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A Look at St. Louis’ MLK Drive, Part 5 of 5

This post is part five of a five part series. Part five looks at MLK Drive from Kingshighway to just past the city limits.

  • Part One — Introduction.
  • Part Two — MLK from Tucker to Jefferson Ave.
  • Part Three — MLK from Jefferson Ave. to Grand Ave.
  • Part Four — MLK from Grand Ave to Kingshighway.

This section of MLK Drive takes on a different flavor from what we’ve seen to the east. Although partially lined with commercial most is smaller and slightly newer than what we saw before. Many churches are concentrated in this section. As we approach the city limits, just past Goodfellow, we see the remains of a once very happening commercial district at the end of the old streetcar line. I will continue out past the city limits to the current MetroLink light rail stop where I’d like to see a new MLK streetcar line terminate.


Finally, a park along MLK. This is Sherman park which is located at the NW corner of Kingshighway and MLK, diagonally across from the Roberts’ suburban complex which contains the formerly urban Sears store.


These buildings are representative of this section of MLK. Gaps now exist where buildings have been razed, we are after all still in Terry Kennedy’s 18th Ward where most areas are not protected by Preservation Review. Demolition permits can be handed out as routinely as valet permits downtown.


Here we see where a building had recently been razed.


On a positive note we can see here where a new foundation was recently placed for some new construction. And thankfully it is not behind parking as we are seeing all too often. I’ve seen anything as to what the new building will look like but I’m not holding out any hopes of something really good.


Former gas stations like this one on the SE corner of MLK and Union litter our city. Some are vacant while others, like this one, hosts a variety of businesses.


Looks like someone started to do something a number of years back, creating a gated parking lot. Today the fencing has fallen down and this block is pretty much abandoned. This section and west is all in the 22nd Ward of Jeffrey Boyd.

On Sundays the area has plenty of vistors if all the cars are any indication. A number of churches in this stretch help fill numerous parking lots with cars. From the looks of the cars, I’d say most of these people don’t live in the immediate area. I’m not convinced the area is better off with these churches as their buildings and parking lots are pretty dead 6 days a week.


Another of my favorite buildings along MLK, this one just east of Goodfellow. I want the upstairs apartment on the far corner as soon as a streetcar line is build. Once renovated this could be a wonderful asset to the area. This building is very similar to one located on Delmar near Hamilton.


Here at the SW corner of MLK and Goodfellow we begin to return to greater density as we approach the end of the old #32 Wellston streetcar line.


This fine specimen is a former JC Penny department store. It has been acquired by an individual working with a local CDC (Community Developement Corporation) although I am not sure of their intentions. Once renovated and with a streetcar line installed I want to live upstairs in a building across the street — I would love to have this building as my view! [Updated 1/15/07 – 8:45am –added that JC Pennty building is owned by an indiviual associated with the CDC, not the CDC itself.]


The gray granite marker shows the exact point of the city limits, as does the old cafe in adjacent Wellston.


Across the street is the old Wellston Loop buildings where a couple of streetcar lines met up and passengers could connect up with bus service out to the county. This fine structure is owned by the City of St. Louis.   same CDC that owns the JC Penny building. The lot visible to the right of this structure had a really nice 6-story or so building until a few years ago when it was razed. This was a very dense and active area at one time.


In better times the shopping district simply crossed the city limits without a care. This gem is located in the neighboring municipality of Wellston.


A mile west of the city limits on St. Charles Rock Road (MLK changes to St. Charles once past Lucas-Hunt) is a station for our light rail system, MetroLink. The vast parking lot is ideal for a transit oriented development as well as a new loop for a modern streetcar.

One of my concerns for MLK Drive is that federal funds have been set aside for new sidewalks and streetlights from Grand out to the city limits. We saw how well our money was spent between Jefferson & Grand, will we simply get more of the same bad planning? Either our Planning & Urban Design Agency headed by Rollin Stanley is completely incompetent or not included in the decision making process.

Click here to see all 97 images from this section of MLK Drive.

Dr. Martin Luther King, one of the great leaders of the 20th Century, deserves so much more from a street named in his honor. Peace.


A Look at St. Louis’ MLK Drive, Part 4 of 5

This post is part four of a five part series. Part four looks at MLK Drive from Grand Ave. to Kingshighway.

Continuing on our journey west along MLK we resume from Grand Ave. You’ll recall in the prior post we saw the site of the new suburban Walgreen’s. Well, that is only the most recent sprawl-based development in this area.

A new suburban strip center is just completed on the NW corner of MLK (left) and Grand (right). The suburban features are numerous. First we have a single story building, second it is set back as far as possible from the street making it more of a challenge for pedestrians, it lacks a proper ADA required accessible route from the public sidewalk to the building entrances (tisk tisk) and finally it has plenty-o-parking right out front so that everyone can completely ignore the ample on-street parking.

