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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Walnut Park East and West

I'm a total nerd, and totally obsessed with St. Louis, so I think about these things.

What are the Walnut Park neighborhoods like?

I got to thinking last night, while doing my Patch post, that there are some neighborhoods through which I've rarely traversed.

Besides cruising down Goodfellow and Riverview and other such streets back in the days of car ownership, I don't believe I've ever been through the residential streets of these two neighborhoods.

Am I missing out? I don't really know, I guess.

Well, luckily, as with the Patch, St. Louis Community Information Network has some pictures.

I won't post so many of the city's photographs this time, but I do have to ask: what's the residential context of the two neighborhoods? Walnut Park was ignored by Google's Streetview mappers, so that's no use.

Is it more like this house, on 5949 Lalite Avenue (W.P. West):




Or this one, at 6006 Garesche Avenue (also W.P. West):




Or it is more of a Baden-like hodgepodge?

Is it in good condition? Bad? Terrible?

Are there any neighborhood businesses? A small business district that's escaped me over all these years of dotage?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Patch - East of Broadway

Click here to pull up a map. Or scroll to the end of this post for a photo tour.

It doesn't look like much, but this forgotten section of St. Louis contains some of its oldest housing. The compact square blocks reflect the area's history--part of the Creole town of Carondelet.

If you removed some siding and tidied up a bit, you'd have the remnants of an old French and Spanish village. Many of the structures here date from the 1840s--and even earlier.

Even back in the anti-urban days of the 1960s, the City of St. Louis saw this area as a priority for preservation. The 1967 Riverfront Development Plan actually proposed dedicating this entire area to industry and moving all existing housing to flank a proposed park just to the north. In effect, they wanted to recreate the village of Carondelet as it once may have appeared.

While these undertakings usually create absolutely cheesy and inauthentic outdoor museums, I can't help but wish this one plan went through. Today, the area is more industrial area than residential neighborhood, as time and demolitions have taken their course. What houses remain are so altered from their formerly modest appearance that they appear to be cheap new construction.

I'd like to see another Riverfront Plan, but houses don't need to be moved this time. Instead, there needs to be a residential facade improvement program to bring these homes' history back to light. There also needs to be some infill that truly evokes the Creole cottages that lie underneath the ramshackle re-dos.

One of the very few remaining links to early St. Louis is slipping away almost unnoticed.

There's more history to be had in the National Register nomination of the "East of Broadway" multiple resource listing.

[To follow that last link, type in "MO" for state code and navigate to "East of Broadway"].

If my prediction comes true, and South Broadway becomes the city's next hot business district, we may some day see the Patch (east of Broadway) truly take off. There's a lot working against it, with heavy industrial neighbors not the least of those problems. Still, it's a historic and potentially handsome area. Imagine some new street lamps, sidewalks with brick pavers, street trees, a streetcar down Broadway, and we may have a deal.

The pictures below are from the St. Louis Community Information Network.


116 E. Steins St.
(Newly rehabbed as part of the Steins-Broadway Condos project.)


116-18 Steins St.
No offense to the owner of this property, but the siding-cladding of this historic structure is simply shameful. The Germanic limestone peeking out from the vinly is even more of a tease.


214 E. Steins
Who knows how old this double-balconied house is? Architectural ornament has long been removed. A quick check of city records claims an 1884 construction date. However, my experience with the St. Louis Community Information Network has taught me that they really don't have records prior to the 1880s, and so make guesses (and shoddy ones, it appears, some times) at the construction dates of earlier buildings.



218 E. Steins
A shoddy structure with some potential, despites its gritty location.


308 E. Courtois St.
While this is certainly no French Colonial structure, it's a handsome, if somewhat spare building that is deserving of preservation.


310 E. Courtois St.
This one could quite possibly be a late French Colonial structure (construction date: 1840s?). The roof pitch is suggestive of it. STL CIN says it was built in 1890--though it's not a member of any of the styles popular then--mostly Victorian styles, in St. Louis (Richardsonian Romanesque, Queen Anne, etc.).



7619 Water St.
Welcome to Old Carondelet!


7621 Water St.
A nice port-cochere example of a French Colonial. (I'm kidding)



7611 Water St.
It looks like Steins-Broadway Condos is renovating this French Colonial Style home! Nice! It's a great structure.


