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Village of North St. Louis Founded 200 Years Ago Today

October 1909 Sanborn map shows 2 of 3 circles, click image to view full page
October 1909 Sanborn map shows 2 of 3 circles, click image to view full page

Twenty-Five years ago I’d just moved to the Murphy-Blair neighborhood, now known as Old North St. Louis. The tiny 3-room flat was significantly cheaper than the tiny efficiency I had on Lindell in the Central West End.

Prior to my arrival, neighbors had already been trying to get the neighborhood’s name officially changed. They thought playing off the history was better than being named after a public housing complex.

That history is the area was founded as a separate village — North St. Louis — on June 29, 1816. St. Louis was founded 50+ years earlier, in February 1764.

June 29, 1816:

A town was incorporated which rivaled its southern neighbor, St. Louis, for many years. The new town, founded by Maj. William Christy, was named simply “North St. Louis.” Its southern boundary line was Madison Street, then a considerable distance from the northern boundary of the city which Christy and his associates referred to as “St. Louis under the hill.”

Christy had come to St. Louis from Pennsylvania with advanced ideas about city planning. With two partners, he proposed a scheme for developing a city which would appeal to the settlers flocking in from the East. Street names reflected the founders’ interest in politics — Madison and Monroe; Benton for the young lawyer who would become one of Missouri’s first senators; and Warren, for a hero at Bunker Hill.  A boatyard was established, and inducements offered steamboats to land at North St. Louis instead of farther downstream. A ferry made regular runs between North St. Louis and Alton.  In 1841, just a quarter century after its founding, the city was absorbed into St. Louis. (Source: St. Louis Day by Day by Frances Hurd Stadler, page 122) 

bHere’s another quote, this from the City of St. Louis:

The first attempt to develop this area was made in 1816, when the Village of North St. Louis was incorporated by William Chambers, William C. Christy and Thomas Wright. It was bounded by the present Monroe, Hadley, Montgomery Streets and the Mississippi River. It continued as a village until 1841 when it was absorbed into the City of St. Louis.

A unique feature of the village layout was the provision for three circular public use areas. These were Clinton Place as a school site, Jackson Place for recreational and assembly purposes and Marion Place for a church and cemetery. A public wharf at the foot of North Market Street was called Exchange Square.

The Village was to provide sites for mills similar to those in the New England hometowns of the village’s first settlers.

The village was about a mile upstream above Roy’s Wind Mill, which marked the northern limit of the town of St. Louis at the foot of Ashley Street, and on the Great Trail which later became North Broadway. Other prominent roads of the north side were Natural Bridge Road, which was laid out in the 1840’s as a northwestward extension of Mound Street, and Florissant Road which was a northward continuation of 16th Street in a western addition to the village. 

Today, North St. Louis generally refers to everything North of Delmar — the Delmar Divide. North St. Louis has more poverty, crime, abandoned buildings, & vacant land than the rest of St. Louis. Will this always be the case, or will it change over time?

Readers who voted in the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll were optimistic:

Q: In 25 years, will North St. Louis be better or worse than today?

  • Substantially better 13 [24.07%]
  • Better 13 [24.07%]
  • Slightly better 14 [25.93%]
  • About the same 6 [11.11%]
  • Slightly worse 2 [3.7%]
  • Worse 4 [7.41%]
  • Substantially worse 2 [3.7%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 0 [0%]

Nearly three-quarters feel North St. Louis will be better within a quarter century. I wish I could share their optimism, but the last 26 years have used up all the enthusiasm I had for the future of St. Louis. I do have fond memories of my 3+ years living in Murphy-Blair/Old North St. Louis.

— Steve Patterson

 

Sunday Poll: Will North St. Louis Be Better Or Worse 25 Years From Now?

Please vote below
Please vote below

A quarter century ago I moved North of Delmar — from the Central West End. As I reflect back on the last 25 years, I think about what the next 25 might look like.

The National Geospatial Agency (NGA) will have been in it’s new headquarters for years. Will it help or hurt the surrounding area? Will Paul McKee’s plans get built? Will public transit be improved?

I have a lot of questions, but no crystal ball. There’s also a good chance I won’t be alive in 25 years to see the answers to my questions.

There’s no right or wrong answer to today’s poll — it’s a non-scientific measure of readers’ outlook. I’m not setting any criteria by which to compare now to 25 years from now, that’s up to you.

The poll is open until. 8pm.

Starting this week I’ll be cutting back from six posts to five — no more Monday posts, the next post will be Tuesday.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Sunday Poll: Was Opening A New Baseball Stadium Downtown in 1966 A Mistake?

