Home » History/Preservation » Recent Articles:

Eclectic Mile : Chippewa Ave From Jefferson Ave To Grand Blvd

A couple months back I took a look at a mile stretch of South Broadway, from Cherokee to Chippewa (see A Look At South Broadway Through The Marine Villa Neighborhood).  At the time I thought about looking at Chippewa, each time I went down Chippewa on the #11 to/from Target I admired the buildings. For years I’ve admired the mile stretch of Chippewa St between Jefferson Ave and Grand Blvd., I’d even walked, biked and scootered parts years ago. I had to travel it again though.

ABOVE: The #11 MetroBus crosses Jefferson Ave. heading west on Chippewa Ave.
ABOVE: The formerly urban character of the area has been destroyed by an over abundance of surface parking.
ABOVE: Gas stations used to be much smaller in size, now they are commonly used car dealerships.
ABOVE: Senior housing, many residents use the #11 bus.
ABOVE: The building ages and styles are varied. Wood side porches like this are very rare these days.
ABOVE: Many corners have large buildings facing them, no consistent setback to buildings but each block has some up to the sidewalk.
ABOVE: Newer infill housing is spaced too far apart, breaking the established rhythm of the street.
ABOVE: Red bricks vary from building to building, more warm than the new brick used above. The contrast with the beige brick corner building is striking.
ABOVE: Corner buildings mark the corner in various ways, such as this roof.
ABOVE: A few buildings are set way back from the sidewalk
ABOVE: Again the corner building acknowledges its place on the corner. One, two and three story buildings across Chippewa.
ABOVE: This gem is around the corner, facing Nebraska Ave
Most of the storefronts along Chippewa have been remodeled over the years
ABOVE: A former theater is now a church
ABOVE: West of the old theater is a large vacant corner, great for an infill structure or two
ABOVE: At Minnesota Ave is one my favorite storefront entrances! The storefront is currently vacant.
ABOVE: A closed gas station that hasn’t yet become a used car dealership
ABOVE: Another storefront altered years ago, love the faded sign
ABOVE: Yet another unwelcoming storefront alteration
ABOVE: Going west from Jefferson to Grand we’ve been going uphill but in places the building lots are well above the sidewalk.
ABOVE: Another bad storefront that possibly looked like an improvement decades ago. Corner buildings are all at the sidewalk whereas residences vary in setback.
ABOVE: Another quick detour, this time south on Louisiana Ave one block to Keokuk St. to see Dad’s Cookie Co.
ABOVE: Newer houses occupy the former parking lot of the old Sears store that used to be on Grand & Winnebego.
ABOVE: The last block before Grand is a depressing area to walk through, and through is all you’d do.
ABOVE: Former grocery store on the SE corner of Grand & Chippewa was built in 1976 after St. Anthony hospital moved to south St. Louis County.
ABOVE: St. Anthony Hospital faced Chippewa, not Grand. 1900-1975. Image source: St. Louis Postcards Facebook group.

Quite a stretch! Chippewa Ave was never a commercial street the way Cherokee St was, and still is, but it had  many neighborhood corner stores. For decades now people have been driving to bigger and bigger boxes to buy merchandise so these storefronts are no longer critical for daily needs.

However, all over this city we’ve seen cafes, niche retailers and others do well in these spaces. With a cohesive marketing plan Chippewa could become a cool street for new businesses. Attract the gays and hipsters to get those vacant storefronts occupied!

Getting someone to take charge will be a challenge though, the south side of Chippewa is in the Dutchtown neighborhood and the north side is in the Gravois Park neighborhood. This gives the mile road a split personality, although neither focus on it because it is an edge.

On the positive side, all but the last block before Grand are in the 20th Ward. I’ve known Ald. Craig Schmid for years and he’s a very nice guy, but I don’t see him leading an effort to attract hip new businesses — they might want serve alcohol in disproportionate quantities to food.

A few years ago, when I was still a real estate agent, I listed and sold the first house on Virginia Ave just south of Chippewa. Thus, I realize the area has real, and perceived, issues but I also think it is worth fighting for. I’m unwilling to write it off, saying the all mighty market has spoken. The market is always changing! In my 22+ years I’ve seen an enormous  amount of positive change because people weren’t willing to just discard entire neighborhoods. With some effort the market could be altered to see this mile Chippewa as an eclectic gem.

— Steve Patterson


Poll: Initial Reaction To The Updated Flying Saucer (Formerly Del Taco)?

Lsat year one of the big controversies was the threat of demolition of the “flying saucer” on Grand adjacent to the Saint Louis University Campus (the Del Taco tenant had just closed). In June 2011 I wrote a post trying to find justification for razing the iconic structure (see Pros & Cons of Saving the 1960s Flying Saucer at Grand & Forest Park), the following are selected quotes:

“I won’t lose any sleep if the Del Taco is razed but I will be mad as hell if some generic anti-pedestrian strip mall is built in it’s place.”

“I can picture the Del Taco structure gone, replaced with a high-design modernist structure to compliment the other buildings. But I don’t think that’s what we’ll get.”

“If I were developing this site I’d use the Del Taco building as a draw. Renovate the building and accenting it with great lighting, new pedestrian-friendly site design connecting to a new structure to the east on the existing surface parking lot. I can see the building not as a fast food joint but as a pub with a focus on great outdoor patio seating. This could become THE corner where SLU students hang out.”

“Most developers would kill to have such a widely known building to attract customers to their development! Certainly the 24 hour drive-thru is nice after you leave the bar but let’s face it, the use of the building can easily change.”

“Razing this building makes zero sense no matter how you try to look at it, believe me I tried!”

I couldn’t justify razing the building. Thankfully the developer changed his mind — or the demolition threat was just a clever way to demonstrate to prospective tenants the affection many in St. Louis have for the building. If so, well played!