7623 Water St.
A cared-for but altered old Colonial.



7631 Water St.
A nice old row in the Patch. There's enough context here to redevelop this neighborhood into something truly special and valued.



7805 Water St.
This "newer" building (what--1880s?) brings the district architectural diversity.



7811 Water St.
Doesn't look like much, but what's underneath?


7827 Reilly Ave.
An ancient building that's slipping (slipped?) away.



7827 Reilly Ave.
A classic German limestone building covered by this latticed porch. It could be a two-story cousin to the better known Steins Row across Broadway.


7827 Vulcan
Solid industrial buildings along Vulcan.


The Jacob Steins House - Corner of Steins and Reilly Streets
Amazingly, this is still there despite the industrialization of this area (and despite this vintage shot that suggests the building is gone). Read more about the history of this house here.

That's all for now!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Accolades you can believe in.

It's that time of year again--Riverfront Times' Best of St. Louis.

Dogtown wins Best Place to Live.

Our under-appreciated City Hall, a.k.a. Sooty Hall, wins Best Old Building.

It's a no-brainer, but I nearly wept to see it actually recognized. Without a doubt, Cherokee Street is the Best Mile of St. Louis.

The whole "Best Of" is one big civic hug, especially to the battered central city, inured to a lack of authentic affection.

Take this feel-good comment for example, regarding the best neighborhood bar in the City:

Choosing the best neighborhood bar in the city is sort of like picking the cutest puppy in a basketful of golden retrievers. Not. Easy. That's because, to the delight of city dwellers and the despair of their livers, there are so many great bars in so many great neighborhoods. Cozy taverns tucked into brick buildings, elegant wine bars anchoring nightlife districts, beer-and-whiskey dives popping up in between fancy restaurants — which to choose? This year we've spun the wheel and landed on Riley's, in Tower Grove East.


Thank you, RFT. Somewhere, 675 miles away, you've reminded a man to turn a temporary blind eye to Blairmont, to the Century Building's demise, the McPheeters Warehouse demolition, the loss of the Switzer, the endless corporate flight, the big boxes anchoring prominent onetime urban intersections, et cetera.


They can take our urbanism, but there will always be several dozen different watering holes to drown the sorrows in.


I love you, St. Louis.

Good night.

P.S. Oh...and a begrudging congratulations to Angry Black Bitch and Urban Review for their Best Blog titles, Editor's Choice and Readers' Choice, respectively.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Reiteration on Ballpark Village

So a couple tenants have signed on to Ballpark Village.

Kansas City-based Polsinelli Shalton Flanigan Suelthaus PC (whew!) is consolidating its downtown and Clayton offices in Ballpark Village.

Brokerage and investment firm Stifel Financial Corp., already located downtown, is in as well.

And, in some of the best news yet, the Urban Blue's Ballpark Lofts are selling like gooey butter cakes--in a terrible market, especially for condos.

So we have an urban village on the west side of the Ballpark. Let's just call that Ballpark Village.

We have confirmed tenants just north of the stadium. Great. Let's throw in some residential and more offices, and that will be the northern part of the Village.

To the south, we have major opportunities. Sure the potential Village to the south is cut off by Highway 40. But there needs to be a push to fill in some vacant lots and build structured parking instead of surface lots just south of the stadium. I would like to see enough infill and new activity to pull pedestrians post-ballgame down to the "Broadway Blues District"--with the incomparable trio of BB's, Beale on Broadway, and the Broadway Oyster Bar miraculously surviving spates of decline and demolition in that area.


View Larger Map

Check out the above map (zoom in to the "A"). Cerre Street is riddled with mixed-use (office, residential, retail, other commercial, even light industrial) potential. Build one structured parking facility on the west end of Cerre (forcing everyone to walk down the street toward new street-level retail). Have this parking garage extend below ground to accommodate for heavy ballgame traffic. Then, ninety percent of the rest of Cerre would be dedicated to a Village atmosphere. As I mentioned, perhaps we'd see some spillover and some real connection between downtown (specifically, this Ballpark Village) and the Broadway Blues District just to the south. Let's do that, and let's call that the Village as well.

But the biggest opportunity is the east of the District.


View Larger Map

That monster needs to go ASAP. That whole city block could be a series of "row house" style, 4-5 story commercial/residential buildings that would quickly become a hot address. This would bring activity and a 1000 percent aesthetic improvement to four blockfaces downtown. Another option, depending on demand, could be high or mid-rise office/residential towers.

