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Historic buildings along St. Louis’ Dr. Martin Luther King Drive

St. Louis’ Dr. Martin Luther King Drive is comprised of two streets that merged just West of Jefferson Ave.  From this point East to the river you had Franklin Ave. Going West to the city limits you had Easton Ave. (map of intersection point).  Like most streets in St. Louis, MLK Drive has great buildings from an earlier time.  Five are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  (List of National Register districts & sites in the City of St. Louis.)

Laclede’s Landing District (nomination, map, official website)

Strongly defined borders and exceptional topography give Laclede’s Landing a cohesiveness and uniformity unusual for an area so close to the Central Business District. The Mississippi River is, of course, a pronounced natural barrier on the east. The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial adjoins Laclede’s Landing on the south, providing another distinct boundary. The Eads Bridge, a National Historic Landmark, separates the two areas. Many structures in Laclede’s Landing have remained basically intact from the period of industrialization in the late nineteenth century, partially due to the close proximity of the two bridges which effectively limited accessibility to the area.

Jack Rabbit Candy Co. Building, 1928-30 Dr. Martin Luther King Dr. (nomination, map)

Gustave Stoecker and Robert L. Price commissioned the construction of the building in 1909 to house their retail furniture and warehouse storage business. The new building was located in City Block 941 of the Christy Addition Subdivision in an area considered the Downtown West neighborhood. Their first location was located at 2918 Franklin from 1905 to 1916 . They operated a retail furniture store specializing in new and used furniture.
The building was also used as a warehouse for storage of their goods until they could either be sold in the retail store or to area distributors at auction. Unfortunately, Gustave died at the early age of 38 on November 8. 1911.’ Gustave’s wife. Kate became the president of the business in 1913. The corporation papers also listed Gertrude Price as vice president and Robert Price as secretary. Robert continued to operate the business expanding operations to also include an auction house until 1925 when he sold the building to E.A. Langan

Negro Masonic Hall, 3615-19 Dr. Martin Luther King Drive (nomination, map)

198? - structure razed.
Photo dated June 1992 - structure razed.

This important meeting place served the African-American community during a crucial period of in-migration, racial enmity, increasing segregation, economic change, and social reform, between 1909 and 1942. Many historians have asserted that benevolent associations, including the black Freemasons, were second in importance only to the church in building solidarity in the black community. Black Masonic organizations contributed to the progress of the black community by encouraging African- Americans to establish and operate businesses. Benevolent fraternal organizations reached their zenith in the black community between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of World War II.

Same location, just West of Grand, in 2007
Same location, just West of Grand, in 2007

Wellston J.C. Penny Building, 5930 Dr. Martin Luther King Drive (nomination, map)

One of four J.C. Penney stores in St. Louis at the time of its construction in 1948, the building reflects the company’s recommitment to decentralized, neighborhood-based retailing in the City of St. Louis, a focus the company achieved decades before downtown department stores opened neighborhood branch locations.

Designed by the firm of William P. McMahon & Sons, the building is the product of a masterful collaboration between William P. McMahon and his son, Bernard, who each brought unique strengths to the project. Extensive glazing on the first level fills the inset entryway, which has a terrazzo floor and granite faced columns. On the rear, a second entrance faces a two-tiered parking lot located across an alley.

Wellston Station, 6111 Dr. Martin Luther King Drive  (nomination, map)

2007 photo

The station was built by the United Railways Company in 1909 at a time in which the streetcar had replaced the electric railway as the dominant form of mass transit in St. Louis. The new station was the largest waiting station in the system, and one of only three such stations sited at transfer points between major lines. The design employed the prevalent Craftsman style to create a luxurious and efficiently-arranged station with a spacious waiting room, a store and covered tracks. Today, Wellston Station is the only waiting station still standing. The opening of the new streetcar line and station on Easton Avenue in 1909 signified the triumph of the streetcar over the electric railway and the growing importance of the Wellston commercial district, which straddled the line between Wellston and the city of St. Louis. The station was built to serve the so-called Wellston Loop streetcar loop, which became one of the busiest streetcar transfer points in the country by 1940 and which was the termination point for the last streetcar line in St. Louis to close.

