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

This post is part five of a five part series. Part five looks at MLK Drive from Kingshighway to just past the city limits.

  • Part One — Introduction.
  • Part Two — MLK from Tucker to Jefferson Ave.
  • Part Three — MLK from Jefferson Ave. to Grand Ave.
  • Part Four — MLK from Grand Ave to Kingshighway.

This section of MLK Drive takes on a different flavor from what we’ve seen to the east. Although partially lined with commercial most is smaller and slightly newer than what we saw before. Many churches are concentrated in this section. As we approach the city limits, just past Goodfellow, we see the remains of a once very happening commercial district at the end of the old streetcar line. I will continue out past the city limits to the current MetroLink light rail stop where I’d like to see a new MLK streetcar line terminate.


Finally, a park along MLK. This is Sherman park which is located at the NW corner of Kingshighway and MLK, diagonally across from the Roberts’ suburban complex which contains the formerly urban Sears store.


These buildings are representative of this section of MLK. Gaps now exist where buildings have been razed, we are after all still in Terry Kennedy’s 18th Ward where most areas are not protected by Preservation Review. Demolition permits can be handed out as routinely as valet permits downtown.


Here we see where a building had recently been razed.


On a positive note we can see here where a new foundation was recently placed for some new construction. And thankfully it is not behind parking as we are seeing all too often. I’ve seen anything as to what the new building will look like but I’m not holding out any hopes of something really good.


Former gas stations like this one on the SE corner of MLK and Union litter our city. Some are vacant while others, like this one, hosts a variety of businesses.


Looks like someone started to do something a number of years back, creating a gated parking lot. Today the fencing has fallen down and this block is pretty much abandoned. This section and west is all in the 22nd Ward of Jeffrey Boyd.

On Sundays the area has plenty of vistors if all the cars are any indication. A number of churches in this stretch help fill numerous parking lots with cars. From the looks of the cars, I’d say most of these people don’t live in the immediate area. I’m not convinced the area is better off with these churches as their buildings and parking lots are pretty dead 6 days a week.


Another of my favorite buildings along MLK, this one just east of Goodfellow. I want the upstairs apartment on the far corner as soon as a streetcar line is build. Once renovated this could be a wonderful asset to the area. This building is very similar to one located on Delmar near Hamilton.


Here at the SW corner of MLK and Goodfellow we begin to return to greater density as we approach the end of the old #32 Wellston streetcar line.


This fine specimen is a former JC Penny department store. It has been acquired by an individual working with a local CDC (Community Developement Corporation) although I am not sure of their intentions. Once renovated and with a streetcar line installed I want to live upstairs in a building across the street — I would love to have this building as my view! [Updated 1/15/07 – 8:45am –added that JC Pennty building is owned by an indiviual associated with the CDC, not the CDC itself.]


The gray granite marker shows the exact point of the city limits, as does the old cafe in adjacent Wellston.


Across the street is the old Wellston Loop buildings where a couple of streetcar lines met up and passengers could connect up with bus service out to the county. This fine structure is owned by the City of St. Louis.   same CDC that owns the JC Penny building. The lot visible to the right of this structure had a really nice 6-story or so building until a few years ago when it was razed. This was a very dense and active area at one time.


In better times the shopping district simply crossed the city limits without a care. This gem is located in the neighboring municipality of Wellston.


A mile west of the city limits on St. Charles Rock Road (MLK changes to St. Charles once past Lucas-Hunt) is a station for our light rail system, MetroLink. The vast parking lot is ideal for a transit oriented development as well as a new loop for a modern streetcar.

One of my concerns for MLK Drive is that federal funds have been set aside for new sidewalks and streetlights from Grand out to the city limits. We saw how well our money was spent between Jefferson & Grand, will we simply get more of the same bad planning? Either our Planning & Urban Design Agency headed by Rollin Stanley is completely incompetent or not included in the decision making process.

Click here to see all 97 images from this section of MLK Drive.

Dr. Martin Luther King, one of the great leaders of the 20th Century, deserves so much more from a street named in his honor. Peace.


Currently there are "16 comments" on this Article:

  1. Jim Zavist says:

    OK, OK, so MLK needs LOTS of work. I agree! How do we change perceptions about race? About poverty? About crime? About fear? Throwing (tax!) money at the problem won’t do much to change things. I’m a big believer in the free market, and both residents and businesses up and down the boulevard have and are continuing to vote with their feet. Fairly or unfairly, there are (perceived to be) many, many other options around the greater St. Louis area where I can invest in a home or business that carries far less financial risk. And until there’s any sort of viable market for these properties, they will continue to decline . . .

