon committed, along with a substantial rebuild of Southwest Bank.

    At the Walgreen's corner, there's a long story. It was the site of the Southtown Famous, closed around 1992 by the May Company. Sansone demolished the store with plans to relocate the Venture store from down on Christy Boulevard. The Venture option was chosen over two competing proposals - one a multi-screen movie complex (the operator died ending that option) and the other an outlet mall.

    However, not long after picking Venture, Venture folded. Consequently, the site was a vacant lot with no tenant. Sansone then secured HQ Home Improvement store for the site.

    Neighborhood residents were pleased. A home improvement store signaled reinvestment in the area's housing stock. However, like Venture, the Hechinger company, parent of HQ was also in fiancial trouble. So, while Sansone was collecting $50,000 per month in ground lease payments from HQ/Hechinger, HQ could not proceed with building the store. The site was held hostage for years until a Hechinger banruptcy. During all of this, Sansone developed a Home Depot store less than a mile away up Kingshighway.

    So, while neighbors initially favored the entry of HQ into the South City area, now things were even better since Home Depot was a stronger store than HQ. With HQ's failure, neighbors believed we could get something better still for South City. Enter Kmart and the Southtown Coalitition.

    In the absence of develpment, and the lack of an alternative plan, neighborhoods oranized to form the Southtown Coalition. The Southtown Coalition was a group of about 40 community based organizations. This process was easilty five years in the making. A multi-tenant, urban scale design solution was proposed as the preferred alternative for the site.

    In the midst of the effort (Sansone refused to meet with neighborhood residents), Sansone proposed moving Kmart to Southtown from Gravois Plaza. Kmart's operations at Gravois PLaza were notoriously inept. Neighbors opposed Kmart, seeking a mixed tenant option instead.

    DDR, now partner with Sansone, fought to build Kmart. A legal battled ensued in front of zoning commissioner, the late John Koch. With support from Alderman Gregali, late Alderman Dan Kirner, then Board President Francis Slay, and future alderman Jennifer Florida, Koch denied the Conditonal Use Permit for Kmart. The denial was then upheld at the Board of Adjustment.

    DDR sued, Judge Dierker ruled in favor of DDR, and awarded a TIF deal to build a multi tenant strip center, including Walgreen's at Southtown. What we have today is the alternative to a big box Kmart at Southtown.

    Epilogue to this, KMart was in bankruptcy and folded during the CUP hearings. They were also unable to get financing. Since then, former Kmart CEO, Chuck Conaway has been convictef defrauding investors and forbidden from ever serving as a CEO/corporate director.

    During these times, the Avalon was in its waning days. It closed around 1995. Multiple redevelopment efforts were proposed, most serious of which was to acquire the entire block from Kingshighway to Lawn Avenue, south to the next intersection and build a giant QuikTrip. Land costs were prohibitive, so QuikTrip built north on Kingsighway, somewhere across from Uncle Bills.

  2. Southtown Famous Barr wasn't that far back. I shopped there with my mom and her ducklings.

  3. Excellent history Rick, thanks. I agree, the Applebees isn't the worst thing that could have ended up there, it also filled a void for the area. I do miss Southtown Famous, and wonder what will become of that area as most of the car dealers/lots slowly vanish and folks drag their feet on the Avalon building.

  4. There are two likely fates for the Avalon. It is wrested away from its current derelict owner, Mr. Tsevis, nominated to the National Register, and rehabbed for some type of entertainment use (its got a nice parking lot next door).

    Or, its condemned for demolition and the parking lot is expanded, awaiting some future reuse.

    Tsevis reportedly has wanted as much as $450,000 for the old, falling apart Avalon. Watch Dierker enter the picture again and award Tsevis' estate about that price if the city ever acquires the property.

    At one time, there was a proposal for a music club, dinner venue. Unfortunately, it never happened. Wrack a piece of that outcome up to an unreasonable Mr. Tsevis wanting too much for the run down building.

    The building is in deplorable shape now. The story isn't that different than the old Michigan show down in Carondelet. There was supposedly an old car left found in the interior of that old place.

    The Michigan is long gone, replaced by two single family houses.

    The Michigan was a vacant eyesore for such a long time, neighbors were ready to see it gone. I wonder what ever happened to its old sign...

    Speaking of old city theaters, legend has it that at one time, there was a theater not far from Buder School in Southampton. It would have been somewhere near the intersection of Macklind and Devonshire or Sutherland.

    If you snoop around there, you'll find two houses side by side that are much newer than the rest of neighborhood. As I understand it, they sit on the site of the former theater.

  5. Rick, I have seen a photograph of the theater that stood on Sutherland Avenue. I will try to dig it up and post it here.

  6. Just a point of clarity: I wasn't debating the date of the closure of Southtown Famous Barr, just reminiscing, really....I was in 8th grade when it closed.

  7. All very interesting info. How is the crime rate in the area? I have a young grandson interested in renting an apt close by. Is it a safe area?

  8. My young grandson is thinking of renting an apartment just west of that intersection. Was there previously a doctor's office there... Dr. Leland Hosto and Dr. Abenoa (sp)? I wonder if that is a very safe neighborhood at this time? do you know? You are so knowledgeable about the history there! Thank you! A concerned Grandmother

    1. Depends; some of the apartments just off of Kingshighway are bad news, but get further to the west, and it's the safest part of the entire city. Pay attention to the people around you.


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