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Presentation: Neighborhood Change in the St. Louis Region Since 1970; What explains neighborhood success?

Two local professors will attempt to answer the question in the headline when they present their research findings one week from today:

The older parts of the St. Louis region have faced serious challenges in the past 40 years. Some neighborhoods have done better than others. Hank Webber, Washington University, and Todd Swanstrom, University of Missouri–St. Louis, will present their findings on St. Louis neighborhoods that rebounded from decline. The “rebound communities” will be the subject of future UMSL “What’s Brewing” breakfast forums that will take place in the neighborhoods with local activists telling their stories of neighborhood resilience.

Is there a secret formula for success? We can find out Thursday October 10th from 7pm-8:30pm, followed by a reception. The event is free.

Click image to see event page at Missouri Historical Society
Click image to see event page at Missouri Historical Society

The event will be held in the Lee Auditorium, lower level of the Missouri History Museum.

— Steve Patterson

 

Readers’ Favorite St. Louis Commercial Streets: Euclid, South Grand, Delmar, & Cherokee

Rarely does the “unsure/no answer” option go unselected in the weekly poll, but last week the voting was higher than usual with 145 total votes and everyone had an opinion about their favorite commercial street in St. Louis. Here are the results:

The intersection of Euclid & McPherson in the CWE
The intersection of Euclid & McPherson in the CWE

Q: Pick your favorite commercial street in St. Louis city

  1. Euclid (CWE) 32 [22.07%]
  2. Grand (South Grand) 25 [17.24%]
  3. Delmar (Loop) 23 [15.86%]
  4. Cherokee Street 20 [13.79%]
  5. Washington Ave 17 [11.72%]
  6. Other: 11 [7.59%]
  7. Manchester Ave (The Grove) 8 [5.52%]
  8. Morgan Ford 5 [3.45%]
  9. Locust St (Midtown Alley) 3 [2.07%]
  10. N. 14th Street (Old North) 1 [0.69%]
  11. Unsure/No Answer 0 [0%]

As I said in the post introducing the poll, I’m thrilled there are so many choices.

In hindsight I should’ve 1) noted I meant a commercial street with organized marketing effort  2) defined what a commercial street is and isn’t, 3) allowed 2-3 selections rather than just one, and 4) included a few of the ones below submitted by readers:

  1. DeMun Neighborhood West of Clayton
  2. Ivanhoe
  3. Macklind
  4. manchester ave
  5. the Loop and South Grand tie for me
  6. Castleman Circle (Shaw & Vandeventer)
  7. Manchester (Maplewood)
  8. Gravois
  9. Mackland
  10. Truman Parkway
  11. Hampton Avenue

Ivanhoe & Macklind are the two I wish I had included. DeMun is an interesting area…in Clayton, not the city. Interestingly nobody added say 2nd Street in Laclede’s Landing.

How did Euclid in the CWE edge out South Grand, Delmar Loop, and Cherokee? Probably a number of factors but the main one is likely the first mover advantage. It was Euclid Ave that convinced me to move to St. Louis in 1990, at the same time the other streets were nothing like they are today.

— Steve Patterson

 

New Construction Should Have Urban Form, Not Have A Forced Historic Style

The issue of form & style is a hard one to address, but this is exactly where I think St. Louis has failed over the years. The form of buildings, how they relate to the street/sidewalk, has been totally ignored.

Here’s how it often plays out in St. Louis: One story building set back surrounded by parking on a block with 2-4 story buildings built up to the property line. No problem, just be sure to wrap it in red brick with some stone elements so it fits in. Frustrating!

The other view taken in some neighborhoods is the new infill building, in the above scenario, should be detailed from the period of the neighbors on either side so the untrained eye wouldn’t know it was built 100 years later.  Also frustrating, they wouldn’t have done this 75 years ago…or 64 years ago.

The former JC Penny store built in 1949 on MLK in the Wellston Loop in the modern style with an urban form, rather than style of its red brick neighbors that are 20-40 years older.
This former JC Penny store was built in 1949 on MLK in the Wellston Loop in the modern style with an urban form, rather than style of its red brick neighbors that are 20-40 years older.

If the Wellston Loop in 1949 had a design code based on the one used by many St. Louis neighborhoods this structure, which I love, wouldn’t have been permitted. That is the problem I have with how we tend to define “fits in.”  Granted, this would be shocking to see on Park Ave in the commercial area east of Lafayette Park. Was it shocking to Wellston Loop shoppers in 1949? Very likely, but freezing an area in whatever period can be the opposite — boring or even offensive.

This 2005 building at 1801 Park Ave has an urban form but a poorly executed attempt at blending in.
This 2005 building at 1801 Park Ave has an urban form but a poorly executed attempt at blending in.

I don’t have the answers, I just think we need to give more attention to form and less to particulars of style.

Here are the results from the poll last week:

Q: New construction should…

  1. …have an urban form in whatever style the owner desires 34 [41.98%]
  2. …replicate period of surrounding buildings in some historic districts 24 [29.63%]
  3. …look like older buildings, so a lay person might think it is an old building 7 [8.64%]
  4. …NOT be a replica of an older style 7 [8.64%]
  5. Other: 6 [7.41%]
  6. …have any form (urban/suburban) in any style the owner desires 3 [3.7%]
  7. Unsure/no opinion 0 [0%]

And the six “other” answers provided by readers:

  1. New construction should entice people/business to want to be in and/or around itAdd as a poll answer
  2. This guestion isnt a very good one for a poll steve-o
  3. Needs to be complementary to existing architecture.
  4. modern and fit/funtion well on its site
  5. The owner should decide what his new building will look like. MONEY TALKS!
  6. not as simple as the other choices – more dtls req’d

Thoughts?