Let's not forget this beautiful surface lot between the excellent Pointe 400 building and the stadium itself:


View Larger Map

Again, opportunities are endless. New high rise towers or smaller scale urban infill--it doesn't matter. It would be an amazing improvement and would go a long way in crafting a Village atmosphere that has been so often discussed. Plus, development on this large block could very well tie Ballpark Village to Chouteau's Landing, and specifically to that development's Historic Fourth Street area. Let's do all those things, and let's call them all collectively, Ballpark Village.

Of course, the issue here would be--ahem--parking, parking, parking. Of course, there'd still be room for a couple smaller, multi-story garages with retail on the bottom. Ultimately, though, the city needs to do whatever it can to confine most of the parking underground. The vitality of the Village would be amplified so much if unsightly parking was subterranean, and the Village had a more pedestrian-friendly look and feel to it. And so, yes, that means, sadly, the now historic twin-Busch garage on the west should come down too.

If we realized this Village, we'd have a true urban neighborhood on our hands, befitting of the very term "Village".

Because, when I think of Village, I think of an active, comfortable, inviting space where people always congregate--not a sterile, cramped collection of office towers and chain restaurants smashed into the old Busch footprint.

If we're going to build this Village, we should set our sights higher, or, perhaps more appropriately, we should set those sights wider. That means a recognition that the real Village will (or should, at least) go beyond the current borders of that old footprint. It should absorb the Ballpark Lofts, the Westin, Cerre Street, the Broadway Blues District, Chouteau's Landing, and all adjacent parcels.

Just some thoughts.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Aspiring Artists Take Note: Benton Park is hosting a Chalk Art Contest!


From the mouth of Cherokee Street News, the Benton Park Neighborhood Association is holding a Chalk Art Contest in its namesake park.

For more information, proceed to the Cherokee Street News page.

St. Louis needs more events like these--encouraging both public art and community mingling.

Please attend! And take pictures. For me.

By the way, Blues City Deli is one of the sponsors as well--another one of the countless examples of a (particularly awesome) local business supporting the community.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A harrowing statistic about the future of Metro

Will St. Louis County approve a tax increase for the region's transit agency come November?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2006 American Community Survey, only 1.8 percent of St. Louis County residents use public transit to get to work. In the city of St. Louis, the figure is 10.3 percent.

Will that 1.8 percent plus whatever percentage uses Metro to go to ballgames, restaurants, shows at the Fox, et cetera help fund Metro so that the region can improve its transit system rather than witness it languish?

I haven't forgotten about Blairmont!

Neither has Rob Powers, who's on Day 188 of the Daily Dose of Blairmont.

It's simply ludicrous that any private citizen can track so many instances of illegal demolitions--with photographic evidence--and not produce any reaction from the local leadership.

Whether you want a big economic development scheme for North St. Louis, or you're squarely opposed to anyone touching the land other than a community-based entity, you should be against what is occurring right now. A well-connected, monied developer continues to chip away at neighborhoods, inciting further crime, abandonment, and disinvestment--saying nothing of preservation of irreplaceable architecture. We've seen rampant arsons and brick rustling. We've seen a lot of activity by Paul McKee and his various holding companies, but little activity from city government.

This is no way to "redevelop" neighborhoods.

This is one big, city-rubberstamped crime. It's also an excellent precedent for top-down, secretive planning when all other civilized places go to great lengths to avoid that kind of "planning".

This could happen again--somewhere else. Could the Ville be next?

What can I do? Locked down in New Orleans, what can I do?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

20th Ward still witnessing alcohol-sales showdown

Another interesting piece from the South Side Journal -- 20th Ward Alderman Craig Schmid has budged a bit on his "Dry Ward" stance. Instead of the original 50 percent food-sales requirement in order to serve alcohol, he now supports a 35 percent rule.

A lot of the present controversy erupted when Steve Smith, owner of the popular Royale bar on Kingshighway, wished to open another bar--this time, no food to be served at all--on a stretch of Cherokee Street within the 20th Ward. Schmid's ordinance prohibited it, and he would not budge, much to the chagrin of the St. Louis community who a) likes to drink, b) likes to drink in interesting settings, and c) likes activity and believes "eyes on the street" will enliven and make the host block more safe.