Seen here from the west, the building is completely uninspired and does not relate at all to the sidewalk. I was happy to see the line of street trees along MLK. That is my car parked on MLK, four traffic lanes plus two parking lanes with parking lot focused development is about as suburban as you can get. If I were to crop out the old building in the background you might think we were out in a new suburb. Once the Walgreen’s goes up across Grand, the theme will continue. The above project is located in the 5th Ward of April Ford-Griffin.

Across MLK to the south we see the back of a building at the 5+ year old MLK Plaza. Once again, the entire intersection that was once quite urban has become this low-rise low density sprawl centric area. This is contrasted with the excellent pedestrian-oriented Hope VI housing being built just across Grand. Those residents will find their walk to the store unfulfilling at best and dangerous due to traffic at worst. This project, like those east of Grand, are in the 19th Ward formerlly represented by Mike McMillan.
All this and we are still at our starting point along Grand!

Just a block to the west another triangular shaped lot is being cleared. As I recall it was a mess before with perhaps a junk lot so I welcome the clean up. Survey crews were out working on a Sunday. I’m not sure what is planned for the site but I’m guessing more surburban-style development. You’d think when starting from scratch we’d get better development but then again that would require some true leadership at city hall. This is back in the 5th Ward.


The large lot above is on the SE corner of MLK and Sarah. Saint Louis University’s John Cook School of Business is working [assisting the non-profit  Habitat for Neighborhoood Business] on the construction of a new building at this site for the purposes of creating incubation space for startup businesses, a worthy goal no doubt. Unfortunately, I’m hearing the building may be suburban in form with parking in front. The architecture firm is said to be that of Glantz & Associates which primarily seems to do very surburban residential work. I may well be trying to put a kabash on this one until it can be redesigned, especially given the urban forms on the same block shown below.  [UPDATE 1/28/07 – I’ve met with a couple of board members of Habitat for Neighborhood Business to discuss the project, both indicate they are seeking an urban prototype with parking at the side or rear.]

These buildings (mostly the ones on the right), along the south side of MLK just west of Whittier are among the most interesting we have left in the city. The massing, varied hights and detailing are spectacular. The old cast iron storefronts are still in tact. The neon sign for the cleaners is a reminder of the many such signs that lined this street. Get me a streetcar running down this street and I will gladly live in a condo above one of these storefronts!

The above buildings are located in the 4th Ward (Ald. O.L. Shelton) in the Vandeventer Neighborhood. At one time, MLK (then Easton Ave) was the focal point of the neighborhood. Today is serves not as a uniter but as a dividing line between many neighborhoods. The north side of the street is The Ville.

A once beautiful home sits in ruins after years of decay and a recent fire. The vacant lot to the right is the site of a planned farmer’s market for the area. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) are nationally celebrating their 150th anniversary this year. Chapters all over the country are doing projects to give back to their respective communities. The St. Louis chapter of the AIA have, after working with residents in the Ville last year, decided to help them get the farmer’s market they seek.

The project is being designed this semester through a studio at Washington University. African-American architect Karl Grice will be the architect of record on the project which is expected to cost nearly $500K. I have some reservations about the site that was selected — namely if that is the best location — and if such a costly structure should be built before giving the market a trial run for a season at a nearby school, park or church. But, that will be something I can debate in a separate post.


Another recent tragedy along MLK is this newly opened Family Dollar store. The low end building is pushed back from the street behind lots of parking. As we saw with the strip center at MLK & Grand, no pedestrian access is provided — those walking must cut through the landscaping or walk in via the automobile drive. Later in this post I’ll show you an older Family Dollar store just down the street that is built up to the street with its parking on the side of the building rather than the front. This lovely “investment” was made possible by Ald. O.L.


Another view of the Family Dollar store. Would a break in the shrubs and striping through the parking lot to the front door have been too much to ask?


At this corner stood a wonderful looking building that during the AIA’s charrette last April was considered to be a fine model for new construction by combining a corner storefront with attached townhouses. Below is what the buildings looked like in April 2006.

See my prior post for more on the demolition of this once fine structure. We have 18th Ward Ald. Kennedy to thank for not including this or much of his ward in a Preservation Review District so that the city’s Preservation Board does not have the right to review demolition permits. This was an unnecessary loss.


I promised you a more urban form Family Dollar, this is located a block east of Kingshighway on the north side of MLK. It is an older structure that has been remodeled a number of times. It is not much to look at but at least it is an urban form and pedestrians can easily enter from the sidewalk.