Please vote below
Please vote below

Fifty years ago today  the final baseball game was played at Sportsman’s Park, aka Busch I, a site where where baseball had been played since 1867. On May 12, 1966 Busch Memorial Stadium, aka Busch II, opened. St. Louis’ Chinatown, called Hop Alley, was razed to make room for Busch II:

The earliest Chinese settlers congregated in an area stretching East and West between Seventh and Eighth Streets, and North and South between Market and Walnut Streets, which became the Chinatown of St. Louis, more commonly known as Hop Alley. Hop Alley was the name of a small alley running between Walnut and Market Streets where most boarding houses and apartment buildings were occupied by Chinese residents. It is not known how this neighborhood came to be called Hop Alley, but the name was widely used in contemporary newspapers and other accounts to represent the Chinese business district in St. Louis downtown where Chinese hand laundries, merchandise stores, grocery stores, herb shops, restaurants, and clan association headquarters were located. (Journal of Urban History January 2002)

One neighborhood was razed, another lost a major employer. Was it worth it?

This non-scientrific poll is open until 8pm tonight. Thursday I’ll post the results and share my views on the topic.

— Steve Patterson

 

McKee’s Gas Station & Grocery Proposal Highly Suburban In Plan — Inappropriate Near Central Business District

In a December 2011 post, titled Downtown’s New Entrance, I said the following of developer Paul McKee’s plans along the new Tucker coming into downtown from the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge:

I’m still concerned the new buildings will lack connections to adjacent sidewalks. St. Louis now has a “Complete Streets” policy, but no requirement for adjacent properties to connect. The ADA requires minimal connection but a building can be built and occupied without it, leaving enforcement up to those who complain. If we take McKee, and his consultants, at their word the area will be pedestrian-friendly. My preference, of course, would be a requirement by ordinance. Former 5th Ward Alderman April Ford-Griffin never would initiate such a requirement and I don’t expect any of the three woman running to fill the vacant seat to do so either. The election is December 20th. Good or bad, McKee has the Tucker & Cass area under control. But what about south of Biddle St? The 1986 McDonald’s was just razed and replaced. The new one does have an ADA access route from one of the four streets bordering the property, but it’s still a prototype  best suited for a suburban/rural highway exit.

I used the following graphic/caption in that post:

The following message popped up when I went to save this image from the source"Since we are still in the early design phases of the project, we ask that you please not copy our images yet since these designs are not final."
The following message popped up when I went to save this image from the source”Since we are still in the early design phases of the project, we ask that you please not copy our images yet since these designs are not final.”

New buildings were shown up to the streets, with parking behind — the way we should be things in the center of the region. Someone may drive to work, but it makes walking to lunch, for example, feasible.   Constructing new buildings back behind surface parking is typical suburbia — it has no place in the urban core of the region — not minutes from the Central Business District.

Years ago Paul McKee said he wanted to build walkable urbanism — not the drivable suburbia he was known for. Last week he presented a plan for two new buildings, one on each side of Tucker, that are highly suburban in their site planning.

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.

“We expect the ZOOM Store to open by Thanksgiving and the other market to open by March 1,” McKee said.  (St. Louis Public Radio)

The worst-case scenario has come true — McKee is planning to build suburbia within minutes of the central business district. Not the pedestrian & transit-friendly vision he initially communicated.

On the left/East is Zoom gas station, and on the right/West is Greenleaf grocery store
On the left/East is Zoom gas station, and on the right/West is GreenLeaf grocery store
Crop of ZOOM gas station: Pedestrians are shown on the sidewalks, but no route to enter the business
Crop of ZOOM gas station: Pedestrians are shown on the sidewalks, but no route to enter the business
View as motorists drive up to the pumps.
View as motorists drive up to the pumps.
Crop of GreenLeaf grocery store. Like the gas station, no route shown for the pedestrians on the Tucker sidewalk to reach the entrance
Crop of GreenLeaf grocery store. Like the gas station, no route shown for the pedestrians on the Tucker sidewalk to reach the entrance
Typical auto-centeric viewpoint
Typical auto-centeric viewpoint

Both would be easy to have a pedestrian access route to a side street — ZOOM to O’Fallon and GreenLeaf to 13th. Technically achieving the bare minimum required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is still a long way from being pedestrian-friendly.

I’ve defended McKee’s efforts to build new urbanism in areas such as the 22nd St Parkway interchange, Pruitt-Igoe, and Tucker & Cass. That was based on him indicating his intention to do something positively urban, not ordinary suburban.  These first buildings will set the pattern for this area.

