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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
 

Readers Opposed To Missouri National Guard Patroling St. Louis’ Worst Neighborhoods

April 17, 2019 Crime, Featured, Neighborhoods, North City, Politics/Policy Comments Off on Readers Opposed To Missouri National Guard Patroling St. Louis’ Worst Neighborhoods
Unfinished house on 22nd Street in the Hyde Park neighborhood, August 2016

Following a recent daytime shooting Ald. Brandon Bosley started a long-overdue conversation about taking back neighborhoods from criminal elements.

The boldness of the crime, on a sunny spring day as sports fans flocked downtown, just three miles south, led the neighborhood’s alderman to call for deployment of the Missouri National Guard before the summer hits and crime spikes.

“I’m done waiting,” said Alderman Brandon Bosley of the 3rd Ward. “Before it gets too bad, we need to do something measurable. Extra hands. Extra guns. Guns bigger than the ones on the street.”

Bosley said he and the city Board of Aldermen’s black caucus had been talking for weeks about petitioning Gov. Mike Parson. He said he hoped to persuade the board to pass a resolution calling on Parson to send troops to the worst city neighborhoods. (Post-Dispatch)

The conversation took place on Twitter after Post-Dispatch writer David Hunn sent out the following tweet about the story:

I read through some of the replies, many good points made. In general I don’t like the idea of military forces being brought in. On the other hand, though I do live in North St. Louis, I’m not in a neighborhood that’s experiencing the violence that a few areas are. I get it, Bosley and residents want something done. Now!

Maybe the Missouri National Guard is the answer, maybe not. I’ve said before a lot of our problems are long-term, requiring long-term solutions. Correcting inequalities would help, but that will take many years once started. Understandably, Bosley wants action before it gets hot out.

I wish I had the answer.

Here are the results of the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll:

Q: Should Gov. Parsons send the Missouri National Guard to help patrol the worst neighborhoods in the City of St. Louis?

  • Definitely not!: 11 [33.33%]\
  • No: 7 [21.21%]
  • Hmm, don’t think so: 3 [9.09%]
  • Neither yes or no: 1 [3.03%]
  • Hmm, I suppose: 4 [12.12%]
  • Yes: 5 [15.15%]
  • Definitely yes!: 2 [6.06%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 0 [0%]

A clear majority oppose the idea of the National Guard.

A Doug Unplugged segment on the subject, not online at this time, missed the point entirely. KMOV’s DougVaughn liked the idea, saying the National Guard should be outside Cardinals games, etc. Bosley isn’t arguing for military to make suburbanites who venture downtown for a game to feel safe, he’s trying to help the people in his ward feel safe in their neighborhoods

— Steve Patterson

 

Readers Split On Supporting McKee-Related Businesses

April 11, 2019 Featured, North City, NorthSide Project Comments Off on Readers Split On Supporting McKee-Related Businesses

After years of waiting, two businesses are open within Paul McKee’s Northside Regeneration redevelopment area —- part of a carefully crafted area to get millions in state & local tax credits. ZOOM Gas opened last Fall, GreenLeaf Market opened earlier this month. Both will hold a grand opening this Saturday (4/13) 10am-3pm.

On day two of business, April 2nd

In the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll readers were split on supporting these new businesses. This confirms my conversations with others.

Q: Agree or disagree: To protest Paul McKee I won’t spend money at ZOOM Gas or GreenLeaf grocery store.

  • Strongly agree: 6 [26.09%]
  • Agree: 1 [4.35%]
  • Somewhat agree: 3 [13.04%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 5 [21.74%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 0 [0%]
  • Disagree: 4 [17.39%]
  • Strongly disagree: 3 [13.04%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 1 [4.35%]

I’m torn on this subject, though we’ve been buying gas at ZOOM since moving nearby. We’ve bought a few items at GreenLeaf.

Though I have a strong dislike for how McKee conducts business, I want these to succeed. The people need the work, neighbors need nice places to shop, and the last thing we need is more vacant suburban-style buildings. Both are at the intersection of Tucker/13th/O’Fallon.

— Steve Patterson

 

Sunday Poll: Will You Patronize McKee’s Gas Station or Grocery Store?

April 7, 2019 Featured, North City, Retail Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Will You Patronize McKee’s Gas Station or Grocery Store?
Please vote below

It was three years ago (March 2016) Paul McKee announced plans for a gas station and a grocery store:

At a news conference under a white tent, he announced his latest plans Wednesday afternoon, this time for a grocery store and gas station. The GreenLeaf Market will be located at 1408 N. 13th St., not far from the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge. Right across the street, McKee said, there will be the ZOOM Store — a gas station, store and car wash. (St. Louis Public Radio)

The ZOOM Gas opened last October, though not the cafe & car wash. The GreenLeaf Market opened last Monday, April 1st.