— Steve Patterson

b

 

Formerly Vacant House Now Occupied

Architecture in St. Louis has grabbed my attention since that first day I drove in on I-44 from Oklahoma, that was in August 1990.  In March 2004 I attended a Rehabber’s Club meeting with a good friend, architect Dustin Bopp, in the Benton Park West neighborhood. Afterwards I walked across the intersection to admire a boarded up house on a large corner lot. It was built in 1887.

2706 Wyoming on March 27, 2004.
27xx Wyoming on March 27, 2004.

Beautiful, I thought. I could see past the boarded up first floor windows and the moss growing on the brick in the corner, imaging it when new and how it might be again someday. Life moved on and I forgot all about this house.

Then a few months ago I stumbled across the above photo on my computer and I wondered what became of this home. Was it torn down? Still vacant & boarded? Occupied?

Same house now
Same house now
Front view
Front view
Front entrance
Front entrance

I found out online that work began less than a month after I saw the house and in 2006 it sold to the current occupants. Last week I finally got by to see it again. Magnificent!

— Steve Patterson

 

 

McKinley Heights Code Made New Family Dollar Better Than Their Boilerplate, Still Has Room For Improvement

In case you haven’t noticed, Family Dollar stores are popping up all over St. Louis. From November 2012:

Family Dollar Stores Inc. will expand its store base by 500 this fiscal year as it looks to capture a bigger share of the dollar-store market. (Charlotte Business Journal)

A good number of those 500 new stores seem to be in St. Louis, I’ve spotted new locations next to Jefferson Commons, Grand @ Magnolia and now Jefferson near Gravois.

New Family Dollar entrance doesn't face Jefferson & Victor.
New Family Dollar entrance doesn’t face Jefferson & Victor.

So what does their typical new construction look like? Not much architecturally, with little to no connection to the sidewalk.

Family Dollar at 6000 Natural Bridge has no connection to public sidewalk. Click image to see my post.
Family Dollar at 6000 Natural Bridge, built in 2006, has no connection to public sidewalk. Click image to see my post from March 2011.
In 2007 Family Dollar built this location on Dr. Martin Luther King, just west of Grand
In 2007 Family Dollar built this location on Dr. Martin Luther King, just west of Grand

When building these two stores in 2006 & 2007 they used a pretty auto-centric approach and the cheapest materials. Now let’s take a look at the south Jefferson location where they built their newest location, starting with the Burger King that occupied the site for years.

Closed Burger King December 2011
Closed Burger King December 2011, looking north along Jefferson
North side of the former Burger King facing Victor St.
North side of the former Burger King facing Victor St.

The Burger King was a typical suburban design in what was previously an urban location. Years of chipping away at the urban fabric devalued the urban experience, but money was made. That is, until it got old, then the money stopped flowing. Uses for former fast food restaurants are limited, often to check cashing places or other businesses that could care less about the city where they are located.  Okay, back to the site on Jefferson.

By August 2012 the site was  back to bare earth.
By August 2012 the site was back to bare earth.

b

The north side facing Victor St has a red brick veneer, but no doors or windows.
The north side facing Victor St has a red brick veneer, but no doors or windows.
The Jefferson facade is narrow, with blank walls at the intersection.
The Jefferson facade is narrow, doesn’t come out to the sidewalk, with blank walls at the intersection.

The McKinley Heights Historic District Design Standards is to thank for the fact this store isn’t awful like the prior examples. The follow section, in particular:

ARTICLE 5: COMMERCIAL DEVELOPMENT CORRIDORS DESIGN STANDARDS

501 NEW CONSTRUCTION AND EXISTING NON?HISTORIC COMMERCIAL BUILDINGS

All new construction within the designated Commercial Development Corridor (the Corridor) must be reviewed and approved by the Preservation Board taking into account the following considerations:

501.1 Height

New buildings must be constructed within 15 percent of the average height of existing buildings on the block. Any additions must be compatible with both the existing building and the surrounding structures.

501.2 Scale

The scale of all proposed new construction in the Corridor must respect the existing scale of any surrounding historic structures by seeking to minimize the difference in height, mass, fenestration and location. Any additions must be compatible with both the existing building and the surrounding structures.

501.3 Location

New or moved commercial structures shall be positioned on the lot to not only enhance the character of the commercial location but also to be compatible with the surrounding streetscape. Any additions must be compatible with both the existing building and the surrounding structures.

501.4 Exterior Materials

All new building materials shall be compatible in type and texture with the dominant materials of adjacent buildings. While artificial masonry such as “Permastone” is not permitted, introduction of new materials for new construction will be considered. A submission of all building material samples shall be required prior to approval. Any additions must be compatible with both the existing building and the surrounding structures.

501.5 Details

Details on new structures should be compatible with the surrounding built environment. Any additions must be compatible with both the existing building and the surrounding structures.

I have numerous problems with the code:

  1. The code is 41 pages of text! Not a single diagram to illustrate what is desired, or what is discouraged. Lawyers might like to read written code, but those trying to design to codes are often visual learners.  The general public can benefit greatly from diagrams, increasing understanding.
  2. If someone wanted to build a 5-story urban/mixed-use building on this site, it wouldn’t be allowed because it would be greater than 15% above the few 1-2 story buildings on the block. Never mind that we have 2 story buildings next to 5+ story buildings in many historic neighborhoods. Increased density, if allowed, not required, would be good for area businesses.
  3. The code is too general: compatible, respect, and enhance are all subjective terms.
  4. Form-based codes, for example, deal with issues such as width of the building facing the primary street, more building should’ve faced Jefferson.

I’m very glad this code is in place, but I’d like to see it and others improved.

— Steve Patterson

 

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