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Ninth Street Needs To Be Unblocked Through Citygarden

July 5, 2019 Downtown, Featured, Parks Comments Off on Ninth Street Needs To Be Unblocked Through Citygarden

Ninth Street through Citygarden was, to my knowledge, never officially vacated by the city.   The late Peter Fischer of the Gateway Foundation just decided it would be closed. He

East block of Citygarden, June 2011

St. Louis loves closing streets. A block here, a block there. The cumulative effect has been disastrous for the city, especially downtown. We have one-way streets but with blocks either closed or some two-way. It’s confusing to residents and visitors.  Everyday at the Downtown YMCA I see cars going to wrong direction on Locust St.

West block of Citygarden on September 8, 2014 @ 8pm

Thankfully Citygarden was designed to have 9th Street open to vehicles.

The site plan clearly shows a narrow 9th Street dividing the two blocks.

At each end rain garden curb bulbs narrow the street to just two lanes — this is a natural message to drivers to slow down. In the center is a crosswalk. On each side is a passenger drop-off point. This is helpful for the elderly and disabled.

The Fire and Ice Cream Truck on 9th Street in 2011

One thing everyone involved failed to do is provide a pedestrian signal for those crossing 9th on the wide “Hallway” that’s supposed to eventually extend the length of the Gateway Mall.

One reason they closed 9th is they didn’t figure out how to let pedestrians using the “hallway” to know when it was safe to cross 9th

Spend tens of millions but not even consider the basics of pedestrian safety.

Most who took the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll thought 9th Street should remain closed.

Q: Agree or disagree: 9th Street through Citygarden should remain closed to vehicle traffic

  • Strongly agree: 16 [41.03%]
  • Agree: 6 [15.38%]
  • Somewhat agree: 2 [5.13%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 1 [2.56%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 2 [5.13%]
  • Disagree: 7 [17.95%]
  • Strongly disagree: 5 [12.82%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 0 [0%]

It could still be closed on nice weekends when it’s busy and during special events. It would be nice to be able to exit I-64 at 9th and be able to take it all the way into Columbus Square neighborhood to go home.

Still need to figure out how to fix the lack of pedestrian signal though…

— Steve Patterson

 

My Visit To Fields Foods in Downtown West

July 1, 2019 Downtown, Featured, Retail Comments Off on My Visit To Fields Foods in Downtown West

Back in April I visited a new grocery store located in a building I could see from my windows/balcony for over 11 years. Naturally a very convenient grocery store didn’t open until after I moved.

December 2008: the then-CPI building on the left as seen from my balcony

The CPI building at 17th & Washington is now known as The Monogram. It has apartments on the upper floors, and now a Fields Foods on the ground floor.

A new ramp on Washington Ave for ADA accessibility
Good produce selection, right at the entry.
Deli and all the usual items you’ll find at their original location on Lafayette.

I don’t recall now what I bought, but I do remember they hadn’t been open long and they had ApplePay working — very important to me.  Like their original, prices on some things are lower than other stores, while others are higher. When I was car-free I would’ve gladly paid a little more for the convenience.

I suspect many of my old neighbors will continue to shop where they had been if they’re already out in their cars. If you’re used to driving to ALDI or Costco to stock up you’re not going to like shopping here. However, if you’d rather make frequent walking trips then this will be a great addition to the neighborhood.

I wish them well!  Fields Foods’ Downtown West location is at 1706 Washington Ave.

— Steve Patterson

 

St. Louis’ Original “Little Italy” Neighborhood: North Downtown/Columbus Square

June 3, 2019 Downtown, Featured, Neighborhoods, North City, Urban Renewal Comments Off on St. Louis’ Original “Little Italy” Neighborhood: North Downtown/Columbus Square
Bocce is one of many long-standing traditions on The Hill

When you think of an Italian neighborhood in St. Louis, The Hill naturally comes to mind.

The Hill’s roots are interspersed with the history of St. Louis, generating two of the region’s proudest exports – world-class athletes and Italian cuisine. Baseball’s Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola grew up here, and today it maintains a traditional collection of authentic Italian bakeries, grocery stores, restaurants and mom-and-pop trattorias.