On Saturday the 13th both will hold a grand opening, 10am – 3pm. Both are the subject of today’s poll.

This poll will close at 8pm tonight.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Goodbye Mullanphy Park

April 5, 2019 Featured, History/Preservation, North City, Parks Comments Off on Goodbye Mullanphy Park

Friday’s are usually political post, often new bills being introduced at the Board of Aldermen that day. Those will resume when the 2019-20 session begins next week. Today’s post is a look at a wealthy St. Louis family, what’s left of the street & park named after them.

Mullanphy Street was named either for John Mullanphy or his only son, Bryan Mullanphy.

John Mullanphy (1758-August 29, 1833):

Mullanphy was the first millionaire in St. Louis. Born in Ireland, he enlisted the famous Irish Brigade during the French Revoltion. After emigrating to the United States, he opened a trading store in Frankfort, Kentucky. Here he met Charles Gratiot, brother-in-law of Auguste Chouteau (the founder of St. Louis.) Gratiot persuaded Mullanphy to come to St. Louis & he opened another trading store in that city. During the War of 1812, Mullanphy bought a large supply of cotton at low prices. After the war, he shipped cotton to England where it was sold at record high prices. He profited a million dollars which he invested in St. Louis real estate. This became the foundation of the Mullanphy fortune, which was later inherited by his 7 daughters. Much of his later life was spent in philanthropic work. (Find A Grave)

Bryan Mullanphy (September 16, 1809-June 15, 1851)

Philanthropist. He was the only son of John Mullanphy, St. Louis’ earliest millionaire. Educated in Europe, he was disinherited by his father because his expressions of generosity were considered to be “reckless habits,” and the great Mullanphy fortune was divided among his seven sisters. They later re-divided their interitance to include him. In 1840, he was appointed a Judge of the Circuit Court and in 1847 was elected Mayor of St. Louis. Never married, Mullanphy’s will was in litigation for 9 years before being declared void because it was written while he was under the influence of alcohol. Rather than allowing such evidence to be admitted to the court and spoil his public image, his sisters relinquished their claims to his estate. Mullanphy founded the Travelers Aid Society, St. Vincent De Paul Society, Mullanphy Hospital, Mullanphy Park and Playground, Mullanphy School, Mullanphy Immigrant Home and countless other bequests to the poor and unfortunate who came to St. Louis in his era. (Find A Grave)

My guess is the street was named after the father as it was platted prior to 1841. At the southwest corner of Mullanphy Street & 10th Street was Mullanphy Playground, later Mullanphy Park. This, I think, was named after the son who had served as mayor and died at only 41.

In the 1907 Civic League’s Plan for St. Louis they talk about the Mullanphy Playground after the Carr Square District, from page 45:

An opportunity exists for the establishment of a civic center, adequate for the present needs of this district, in conjunction with the municipal playground at Tenth and Mullanphy Streets. The property extending along the Mullanphy Street front of the playground from Tenth to Eleventh Streets, and now under lease by the municipality, should be purchased by the city. It should also purchase the small lot on Tenth Street, now under lease, and the houses on Eleventh Street, now owned by the Mullanphy Board. In these houses there should be established a gymnasium and public bathhouse, a branch reading room of the Public Library and a hall for public meetings. The playground could then be enlarged by dirt tilling and by the removal of the present temporary library and bath buildings to the permanent quarters.  

The October 1909 Sanborn Fire Insurance map shows the playground hadn’t yet been expanded.

Sanborn Fire Insurance map, October 1909. Sheet 015, Volume Three.

The houses on 11th remain, block 602 is divided into multiple parcels. Looking at historic aerials going back to 1955 it appears a large building replaced the residential buildings. The gymnasium? Whatever it was, by 1968 the building was gone. The old aerials showed the steps up to the elevated level field of the park.

I recall walking, biking, driving past this park in the early 90s when I lived nearby in Old North St. Louis. As 10th was a one-way street to exit I-70 to reach downtown, many people drove past this park for decades. People still drive past it, but on the other side.

Apple Maps still shows Mullanphy Park, though it never extended to Cass Ave.
Looking west on Mullanphy Street from 10th, it’s blocked by the on/off ramps for the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge that opened 5 years ago.
Looking south toward Cass Ave. you can see the corner steps up to the field that’s higher than the sidewalk.
Closer we see steps off 10th Street and an old stone retaining wall.
A sign next to a tree asks that it not be cut down, that someone is caring for the old tree.

This once-important neighborhood park is now owned by one of Paul McKee’s Northside entities. The surrounding neighborhood hasn’t existed for decades and the west side if now a massive on/off ramp.

Goodbye Mullanphy Park.

— Steve Patterson

 

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