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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

 

Gateway Foundation & Sheldon Propose To Replace Richard Serra’s ‘Twain’ Sculpture With Artist-Designed Mini Golf

April 1, 2019 Downtown, Featured, Parks Comments Off on Gateway Foundation & Sheldon Propose To Replace Richard Serra’s ‘Twain’ Sculpture With Artist-Designed Mini Golf

It has been nearly a decade since the ribbon was cut on Citygarden, a popular 2-block oasis in downtown St. Louis:

Two blocks in downtown St. Louis have been transformed into something unlike anything else in the country. Those two blocks, now called “Citygarden,” feature two dozen works of modern and contemporary sculpture in a completely accessible setting.

The sculptures have been sited in a series of outdoor spaces designed by Nelson Byrd Woltz, of Charlottesville, VA. The garden has been conceived as a kind of oasis, welcoming everyone and eager to interact with everyone. There are no “Do Not Touch” signs on any of the sculptures. Children will be free to run and play in a “spray plaza” featuring 102 separate jets of water in shifting, computer-controlled, color-lit patterns.

The garden represents a partnership between the City of St. Louis, which owns the land, and the Gateway Foundation, which had provided the funding – an estimate $25 million, covering design and construction, state-of-the-art lighting, ongoing maintenance, security, and insurance expenses. The cost of the sculpture, which is and will remain owned by the Foundation, is separate. (Gateway Foundation)

Citygarden has been a huge hit, getting lot of positive attention for St. Louis, and winning awards.

Recognition by professional Landscape Architects

The next block to the west, across 10th Street, has held Richard Serra’s “Twain’ sculpture for decades. In contrast, it’s very sad.

Looking west inside ‘Twain’

At 5pm today the Gateway Foundation & Sheldon will announce a joint project — turning the block west of Citygarden into a mini golf course. Don’t laugh, pop-up mini golf has become very popular in many cities lately, such as Springfield, Missouri. My hometown of Oklahoma City has a permanent mini golf course in their popular Bricktown area.

Oklahoma City’s Brickopolis mini golf, click image for website.

The push for a permeant art golf experience came after the June 2018 indoor pop-up golf at the Sheldon.

St. Louis’ newest mini-golf course is a far cry from any regular golf course. Starting Sunday and through Aug. 12, you can play nine artist-designed holes at “Golf the Galleries,” a new indoor exhibit at the Sheldon Concert Hall & Art Galleries.

Golfers can knock a colored ball through a black-lit rainbow, a volcano made of packing peanuts and a model of the revamped Gateway Arch National Park.

In between swings, visitors can study prints by photographer Simon Martin that show mini-golf courses in the United Kingdom and a selection of mini-mini-golf hole dioramas made by fifth-grade math students at the Wilson School in Clayton. (Post-Dispatch)

The exhibit was

Click image to view the pop-up golf page.

The Gateway Foundation/Sheldon proposal includes creating a permanent outdoor version on the block bounded by Market, 11th, Chestnut, and 10th. Seventh Ward Alderman Jack Coatar will introduce enabling legislation when the Board’s new session begins after Tuesday’s general election.

I’ve been one of the few trying to revamp the block with Serra’s ‘Twain’, but nobody is interested in saving it. If this happens at least the block will become an active space.

— Steve Patterson

 

Restaurant Space Available In Historic Union Market

January 28, 2019 Downtown, Featured, History/Preservation, Local Business Comments Off on Restaurant Space Available In Historic Union Market

Union Market, North Broadway,  is an interesting building.

Union Market in February 2010. New floors were added for hotel rooms.

It is considered a local landmark.

Mauran, Russell and Crowell designed the market in a Eclectic Revival Style in 1924.

One of only four extant market buildings remaining in St. Louis, Union Market was constructed in 1924-25 as the city´s largest, most architecturally significant and functionally progressive market. Occupying a full city block, the building´s strong presence and individuality are established by bold rhythms of large Gothic arches and battered buttressing at the lower stories. Speckled buff brick curtain walls are handsomely accented by horizontal bands of terra cotta ornament. The three-story garage above the market space was one of the City´s early indoor parking facilities.   For over five decades, Union Market has served as one of the City´s two principal markets and has continued a tradition of marketing established on the same site during the Civil War.  Union Market is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (St. Louis City Landmark #103)

More on the building, including pre-hotel photos on the early 80s nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. As a public market, it was a failure (read nomination). It’s had a tough life, see timeline and lease battle details.

On December 31, 2018 the hotel restaurant, J.F. Sanfilippo’s Italian Restaurant, closed after 28 years.

J.F. Sanfilippo’s Italian Restaurant will close after service on Dec. 31, owner Joe Sanfilippo announced Tuesday. The restaurant has operated inside the Drury Inn & Suites at 705 North Broadway downtown since February 1991. Sanfilippo tells Off the Menu a number of factors went into the decision to close, including the departure of major companies from downtown over the years to the arrival this decade of Ballpark Village. (Post-Dispatch)

No doubt the reduction of the downtown workforce, Ballpark Village, and fewer conventions have had an impact. My only time in this building was on Saturday April 21, 2012 — for dinner solo using a Groupon.

At 7:22pm I took this photo of the empty 80s looking dining room.
At 7:50pm I photographed my pasta con broccoli.
And at 8:10pm I photographed my dessert.

As I recall, the food & service met or exceeded my expectations. The place just felt dated…bad 80s dated. Frankly, I’m surprised they didn’t close earlier than NYE. I wish them the best of luck at their Chesterfield location.

The closed J.F. Sanfilippo’s Italian Restaurant earlier this month

I do hope someone will open a new restaurant in this space — after changing the interior. XFL games begin in one year.

— Steve Patterson

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