I’ve been visiting & photographing this area since work on the new Tucker began. Here are some images from 2012:

Looking South at the new Tucker from Cass Ave, both sides have large land areas ready for development. July 2012 image
Looking South at the new Tucker from Cass Ave, both sides have large land areas ready for development. July 2012 image
This land os all North of the proposed grocery store and Cass Ave. How will this be filled in? What route will people who live/work here take to walk to the grocery store? July 2012 image
This land os all North of the proposed grocery store and Cass Ave. How will this be filled in? What route will people who live/work here take to walk to the grocery store? July 2012 image
Site of the proposed gas station, July 2012 image
Site of the proposed gas station, July 2012 image

Last month I went back again:

I knew from my earlier visits that O'Fallon St no longer connected to Tucker. Is this to change if the gas station gets built?
I knew from my earlier visits that O’Fallon St no longer connected to Tucker. Is this to change if the gas station gets built?
A ramp that's too narrow because of plants goes from Tucker down to O'Fallon
A ramp that’s too narrow because of plants goes from Tucker down to O’Fallon
O'Fallon St just currently just ends. Reopening to Tucker would further complicate the traffic intersection
O’Fallon St just currently just ends. Reopening to Tucker would further complicate the traffic intersection
View looking toward Tucker from the site of the proposed gas station.
View looking toward Tucker from the site of the proposed gas station.
Southbound on Tucker, the grocery store would be built on the right past the billboard
Southbound on Tucker, the grocery store would be built on the right past the billboard
View from 13th looking at the proposed grocery store site. The wall is the last bit of the tunnel where the commuter train went under Tucker
View from 13th looking at the proposed grocery store site. The wall is the last bit of the tunnel where the commuter train went under Tucker

How we begin building on these large swaths of land matter, we need to ensure people can walk from building to building in the most direct manner possible — not some circuitous route or through surface parking lots. I’ve already contacted Good Natured Family Farms to tell them I welcome a grocery store — but not in a suburban form.

— Steve Patterson

 

New NGA West Location Will Gut St. Louis Place Neighborhood, Not Revitalize What Remains

The National Geospatial Agency decided to keep its Western headquarters in the City of St. Louis. The narrative around this decision is summed up nicely here:

The decision means the city will keep 3,100 jobs, currently housed at the Old Arsenal complex south of Anheuser-Busch brewery, and move them to a $1.75 billion development just northwest of downtown. The move is expected to further the city’s pursuit of redeveloping the near North Side with a massive federal anchor — something that could lure more investment to the struggling area, but also give a major boost to nearby Washington Avenue. (Post-Dispatch)

I get the first part — keeping thousands of jobs within the city. I do hear that many of the 3,100 don’t live in the City of St. Louis — they aren’t thrilled about driving to North City. But, it’s the second part that I don’t get — how does putting many acres behind chainlink fencing help those outside the fence?

The NGA will take a big chunk of the St. Louis Place neighborhood.
The NGA will take a big chunk of the St. Louis Place neighborhood.

The NGA’s high-security entrance will be facing Jefferson Ave — it’ll turn its back on the remaining neighborhood.  The NGA as an anchor institution? Hardly:

Anchor institutions are nonprofit institutions that once established tend not to move location. Emerging trends related to globalization—such as the decline of manufacturing, the rise of the service sector, and a mounting government fiscal crisis—suggest the growing importance of anchor institutions to local economies. Indeed, in many places, these anchor institutions have surpassed traditional manufacturing corporations to become their region’s leading employers. If the economic power of these anchor institutions were more effectively harnessed, they could contribute greatly to community wealth building. The largest and most numerous of such nonprofit anchors are universities and non-profit hospitals (often called “eds and meds”). Over the past two decades, useful lessons have been learned about how to leverage the economic power of universities in particular to produce targeted community benefits. (Source)

Once open, the NGA will be like the current site. Thousands will drive there, do their job, drive home. They won’t be running outside the barbwire fence to grab lunch. An employee living in, say Arnold, isn’t suddenly going to move to the neighborhood. A high-security government spy agency will never be a neighborhood anchor.

Corner pf Jefferson & Cass, April 1, 2016
Corner pf Jefferson & Cass, April 1, 2016

For those employees driving to work from Arnold, they currently drive 15.8 miles, about 20 minutes or so each way. The new location will be 20 miles, roughly 30 minutes or more.  For others, the commute to work will be shorter.

The best we can hope for is its presecence convinces others to consider relocating to the former Pruitt-Igoe site, South across Cass Ave. MetroBus might improve frequency to the area…might.

Jefferson Ave & Cass Ave both need to be updated — fewer & narrower lanes, new sidewalks, crosswalks, etc.

Sadly, our leadership still thinks razing block after block — totally erasing the street grid — is a positive thing to do. Is is 2016 or 1946?

— Steve Patterson

 

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