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Filling In The Gap Between The Campbell House & The Former YMCA

February 5, 2018 Featured, History/Preservation, Planning & Design No Comments

In the middle of the 19th century the mansions along Lucas Place, now Locust St, were considered way out on the edge of town.

Fol­low­ing the cholera epi­demic and fire in 1849, wealthy cit­i­zens became con­vinced that it was no longer desir­able to live in down­town St. Louis. James Lucas and his sis­ter Anne Lucas Hunt soon offered a solu­tion. They devel­oped the idea of the “Place,” a neigh­bor­hood with deed restric­tions that ensured it remained apart from the city and gen­eral pop­u­la­tion. The main thor­ough­fare was aptly called Lucas Place. Orig­i­nally Lucas Place (now Locust Street) extended between 13th and 16th streets when the city lim­its were just one block to the west between 17th and 18th streets. When estab­lished, Lucas Place was west of the devel­oped por­tion of the city, mak­ing it St. Louis’ first “sub­ur­ban” neighborhood.  (Campbell House Museum)

This 3-block oasis didn’t last long as St. Louis’ population exploded. The wealthy began to move Westward — this still happens in the region.One by one the grand old mansions became rooming houses and eventually razed for offices/warehouses.

Except one.

Built in 1851, the first house in the ele­gant Lucas Place neigh­bor­hood, the Camp­bell House was the home of renowned fur trader and entre­pre­neur Robert Camp­bell and his fam­ily from 1854 until 1938. The museum con­tains hun­dreds of orig­i­nal Camp­bell pos­ses­sions includ­ing fur­ni­ture, paint­ings, cloth­ing, let­ters, car­riages and a unique set of inte­rior pho­tographs taken in the mid-1880s. (Campbell House Museum)

More about the museum in a bit.

The Campbell House, lower right outlined in blue, was dramatically different by the time this Sanbon Map was made in February 1909. Click image to view source.

At this scale you can’t read that the abutting 24 foot wide lot includes a machine shop and garment factory. The next house West is still a residence but then we have a hotel and finally a printer. Across Locust St in the upper left is the Ely Walker Annex, and three old mansions turned into boarding houses. You’ll note the YMCA, closed in May 2017, hasn’t been built yet.

Last year the Campbell House Museum shared the following image as the YMCA was about to close. From their caption:

The YMCA is the last of the Campbell’s neighbors as Hugh and Hazlett Campbell were still alive for the first years of operation of the Downtown Y.

The photo dates from 1926 as the building nears completion. (Facebook)

 

This 1936 image shows the storefronts built in from of the mansion next door

After Robert & Virginia Campbell died their 3 sons continued living in the house until their deaths. Their youngest son died first, of the flu at age 30. The two older brothers lived into their 80s:

When Hugh died in 1931, Hazlett was declared of “unsound mind,” throw­ing into ques­tion the fate of the Camp­bell estate. While a lengthy court bat­tle broke out among the Camp­bells var­i­ous rela­tions fol­low­ing Hazlett’s death in 1938, some St. Louisans were more con­cerned about the house and its con­tents. Through their efforts, the Camp­bell House Museum was formed, and soon man­aged to pur­chase most of the Campbell’s orig­i­nal effects. The Museum opened in 1943. (Campbell House Museum)

Yes, the Campbell House Museum is owned & operated by a private group — NOT the City of St. Louis. The museum opened on February 6, 1943 — 75 years ago tomorrow!

The space between the Campbell House Museum and the former YMCA has been surface parking since the 1940s. Despite what you might think, it isn’t one big lot for the Y. The 24′ wide lot next to the CHM is guest parking. They didn’t raze the building that was there — American General Insurance, now Terra Cotta lofts, used it for surface parking.

A sign indicates this narrow lot isn’t Y parking
In this image you can see a little Campbell House on the left, the gap, and the East side of the former YMCA building
A much closer view
The upper floors of the YMCA were apartments, they’ve been vacant for any least a decade. The building is a 2-part condo: YMCA on the lower part, another owner for the upper floors
Ideally the gap would be filled in with something more active than a lifeless parking garage like the one across the street where the Ely Walker Annex once stood

The Campbell House Museum is planning new construction on the back of their narrow lot to construct an accessible entrance. At the front I’d like to see a building come within 5-10 feet of the CHM — with the same setback. In the rest of the gap I’d like to see infill step toward Locust — eventually meeting the sidewalk like the TMCA does. This building could be shallow to conceal a new parking garage at the rear of the lot.

I’d like all 3 automobile driveways in the gap area closed. A new garage can be accessed via the alley. Of course I want to see the former YMCA building renovated and occupied. It may take years, but it’ll happen. When it does I’m not so concerned about it as I am about the gap. It shouldn’t stay as surface parking, nor should it be another bland garage facing Locust. I would like to see the infill represent the best of 21st century design — in between 19th & 20th century buildings.

Again, tomorrow is the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Campbell House Museum. If you haven’t seen it I suggest you make an appointment or visit in March when regular hours resume.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

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