Everything is colorful here – even the fire hydrants are painted red, white and green. Twenty-first century additions include coffee houses, studios, retail and small businesses that create additional energy in the cozy enclave. Its epicenter is one intersection that sums it up perfectly, with St. Ambrose Catholic Church on one corner, an Italian bakery/restaurant on another, an import shop across the street, and a neighborhood tavern/bocce garden on the fourth corner. (Explore St. Louis)

In the late 19th & early 20th century immigrants from Sicily first settled in the ethnically diverse neighborhood on the North edge of the Central Business District and further North — the southern part of today’s Columbus Square neighborhood.

The Italians came to St. Louis in the late 1880s. They lived in what is now downtown St. Louis among the Germans, Greeks, and Irish and attended St. Patrick’s Catholic Church or Our Lady Help of Christians in an area referred to as Little Italy, along Cole Street.

In the early 1900s, the Italians started another community southwest of Little Italy called The Hill. By the mid-1900s, most Italians had left Little Italy and moved to The Hill. (St. Louis Genealogical Society)

By the time they arrived the shopfronts, flats, and tenements were already old. In addition to the races mentioned above, Jewish families also called the neighborhood home.

Before going further it’s important to note that today’s boundary lines didn’t exist. Highways didn’t cut through neighborhoods, wide streets like Cole were the same width as Carr.  Cole wasn’t even called Cole.

Here’s a look at East-West street names and what they were called in 1909, starting at Washington Ave and going North to Cass:

  • Washington Ave was Washington Ave
  • Lucas Ave was Lucas Ave
  • Convention Plaza was Delmar, called Morgan in 1909. (Could’ve been the Morgan divide?)
  • Dr. Martin Luther King was Franklin
  • Cole was Wash
  • Carr was Carr
  • Biddle was Biddle
  • O’Fallon was O’Fallon.
  • Cass was Cass

Again, Cole today is a very wide street that separates Downtown from Columbus Square. Like Franklin to the South, and Carr to the North, it was a normal neighborhood street — not a dividing line.

Franklin Ave looking East from 9th, 1928. Collection of the Landmarks Association of St Louis

Major change came as the city decided to widen comfortable neighborhood streets like Franklin. Everything in the photo above has been part of the convention center since the mid-1970s. One neighborhood spaghetti joint became St. Louis’ top restaurant — Tony’s:

Before Tony’s, the Bommarito family had St. Louis’ first Italian bakery. It was at 7th and Carr Streets, plus they operated a spaghetti factory at 10th and Carr.  Tony’s was created by Anthony Bommarito in 1946, and, in its earliest life was a small café, soon to be called Tony’s Spaghetti House and by the early 1950s Tony’s Steak House. It was located just north of the heart of downtown at 826 N. Broadway between Delmar Boulevard (formerly Morgan St.) and Franklin Avenue in the old Produce Row district at the edge of the soon to disappear Little Italy neighborhood. Family names of those who lived nearby included: Polizzi, Impostato, Olivastro, Lapinta, Viviano, Difirore, Impielizzeri, Tocco, Arrigo, Marino and Capone. (Tony’s)

In the early 1990s Tony’s was forced to relocate because of the construction of the football stadium being built to get an NFL expansion team. Ton’y was on the East side of Broadway, part of today’s Baer Plaza. As indicated above, Broadway was also part of Produce Row, before moving to 2nd & North Market in the 1950s. [Produce Row history]

At least one Italian immigrant from the neighborhood likely worked at Produce Row: Frank Cammarata.

Small plaza on the SW corner of 11th & Carr was built in 1981 as part of the Columbus Square apartments, now known as CitySide.
A small plaque on the South wall reads: “THIS PLAQUE COMMEMORATES THE MEMORY OF FRANK A. CAMMARATA, SR., AND HIS WIFE, ANTONIA “LENA” CAMMARATA, ITALIAN IMMIGRANTS WHO CONTRIBUTED TO THE ORIGINAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD.

