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Stealing a Sidewalk

April 29, 2009 Downtown, Parking 14 Comments

For decades the NW corner of 11th & Locust was known not for the parking lot that we see today, but Miss Hullings Cafeteria on the ground floor of the building. Miss Hullings closed in late 1993 and the building was razed.

But lately neighbors have questioned the line between the public sidewalk and surface parking lot:

Looking South along 11th. Note the different with of the sidewalks.

Buildings were built up to the property line to maximize the land. Thus the public right-of-way was well defined by the fronts of the buildings.

The opposite view looking North.

Based on the photos you’d think the ROW made a jog at the alley line, but it doesn’t. From the city’s Geo St. Louis site we see the right-of-way is aligned with the adjacent blocks:


The parcel in question is shown in blue.

The boundaries of city blocks and the widths of public rights of way have been documented for years. So what happened here? Our public space has been stolen, that’s what. The same condition applies along Locust.

1909 Sanborn Map.
1909 Sanborn Map.

In the 1909 Sanborn map we can clearly see the consistent 60 foot right-of-way for both Locust & 11th. This map predates the Miss Hullings building on the NW corner as well as the Louderman building on the SW corner. The structures have changed but the line between public and private has not. Well, in practice it has.

This parking lot owner, an LLC based in Arizona, can park more cars by using part of the public right of way. It is bad enough we have these vast surface lots in our downtown. The lack of any sort of landscaping, wall or fence makes it worse. But to have the sidewalk area stolen from the public is just wrong.

The city now has better rules regarding the separation & screening. But we can’t go back and apply those rules retroactively. But couldn’t the city construct a wall or fence on the edge of the ROW? This surface parking lot is not the only one downtown lacking screening but as far as I know it is the only one that has stolen park of the public space. We need our sidewalk back and we need to keep cars off the public space intended for pedestrians.

I do not know if the current owner created this situation or not.  Maybe when it was done it was a ploy to take the public land through adverse possession? Although I don’t think private parties can get public land this way?

Several in the area have been working behind the scenes to adress the theft of this sidewalk for a while now. I found it an interesting situation worthy of being shared. I know we have bigger thibgs (economy, swine flu, etc) but someone has to look out for the little things. To me the theft of a public sidewalk is not so little.

Update 4/29/09 @ 12:30pm — Michael Allen of The Ecology of Absense just finished a post on the Miss Hullings building.  Check it out here.

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Currently there are "14 comments" on this Article:

  1. john m says:

    I thought the guy who owned this parcel was over on the top floor of the “old” Laclede gas building. I was unaware he actually sold it, perhaps he just transferred it in name only. I hope this helps, but maybe not. Yes, I am in agreement, these are the issues that need attention, I feel educated on something that frankly I would never have been aware without your pointing it out. Kudos to you once again. Now I need to go back and reread what you wrote, to make sure I got it straight.

  2. Chris says:

    Thanks to everyone who’s looking into this; I can just see a giant suburban with a barbecue grill sitting in one of those spots come Rams season, blocking the entire sidewalk.

  3. Jimmy Z says:

    I’m pretty sure you can’t take public land by adverse possession, only your neighbor’s private property. It’s also not unusual for the owner of the land a pay parking lot sits on to lease it to an operator to operate. Bottom line, the city shouldn’t have to “construct a wall or fence on the edge of the ROW”. There are two issues, one legal and one aesthetic. A fence would be nice visually, but the property owner should provide it, not the taxpayers. Eventually something will happen to have existing city requirements kick in. The bigger issue is that the city needs to assert their rights and reclaim the public ROW. A few parking tickets on succeeding days would probably get the message across.

  4. john says:

    Poking at ants on the sidewalk again? All chiding aside, those pesky ants (misuse of public property for personal benefit) is what the StL region is all about. Favoritism Rules and selective code enforcement is how many collect on public assets. As you know, these problems are not just on sidewalks but surround us in too many ways to list here. Cars-R-Us!

  5. Steveo says:

    Geesh – you get a few people to care about downtown and look at all the trouble you find!!!!

  6. atorch says:

    Keep up the good work Steve. It’s comparable to the valet issue….

  7. Mike says:

    Anyone know if there is anywhere to get “Miss Hullings Cake”? I remember my dad bringing it home from work downtown occasionally as a child. It was a cake with alternating layers of chocolate/fudge icing and yellow cake, and the cake itself was coated in the chocolate/fudge on the outside. I believe it had a hint of mint in the icing as well. I vaguely remember it being very good and my dad called it “Miss Hullings Cake”.

    • eugenehiggins says:

      I remember those cakes as well as all of the rest of the good food they had there. My long deceased father used to work there and I miss him sooooo much! It is a shame that they had to tear down Miss Hullings. It had memories for me.

  8. lasaundra says:

    you can get a mrs. hullings cake from Straubs.

  9. Les says:

    As if appropriating public property like this isn’t enough, the owners of this parking lot often park cars on the sidewalk, or in the winter plow snow onto the sidewalk so that it is impassable for pedestrians. Public right-of-way downtown is routinely appropriated for overflowing dumpsters as well. If we’re going to be a successful and attractive city, this stuff can’t happen.

  10. john says:

    The plowing of snow onto sidewalks is quite common. Gateway Contractors, working for MoDOT did this continuously this past winter in Richmond Heights. In clearing snow from the Boulevard (different contractor), the snow was continuously packed onto the north side of Galleria Parkway. This caused the 100s of pedestrians walking between the MetroLink station and the Galleria to use the streets instead of the sidewalks. Cars are usually given preferences over people in the Lou region, Cars-R-Us!

  11. Whenever I walk down this street it reminds me of what could have been a smaller version of LeSalle Street, surrounded by buildings on both sides along with a clear view to the South as the Eagleton Courthouse terminates the view. It’s rather upsetting and I always wondered what existed before this parking lot.

  12. awb says:

    The west side of 11th Street from Lucas to Market is very upsetting. Except for the Louderman and the bit of the Gateway Mall with the sculpture, it is all parking lots or garage from Lucas to Market.

  13. Zundo says:

    Its funny that the St. Louis Planning and Urban Design Agency is adjacent to where this photo was taken. Irony huh?


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