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Ah yes, the “free market” which in reality doesn’t exist.  Was it the “free market” that built highway 370 out to St. Charles?  Nope!  Was it the “free market” that created levies to project The Mills mall from getting flooded?  Nope.  What about the interchange to the mall, was it free market driven?  Once again, no!  

    We’ve been throwing our tax money at greenfields for years because our leaders haven’t had the balls to stand up and say it is wasteful and non-sustainable for our region to keep consuming more and more land per capita. Don’t talk free market because that is simply an illusion.  We, including the residents of North St. Louis, have helped fund the suburbs which has led to the decline of the inner core of the region.  In a true free market this would not have happened as businesses could not have afforded the massive infrastructure costs we have built in the suburbs.  

    That said, I don’t believe millions spent on sidewalks and street lighting will bring back the area.  I think it will help those that live there in their daily lives but I don’t see it spurring on lots of new development.  Just as we tax payers have paid for transportation infrastructure in the suburbs I think we need to pay for transportation infrastructure here, in the form of a streetcar line connecting the MetroLink station in St. Louis County to downtown via MLK Drive.  Combine that with an exceptionally dense zoning code along the street and we have a real chance to attract new developers, residents and tourists.    I will be one of the first to move along the street.]

  2. anon says:

    There is much to debate on the topic of Dr ML King. First, the “fine buildings” you cite are often disdained by neighborhood residents and aldermen for these wards.

    Second, the suburban-styled new construction you decry is generally welcomed by neighborhood residents and aldermen for these wards.

    Third, when whites come in and criticize design issues, “built environment” concerns, and historic preservation in these majority African-American communities, they are often viewed as outsiders, out of touch with neighborhood priorities, and elitist.

    To Zavist’s point re. market economics, do not write off the market potential of these areas; the situation is actually quite the reverse. Residents of these areas do have money-they just usually wind up travelling outside of their neighborhoods to shop.

    Further, don’t forget that public assistance is provided to stimulate economic development in far more high priced areas. For all of the belief in the “free market” system, understand that there is public support for projects throughout the city and region. The city has even provided tax abatement for market rate housing developments in St. Louis Hills.

    While concern for the built environment is a good thing, it seems like some people priortize buildings over people. Most people would think that’s a screwed up sense of priorities.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — I seldom, if ever, talk about the “built environment” as that does sound elitist to me. Residents, based on my discussions, do not dislike the old buildings themselves, they dislike what they represent: abandonment, lack of hope, etc… To these residents most will say to tear them down — that is all they’ve seen for literally decades. Few think renovation is an option but when asked they will reply in the affirmative to renovation. Have a long enough conversation about options and they will, if they are old enough, to telling you stories about the glory days of the area.

    The same is true about the new construction. They are not seeking a suburban model, they are seeking retail choices closer to home. For those without cars this significantly reduces travel time required just for basic shopping trips. And yes, they do have purchasing power. Again, they are not advocates of a certain form. What is elitist is for us to build dense mixed-use projects in wealthy areas like Lafayette Square and then suggest because the residents are poor they do not deserve anything better than an outdated suburban model.]

  3. Dan Icolari says:

    Here in New York, the demand for housing is so intense, the idea of living in an all-white, all-middle class, all ANYTHING neighborhood is as antique as the buggy-whip–except at the absolute extremes of wealth and poverty.

    And that demand–always strong and now stronger because of immigration, legal and otherwise–is pushing more and more of those who want to stay within the five boroughs farther and farther out into the Outer Four. Or maybe it’s the Outer Three, since Brooklyn is now so hot and so pricey, it’s being dubbed ‘The New Manhattan.’ All of which is pushing more and more people farther and farther up and out in the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island, to areas they wouldn’t have considered living in, even five years ago.

    So while I’m no believer in the market as ultimate arbiter–certainly not when it comes to social policy–I think Mr. Zavist is right in this instance. As a househunter, I have my choice of a number of charming, fairly priced St. Louis neighborhoods (zips 63104, 08, 10 and 18, no disrespect to others intended). These are all, in general, served by mass transit, some better than others; some are well organized politically (or at least that is my perception), with existing community associations and institutions.

    All of which is why there’s no reason–yet–for a middle-class househunter like me, unless I were a pioneering, bargain-hunting community organizer/old-house restorer–to look elsewhere. But for how long will this be the case? I’ve seen too many despised neighborhoods become hot overnight. And I guess that’s really the question: Time. Will the more urban stretches of MLK Drive survive long enough for the market to catch up?

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Jim Zavist was arguing, I believe, that the free market is what led to the decline of the street.  That people and business chose via the free market to locate to literally greener pastures.  That notion, I believe, is false.  It was not the free market that created suburbia but government policy and how they spent our tax dollars building the highway system. 