This little plaque is why I began looking into Italian immigrants into the neighborhood. Here’s what I’ve learned through a lot of digging:

Frank Cammarata’s middle name was William. He was born in Italy and came to the states on August 28 1913, via Canada.  A Joseph Cammarata was already in St. Louis, presumably his brother, with various addresses over the years: 614 Biddle, 616 Biddle, 618 Biddle,  1003 N 6th, and 1121 N 11th. In 1915 Frank Cammarata was living at 805A Carr.

Directories  & census listed Frank as a fruit pedlar, though he was no longer working by the 1940 census.  Lena Cammarata died in late August 1939, they were living at in  the Shaw Neighborhood at 4152 Castleman. Frank Cammarata died in 1950 at age 72, still living in Shaw on DeTonty.

The Cammarata’s were already living on Castleman in 1929. I contacted the apartment complex owner, the Mills Group, online to see if they knew anything. They never responded. I stopped by the apartment leasing office to ask. Due to many steps I couldn’t enter, so I called and two women came out to chat. They didn’t even know a plaque existed. They suggested I ask the city, though the plaque is on their private property.

One of the Cammarata’s sons was Frank A. Cammarata, Jr. (1912-1986). My assumption is the 1981 plaque got put up because of him, but the maker goofed and put the son’s middle initial “A” instead of the father’s “W”. I’ve been unable to find anything to substantiate how they contributed to the “original development of the neighborhood” — especially since the neighborhood was already old when they were born in Italy.

As one of the oldest neighborhoods, the building stock was old. Many of the 1909 Sanborn Fire Insurance map pages indicate the neighborhood buildings are old, many are tenements.  In 1937 a private housing project, Neighborhood Gardens, was built on a single block. It had goal of providing affordable housing to low-income neighborhood residents. It failed, as the rents needed to be higher than anticipated to cover obligations.

When the federal government got into the low-income housing business the neighborhood was the site of one of the city’s first high-rise public housing projects: Cochran Gardens. It opened in 1953, a year before Pruitt-Igoe located, due west. This brings me to the story of two of the last old Italian-American businesses in the neighborhood.

From the Post-Dispatch November 9, 1936 page 33 of 36 [a daily special section)

For the last 31 years the  Rosciglione family has been, by popular appointment, official confectioners to the Italian-American population of St. Louis. For 31 years the Roscigliones, brothers and father, have been shaping almond paste fruits and flowers, molding hard sugar scenic pieces and baking rich cakes for a critical clientele. No wedding, birthday, feast day, church or State holiday has been properly observed in Italian-American homes without some sweet, traditionally symbolic of the day, from the Rosciglione kitchens at 1011 1/2 North Seventh Street. 

This would’ve been on the west side of 7th Street between Wash (now Cole) and Carr. Later in the same article:

When Frank Rosciglione came to this country in 1906 from Palermo, one brother, Tony, already in St. Louis and had a small confectionary shop on Eighth street. Business was good, so he sent for his brother, this time Frank. Shortly afterwards, the two moved their pastry tubes, baking pans and molds over to the Seventh street location. The next year business had increased again so they sent for another brother, Dominick. When they thought they were pretty well on their feet, in 1911, they sent for their mother and father who still kept the confectioners shop in the Old Country. Now all are gone except Dominick who carries on the family profession with one helper and his oldest son. 

More than 15 years after Cochran Gardens opened, the neighborhood had changed. The shiny new housing project was losing its luster. Rent strikes were happening at Cochran, Pruitt-Igoe, and other housing projects.

The Post-Dispatch on July 20, 1969 page 119 of 338 had a story about the last two Italian-American businesses leaving the neighborhood, not for The Hill, but St. Louis County.

“We cannot endanger our customers,” said tall, sandy-haired Peter Rosciglione, 47 years old. He was explaining why he was closing his 70-year-old bakery at 1011 North Seventh Street. He and his wife, Josephine, and their son, Peter, have packed up the bride-and-groom figures for the tops of wedding cakes, the ornate, old-fashioned candy jars, the molds for three-foot sugar dolls. All these things will be carefully placed in their new store in St. Louis County, at 9839 West Florissant Avenue, Dellwood.

