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Replacing Our Chinatown With A Baseball Stadium Was One Of Many Mistakes

In the 1960s Urban Renewal was in full swing — remaking/destroying cities on a large scale.  The majority of people approved — few protested. The powers that be had dismissed Jane Jacobs’ 1961 critique: The Death & Life of Great American Cities.

Forty city blocks of our original city had been vacant for a quarter century when Time magazine wrote the following on July 17, 1964:

In all, some $2 billion worth of major construction is under way or planned in the metropolitan area. A 454-acre midtown tract of slums called Mill Creek Valley, filled with slum housing that cried out for rebuilding in 1954, is now one of the largest urban-renewal areas in the U.S. A substantial section of it will be set aside for an expressway to link downtown with the major expressways leading out of the city. The long neglected riverfront has been cleared for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Park; scheduled for completion there next year is a soaring stainless-steel arch 630 ft. high, designed by the late Eero Saarinen as a monument to St. Louis as Gateway to the West. A seven-block pedestrian mall shaded by trees and flanked by lawns is abuilding. Ground has been broken for a 1,100-car parking garage, first step in construction of a downtown sports stadium, designed by Edward Stone, that will seat 50,000, cost $89 million.

The program has its critics. The Mill Creek slums were bulldozed in 1960, but redevelopment has been so slow that the area is locally dubbed “Hiroshima Flats.” The New York Times’s Ada Louise Huxtable charged that the rebuilders had razed “the heart and history” of the city by clearing the riverfront. Defenders point out that the storied waterfront had long deteriorated into a grimy morass of dilapidated warehouses, buildings and residences. Developers have been scrupulous in preserving the architectural monuments of the area—the old courthouse and the cathedral—and have stored the best examples of cast-iron storefronts to be put on display in the new Museum of Westward Expansion. (Time)

“But these areas were bad, they had to be razed,” you might say. That was the propaganda constantly sold the public. Another such bad area that needed to be razed? The Soulard neighborhood (see 1947 reconstruction plan).  Basically if they wanted to remove something a campaign was waged to build public support. Often, there were racial motivations.

The neighborhood razed for Pruitt-Igoe was Irish. Mill Creek Valley was African-American. And what became Busch Memorial Stadium (1966-2006) had been our Chinatown since the 19th century:

The first recorded Chinese immigrant was a tea merchant named Alla Lee, who is reported to have arrived in 1857 from San Francisco. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Chinese community in St. Louis had grown to about three hundred. This community was physically centered in “Hop Alley,” a seemingly mysterious place that inspired tall tales to the contemporaries and is little known to the present St. Louisans. Along Seventh, Eighth, Market, and Walnut Streets, Chinese hand laundries, merchandise stores, grocery stores, restaurants, and tea shops were lined up to serve Chinese residents and the ethnically diverse larger community of St. Louis, the fourth largest city in the United States at the time.  

Downtown businesses wanted the gleaming new modern downtown and Chinese-Americans doing laundry didn’t fit that image. They must go! But how? At this same time those who pushed wholesale razing of large areas knew cultural institutions were a good excuse to raze existing areas — forcing the inhabitants to be relocated. Working with Cardinals owner Anheuser-Busch, the process began to push Chinatown out of downtown. This would also put the team closer to the brewery.

Hop Alley looking north on Eighth Street between Walnut and Market Streets. Photograph by unknown, 1910 Missouri History Museum Archives. Swekosky-MHS Collection n34629
Hop Alley looking north on Eighth Street between Walnut and Market Streets. Photograph by unknown, 1910 Missouri History Museum Archives. Swekosky-MHS Collection n34629
Busch Memorial Stadium under construction in 1965. Source: Wikipedia
Busch Memorial Stadium under construction in 1965. Source: Wikipedia

In February 1968 New York Times architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable wrote the following about downtown St. Louis:

Except for the arch and the old courthouse, which form some genuinely provocative urban views, downtown St. Louis is a monument to chamber of commerce planning and design. It is a businessman’s dream of redevelopment come true.

There are all the faceless, characterless, scaleless symbols of economic regeneration — luxury apartments, hotels, a 50,000 seat stadium and multiple parking garages for 7,400 cars. Sleek, new, prosperous, stolid and dull, well served by superhighways, the buildings are a collection of familiar profit formulas, uninspired in concept, unvarying in scale, unrelated by any standards, principals or subtleties of planning or urban design. They just stand there. They come round, rectangular, singly and in pairs. Pick your standard commercial cliche.

