The year was 1965. The Arch was finally under construction so those 40 city blocks that had been vacant for two decades were finally going to be active (somewhat) again. So the city decides to raze more blocks of the CDB (Central Business District).
This time they take out the four city blocks bounded by the new I-70, Pine, 4th and Washington. The cross streets of Olive, Locust and St Charles are all consumed by the project — creating a giant “super block” where four pedestrian-friendly block existed for over a hundred years.
In place of the numerous buildings that used to exist on these four blocks was built three residential towers connected by a parking garage and fronted by some low-rise buildings along 4th. The South tower is a Crowne Plaza Hotel. The center tower, set further back from 4th, is the Mansion House apartments. The North tower is the Gentry’s Landing Apartments. Each has different owners and the land is owned separately from the buildings.
From the above image you can see how the highway & Mansion House create a double whammy to separate the city from the Arch grounds. Myself and others have suggested we do away with the highway once the new river bridge is built. But that is only half the problem, we’d still be left with super block projects like the Mansion House.
I like modern buildings. The forms can be appealing to my aesthetic, the minimal details contrast nicely with 19th Century neighbors. But, almost always the urban planning is horrible. What might be nice as a single building on a block with other buildings is stretched over four blocks.
Nothing will ever bring back what was lost 40 years ago. The thing we must now turn to is how to retrofit these projects so they are more friendly and conducive to the 21st century.
The following is a thought process about a design solution of overcome shortcomings of the Mansion House complex. It is not a fully vetted proposal with a rock solid pro-forma behind it. When this complex was built it used massive doses of Federal Urban Renewal money. Eminent domain was also used to take and assemble four blocks into one. So today the numbers on my suggestions may not add up. But I think the following needs to happen to invigorate this area and to reconnect the CBD to the Arch.
Pine, Olive, Locust & St. Charles streets all need to be cut through again. Amazingly this can be done without razing the three towers. You’d need to raze & rebuild the parking garage, however. By putting the streets back you can once again invite people to just walk down the block, which ever one they are on, and reach the Arch grounds.
So in my plan the three towers would all remain.
The center tower, above, is set back the farthest from 4th. New structures along 4th would be 2-3 stories in height. They would help restore the sense of an urban street. Locust would run immediately along the North side of the center tower. The lobby for this center tower would now be entered from Locust.
The parking garage arrangement is very odd. My thought is you tear away all the garage, leave the towers, and fill in the holes. In the block Between the North & center towers you could build a new garage to serve both of those towers.
Memorial drive, formerly 3rd street, would be greatly improved by having more connections to the CBD as well as no longer having the back of a long parking garage fronting it.
By breaking up these four blocks back into four blocks we’ll eliminate this massive barrier without having to rebuild everything.Â The towers will have their own blocks.Â Each would get a more friendly face along 4th to replace the auto drives they’ve had for the last 40+ years.Â The Northernmost block at Washington might get a nice 5-8 story mixed use building.
As I said, this is a design thought process not a workable for-profit project.Â Still, much of the Mansion House complex is vacant.Â Such a major reconfiguration could help breath new life into the area.
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