Above is a new retail building at the corner of Kingshighway & MLK, built within the last 10 years or so by the Roberts Brothers. I was working on Union just north of Natural Bridge at the time so I passed by here daily either in my car or on my bike (yes, I was really good about bike commuting for a couple of years). The Blockbuster video that opened in the building has since closed.

The former Sears store which serves as the headquarters for the Roberts’ empire is visible in the far right of the above image (see below). The Sears provided a good model being built up to the street with on-street parking. Had they continued this pattern for this building they might have had something more sustainable.


The former Sears is now named the Victor Roberts Building.


An excessively wide driveway off Kingshighway leads to the parking for the former Sears building as well as the Roberts’ suburban strip center building located to the east. As you might expect, no pedestrian sidewalks are provided — you are expected to be in a car.


The Roberts’ suburban strip center is seen on our left behind a massive amount of parking. The street, Aubert Ave, is devoid of street trees and is excessively wide. To the right is the back side of the former Sears. Down the street and to the right is an Aldi store. At the end of the block is Page, behind us is MLK. And though you might be walking along Aubert to get to one of the few remaining stores in this strip center, you’ll have to cross the bright red mulch planting area or walk in via the auto driveway, pedestrian sidewalks are not provided.


Here, at the corner of Page & Euclid, we get treated to the backside of the Roberts’ suburban strip center. Lovely huh? Page & Euclid was once a prominent corner but no more. Beautifully detailed homes still line the eastern side of Euclid. This whole Roberts mess is located in Terry Kennedy’s 18th Ward (I’m not sure of whose ward it was when the newer suburban stuff was constructed).

I took a total of 111 pictures in this section of MLK, they can all be viewed on Flickr. Click here for part five of this series.


A Look at St. Louis’ MLK Drive, Part 3 of 5

January 14, 2007 North City, Planning & Design, Politics/Policy, Suburban Sprawl, Transportation Comments Off on A Look at St. Louis’ MLK Drive, Part 3 of 5

This post is part three of a five part series. Part three looks at MLK Drive from Jefferson Ave to Grand Ave.

“Melvin’s Permanent Village” isn’t so permanent afterall. Debris from the roof collapse is pushing at the front gates that used to cover the store windows. This is just west of Jefferson.

This stretch of MLK from Jefferson to Grand has few buildings left. Many that remain are in poor condition but a few are quite outstanding. The main thing you notice in this section of MLK is the new sidewalks, curb bulb outs and street lighting as shown above. Last year I said it was good to have the improvements, adding:

I think it is important to send a message of hope to current residents & business owners as well as those that are prospective residents and/or business owners. My fear is that sidewalks and street lamps is a little too late.

I then went on to advocate a streetcar line as the needed push on MLK. I still believe it will take a major force such as that to fully revitalize this street but we will save that discussion for another day. In the last year I have spent more time on MLK than I have in my prior 15 years living in St. Louis. I’ve also spent a lot of the last year learning about and reporting on poorly planned pedestrian access.

Sadly, in this one mile stretch of MLK where we’ve spend a good sum of money (I don’t have exact figures so I am not going to speculate), only at one point are the sidewalks and ramps designed for actually crossing MLK. This is worth repeating — in an entire mile only one place exists where it is suggested via the sidewalks that you can cross MLK.

This is it, the one spot where the sidewalks and accessible ramps are actually pointed across MLK and aligned with each other. Of course, an able bodied person can easily cross the street anywhere along this mile stretch but we don’t spend this kind of money only for those that are able bodied. Others using wheelchairs and mobility scooters need to be able to get around as well. Maybe they are trying to get to church?

Above is looking from Glasgow Ave across MLK at a popular church (it got much busier on my return trip past this location about an hour later). As you can see, coming from the North the sidewalk continues along MLK both east (and west). However, someone wanting to cross MLK to reach this church is not afforded the basics of a sidewalk. Again, someone who is able bodied can easily walk across but someone using the assistance of a wheelchair must get through the standing water and then attempt to locate a break in the curb on the opposite side or have someone assist them in getting over the curb and through the grass.

Such lack of consideration for how people might actually get from place to place on a sidewalk shows the lack of common sense with respect to planning as as well as oversight and review prior to construction. Former Ald. Mike McMillan, now the city’s license collector, has touted this streetscape among his accomplishments. I presume he has never actually walked it himself.

A little further west, at N. Garrison we see a similar situation. Here we are looking east along MLK (the street to the right) with Gamble St off to the left (although not through at this point). The sidewalk for MLK heads over toward Gamble but the actual ramp is pointing out to the still too wide crossing. Again, despite this being a significant crossing point, no walks are provided across MLK.