Much of St. Louis’ history happened on this street and in these buildings. My dream is the street will play host to important parts of our history that has not yet taken place. As was originally the case, mass transit is necessary to populate this part of town.

– Steve Patterson


Not in service

We’ve all seen “Not in Service” displayed on local transit buses.  Local PBS station KETC went to Metro’s garage on DeBaliviere at Delmar (aerial image) to show us what happens to the buses when they return to the garage:


Keeping transit on the street and rails is certainly a lot of work.  For voters in St. Louis County, please keep this in mind as you go to the polls on April 6, 2010.  Without funding the region’s mass transit will say “not in service” 24/7.

– Steve Patterson


Kunstler’s wrong, St. Louis’ new train/bus depot is not an eyesore

January 11, 2010 Downtown, Public Transit 33 Comments

kunstler eyesore of the month January 2010

I’ve been a fan of James Howard Kunstler for years.  I heard him speak in St. Louis when The Geography of Nowhere first came out – he autographed my copy.  I frequently check out his “Eyesore of the Month.”  This month the eyesore is St. Louis’ Gateway Station.

The above was followed by:

Check out this monstrosity: the new St. Louis Amtrak station, an utterly bewildering piece-of-shit shoehorned under a bunch of freeway ramps behind a UPS depot parking lot. Where’s the Prozac dispenser?
Salutes to reader Laura Louzader out in Missouri who says of this monument: “It is a nasty pocket in the city’s neglected back yard, and the first things you see when you exit the station are the dark parking lot under the overpasses, weed-choked vacant lots, and abandoned, shacky little buildings.”

“What a wonderful introduction to St. Louis! There are only two platforms and four pockets for trains, which tells you how committed Amtrak and St. Louis are to passenger rail.”

Kunstler concludes with a picture of our magnificent Union Station from a similar perspective as this one I took last year:

Union Station, St. Louis
Union Station, St. Louis; June 2008

So because Union Station is no longer used for rail transit our new station is a “piece-of-shit.”   The problem I have is not the criticism of the new station – a few are correct.  The problem is relying on an account/pictures from a visitor from Chicago.  I’m often critical of projects and places but I always visit in person to see for myself rather than be potentially misled by a reader.

Had Kunstler done his homework he would have known it has been more than thirty years since the last train backed out of Union Station.  From 1978-2008 St. Louis’ Amtrak station was in two different portable buildings (#1 1978-2004, #2 2004-2008).  It is not like we stopped using Union Station one day and the new station the next.

Our Gateway Station combines Amtrak and  Greyhound with our MetroLink light rail and MetroBus.  I’d say that is a good combination.  Utilizing  the space under the highway makes sense and bringing these services together in one spot can help visitors.

I spoke with Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari by phone to discuss the station.  His district covers 22 stations.

  • Last five years in Union Station were “pretty awful.”  A pod under the shed served a couple of tracks. Trains had to back out.
  • St. Louis is now the envy of many cities because of this combination of rail, bus and local transit.
  • Original 1980s re-developer of Union Station wanted train nostalgia, not actual trains
  • St. Louis is working on developing new structures around the station.
  • Platform capacity at this new station is double what we’ve had for the past 30 years.
  • Number of platforms can be increased as rail traffic increases.

The area where the station is located is not in the heart of our loft district (where I live) but is next to the highway and train tracks.  Locating a train station sorta requires it to be next to the tracks.

