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Grand Ave Water Tower Commercial Area Had Such Potential, Still Does

ABOVE: Commercial buildings around North Grand Water Tower, winter 1990

When I first spotted the “old white” water tower in the middle of Grand Avenue (Satellite image) I was blown away by the commercial buildings that surrounded the iconic white column. First, information on the tower:

Described as “the only perfect Corinthian column of its size in the world,” the Grand (“Old White”) Water Tower on 20th Street and Grand Avenue was built during the waterworks expansion led by Thomas Whitman (brother of poet Walt Whitman) following the Civil War. The 154-foot tower, designed by architect George I. Barnett, was completed in 1871 at a cost of $45,000. The tower is constructed of a brick shaft resting on a Chicago stone base and octagonal stone platform, topped with an iron capital cast in a leaf design. It was retired from service in 1912. In the 1920s and 30s, beacons placed atop the tower served as navigational aids to pilots seeking Lambert International Airport. Legend has it that Charles Lindbergh once used the lights to find his way home when he was lost in a Mississippi River fog. In 1933, after citizens objected to a recommendation that the monument be torn down, Mayor Bernard Dickmann came to the tower’s defense. “To wreck this tower would, to my mind, verge closely on an act of sacrilege,” the Mayor declared. (St. Louis Water Division)

The tower was safe, but the context wasn’t. It screamed potential. Even boarded, the buildings had such great massing, materials and proportions.Where else does such exist in the country? Nowhere I know of. In 1988, two years before I arrived, Freeman Bosley Sr. was elected to office as 3rd ward alderman.  The potential would be razed, rather than realized.

ABOVE: today few of those buildings remain
ABOVE: the opposite side of Grand was totally cleared, new sidewalks but nowhere to walk to

In 1990 South Grand was nothing, the Delmar Loop was just getting started, and the few customers on Cherokee St were looking for prostitutes. None of these three districts had  visionary elected officials but at least they didn’t see them as something to actively level.

Some of the land surrounding the tower is owned by the city agency, the Land Reutilization Authority (LRA). The rest of the land is owned by the Citizens for Community Improvement, Inc.

Citizens For Community Improvement Inc in Saint Louis, MO is a private company categorized under Career and Vocational Counseling. Our records show it was established in 1971 and incorporated in Missouri. Current estimates show this company has an annual revenue of $400,000 and employs a staff of approximately 9. Companies like Citizens For Community Improvement Inc usually offer: Greenleaf Job Training Services, Jobs And Training Services, Job Training Services. (source)

So what do we do today?

  • Begin a planning process for a series of concentric circles around the tower, the smallest circle would be the most detailed. Planning area would be more an oval, along Grand and include I-70 and Florissant.
  • Develop a catchy name for the commercial district, begin marketing to build an identity.
  • Develop form-based standards for new construction,  buildings should be 2-4 stories high.

I see street-level retail with residential units above.  There may be some demand for office space in addition to retail.  No, Plaza Frontenac doesn’t have to worry about high-end retailers  leaving the upscale mall for this area. But where you have people there is a need for services.

Of course, this planning should have started 20+ years ago.

– Steve Patterson


Bosley Estates Designed to Fail?

July 26, 2011 North City 24 Comments
ABOVE: Unfinished house at 3912 N. 22nd

Last week I was driving through North St Louis and I checked out the progress on Bosley Estates, named for 3rd ward alderman Freeman Bosley Sr. Only seven houses were ever started with four finished, sold, and occupied. The other three were never finished, including 3912 N. 22nd.  Of course, one could say this should be expected given the current economy.

ABOVE: 3912 N 22nd on June 27, 2007

When I visited Bosley Estates on June 27, 2007 it was clear to me the development was going to flop.  True, one of the finished houses had just sold for $155,200.00 on 02/07/2007.  Another would sell for $167k in October of 2007.

ABOVE: Bosley Estates sign in June 2007

Ground was broken on Bosley Estates in December 2005, the project was to include 150 new homes. But nearly two years later it was clearly no longer a priority.

ABOVE: Painted sections of concrete pipe block access to North 22nd at Newhouse Ave, June 2007

The street grid no longer functions as designed in much of the city, especially in the 3rd ward.

ABOVE: Large plants grow from the "temporary" measures to block 22nd at Newhouse, June 2007

Interestingly, one of the four homes finally sold on 03/08/2010 for $133,500.00.  I’m shocked.

ABOVE: Attached garages and long driveways behind the houses on N 22nd, June 2007

One of the biggest flaws of so many new homes built in the city is the attached garage and long driveway.  Proponents claim the attached garage is safer, not having to go outside to go from house to car.  But owners must still get out of their cars in the alley to open the fence gate. Rather than have a nice backyard enclosed by a detached garage, these houses have concrete.

