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Great Potential, Little Hope

ABOVE: 2909-2917 Marcus Ave. is owned by the city's Land Reutilization Authority (LRA)

The above storefront building at 2909-2917 Marcus Ave is owned by the city’s Land Reutilization Authority (LRA).  The building is just west of the Shelley House I blogged about last Tuesday.  If not for being in a local historic district, the city would have razed this structure years ago. The LRA came out of urban renewal when the idea of razing buildings so land could be reutilized was all the rage.  Today the LRA is a dumping ground for unwanted property:

The Land Reutilization Authority (LRA) receives title to all tax delinquent properties not sold at the Sheriff’s sale. It also receives title to properties through donations. The SLDC Real Estate Department maintains, markets, and sells these properties and performs land assemblage for future development.

The LRA has received attention in recent years, the RFT quoted a state audit in 2009:

The LRA does not have contracts related to costs incurred for property maintenance and upkeep. During the year ended June 30, 2008, the LRA paid approximately $660,000 to the St. Louis Development Corporation for property upkeep services, and $100,000 to the city’s Forestry Division for grass cutting, weed maintenance, and debris removal. In addition, there is no documentation to support why only $100,000 was paid while the Forestry Division’s billing records indicate it incurred charges of $1,658,000 for LRA properties. LRA staff indicated the land sales do not generate sufficient revenues to pay for all related costs and the city’s General Fund incurs the majority of the additional costs.

More recent:

A new study by the Show-Me Institute trains a spotlight on the largest St. Louis landholder. This is not any one individual or developer, but the Land Reutilization Authority, a joint creation of the city of St. Louis and the state of Missouri, which was set up in 1971 for the purpose of putting abandoned, tax-delinquent properties back into productive use.

The problem is, the LRA seems to have done more to thwart development than to encourage it. During the past four decades, the LRA has accumulated a larger and larger inventory of vacant properties in St. Louis, while rejecting many offers from private individuals and small businesses to purchase selected properties from the agency. (St. Louis Beacon: LRA needs to sell a lot of lots)

When I started this post I was just going to comment on how I liked the feel of the area, the arrangement of streets and buildings.  That changed when I discovered the city owns the building.  Many have rightly complained about Paul McKee letting his properties deteriorate, but at least he has a plan.

ABOVE: North Newstead as seen from Labadie Ave

The city has no plan for this area, other than let it continue to decline further.  Then what?

The potential is all around, that “feel” I was talking about is great. Turning the area around takes leadership that appreciates the urban design of the period, rather than try to turn it into a late 20th century suburb. Given our lack of such leadership, with a few exceptions, I have little hope for this area. Of course I know our city can’t prosper if large areas are left to disappear.

– Steve Patterson


Poll: Thoughts on the former Sportsman’s Park

ABOVE: Grand & St. Louis Ave one block from the former Sportsman's Park

Sportsman’s Park had two addresses: 3623 Dodier St. (Cardinals) & 2911 N Grand Blvd (Browns). Yes, St. Louis’ two major league teams played at the same ballpark on North Grand until the Browns became the Baltimore Orioles in 1954.  The last game at the ballpark was played 45 years ago today, May 8, 1966. That day the Cardinals lost to the San Francisco Giants 10-5 (source).

Many in St. Louis enjoyed games from the Grand Stand for decades, others not as long:

[Dateline: May 4] 1944 – Blacks were allowed to buy grandstand seats for the first time in St. Louis history. St. Louis was the last of the major league clubs to integrate seating. Blacks had been restricted to the bleachers. (Source)

The last to integrate? Hmm, not surprised.

ABOVE: 1909 Sanborn map of Sportsman's Park

I personally feel it was a mistake to relocate what had been renamed Busch Stadium to a razed section of downtown (see Urban Renewal Destroyed St. Louis’ Early Chinatown, Hop Alley). Baseball was first played on this site in 1866! A field does remain as part of the Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club.  I wonder what Grand & St. Louis Ave would be like today if the Cardinals had remained on the site of Sportsman’s Park. Would it be a diverse & bustling neighborhood or would the surrounding neighborhoods have been razed for surface parking?

ABOVE: Sportsman's Park showing flats next to Grand Stand, click image for source

I realize the 1960s were a turbulent decade. The 8th Inning of Ken Burns’ Baseball series looked at this period. It starts with the razing of Ebbets Field, vacant after the Brooklyn Dodgers became the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Ballpark after ballpark was razed in this decade as baseball fought for fans, many interested in football.

The poll this week, upper right of blog, is about Sportsman’s Park.