AI wrote about the development potential of this  area in July 2006, more than two years before the Amtrak/Greyhound station opened next to the existing MetroLink station:

Between the Civic Center Station (14th) and the Union Station Station (18th) is development nirvana. At the immediate corner of 14th & Clark we’ve got a nice grove of trees leading to the station platforms. I could see a new building design just to the west, facing Clark, that leaves this corner plaza intact. However, I’d get out the chainsaw for the right building(s) on the corner at 14th. The problem here is the big curve is closer to street grade than I’d like and lowering it might be too costly. But, from what was once 15th to 16th you’ve got a clean shot over the tracks. Same for 16th to 18th.

Concentrating more residences near 18th and Clark would create more daily users for Union Station (so it is not entirely dependent upon tourist traffic). Offering downtown residential units without included garage space might also offer affordability to those that want a car-free lifestyle but cannot currently afford to live near a MetroLink station. Of course, garage space could be built on the main and a few upper levels with retail along the street-face and office & residential over the parking. A mix of housing in numerous price ranges might be the best solution.

While I’d have no opposition to a mid or high-rise tower I don’t think it is necessary either, at least not from a design perspective. Clark and the adjacent numbered streets would have had 3-6 story buildings originally. This creates a nice friendly scale along the sidewalk for pedestrians. Even is part of the structures did get taller a shorter height at the sidewalk would still be best.

The cost-effectiveness of construction over a functioning transit line is the big problem with this plan. The cost of the required concrete tunnel may necessitate more floors just to help break even. The concept is certainly worth detailed analysis.

No question the buildings immediately across 15th look a bit shabby as does the numerous fenced parking lots.

– Steve Patterson


Transportation and the Urban Form

The host of this site, Steve Patterson, and I are both passionate about urban design issues. One area where we differ is how the interaction between transportation options and the urban form plays out in the real world. Steve, and others, believe that requiring “better”, more appropriate and/or more restrictive design standards, through efforts like moving to form-based zoning and reducing available parking, will somehow convince the uninformed public to become more enlightened and to change their ways.  I have a different perspective, that available transportation options inform the urban form, including our land use regulations and their application on a daily basis.

I’m not going to go back to the discovery of the wheel, but I am going to go back 150 years.  Prior to the Industrial Revolution / the American Civil War, transportation options were limited to human, animal, water or wind power – you could walk or row, ride a horse or a mule, use a sailboat or “go with the flow”.  The result was a world made up of farms, relatively small settlements, seaports, river ports and a few larger centers of banking, trade and government.  There was no zoning, as we know it, but we did have our westward expansion, with land being given away for free to anyone willing to “tame the wilderness”, through farming, ranching or mining.

Cities were just starting to build rudimentary water supply and sewer systems, and elevators and air conditioning were non-existent.  You got an urban environment marked by row houses, small, local retail establishments and tiny signs.  You didn’t have drive-throughs or dry cleaners, computers or gas stations; you did have hitching posts and coal for heat, telegraph and manure in the streets, Bob Cratchet and Tiny Tim.  You can find many preserved examples up and down the east coast, including Colonial Williamsburg.  And St. Louis started to grow as the Gateway to the West, primarily as a trading center and a transportation hub.  Examples around here include Soulard, Carondelet and Baden

The ability to capture the power of steam, through the boiler and the steam engine gave us railroads, cable cars and steam heat.  It also gave us the ability to run machinery with something other than water power, greatly expanding where factories could be located and how much they could produce.  More importantly, electricity was staring to be harnessed, with major improvements in generation, lighting and motors.  From the 1850’s through the 1890’s, city life changed rapidly.  Factories, along with their need for lots of workers, worked better in urban settings than in rural ones.  Cities like St. Louis became industrial centers as well as trading centers.

Quoting from a story in the 12/13/09 edition of the Daytona Beach News-Journal;

According to the Web site trolleystop.com, the first successful trolley system in the United States began operation in Richmond, Va. in 1887.  After the initial success in Richmond, almost all of the horse car lines in North America were converted to electric power.  The electric trolleys became so popular that the street railway industry experienced explosive growth almost overnight.  As the popularity of automobiles and buses boomed in the 1920s, however, most trolley companies began converting their lines to bus service.