To refresh your memory let’s go back a bit.

ABOVE: Drive-thru lane at the former Del Taco, 2011 Not exactly inspiring, is it?
ABOVE: Fast forward to July 20th of this year and the structure was stripped down to just the saucer roof and the columns
ABOVE: September 24, 2012, just four days before the Starbucks opened. The Chipotle will open soon.
ABOVE: Interior of the new Starbucks on opening day. Photo added to blog post on 9/30/12 @ 9am.

For the poll this week I want to get a sense of your initial reaction to the change to the building. The poll is in the right sidebar (mobile users switch to full layout). The poll will be open until Sunday October 7th and results will be presented on Wednesday October 10th along with my detailed take.

— Steve Patterson



The German House & A New Book On St. Louis Germans

For a while now I’ve been thinking about doing a post on the huge boarded building on Lafayette Ave but I didn’t have time to do the research. Then I received a review copy of Jim Merkel’s new book: Beer, Brats, and Baseball: St. Louis Germans and there among the many stories was the history of the building.

ABOVE: The German House at 2345 Lafayette

Jim Merkel sent me the text from that story from the book to use as a preview for you here:

The Place for Gemuetlichkeit

In the years before America fought the Nazis and Japan, Das Deutsche Haus was the place for all things Gemuetlichkeit. Opened in 1929 after a campaign that included help from such German luminaries as former mayor Henry W. Kiel, it soon became the center of German-American life here. The four-story brick building at 2345 Lafayette Avenue was the home of seventy-six German societies within three years after it opened. Built for $380,000, it had meeting rooms and halls able to accommodate crowds from 40 to 1,200. The building was full of activity.

Carl Henne, a St. Louisan born in Germany, remembered those days in a 1972 article in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. “It became the home Hall, which was right across the street,” he said. “We had balls, dances, concerts and Christmas parties there. Every Sunday night we used to always someone to talk to.” He liked it so much that he chose it as the place for his wedding breakfast.

Then came the war, or at least the events leading to the war. In January 1939, word got out that Colin Ross, an agent for a Nazi publishing house in Germany, wanted to give a speech at the German House about the German occupation of the Sudetenland. Groups ranging from labor groups to the VFW to the American Legion to the St. Louis Council for American Democracy protested. Seeing the uproar, the board of directors of the German House turned the request down. Later, when the war started, the name was changed to the St. Louis House. Otherwise, though, it remained a place for Germans.

When the war ended, the name reverted to the German House. But times were different. People were leaving the city and didn’t feel safe in the neighborhood. Poor finances almost forced the place to close. Still, it remained a popular place for local German groups to have their offices and for events. “We had 800 people at our affair last fall,” Henne, the president of the Schwaben Singing Society, said in a 1972 Globe-Democrat article. “If the neighborhood and parking get better again more German societies will go back — there’s no better place in town. The acoustics are great.” The acoustics were so good that the St. Louis Symphony recorded an album at the German House, produced by Columbia Records. But the place wasn’t good enough to survive just on Germans, and an owner said anyone who wanted to could use it. A Mexican bar and restaurant opened in the basement. The bowling alley closed. It was a matter of time before the place joined the ranks of shuttered German gathering places.

The German House was just one of the buildings Germans put up around St. Louis to gather for singing, dancing, exercising, arguing, or the theater. One was the Strassberger Music Conservatory. The three-story building at Grand Boulevard and Shenandoah Avenue once was a place to celebrate the city’s German music culture after it was built in 1904-05. Today it has a mix of upscale apartments, offices and stores.

Another building originally meant for a gathering place of Germans stands at 2930 North Twenty-first Street. In 1867, German settlers founded the Freie Gemeinde, or “Free Thinkers” Congregation. The building was home of a Gesangverein (choral club) and a library with three thousand books.

Some other buildings in the city formerly served as homes for Turner groups. They include the North Side Turnverein, 1925 Mallinckrodt Street, and the South St. Louis Turnverein, 1519 South Tenth Street. One building that is home to a still-active group is the Concordia Turners, 6432 Gravois Avenue. But that’s an exception. Almost all have a different purpose from the original German intent, and that includes the German House.

The end for the German House came in 1972, when the Gateway Temple of St. Louis, Inc. bought it for a church and school. In 2007, the Church of Scientology of Missouri bought the building for $1.6 million. Church officials plan to renovate the building, which would include a counseling area, classrooms, and an area for services. But for now, it’s unused.

The building doesn’t appear to be listed individually on the National Register of Historic Places, but it’s included in the Lafayette Square Historic District (PDF of nomination).

ABOVE: The building appears to be in very good condition.

The building was just a decade old when Germany invaded Poland, suddenly a bad time to be of German ancestry. Had WWII never taken place would the building still be open and filled with German societies? Would it have shuttered anyway due to the city’s population decline? Of course, we’ll never know the answers.

More relevant questions are in present time; does the Church of Scientology of Missouri still have plans to renovate and occupy the building? If so, would the public get a chance to see the interior at any point?

Pick up a copy of Jim Merkel’s new book for a fascinating look into the German part of St. Louis history.

— Steve Patterson



I’ll never forget my first trip to New York, just over a month after the 9/11 terrorist attack. The destruction, the awful stench in the air.

ABOVE: Ground Zero on October 30, 2001

I look forward to returning and seeing what has been built on the Ground Zero site.

— Steve Patterson


Great Ghost Sign In East St. Louis

I’m now curious about “Langley & Reed Bicycle Repairing.”

ABOVE: Ghost sign in East St. Louis

Where in East St. Louis IL was it located? How long was it in business?  Who were Langley & Reed the ?

I miss painted signs/advertising, so much more permanent and interesting than modern backlit signs.

— Steve Patterson