    Just as the free market did not create or fund suburbia, the free market will never bring back north St. Louis, I’ll be the first to admit that.  It will take deliberate government action and money, just as it did with creating and building out suburbia, to bring north St. Louis back to life.]

  4. john says:

    “StL is back”? That slogan seems so disengenious when even one street is objectively analyzed. What happens to a city when government is no longer perceived as fair but corrupt? The people vote with their feet. What happens when politicians side with powerful unions to get elected? Responsible parents vote with their feet. What happens when a city becomes dominated with one political party? Families stay away as the inevitable (corruption, nonaccountability, favoritism, poor schools, etc.) occurs. Federal mandates exacerbated the trends and now you are documenting the results.

    These negative influences were obvious in the 50s and 60s and thus many fled to the inner suburbs and “decay” was put on the fast track. Flight and divided government became permanent trends here and are now subsidized by highways and reinforced by poor local leadership and the public’s attitude of distrust. From a developmet standpoint, the next logical step is for local leaders to favor developers over organic growth. However, this will create a new set of problems for the region (but helps raise tax revenues in the short run!) and guarantees less density for years to come.

    The STL area is now required to deal with issues on a regional basis whether we like it or not. Don’t bet on government to find a solution as it was the source of the problems in the first place. There is not enough money or density to create a new form of transportation design. Also don’t forget that the ‘free market” rarely exist in urban design as zoning and politics are in control. Managing the balance between local politics and free markets IS the leadership challenge.

    The first step to renewal as you have written requires a zoning overlay/objectives and not political micromanagement. Secondly, our transportation priorities must be realigned to favor low cost alternatives (walking and biking combined with mass transit) as we cannot afford expensive new infrastructures nor the way MetroLink is being designed. Third, stop subsidizing autocentrism through free highways and free parking. Fourth, job creation through favoring the “free market” over politics is absolutely necessary if density is desired. Fifth, we need a public debate on the issues and so far you’re the only one providing that!

  5. ATorch says:

    I agree Steve, I don’t think it was entirely the free market that did away with the street car lines and helped destroy business on MLK ave/North STL (but more aptly blamed: City Hall and Civic Progress/Bi-State Fat Cats ). Public policy and horrid long-term planning is what helped destroy that area. I would have enjoyed owning that mixed-use old storefront and residential building that was torn down on MLK last September…..a friend paid a ridiculous amount of money for something similar (outside Philadelphia) for his shop where he lives above it and an adjacent apartment which he rents out. Imagine what the price of that building would be if it was on Holly Hills and Hampton!? We can not afford to keep losing these unique buildings. Would the local neighbors hate that ‘old’ building if I had a store and 2 rented apartments in it? I doubt it! We have to get over this media and/or city hall-hyped notion that the residents of St. Louis city hate old buildings; what they hate is vacant buildings and surroundings that have no hope thanks to inept aldermen!

  6. Jim Zavist says:

    I was making two points, one that, yes, many existing residents and businesses have chosen to move to greener, suburban pastures. Were they “pushed” (out of fear or declining sales) or were they just looking for something “newer” and “better”? I don’t know, but that’s mostly history – they’re gone and they may or may not be coming back. My second point deals with the present and the future – how do you attract most businesses and residents (back?) to what is generally perceived to be a “distressed” area? While there are many examples of “diamonds in the rough” older architecture, both residential and commercial, there are also many, many empty lots (missing teeth in the urban landscape). Whether you’re a middle class family or an Applebee’s, you have $X to invest in a new home. Do you go with the “safe” bet (be it south city, Maplewood or O’Fallon) or do you locate along MLK? The vast majority will skew toward the “safer” answer – it’s still very much about the (my hard-earned!) money. The greater NYC area has reached the point, much like greater LA, where the combination of horrendous commutes and skyrocketing housing costs makes anything that might even be marginally habitable a viable housing option. We’re definitely not at that point here. Go to reator.com. Enter St. Louis and a maximum cost of $100,000 and you get nearly 2,200 possibilities. Yes, probably half should just be torn down, but that still leaves more than a thousand options. Put in New York and you get 0! (Put in New York + $400,000 and get a grand total of 74!) This is primarily a market-driven decision, and to most folks perception is reality. Until the perceptions of much of the MLK corridor are changed, there are very few reasons for people to invest in homes there (when they have so many other choices), and without residents, there’s little need for retail . . .

  7. Craig says:

    Urban Review is right that public money was used to build interstates and highways which made it more efficient to reach the suburbs and thus gave an incentive for people to move to the suburbs. But this incentive was in addition to the many other incentives that existed: more space, privacy, quiet, and ability to escape the political limitations of the city.