Critics contended drunks import trash, noise, vandalism, and violence into a neighborhood that does not need any more of those things.

I think Schmid's heart is in the right place, but I also think it's time to let this area mature. Schmid hasn't updated his views on Cherokee Street since the 1980s, when its decline began. Today, Cherokee is a dynamic, but struggling district that needs investment like that which Steve Smith is willing to pour in. The new bill sponsored by Schmid is a start.

I do wonder what the actual neighborhood concensus is, however.

What are your thoughts?

Upcoming exhibit showcases impressions of Cherokee Street, Benton Park West

Recall my earlier post about children from the College School in Webster Groves observing and reflecting upon the Cherokee Station business district and surrounding neighborhood.

It seems that Cherokee Street is a hit with students whose instructors want them to witness a 21st Century diverse neighborhood.

The Photography Project, sponsored by the Public Policy Research Center at UMSL, equipped children ages 8 to 18 with digital cameras and set them about exploring the Benton Park West neighborhood.

The project is about capturing, with photography, the diversity of human experience through the eyes of a child. It's also about bringing strangers together and, thereby, inspiring a level of comfort and safety perhaps missing from the neighborhood at present.

UMSL is hosting an exhibit of the children's work. More information is below. Click here to read the South Side Journal article.

What: "Point-Of-View: Cherokee Street and Benton Park West Neighborhood" photography exhibition

When and Where: Sept. 16 to Oct. 26 at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, 362 Social Sciences & Business Building. Hours are 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Oct. 25 to Jan. 10 at the Cherokee Business Incubator, 2715 Cherokee St.; hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Admission: Free

For more information, call:

(314) 516-5273.


And if you can't wait to see some of the photography, it's already up on Cherokee Street Photos website. Here is an example from a child named Andre. Enjoy!


I'm published!

The delightful St. Louis Beacon published my commentary on the new Thompson Coburn garage. Read it here.

That's it!

Innovative, neighborhood-based services will make St. Louis more livable

St. Louis is lucky to be seeing the opening of a couple of new businesses that could really, collectively, change the face of the city.

First, SweetArt From-Scratch Bakeshop and Art Studio, in Shaw. Cbabi Bayoc, a local artist, has teamed up with none other than his own wife, Reine, to produce a lethal combination of cookie and canvass. I am sure Garden-goers and Shaw-ites will be duly pleased.

Below, a Cbabi painting.



Second, in DeBaliviere Place, Velocity Cafe and Cyclery. Do you feel Metrolink doesn't take you where you need to go? With this new part eatery, part bike rental shop, you can exit at the Forest Park Station and trade two feet for two wheels--and dine before you do. I'm told that the restaurant will use, quite fittingly, recycled bicycles as decor. A bike rental at the doorstep to one of the nation's largest urban parks and within a stone's throw of the Delmar Loop? It seems a no-brainer, but Velocity is the first. Since their website is a bit lacking at the moment, here are the updates from UrbanSTL.

Third, in Old North St. Louis, the Urban Studio Cafe. A coffee shop in up-and-coming Old North? That's good enough news in and of itself. But Starbucks-wannabe (is that even appropriate to say anymore, given that company's recent decline?) Urban Studio is not. Says founder Phil Valko, "The cafe seeks to foster a sense of community and creativity while providing a quality cup of joe. Revenue generated by the cafe will go towards funding future art programs for youth in the area." Think non-profit plus coffee shop. Nice. Oh, also, since we're on the topic of bikes, at the future Urban Studio Cafe, you can ride a bicycle to blend your own smoothie. Sounds like a nice, healthy excuse to eat some sweets. See the picture below.



So, if you're depressed that none of the above are open yet, I would highly recommend the Sci-Fi Lounge in Skinker-DeBaliviere. It has limited hours (Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8pm to Midnight), but it's worth the trip on either of those nights. It's a very surreal place that kind of reminds me of New Orleans: meaning, there's not an ounce of corporate-ness in between its narrow walls. What is there sort of defies description--multiple stations to play a quick game of Nintendo 64 Mario Kart, PacMan, whathaveyou, plus the gangway between its own building and the one next door a sculpture garden of sorts dubbed "Robot Alley." Just check it out if you haven't yet.