The new St. Louis is a success economically and a failure urbanistically. It has the impersonal gloss of a promotional brochure. A prime example of the modern landscape of urban alienation, it has gained a lot of real estate and lost a historic city. (“Hop Alley”: Myth and Reality of the St. Louis Chinatown, 1860s-1930s)

Much of downtown remains faceless, characterless, and scaleless. The area where baseball had been played since the 19th century suffered from the loss of jobs & activity. One institution resisted the trend to locate in a modern downtown building, the symphony instead restored an old movie palace. Ada Louise Huxtable again:

The success of Powell Symphony Hall in St. Louis is probably going to lead a lot of people to a lot of wrong conclusions. In a kind of architectural Gresham’s law, the right thing wrongly interpreted usually has more bad than good results.

The first wrong conclusion is that Powell Hall represents the triumph of traditional over modern architecture. False. The correct conclusion here is that a good old building is better than a bad new one. Powell Hall represents the triumph simply of suitable preservation. And, one might add, of rare good sense.

Very rare in St. Louis. We can’t change the past, so why keep harping on it? Because we’ve not learned from our past mistakes! We keep repeating, at least attempt, to repeat them.

 

Readers were split in the non-scientific Sunday Poll:

Q; Agree or disagree: Building the new baseball stadium downtown in 1966, instead of in a neighborhood, was a bad decision

  • Strongly agree 5 [11.63%]
  • Agree 6 [13.95%]
  • Somewhat agree 9 [20.93%]
  • Neither agree or disagree 3 [6.98%]
  • Somewhat disagree 4 [9.3%]
  • Disagree 9 [20.93%]
  • Strongly disagree 6 [13.95%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 1 [2.33%]

Those who agreed totaled 46.51%, while those who disagreed totaled 44.18%.

We can’t undo the past mistakes, but the disastrous Urban Renewal mindset is still alive in 2016 St. Louis.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Sunday Poll: Was Opening A New Baseball Stadium Downtown in 1966 A Mistake?

Please vote below
Please vote below

Fifty years ago today  the final baseball game was played at Sportsman’s Park, aka Busch I, a site where where baseball had been played since 1867. On May 12, 1966 Busch Memorial Stadium, aka Busch II, opened. St. Louis’ Chinatown, called Hop Alley, was razed to make room for Busch II:

The earliest Chinese settlers congregated in an area stretching East and West between Seventh and Eighth Streets, and North and South between Market and Walnut Streets, which became the Chinatown of St. Louis, more commonly known as Hop Alley. Hop Alley was the name of a small alley running between Walnut and Market Streets where most boarding houses and apartment buildings were occupied by Chinese residents. It is not known how this neighborhood came to be called Hop Alley, but the name was widely used in contemporary newspapers and other accounts to represent the Chinese business district in St. Louis downtown where Chinese hand laundries, merchandise stores, grocery stores, herb shops, restaurants, and clan association headquarters were located. (Journal of Urban History January 2002)

One neighborhood was razed, another lost a major employer. Was it worth it?

This non-scientrific poll is open until 8pm tonight. Thursday I’ll post the results and share my views on the topic.

— Steve Patterson

 

Deplorable Surface Parking Lot At 1601 Locust Cited, Fined

Yesterday I posted about a privately-owned surface parking lot that has used 75o square feet of the public right-of-way for years, see Deutsch Family Has Profited From Public Right-Of-Way For Nearly Two Decades. Today’s post is about another privately-owned surface parking lot five blocks West.

The lot at 1601 Locust St. is next door to my condo building. When the original condos were sold, and when I bought a couple of years later, in 2007, the lot was under control/ownership of Loftworks  — the developer of Printer’s Lofts. The plan was to construct a new building and connect to the existing two. However, the economy fell out and Loftworks lost control of the lot.

Paving issues, from May 2013
Paving issues, from May 2013
Another from June 13, 2014
Another from June 13, 2014
From April 29, 2016. The car in the background has been booted for non=payment
From April 29, 2016. The car in the background has been booted for non=payment
Also from April 29, 2016 -- a close up at one of the pothole ponds
Also from April 29, 2016 — a close up at one of the pothole ponds

I first complained about the condition to the Citizen’s Service Bureau in 2013, have done so twice since then. Each time the complaint has been marked resolved. I’m told by 5th Ward Neighborhood Improvement Specialist Sharie Taylor that the owner has been sent multiple violation letters. In an email to me she wrote:

[The inspector]  currently has this property under notice and will be doing a reinspection in the near future. If the owner has still not complied, then they will receive fines for each violation. Unfortunately, beyond that, the city can’t do much to force the owners to fix the lot.