Rosciglione related that in the last month, six customers were approached by innocent-looking small boys who asked for the time, snatched the exposed watches and ran. His shop and the Seventh Street Market, a meat market at 933 North Seventh Street, have been robbed “over and over again” after hours, though the shopkeepers have not been held up.

“I work with this on the counter,” he said, holding up a pistol. “We have to walk with our women customers to their cars to keep them from having their purses snatched. Recently  I heard that because we were spoiling the purse-snatching business for the juvenile gang, that they were out to get me.”

“This is just one mass jungle,” Rosciglione said. “The good families who live nearby in the Cochran housing project and in the neighborhood are as terrified of the gangs as our customers are. I can’t allow them to jeopardize themselves for our merchandise any more.

Rosciglione Bakery still exists today…in St. Charles, MO.

Vincenzo Rosciglione came to the United States in 1898 from Palermo, Sicily.  He opened the first Italian Bakery in downtown St. Louis at 1011 North 7th Street.  The bakery was well received by the large Italian community in the downtown area known as “Little Italy“.
Vincenzo’s son, Francesco, still in Sicily studying under a famous pastry and sugar artist, was sent for at the age of 16.  He and his wife, Cosimina, ran the well established bakery until his death in 1949.  After working under the tutelage of his father for many years, Peter and  his wife, Rose, took over the bakery.
The bakery left downtown St. Louis in 1969 and opened in Dellwood, Mo. where it remained until 1997.  Rosciglione Bakery then moved to it’s present location in St. Charles, Mo. where it continues to be family owned and operated by 4th generation, Francesco Peter Rosciglione.  (Rosciglione Bakery)
The Bommaritos and Roscigliones both lay claim to being the first Italian bakery, not sure which, if either, is correct. The Dellwood address where Rosciglione Bakery moved to in 1969 is the original Sweetie Pie’s location.
I still feel like I have so much to learn about the former residents of what’s now known as Columbus Square neighborhood. Hopefully some of you will know bits & pieces that’ll help with the puzzle.
 — Steve Patterson
 

St. Louis’ Soldiers Memorial Military Museum

May 27, 2019 Downtown, Featured, History/Preservation Comments Off on St. Louis’ Soldiers Memorial Military Museum

Our World War I memorial, the building known as Soldiers Memorial Military Museum,  opened nearly two decades after the war ended.

Soldiers Memorial officially opened on Memorial Day in 1938. The building was designed by St. Louis architecture firm Mauran, Russell & Crowell in a classical style with art deco flourishes. It features four monumental groups of sculptures by artisan Walker Hancock that represent courage, loyalty, sacrifice, and vision. Hancock, a native St. Louisan, served in the US Army in World War II but is perhaps best known for being one of the Monuments Men, the group tasked with protecting and recovering cultural and historical artifacts from wartime damage.

By the end of the 1940s the Court of Honor had been established across the street from Soldiers Memorial. It memorializes the St. Louisans who lost their lives during World War II. (Missouri History)

In 2016 it closed for a much needed renovation by the Missouri History Museum, the new caretakers of the property and collections.

The St. Louis flag being lowered on Sunday February 28, 2016

After it closed for renovations I posted some of the pics I took on that last pre-renovation day.  It reopened last Fall, here are some before pics along with the after renovation pics.

2016: The east & west galleries hadn’t changed in decades. Sunshine was damaging some artifacts, neither was air conditioned.
Blinds now cover the historic windows, protecting the artifacts. Lots of new displays for the vast collection.
2016: upstairs meeting room had fixed seating, no air conditioning
With the seating removed the room can host many different types of functions. Lighting is improved, and air conditioning was added here and the rest of the building.
2016: Obviously built before the ADA, getting to most of the 2nd floor required steps or a non-compliant ramp.
Most lifts are very cheap looking/feeling, but this one is in such a prominent location it had to look good.
From up top
About to enter
2016: no ramp existed until the 21st century. This ramp is located on the NW corner, near Pine & 14th.
A 2nd ramp was added on the opposite corner, 13th & Chestnut.
2010 photo: The WWII Court of Honor looked very much the same since built.
A few slight changes were made, the most dramatic was replacing the grass with a raised pool/fountain.