The Comptroller’s office looked at the developer, Minority Developers and Builders Association, LLC, in December 2007 – see the report here.  St. Louis Patina blogged about this development in May 2009. When I first visited in June 2007, just 18 months after groundbreaking, it was clear to me it was sinking then. Now, more than four years after my original visit it would appear St. Louis has wasted money on another failed project.

– Steve Patterson


New Hyde Park Homes Never Occupied

I shouldn’t have been surprised when I made the connection: tacky faux-historic new house in ruins with numerous ties to realtor & developer Mary “One” Johnson.

ABOVE: Three homes at 3314-18-22 Blair built in 2006 were never sold

St. Louis is littered with half-finished developments started by one of Johnson’s numerous companies.  Johnson is also the vice chair of St. Louis’ Preservation Board.

Hopefully the economy has stopped the proliferation of these sad little boxes. We have enough nice buildings that are vacant & boarded, we don’t need these adding to the problem.

– Steve Patterson


Readers OK With Cardinals 1966 Move Away From Sportsman’s Park

ABOVE: massive parking garages and a walkway are all that remain from the 60s era Busch II.

Last week readers weighed in on their thoughts on the 1966 relocation of the former Sportsman’s Park.  The single answer with the most responses goes along with my thought the Cardinals should have rebuilt rather than move downtown, but looking at all the answers it is clear readers support the move:

  1. A great neighborhood ballpark, the Cardinals should have rebuilt at Dodier & Grand 23 [25%]
  2. No opinion 15 [16.3%]
  3. No choice but to move: the area was changing fast. 15 [16.3%]
  4. Like people would have continued going to North St. Louis for a Cards game 14 [15.22%]
  5. No choice but to move: too little parking and the streetcar line was replaced with buses in 1960. 10 [10.87%]
  6. Other answer… 9 [9.78%]
  7. A good neighborhood ballpark but it was no Wrigley Field 6 [6.52%]

It is the nine other answers provided by readers I find interesting:

  1. How is this relevant to anyone?
  2. A great ballpark that would’ve helped a great neighborhood evolve.
  3. Cards set a popular trend moving downtown, too bad about Hop Alley though.
  4. moving was part of a larger plan to destroy the northside
  5. Looks like a great ballpark!
  6. Best move ever, Busch II was a great stadium.
  7. Why not look to the future? Use the space for something great for the city.
  8. By buliding the new stadium downtown, really revitalized the downtown area.
  9. Gave some definition to downtown – robbing NSTL to make the investment downtown.

Not sure where to start.  Relevant because the decision to relocate removed a source of revenue & jobs from one part of the city and placed it in another part that was bought and cleared via urban renewal.  We can’t undo the past but we can learn from our mistakes.

I don’t believe their was a plan to destroy the north side, that was just a casualty of the times. Busch Stadium II did not “revitalize” downtown, far from it.  A huge area was razed for the stadium, garages and other buildings.  The stadium did not create new development in that part of downtown.  MetroLink and renovations of nearby historic warehouses in Cupples Station a quarter center later helped offset the dead zone created in 1966.

– Steve Patterson



Screening of ‘The Pruitt-Igoe Myth’ Saturday May 14 at Noon

May 12, 2011 Media, North City 2 Comments

Failed buildings are often forgotten shortly after they are abandoned and razed, if not before. Pruitt-Igoe is different, the public housing complex has been gone nearly twice as long as it stood and it remains of interest around the world.

Child in Pruitt-Igoe. Photo Credit: STL Public Schools

Many were impacted, both good and bad, by having lived at Pruitt-Igoe.   A recently completed documentary, The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, looks at the buildings and the people housed in them:

Destroyed in a dramatic and highly-publicized implosion, the Pruitt- Igoe public housing complex has become a widespread symbol of failure amongst architects, politicians and policy makers.

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth explores the social, economic and legislative is- sues that led to the decline of conventional public housing in America, and the city centers in which they resided, while tracing the personal and poignant narratives of several of the project’s residents.

In the post-War years, the American city changed in ways that made it unrecognizable from a generation earlier, privileging some and leaving others in its wake.

The film was directed by Chad Freidrichs and produced by Chad Freidrichs, Jaime Freidrichs, Paul Fehler and Brian Woodman. The film’s Flickr account contains great images. The film can be followed on Twitter and Facebook. Saturday (5/14) you can see the film for $10 at the Tivoli Theater on Delmar, noon.

Here is the film’s trailer:


The filmmakers spent nearly four years on this project. I was shown a rough cut at my loft a couple  of years ago but Wednesday night was my first viewing of the completed film.  I’m very impressed how they showed the good, bad & ugly sides of Pruitt-Igoe.

– Steve Patterson