The senior housing that was being built last year near Compton & MLK is now complete and open. It does a nice job of respecting the street pattern in the area as well as giving a nice massing to a largely vacant area. The building has good sidewalk connections to the entrances.

Across MLK from the senior housing, rubble is all that remains of the former Blumeyer housing projects at the intersection of MLK and Page. Ironically, the new housing that is being built in the area is quite pedestrian friendly but as we’ve seen, the sidewalks to the east are not so friendly. The development happening to the west is not pedestrian friendly either.

In the triangle formed by MLK, Page and Grand are these fine old warehouses and a gas station (behind these buildings). It would be nice to see these renovated into retail & housing but I’m afraid a lack of vision and leadership in this area will lead to their demolition for something suburban.

And finally we arrive at North Grand where work is underway for a brand new suburban Walgreen’s store. A very urban (and stunning) building facing Grand was razed for what will be a generic and short term building that only drains money from the neighborhood. See my prior post on this subject.

My Flickr photoset on this section of MLK contains a total of 41 images, click here to see them all.  Click here to continue to part four of this series.


Roberts Brothers Seem to Like Ald. Williamson, Give $3,250 to Campaign

In light of H. Lee Willis filing to run against 26th Ward Alderman Frank Williamson again (Willis lost to Williamson in 2003), I decided to take a look at their past campaign reports. I would have preferred to look up the election results from 2003 but it seems the St. Louis Board of Elections has decided to remove pre-2004 election history from their new “improved” website.

In Williamson’s last report from the 3rd quarter of 2006, filed late by the way, he racked up a tidy $3,250 from 10 companies controlled by the Roberts brothers:

  • Talley Properties, L.L.C.
  • Talley Properties II, LLC
  • Talley Properties III, L.L.C.
  • Roberts Brothers Properties IV, LLC
  • Roberts Brothers Properties VI, LLC
  • Roberts Brothers Properties VIII, LLC
  • Roberts Hospitality Services II, LLC
  • Roberts Tower Management LLC
  • Roberts Hotels Mgmt Houston LLC
  • Roberts Hotels Management Tampa LLC

All 10 checks are dated 9/13/2006. This is perfectly legal, questionable, but legal. What was not legal was the amount — each was over by $25 each but Williamson’s report shows they refunded the overage, as required.

Come January 1, 2007 the contribution limits will become a thing of the past. The flood gates will be opened. Will wealthy citizens like the Roberts brothers and others continue writing smaller checks from their many limited liabilty companies or will they simply open their personal and/or main corporate checkbook and write one big fat check?

Dropping the contribution limits is supposed to be a reform measure. The theory is the wealthy have always given more than the limits they just had to break it up into pieces that met the limits. So without limits they are free to give that one big fat contribution without having to break it up. The “reform” being the end result is more accountable because we can clearly see who gave what amounts rather than having to piece through a series of smaller contributions.

Personally I think you have those individuals and their companies that really like a candidate and want to help them succeed, perfectly acceptable. The other 90% of the contributors, I believe, are buying influence and favors. Giving a single aldermanic candidate roughly 10% of their annual salary in the form of a contribution is excessive in my view — regardless if broken up into 10 pieces or one big fat check. The intent is the same.

We need elected officials working for the citizens of St. Louis, not those with big bank accounts that can buy their way into the system.


Tower Grove Farmers’ Market Continues, New Market Coming Next Year to The Ville

For those that enjoyed the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market this year don’t despair about the season ending. TGFM Co-founder (and fellow SLU grad student) Jenny Ryan says the market will continue in this Fall and Winter in a different venue:

The Tower Grove Farmers’ Market will continue during the fall and winter starting this weekend!

Where: St. John’s Episcopal Church, 3664 Arsenal

When: The first Saturday of each month, 9 AM – Noon

Who will be vending on November 4:

* Norris Farms – Naturally raised pork
* Our Garden – Squash, pumpkins, salsas, preserves
* Blue Heron Orchard – Organic apples, apple cider
* Hinkebein Hills Farm – Naturally raised beef and pork
* Femme Osage – Honey, eggs, beeswax products
* Seven Thunder Bison – Grass-fed buffalo
* Gen Obata – Crochet hats and scarves, notecards and books, paper ornaments, cd’s.
* Soy Candles by Patricia – Soy candles!

In addition to the great choices at the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market, Soulard Market is also open year round. And look for yet another market to open next year in The Ville neighborhood on the city’s northside!

At a public meeting in The Ville two weeks ago the St. Louis Chapter of the American Institute of Architects announced they will be contributing $15,000 from local and national funds to help build a market area along MLK. The AIA will be working with architecture students from Washington University to help construct the project. Also in The Ville, SLU will be helping construct a building to serve as incubator space for new locally-owned businesses in the community.