I asked about court, and she confirmed that’s the next step if fines aren’t paid. My motivation, however, is maintenance & upgrades. Upgrades, not just new asphalt? Yes, because two other problems exist. The one disabled spot is not identifiable:

Faded wheelchair symbol in 2013, lacks vertical sign
Faded wheelchair symbol in 2013, lacks vertical sign

What remained in 2013 is no longer visible. The other issue is people parking on the 16th Street sidewalk — easily prevented by wheel stops.

September 2013
September 2013
June 2014
June 2014
The worst I've ever seen, from April 4, 2016
The worst I’ve ever seen, from April 4, 2016
Also from April 4th
Also from April 4th
April 27th
April 27th
April 28th
April 28th

Again, wheel stops along 16th Street would prevent cars from pulling so far forward they overhang the sidewalk or have tires fully on the sidewalk.

Unsatisfied with the city’s pace, I faxed the owner, Kathleen Bonan, manager of Saylor Properties #1, LLC, which has the same address as the law form Bonan, Bonan, & Rowland: 116 E. Market St. McLeansboro IL  Faxed? Yes, no website or email could be found for their law firm.

There are a lot of Bonan’s in McLeansboro, like Hunt:

One of southern Illinois’ largest contributors to Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s campaign fund denied pay-to-play politics were a factor in his appointment to the state Department of Employment Security. 

Since 2002, Hunt Bonan, owner of Market Street Bancshares, the holding company for Peoples National Bank, made personal contributions to Friends of Blagojevich totaling $20,375, according to the State Board of Elections. Contributions listed as provided by Market Street Bancshares total $124,225. 

Bonan is one of six residents from either Mount Vernon or McLeansboro to receive appointments during the governor’s six years in office. (State Journal-Register)

He and his brother bill are part of People’s National Bank.

On August 8, 1988, shareholders Bill Bonan, an attorney, and his brother, Hunt Bonan, formed a bank holding company for the purpose of acquiring 100% of the stock of Peoples National Bank. The holding company was named Market Street Bancshares, Inc. as a reference to the location of their family law firm, Bonan & Bonan, on Market Street in McLeansboro. At the time the holding company was formed, Peoples National Bank assets totaled $50 million. The original Board of Directors of the holding company was comprised of:

Bill Bonan, Chairman of the Board, Secretary and Treasurer
Hunt Bonan, President
Frank Bonan, Attorney at Law – Father of Bill and Hunt Bonan
Duane Baumann
Steven Epperson
Richard Rubenacker
Bob Prince
Don York

I don’t see financial hardship being a reason for the condition of the lot.

Later this week I plan to stop by the offices of the operator, SP+/Central Parking, located at 720 Olive, Ste 1650. Between them and the owners this mess needs to get addressed!

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Deutsch Family Has Profited From Public Right-Of-Way For Nearly Two Decades

Some take big all at once, but others take just a little over a long period — the latter can continue with few noticing and nobody able to stop it. Seven years ago I posted about theft of public property, see Stealing a Sidewalk (images since lost). Since then nothing has changed.

Much of city block 823 bounded by 11th, Locust, Tucker, & St. Charles, is surface parking. Miss Hullings Cafeteria was located on the NW corner of 11th & Locust for decades.
Much of city block 823 bounded by 11th, Locust, Tucker, & St. Charles, is surface parking. Miss Hullings Cafeteria was located on the NW corner of 11th & Locust for decades.

In the late 1990s, Larry Deutsch was finally allowed to raze the historic 4-story building at 1101 Locust St. that housed Miss Hullings Cafeteria for decades. After the demolition crew left, new sidewalks were poured and the lot was covered in asphalt for surface parking. That’s when the line dividing private from public property was moved more than 3 feet. Legally the lot is 121 feet x 102 feet 6 inches. But by narrowing the public sidewalk, they made their lot 124.33′ x 105.83′ — a gain of 6%! This is roughly 750 square feet of public space that has been used privately for years.

This allowed them to have 5 additional parking spaces. The current daily rate is often $10, but let’s say $5/day. With about 300 revenue days a year, that’s $7,500 in additional revenue per year. Over 18 years the total estimate is $135,000. Serious money made by taking from the public right-of-way.