We cannot fail to mention Cherokee Station's coming addition--Foam. It's a coffeehouse that serves alcohol that's going to brew both. A town can never have enough breweries, and especially ones that serve espresso. The myspace page linked above notes that Foam has aspirations to grow into a "contemporary cultural center". Sounds about right. Benton Park West/Cherokee Station needs it.

Finally, I'm excited about Carondelet's "The Wedge". PictureThisSTL has more details, describing the venue at Bates and Virginia as a "rock 'n' roll pizza bar." I have to admit something nerdy here: I'm obsessed with odd-shaped city blocks, and especially when they have odd-shaped buildings on them. In grid-happy St. Louis, there's not too many pie slices going on, and when they occur, they're sadly given over too often to a gas station or a vacant lot. Well, the Wedge, as evidenced by its name, proudly defies this trend. Look for an art-deco bar on street-level, and a pizzeria/rock music venue on the second floor.

Why do I pull out these examples? They all buck the idea of just opening something that you'd expect, since they all cross genres and aren't easily defined. They're obviously being crafted by passionate folks who want to bring St. Louis something it's not seen yet. Innovative small businesses like this improve the quality of life in a city, informing residents and visitors alike that there is something unique and memorable to this place.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A visual representation of what St. Louisans know too well.

The Legend


1970 Population Density - St. Louis City


1980 Population Density - St. Louis City


1990 Population Density - St. Louis City



2000 Population Density - St. Louis City


These maps are from Social Explorer. The website allows the user to create maps using census data from 1790 to 2000 for certain variables. Check it out. The flight of wealth out of the city is perhaps more interesting than the population density maps. Be sure to map that one out. For whatever reason, a gap exists at 1960. I could have gone farther, but did not want to skip this decade.

Anyhow, enjoy.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Is it "Sprawl with Lipstick" (wink, wink) or something truly new?



It's the New Town at St. Charles!

What do you think? Have you been?

What's its future?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Bestill my heart! A shot of bygone Gaslight Square.



Real urbanism squandered.

And to think the current Gaslight Square infill project is among the city's best.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The CVS Mess

It's been confirmed recently that pharmacy giant CVS is entering the St. Louis market. One of their first stores will subsume a vacant parcel in the otherwise tidy Boulevard Heights neighborhood. The property, formerly a gas station, has been a blight on the neighborhood for years. The gas station abandoned the property in the late '90s or early 2000s, if my memory serves me correctly.

This sounds great, right? Here's the site:


View Larger Map

Of course, there's a Walgreens adjacent to this site (spin the Google Streetview Map around to see it)--not to mention the Schnucks, which carries pharmaceutical goods, right across the street.

But never mind the oversaturation of pharmacies for a moment. They're taking five homes to build this store too! God help me if they're getting any sort of incentives from the city to do so!

Look: I want competition for Walgreens. Their rampant expansion has blighted several neighborhood corners with a highly successful, but generic store that only hurts already scarce local retailers and pharmacy. See the Martin Luther King shopping center on North Grand as an example. They knock out a turn of the century commercial building (or two, or three, or four) to put up a cinderblock store with front parking--a forgettable addition to a neighborhood that needs bold change. On the south side, they built another atrocious store on the corner of Kingshighway and Chippewa--despite pleas of neighborhood residents for that corner to be reserved for architecturally interesting and urban construction after the failed K-Mart proposal in the late 1990s.


The last time I was in town, I tried to convert my parents to using local pharmacies. Guess what--they're the same price (if you have insurance) and they deliver!

Try Keller Apothecary on Brannon and Chippewa, or Lindenwood Drug at Lansdowne and Jamieson.

My point is: I have no qualms about threatening Walgreens' near monopoly on drugs and junk-peddling retail. I just don't want it to be CVS to do it! Especially not in a city like St. Louis that has shown a consistent failure to support urban storefronts and sound design. If we keep building like a suburb, we will never host walkable, urban neighborhoods. The line between suburban St. Louis and urban St. Louis will further blur until the once-grand city becomes merely a tired-looking caricature of Sunbelt Sprawl. Proper zoning (and leadership) would ensure that CVS would build urban and attractive. And it would most likely not allow the loss of homes in a stable neighborhood for such gratuitous duplication of services.

This is a Maps.Live view of at least two of the homes to be demolished. These are along Austria Avenue.

They may not be gems, but they shouldn't be torn down for a suburban-style pharmacy. That's a story St. Louis knows too well.