    If we built a light rail or trolley line out to and along MLK (at government expense), you still wouldn’t see anyone move up there.

  8. rick says:

    Hey Craig-

    You should check out some of the neighborhoods flanking Dr. King. Their are lots of people moving in.

    Rick Bonasch

  9. Kara says:

    Applebee’s and other corporations and large developers are not going to risk investment in MLK anytime soon. Corporations like to play it safe and go with sure bets and MLK at this stage certainly is risky. MLK can come back, but it will start with those willing to take such a risk and those who can’t afford to invest in much of anything else, which tends to be the lower to lower-middle class bohemian types. At this point there are still better options in St. Louis even for these people. I could be considered to be in this group of people, yet I would be very hesitant to move to MLK at this point. The main reason is that the redevelopment that has occured is scary. One of my worst nightmares is to spend my time, money, and energy rehabbing an old victorian house only to have a suburban style Walgreens move in next door once the area becomes seemingly less risky. Having a Walgreens on my street would be great, but not the eyesore type that is currently being built. If I wanted that then I would move to the less risky and ugly suburbs. If the city government wants to be involved in revitalizing an area it can start to consider the real needs and desires of those there (and those that could be there). I would move anywhere with a streetcar line in a heartbeat. Not only is it something that I would actually use, it is also a clear indication that the city is committed and is in tune with the needs of an urban environment.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Very well stated, thank you.  For the area to come back we must attract new people of all backgrounds.  There is enough vacancy that we can bring in lots of new development without displacing anyone.  We might even find the senior that owns a big beautiful home in the area wanting to buy a condo as their large home may get to be too much to deal with but they don’t want to leave their neighborhood and friends.  We need to provide living spaces for everyone as well as needed services.]

  10. built says:

    Neighborhood residents call the street “Dr. King”, not “MLK”.

  11. Jim Zavist says:

    So, we agree that most corporations won’t be moving in anytime soon. Just what is a viable answer, then? Why has Olive evolved into a loose “chinatown” / string of asian-based enterprises between the inner belt and U. City? Why is there a Bosnian enclave around Bevo Mill? Why is there a Hispanic area along Cherokee Street? Why do gay folks pick certain areas and make them trendy? None of these seem to be pre-ordained by either planners or government officials, yet they “happen”. Sure, low costs are a major part of the equation, as is dealing with creaky, older buildings, boarded-up neighbors and higher-than-average crime rates, but it doesn’t seem to be happening (yet?) along MLK. Obviously, it’s going to take some “pioneers”, as happened decades ago in Soulard and around Lafayette Square, and is happening now in Benton Park and along Manchester in several locations. But just what is the “IT” that attracts these pioneers? Figure that out and you’ll be making a lot of progress in both reviving MLK and saving some of its interesting architecture!

  12. john says:

    The “IT” is a combination of factors as mentioned:pioneering attitude, lower capital costs, and lack of interference. As a given, a blighted area typically offers lower capital costs due to the reduced value of the real estate. The pioneering attitude is the enduring spirit of mankind and free markets allow for this attittude to be rewarded and reinforced. Thus the third factor, potential “interference” issues becomes the key variable. This factor is how government policies, whether stated or not, directly impact all of us. Local leaders’ decisions, policies and procedures should be designed to reinforce the positive attributes of the other two factors for progress to be realized. The history of StL is one where governmental policies have been designed not to help but to extract favors from those willing to be pioneers and invest. This is why such organizations as SLDC become so important in understanding this third variable.

    Each of these three variables can be broken down to numerous subsets. For instance many of the new pioneers are the highly capitalized and politically connected developers. Shrinking revenues lead to strange bedfellows.

  13. dave says:

    MLK is going nowhere, today or tomorrow. It is what it is, crime ridden with opportunists and no security of any kind for rehab or business. Hey let’s get some more TIF’s so our city can have fewer and fewer police.

  14. anon says:

    Dave, have you ever heard of the Ville Area Neighborhood Housing Association, the Wellston Community Support Association, Friendly Temple church, or the Hamilton Heights Neighborhood Organization? I’m sure they’d love to work with you, or welcome your financial support for their efforts to improve the Dr. Martin Luther King corridor through their neighborhoods.

  15. will says:

    are all MLK’s in every city run down?
    if you know whether or not this is true, let me know.
    thanks steve

  16. Is the Pour House open? I’m not sure of the exact location but I think it’s around Grand. The storefront appears to be in good condition but it always looks closed.

    I’ve wondered the same thing about the MLK’s in every city being run down. In the few cities that I know well, the street always runs through impoverished areas.


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