Looking West we can see how the sidewalk doesn't relate to the building line
Looking West we can see how the sidewalk doesn’t relate to the building line next door.
It's a difference of 3 feet 4 inches
It’s a difference of 3 feet 4 inches

 

Looking South along 11th you see the difference. The sidewalk in the foreground is owned by someone else, but it narrows at Deutsch's lot across the alley
Looking South along 11th you see the difference. The sidewalk in the foreground is owned by someone else, but it narrows at Deutsch’s lot across the alley

It’s very obvious in person and pictures. You might be thinking the legal property lines are different than the adjacent properties to the North & West. Typically the Public Right-Of-Way (PROW) doesn’t narrow suddenly by more than 3 feet. I know from a Sanborn Fire Insurance map the line was straight in February 1909 (see for yourself).

As we know, the city has been vacating streets & alleys for decades — perhaps this was changed when nobody was looking? So last week I went down to city hall to look at the official plat records.

Photo of the plat of city block 823
Photo of the plat of city block 823
Photocopy of the page shows the adjacent property aligns -- the PROW isn't 3+ feet narrower
Photocopy of the page shows the adjacent property aligns — the PROW isn’t 3+ feet narrower

The owner is Double Delta Arizona LLC. This Missouri LLC was created in July 2009 by Larry Deutsch, 14 Wydown Terrace in Clayton, MO. It is to register a foreign (non-Missouri) entity of the same name, but located in Arizona and created on October 27, 1993.  A search of the Arizona Corporation Commission confirms that Double Delta Arizona LLC was formed on that date. The current agent is Michael Benjamin Deutsch, 33 Oakwood Hills, Chandler AZ. Maricopa County Assessor’s records show the owners as Michael & Jill Deutsch.   Double Delta Arizona LLC is a property management company located at 2130 West Chandler Boulevard, Chandler, AZ. Chandler is a suburb of Phoenix.

Back in our city hall, I stopped by the Recorder of Deeds office to look up public records on 1101 Locust. The most recent was from April 2006, a Quit Claim Deed (Wikipedia) to transfer ownership.

Signatures transferring ownership on page 2. Click image to view 2-page PDF on Scribd
Signatures transferring ownership on page 2. Click image to view 2-page PDF on Scribd

The 1101 Locust Street Corporation was created in June 1993, dissolved in November 2007.  What I don’t know is if the PROW was reduced deliberately or accidentally.

Here’s what I’d like to see happen:

  1. The Deutsch family acknowledge they’ve been using part of the PROW for years.
  2. The Deutsch family pay the city for the cost to a) remove asphalt and pour additional concrete or b) pour new sidewalks up to the legal property line.
  3. The Deutsch family update the surface parking lot to the city’s current parking lot standards. including physical separation (fencing, landscaping) between private & public property.
  4. The city remove/reduce the existing curb cuts, requiring access via the alley on the North side of the property.

Some of you might be thinking this is not big deal — a sidewalk still exists. Yes and no. At the drives there is basically zero ADA-compliant sidewalk width. Zero.  This is a pain for many besides myself — families with a baby stroller, for example.

This is yet another example of the awful pedestrian experience in St. Louis. The problem has been identified, now it should be corrected!

— Steve Patterson

 

Mansion House Center 50th Anniversary

During the Urban Renewal era St. Louis leveled much of downtown — chasing away residents, businesses, shoppers, workers, etc. By the mid-1960s blocks and blocks of once-vibrant land began to get new structures. In October 1965 the top piece of the Arch was set into place. A couple of weeks before Busch Stadium II opened, a new residential project opened: Mansion House Center.

The Mansion House center faces 4th Street, 2011 photo
The Mansion House center faces 4th Street, 2011 photo
A plaque next to the center fountain lists those involved and the date -- April 29, 1966. Photo from April 2011
A plaque next to the center fountain lists those involved and the date — April 29, 1966. Photo from April 2011

It was everything good & bad about 1960s modernism. On the plus side it had clean lines and quality materials. On the negative, it rejected the public sidewalk & street grid. Cars stored in the massive, but confusing, garage faced the new Arch. One level up from the public sidewalk, a private promenade level sought to remove residents from the street.

As I’ve said before, the three towers are good. It’s the low-rose platform base & garage that need to be reworked. Olive & Locust need to be reopened. The East face needs to be connected to a future boulevard. The center is divided among multiple owners, so the likelihood of a project to undo the anti-city aspects is slim.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

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