Luckily, to my knowledge, there are no renderings yet, and we can perhaps voice our concern that this project will clog an already busy street and should therefore be made as pedestrian-friendly as possible (not to mention well-designed aesthetically). Oh yeah...pssst...it's right across the street from a transit station...

Join me in contacting 12th Ward Alderman Fred Heitert to pass along these concerns.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Attorneys sack downtown St. Louis

Historic law firm Thompson Coburn LLP has decided to stay downtown, according to Mayor Slay. But not without $700,000 in incentives and a new parking garage! Really? A new garage? And atop the former Ambassador?

Now, Armstrong Teasdale is leaving, headed to Clayton as part of the new Centene deal (itself playing the incentives game to get more from Clayton?). A 21-story tower will now replace the modernist landmark, the former Library Limited building at Forsyth and Hanley.

What has our area gained?

A new parking garage.

A new twenty-one story building.

What have we lost?

Valuable space downtown that could have been developed as an office/residential building in the future.

Downtown viability, as fewer people will be "forced" to walk the streets of downtown to get to Thompson Coburn's offices.

Another modernist landmark--the region's first suburban Scruggs, Vandervoort and Barney department store.

History does repeat itself.

The Library Ltd. Building, from Vanishing STL:

Monday, September 8, 2008

Oakland Avenue: a mini-case study for a more walkable city?

So, while back in St. Louis, I saw that a median was being installed from the 4900 to 5100 blocks of Oakland Avenue in the Kings Oak neighborhood.

Thanks to a completely on-the-ball 17th Ward website, there's more information for those of us outside the ward (and the city).

With institutions such as St. Louis University High School, the St. Louis Science Center, and the severed sliver of Forest Park south of Highway 40, this is a smart choice. This will slow down the traffic on Oakland and beautify the street all at once. That makes for happier pedestrians. One of the best parts? SLUH and the SLSC are helping foot part of the bill!

I will say that median-makers in this city need to stop by Reber Place in Southwest Garden, or Lewis Place in north city, or Federer/Holly Hills in the Holly Hills neighborhood, or Sublette in the Kingshighway Hills/Northampton neighborhood. They need to take notes. These wide, spacious medians are also not too full and not overly landscaped. They shade the street with their tree canopies and encourage residents to take advantage of the space.

If it were up to me, these medians would be actual usable spaces--perfect trails for walking yourself, walking a dog, plopping down for a picnic or a book (watch the dog doo-doo, though!), or starting an unoffical community garden.

The one going up on Oakland is a good start, but, from the early looks of it, it won't meet the standards I have listed above. Of course, the ones I mentioned are all residential streets with the exception of Sublette, which has some commercial/institutional uses. Even so, medians need to be wider in this city and follow that residential precedent to provide maximum utility and community benefit.

Despite all of that, I am happy to see Oakland's makeover. Let's hope there will be more throughout the city.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The St. Louis new/proposed construction report and questionnaire

SI'll start this post off by commenting on a recently completed new building that I have come to really enjoy--Park East Tower in the Central West End. I finally "get" this building now. It's not as if its contemporary take on Art Deco truly escaped me. It's just that I saw it as cheesy before. Viewed from one of the skybridges at the Washington University Medical Center, the building was striking to me. The southern approach looks great. The street level, though, could use some reconfiguring.

Along with the Park East Tower, the Park East Lofts seem to me an excellent addition to the streetscape (and might resolve some of the issues with the Tower's street level presence). It's hard to assess how the actual build-out will look, since they've only got the steel beams up right now, but renderings are promising (see below).



Let's stay within the Central West End. The new mixed-use building on Lindell between Sarah and Vandeventer (dubbed Villas of St. Louis) is the perfect scale for the street. I don't think it's any paragon of design in and of itself. But it's not offensive, in my opinion. And it might set a proper, urban precedent for massing along that de-urbanized stretch of Lindell Boulevard. Here's a picture from Steve Patterson's flickr page:



Moving out of the CWE, what's that huge, LEED-certified warehouse along Chouteau just east of Compton? I'm glad that it's billed itself as energy-efficient, but did it have to offer its window-less face to such a huge swath of Chouteau? It's so bulky and lifeless. I guess I'm disappointed because this was a great opportunity to spruce up Chouteau and maybe, someday see it as a true, urban boulevard.