Now for some more pics.

2016: The original elevator remains, but a new elevator was added on the opposite end. It travels to the higher level of the 2nd floor, so the lift can be avoided.
The basement level is now set up for additional exhibition space.
The lighting inside & out is greatly improved, now LED

If you haven’t checked it out I suggest you do so.

— Steve Patterson

 

Proposed MLS Stadium, Sans Site Plan

April 29, 2019 Downtown, Featured, Planning & Design Comments Off on Proposed MLS Stadium, Sans Site Plan

Last week artist renderings were released for a proposed soccer-specific stadium, it’ll be built if the local ownership group becomes an MLS expansion team. The MLS recently approved expanding the league from 28 to 30 teams, so it seems increasingly likely we’ll get an MLS team & stadium. Images from MLS4THELOU

When people see colorful drawings of proposed projects they’ll often get drawn into the images, letting down any critical thinking they might’ve had — they’ve served their purpose of increasing support and reducing criticism. Absent from the documents was a proposed site plan.

Site plans are never sexy, but they help explain relationships between buildings. Without a site plan it’s impossible to fully understand the quality of the design.

I’m very familiar with the area where the proposed stadium would be built. In fact, in February 2016 I posted about it when another ownership group was trying to get a MLS team following the Rams’ return to LA:

The site they shouldn’t consider is the North riverfront one previously targeted for a significantly larger NFL stadium — we shouldn’t tear down buildings when we have vacant land available. We have land, mostly state owned, without any buildings and a target for redevelopment for years already. I’m talking about the 22nd Street Interchange area — an area on the West side of downtown I’ve written about numerous times over the 11+ years.

The state-owned land is the remnants of what was to be a 1950s West loop around downtown.

The second portion of the Distributor Freeway includes ramps from Interstate 64 & U.S. 40 north to Pine Street at 20th Street. This includes short roadways from the Market Street overpass south to I-64. Plans coinciding with the construction of Truman Parkway included the 22nd Street Parkway. Officially cancelled in October 2003, the four-lane parkway was a version of the late 1950s North South Distributor Freeway running north from U.S. 40 to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive. The project included the reconfiguring of the interchange with I-64 & U.S. 40 and required condemnation of land north of Pine Street. Increasing costs associated with acquiring land needed for the parkway ultimately led to its demise. (Source)

The 4th of the above images is the only one that might give us a clue about the site. Let’s take a closer look.

The top of a parking garage is shown at the bottom.

This garage is either an inaccurate representation of the garage attached to the Drury Inn at Union Station, located in the old railway YMCA, or a new garage. Here are a couple of views from 2016 looking at the proposed site.

Looking southwest, 21st & Clark with an I-64 off ramp behind it
Looking northwest, that’s 21st Street on the right

Here’s what I think about the site, both north & south of Market Street:

  • The stadium & new buildings should take advantage of the existing hole for basement or underground parking.
  • Market Street between 20th & 21st is a deteriorating bridge, it should be removed. Under it can be filled in with foam so a new road/sidewalks can be built at grade.
  • Market Street should be redesigned to be friendly to pedestrians. This means narrowing the road (fewer, narrower lanes) and more crossing points. Right now there’s a crosswalk at 20th and at Jefferson –this is nearly a half a mile without a crossing.
  • Hopefully the changes at Union Station, including the upcoming Farris Wheel along 20th Street, will mean easier access under the train shed between the Union Station MetroLink platform on the East side of 18th to the new MLS stadium.
  • Metro will need to rethink downtown circulation with a revised Union Station, a MLS stadium, and hopefully active surroundings.
  • Pine & Chestnut have been a one-way couplet for decades. Once the on/off ramps to/from I-64 are gone both streets should be returned to two-way traffic. The revised Soldiers Memorial, however, has only one eastbound lane on Chestnut between 13th-14th.  Chestnut has our only protected bike lane.

I’ll probably think of more issues, hopefully the site planning being done now will address at least some of these.

— Steve Patterson

 

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