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John Cochran Veterans Hospital Wants To Expand South Into Grand Center, Raze Historic Palladium Music Hall

The Veterans Administration operates two facilities in the St. Louis area:

The VA St. Louis Health Care System provides inpatient and ambulatory care in medicine, surgery, psychiatry, neurology, and rehabilitation, and many other subspecialty areas. It is a two-division facility that serves veterans and their families in east central Missouri and southwestern Illinois.

The John Cochran Division, named after the late Missouri congressman, is located in midtown St. Louis and has all of the medical center’s operative surgical capabilities, the ambulatory care unit, intensive care units, outpatient psychiatry clinics, and expanded laboratory.

The Jefferson Barracks Division is a multi-building complex overlooking the Mississippi River in south St. Louis County. It provides psychiatric treatment, spinal cord injury treatment, a nursing home care unit, geriatric health care, rehabilitation services, and a rehabilitation domiciliary program for homeless veterans. (source)

John Cochran VA Hospital, Grand & Enright
John Cochran VA Hospital, Grand & Enright, click for map

The John Cochran facility, located in midtown, was built in the 1950s, on the site of the once-opulant Vandeventer Place private street:

Founder, Peter Lewis Vandeventer, came to St. Louis in the 1860s with brothers William and Henry Barnum Vandeventer. Peter Lewis Vandeventer and Henry Barnum Vandeventer were Wall Street stockbrokers with a firm located at 6 Wall St., New York City. They made their money from selling stocks and took the train west to St. Louis to invest it in land.

Peter Lewis Vandeventer died in 1879, during the development of Vandeventer Place, a gated, luxurious private place in the neighborhood with stately mansions and a beautiful fountain as its centerpiece. His Missouri estate was managed by several corrupt lawyers, who stole much of the money from the sale of the lots at Vandeventer Place. His family remained in St. Louis for some time after his death, living in Vandeventer Place in a large mansion.

Vandeventer Place met with its demise in 1947, when the eastern half was demolished for the Veterans’ Administration’s new hospital. The western portion was demolished about ten years later, when the City acquired it as the site for a children’s detention home. The fountain and east gates survive in Forest Park. (Wikipedia)

Bird's eye view looking over Vandeventer Place from Grand Avenue. Photograph by unknown,  ca. 1902 Missouri History Museum Archives.
Bird’s eye view looking over Vandeventer Place from Grand Avenue. Photograph by unknown, ca. 1902 Missouri History Museum Archives via STL250, click to view.

The formerly secluded street on the western edge of the city had fallen out of favor among the wealthy, they sought to buy or build mansions even further west in the city or into St. Louis County.  John Cochran Hospital has always remained within its original 11+ acre site of Grand on the East, Enright (formerly Morgan) on the South, Spring on the West, and Bell on the North. Granted, the VA has various surface parking lots beyond this.

Now the VA is looking to expand , funding for a new tower was included in a 2009 spending bill:

A $44 million appropriation included in a new $447 billion spending bill approved by Congress this week will provide seed money for a 262,000-square-foot hospital tower for the midtown facility.

[snip]

The proposed VA medical center expansion will feature a larger emergency room, wings for spinal cord injury and mental health patients needing immediate medical treatment, more private bedrooms and better room structures for medical equipment and records. (stltoday.com)

Why hasn’t this moved forward in the last four years? If you’ll recall, John Cochran VA soon had some very bad PR issues:

Then in June 2012 an expansion story ran once again:

An expansion is planned for the John Cochran VA Medical Center, but it could affect a new, widely popular soul food restaurant. The expansion would increase the facility by 60 percent. The “Sweetie Pies Upper Crust Eatery” sits on land that is being looked at for the expansion project. (Fox2: Could VA Hospital Expansion Force Sweetie Pies Upper Crust Out?)

So they want to expand South to Delmar, closing Enright and razing some buildings. What impact would this have on Grand Center? What buildings would need to be razed? Is there a better option for expansion?

Only four buildings are on the thin block bounded by Enright, Grand, Delmar, and Spring:

  1. a vacant former gas station already owned by the VA,
  2. Laborer’ Local 42 union hall,
  3. Sweetie Pie’s Upper Crust,
  4. Vacant former HHV Thrift Plus (aka The Palladium, Club Plantation)

Here’s a look at these four:

3738 Enright was built in 1950, seen here from Delmar.
3738 Enright was built in 1950, seen here from Delmar. The VA owns this building and adjacent lot.
The entrance to Laborer's Local 42 at 3710 Enight
The entrance to Laborer’s Local 42 at 3710 Enright, built in 1978
Sweetie Pie's completely rebuilt an existing building in 2011
Sweetie Pie’s completely rebuilt an existing building, photo taken during construction on November 24, 2011, with John Cochran Hospital in the background.
Sweetie Pie's Upper Crust is very popular with locals and tourists
Sweetie Pie’s Upper Crust is oriented facing Delmar (South) rather than Enright.
Yesterday just before 2pm the line extended the length of the building!
The last building on the block doesn't look like much from this view
The last building on the block doesn’t look like much from this view
Closed thrift store HHV at 3617 Delmar
Another view of 3617 Delmar, doesn’t look very special
Thats's because the thrift store on Delmar is actually the historic Palladium that faces Enright. A group gathered last month for a street party to call attention to the significant musical history of the building.
Thats’s because the thrift store on Delmar is actually the historic Palladium that faces Enright. A group gathered last month for a street party to call attention to the significant musical history of the building.
Newspaper article from 1947 shows VA wanted to raze the club before building the hospital
Newspaper article from 1947 shows VA wanted to raze the club before building the hospital

Interesting, 66 years ago the VA wanted a hotel and a club razed or they wouldn’t build and “the VA itself is prohibited by law from buying the block because it is not contiguous to its hospital site.” Not sure when the hotel was razed, but the club remains — for now.

So we have a newly built & popular restaurant that faces Delmar, a 1970s union hall and a historic 1912-13 musical hall facing Enright, all in the path of the Veterans Administration.  The VA owns the tiny 1950 gas station, the other three are privately owned.

Tomorrow I’ll suggest how to expand the VA hospital while also improving, not hurting, Grand Center.

– Steve Patterson

  • GMichaud

    With all of the vacant land in the immediate area it is hard to believe they cannot come up with a better solution. Looking forward to your proposal on how to expand Cochran.
    The one thing I will say about Grand Center is there are enough vacant lots, torn down buildings to put the district on the edge of viability. Certainly a strategy that includes concerns about Grand Center as well as VA are in order. What few historic buildings remain in the area deserve careful consideration, especially, as I say. the whole area is awash in vacant land. For instance there is a large parking lot just as close as these mentioned sites, how about redeveloping some of the damn vacant land first?

  • Ron Fagerstrom

    Definitely the medical center could be expanded east to abut the Grand Blvd. sidewalk, thereby extending north the urban streetscape of Grand Center. This would also provide sidewalk/pedestrian friendly access to the center. (rather than walking through a parking lot). Regarding the larger picture, surely the existing vacant land and parking lots could be used for their expansion needs. I oppose any further street closings which destroy urban fabric. Thank you.
    RFagerstrom

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