Also, there's a sign up for new construction in the Gate District--near Compton and Eads. I couldn't stop (grandparents were driving at the time), but it looked like there was a name and rendering for the development. This seems significant because it's on the west side of Compton--the side that St. Louis University's medical campus has systematically dismantled. Even if the rest of Gate District construction isn't top notch by any measure, I would breathe a sigh of relief to see houses constructed on this unlikely urban prairie. Anyone have any more information on this development?

Okay. South Grand now. The new building at S. Grand and Winnebago (formerly Pyramid's senior homes, now Dominion's) is progressing nicely. While this is a much less appealing building than Villas of St. Louis, I do have to once again admire the scale and the mixed-use nature of the project in a city that practically mandates suburban design through its outdated zoning code.

Here is an earlier view of the building from the St. Louis Business Journal:



I think Vivienne on Lafayette is a great development--a wonderful adaptation of a St. Louis vernacular style. I hope they shake up the formula a bit and build more.

The down-the-street-neighbor Union Club, though, is disappointing. The inability to imitate the (oxymoronic) graceful ruddiness of Richardsonian Romanesque in the angles of the bay curvature and the brick color renders this building as odd-looking in my book.

Let's shoot up to Grand Center. Last night, I went to the reception for the Light Project. The Light Project is four installments, but, of course, the one that will grab the most attention is the burnt out church on N. Spring--its onetime roof now bedecked in lamps and lampshades of every color. It's truly a magnificent sight. It was also amazing to see people strolling casually around Grand Center in such numbers. All of this temporary urbanism made me long for some permanence. The large signs advertising the ArtHouse development made me feel a little more confident that St. Louis's "arts district" may truly materialize someday.

One last site to discuss: the new recreation center in Carondelet Park.

Here is a rendering:




I had no idea they were going to completely isolate this suburban-style building in the middle of Carondelet Park. Why not add to street life? Why remove the old-growth trees? Why take up park space? Why does this center need to be within a park? I can think of dozens of other sensible places. Why not fill in a gap along the Patch's South Broadway stretch? Or somewhere along Gravois (the overly large parking lot behind the Bevo Mill, for example)?

I am disappointed that I voted for the proposition to allow for this construction. Shouldn't residents of south St. Louis have been consulted with the placement and design of this facility?

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Notes from St. Louis

You know the drill. Every time I return, I offer my random months-removed observations of the city I love.

(By the way, it appears New Orleans was spared the worst of Gustav. Still, the city will not let residents return until later in the week, so I'm here for a good clip, it turns out).

First, certain parts of the city seem overly messy and litter-strewn. Bevo, for one, is not looking its best. That was a little disheartening.

Cafe Ventana is a great addition to SLU-Midtown/east Central West End. Though it seemed a little wrong to be eating beignets (a New Orleans specialty, for those who didn't know)on the eve of Gustav's landfall, it nevertheless was a comfy and enjoyable space. I especially love the bike rack. If you're going to have front and rear parking, adding the "bike lane" and large rack is a great way of urbanizing the building. A lot of money went into this space, and I think the results are definitely good.

I wanted to check out the Piccadilly at Manhattan restaurant over in Ellendale just about on top of the city limits (near Maplewood). It's truly the perfect urban establishment. It's at that undeniably intimate neighborhood scale--the corner storefront. I am going to make it a point to eat there today.

Still, I could not help but be distracted by this, right across the street:




It's a development called Ellendale Heights on Piccadilly and Ellendale boulevards. The picture, actually, does the structure more justice than it deserves. It and its eight or so neighbors look like live-in garages. This was not a good way to urbanize a suburban, front-facing garage on a squat lot. The result was literally laughable, especially seeing them all in a row. The garage covers 80 percent of the facade of the structure. It's simply unbelievable. In fact, every time I passed by on McCausland/Ellendale, I thought those facing Ellendale itself were actually the rear garages of a new development I never had time to check out on that opposite street. Nope. They're homes with a cancerous garage-growth. Yuck.

What else?

I found that Sundays and Mondays are not good days to grab something to eat. Almost every place I wanted to hit up was closed on both days. This includes the Piccadilly, mentioned above, and Mattingly Brewery on South Jefferson. And the Pitted Olive on Hampton (which, it turns out, is closed until this Friday due to a Labor Day vacation anyway).

More observations to come later.

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