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A Look at St. Louis’ MLK Drive, Part 4 of 5

This post is part four of a five part series. Part four looks at MLK Drive from Grand Ave. to Kingshighway.

Continuing on our journey west along MLK we resume from Grand Ave. You’ll recall in the prior post we saw the site of the new suburban Walgreen’s. Well, that is only the most recent sprawl-based development in this area.

A new suburban strip center is just completed on the NW corner of MLK (left) and Grand (right). The suburban features are numerous. First we have a single story building, second it is set back as far as possible from the street making it more of a challenge for pedestrians, it lacks a proper ADA required accessible route from the public sidewalk to the building entrances (tisk tisk) and finally it has plenty-o-parking right out front so that everyone can completely ignore the ample on-street parking.

Seen here from the west, the building is completely uninspired and does not relate at all to the sidewalk. I was happy to see the line of street trees along MLK. That is my car parked on MLK, four traffic lanes plus two parking lanes with parking lot focused development is about as suburban as you can get. If I were to crop out the old building in the background you might think we were out in a new suburb. Once the Walgreen’s goes up across Grand, the theme will continue. The above project is located in the 5th Ward of April Ford-Griffin.

Across MLK to the south we see the back of a building at the 5+ year old MLK Plaza. Once again, the entire intersection that was once quite urban has become this low-rise low density sprawl centric area. This is contrasted with the excellent pedestrian-oriented Hope VI housing being built just across Grand. Those residents will find their walk to the store unfulfilling at best and dangerous due to traffic at worst. This project, like those east of Grand, are in the 19th Ward formerlly represented by Mike McMillan.
All this and we are still at our starting point along Grand!

Just a block to the west another triangular shaped lot is being cleared. As I recall it was a mess before with perhaps a junk lot so I welcome the clean up. Survey crews were out working on a Sunday. I’m not sure what is planned for the site but I’m guessing more surburban-style development. You’d think when starting from scratch we’d get better development but then again that would require some true leadership at city hall. This is back in the 5th Ward.


The large lot above is on the SE corner of MLK and Sarah. Saint Louis University’s John Cook School of Business is working [assisting the non-profit  Habitat for Neighborhoood Business] on the construction of a new building at this site for the purposes of creating incubation space for startup businesses, a worthy goal no doubt. Unfortunately, I’m hearing the building may be suburban in form with parking in front. The architecture firm is said to be that of Glantz & Associates which primarily seems to do very surburban residential work. I may well be trying to put a kabash on this one until it can be redesigned, especially given the urban forms on the same block shown below.  [UPDATE 1/28/07 – I’ve met with a couple of board members of Habitat for Neighborhood Business to discuss the project, both indicate they are seeking an urban prototype with parking at the side or rear.]

These buildings (mostly the ones on the right), along the south side of MLK just west of Whittier are among the most interesting we have left in the city. The massing, varied hights and detailing are spectacular. The old cast iron storefronts are still in tact. The neon sign for the cleaners is a reminder of the many such signs that lined this street. Get me a streetcar running down this street and I will gladly live in a condo above one of these storefronts!

The above buildings are located in the 4th Ward (Ald. O.L. Shelton) in the Vandeventer Neighborhood. At one time, MLK (then Easton Ave) was the focal point of the neighborhood. Today is serves not as a uniter but as a dividing line between many neighborhoods. The north side of the street is The Ville.

A once beautiful home sits in ruins after years of decay and a recent fire. The vacant lot to the right is the site of a planned farmer’s market for the area. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) are nationally celebrating their 150th anniversary this year. Chapters all over the country are doing projects to give back to their respective communities. The St. Louis chapter of the AIA have, after working with residents in the Ville last year, decided to help them get the farmer’s market they seek.

The project is being designed this semester through a studio at Washington University. African-American architect Karl Grice will be the architect of record on the project which is expected to cost nearly $500K. I have some reservations about the site that was selected — namely if that is the best location — and if such a costly structure should be built before giving the market a trial run for a season at a nearby school, park or church. But, that will be something I can debate in a separate post.


Another recent tragedy along MLK is this newly opened Family Dollar store. The low end building is pushed back from the street behind lots of parking. As we saw with the strip center at MLK & Grand, no pedestrian access is provided — those walking must cut through the landscaping or walk in via the automobile drive. Later in this post I’ll show you an older Family Dollar store just down the street that is built up to the street with its parking on the side of the building rather than the front. This lovely “investment” was made possible by Ald. O.L.


Another view of the Family Dollar store. Would a break in the shrubs and striping through the parking lot to the front door have been too much to ask?


At this corner stood a wonderful looking building that during the AIA’s charrette last April was considered to be a fine model for new construction by combining a corner storefront with attached townhouses. Below is what the buildings looked like in April 2006.

See my prior post for more on the demolition of this once fine structure. We have 18th Ward Ald. Kennedy to thank for not including this or much of his ward in a Preservation Review District so that the city’s Preservation Board does not have the right to review demolition permits. This was an unnecessary loss.


I promised you a more urban form Family Dollar, this is located a block east of Kingshighway on the north side of MLK. It is an older structure that has been remodeled a number of times. It is not much to look at but at least it is an urban form and pedestrians can easily enter from the sidewalk.


Above is a new retail building at the corner of Kingshighway & MLK, built within the last 10 years or so by the Roberts Brothers. I was working on Union just north of Natural Bridge at the time so I passed by here daily either in my car or on my bike (yes, I was really good about bike commuting for a couple of years). The Blockbuster video that opened in the building has since closed.

The former Sears store which serves as the headquarters for the Roberts’ empire is visible in the far right of the above image (see below). The Sears provided a good model being built up to the street with on-street parking. Had they continued this pattern for this building they might have had something more sustainable.


The former Sears is now named the Victor Roberts Building.


An excessively wide driveway off Kingshighway leads to the parking for the former Sears building as well as the Roberts’ suburban strip center building located to the east. As you might expect, no pedestrian sidewalks are provided — you are expected to be in a car.


The Roberts’ suburban strip center is seen on our left behind a massive amount of parking. The street, Aubert Ave, is devoid of street trees and is excessively wide. To the right is the back side of the former Sears. Down the street and to the right is an Aldi store. At the end of the block is Page, behind us is MLK. And though you might be walking along Aubert to get to one of the few remaining stores in this strip center, you’ll have to cross the bright red mulch planting area or walk in via the auto driveway, pedestrian sidewalks are not provided.


Here, at the corner of Page & Euclid, we get treated to the backside of the Roberts’ suburban strip center. Lovely huh? Page & Euclid was once a prominent corner but no more. Beautifully detailed homes still line the eastern side of Euclid. This whole Roberts mess is located in Terry Kennedy’s 18th Ward (I’m not sure of whose ward it was when the newer suburban stuff was constructed).

I took a total of 111 pictures in this section of MLK, they can all be viewed on Flickr. Click here for part five of this series.


Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. Joe Frank says:


    One business on this strip worth highlighting is Lee’s Pawn & Jewelry, 4123 Dr. Martin Luther King at Belle Glade (yes, their TV ads say at Sarah, but they’re really one short block west).

    While pawn brokers are not exactly a top-of-the-line business, this is one of the better ones I think. The few times we’ve been there, their people have been very friendly; and the building (built 1884 with an addition in 2000) is right on the sidewalk, albeit kinda funky looking. It’s an active business amidst an area of large-scale, long-term decay.

    Also worth mentioning is that, although we count this as part of The Ville today, historically the Easton Ave businesses were mostly owned by whites. African-Americans would only have been able to have confectionaries, corner stores, etc. in the interior of the neighborhood. Sadly, few of those buildings remain.


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