– Steve Patterson


Supreme Court Ruled on Restrictive Covenants 63 Years Ago Today

This house at 4600 Labadie was at the center of the case Shelley v Kraemer

The modest house located at 4600 Labadie was at the center of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling 63 years ago today:

In 1930, J. D. Shelley, his wife, and their six children migrated to St. Louis from Mississippi to escape the pervasive racial oppression of the South. For a number of years they lived with relatives and then in rental properties. In looking to buy a home, they found that many buildings in St. Louis were covered by racially restrictive covenants by which the building owners agreed not to sell to anyone other than a Caucasian. The Shelleys directly challenged this discriminatory practice by purchasing such a building at 4600 Labadie Avenue from an owner who agreed not to enforce the racial covenant. Louis D. Kraemer, owner of another property on Labadie covered by restrictive covenants, sued in the St. Louis Circuit (State) Court to enforce the restrictive covenant and prevent the Shelleys from acquiring title to the building. The trial court ruled in the Shelleys’ favor in November of 1945, but when Kraemer appealed, the Missouri Supreme Court, on December 9, 1946, reversed the trial court’s decision and ordered that the racial covenant be enforced. The Shelleys then appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

On May 3, 1948, the United States Supreme Court rendered its landmark decision in Shelley v. Kraemer, holding, by a vote of 6 to 0 (with three judges not sitting), that racially restrictive covenants cannot be enforced by courts since this would constitute state action denying due process of law in violation of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Although the case did not outlaw covenants (only a state’s enforcement of the practice), in Shelley v. Kraemer the Supreme Court reinforced strongly the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws, which includes rights to acquire, enjoy, own, and dispose of property. The Shelley case was a heartening signal for African Americans that positive social change could be achieved through law and the courts. (National Park Service)

I visited the block again last month and it is like many in North St. Louis:  quiet with maintained homes but signs of flight.  The house pictured on the left in the image above recently burned down, the remains razed.

Interesting, other African-American families lived on the block — predating the restrictive covenants. One family had lived on the street since the 19th century.

Hats off the the Shelley’s for fighting for years to stay in their home. No doubt the ruling prompted many white families to leave for other parts of the city and for the newly developing suburbs. It would be interesting to look at property records on this block to see when other houses were sold.  Were the Kraemer’s the first? Did others leave before the court case was settled?

The Shelley house, built in 1906, is an owner-occupied private residence and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The neighborhood is currently identified as the “Greater Ville”, the Ville had been the center of African-American life in St. Louis for decades.

– Steve Patterson


A Quick Look At Baden’s Commercial Area

April 23, 2011 North City 2 Comments
ABOVE: "Willkommen to Baden" sign on North Broadway

Baden is a neighborhood in far North St. Louis, it was a separate municipality prior to 1876.

ABOVE: Baden's commercial district along North Broadway (aka N 3rd St)

Last December I was in Baden and snapped a few pics as I drove through the area.  I seldom go to Baden but I can’t help but smile each time I do, the scale of the buildings is so nice.

ABOVE: Baden's commercial district along North Broadway

I have no clue how well the area is doing these days. Will need to spend more time in the area to better understand it.

– Steve Patterson


Family Dollar Misses The Walkability Mark

The Family Dollar store at 6000 Natural Bridge was built in 2006.

ABOVE: Bus stop near the Family Dollar at 6000 Natural Bridge

I’ve stopped by twice in the last two weeks and both times I spotted customers who were pedestrians.  During the week there were more pedestrian customers than driving customers, the opposite was true yesterday.  Family Dollar caters to a lower income crowd, those who are often transit dependent. Yet, they don’t make it easy for their own customers who arrive on foot.

img_3079Family Dollar replaced the public sidewalk along Natural Bridge — 300 feet along the property line. That is a good start, but just 20 more feet of sidewalk would have enabled pedestrians to get from the public sidewalk to the private walk in front of the door without having to walk through grass or mud.

img_2998Pedestrians have so little value in St. Louis that a business with many pedestrian customers can just ignore how they come and go. St. Louis needs to mandate that new buildings be built with connections from public sidewalk to main entrance. Also, new occupancy of existing buildings should also require a pedestrian connection. If a public sidewalk exists, businesses should be required to connect to it. Period!

ABOVE: Google's Streetview camera caught pedestrians at the Family Dollar, click to view

Pedestrian connections should be a given in the city, especially when tax incentives are given for the development!

ABOVE: City records show taxes are only being paid on the value before the new building was built. Click to view larger image.

Ordinance 67014. sponsored by 22nd Ward Ald, Jeffrey Boyd, covers lots of strings for the redevelopment of the property but the basic need of walking from the public sidewalk to the front door of the business establishment just wasn’t important enough I guess.  The above tax info can be found at Geo St. Louis.

ABOVE: Mud and standing water separate the private walk from the public sidewalk just 20 feet away.

I have contacted Family Dollar to see about them connecting to the public sidewalk, hopefully they will be receptive.

– Steve Patterson