That was certainly the case here.  We had multiple streetcar companies competing for riders and we saw explosive growth of streetcar suburbs, both inside and outside the city limits.

Streetcars and buses allowed workers to live further away from work.  You still needed to walk to the transit line, but it meant living within walking distance of your job was no longer an essential requirement.  People had more options, and many of those, that could afford to, moved out of the older, denser parts of town, leaving them to new waves of immigrants or to see them torn down and replaced by factories.  Retailers were still expected to offer home delivery, so stay-at-home moms (yes it’s a stereotype, but it was the reality) shopped for fresh food pretty much every day and kids walked or biked to neighborhood schools.  This was also the time when the first attempts at zoning started to occur, primarily to separate industrial uses from residential ones.

The next big “step forward” was Henry Ford’s efforts to produce an affordable automobile.  His success, in the 1920’s, was the next big step in the suburbanization of America and St. Louis.  Throughout south city one can find garages that are too small for many contemporary vehicles – they were built to shelter the vehicle that expanded Dad’s transportation options, Ford’s Model T.  The residential neighborhoods of that time were still walkable (with sidewalks) and they still had corner groceries, but they were growing less dense.

The next big impact on the urban environment was World War II, both directly and indirectly.  Factories moved from multi-story to single-story, sprawling structures.  The internal combustion engine became more reliable and synthetic rubber made tires much less of a pain in the a**.  Women entered the work force in large numbers and pent-up demand for consumer products continued to build.

Once the war ended, we experienced several decades of unprecedented prosperity, from the mid ’40’s through the ’70’s.  We built the interstate highway system and moms learned to drive.  FHA and VA loans favored single-family homes, primarily new, suburban ones, over denser, multi-family options.  We went from single-car families to 2-car families.  We embraced the suburban shopping center and the enclosed mall.

Just because it was a whole lot easier, people chose driving themselves over taking public transit.  They chose living in the new suburbs over living in established urban areas, especially those that had experienced decades of deferred maintenance (the Great Depression followed by wartime rationing).  Employers, schools and retailers all responded by offering more and more “free” parking, either by planning for it from the start, in new suburban developments, or by buying up and tearing down existing buildings in more-established urban areas.  This mobility also resulted in the Euclidean zoning that many of us are questioning today – it codified a preference for convenient parking over both density and walkability.

The end result is the world we live in today.  It reflects the hopes and aspirations of the majority of Americans, as reflected by the actions of our elected officials.  We trade sprawl and congested highways for the “freedom” to live where we want, work where we can find jobs and to shop at generic chains who have mastered the worldwide logistics supply chain.  We have seen St. Louis lose both population and jobs.  And we have two choices – we can continue to become more suburban, building more shopping centers, single-family homes and “free” parking.  Or we can redirect our efforts, differentiate ourselves from our suburban neighbors, encourage density and create viable transportation alternatives.

To attract people out of their cars and trucks won’t be easy.  There’s a real attraction to privacy, control and convenience.  But, as a big believer in the Law of Unintended Consequences, I find it interesting that more members of the Generation Y are willing to embrace mass transit.  It turns out that people who text, tweet and surf the mobile net would actually rather let someone else do the driving, IF they can figure out how to make it work.  Whether that involves reinventing Metro’s system and creating a market for higher densities or developing a taxi infrastructure that mimics that in New York, it appears that we may be on the cusp of a another significant change in how people want to live, work and commute.  Combine that with the growing success of, and the reliance many people have on, online shopping, and in many ways we’re returning to the “home delivery” model of yore.

Steve’s belief in the need for form-based zoning could very well be reflected in actual change, just not one driven by direct logic and/or nostalgia.  I doubt that we’ll see the imminent demise of the suburban shopping center or the type of store Schnuck’s or Direbergs typically builds.  But I can see a future where Transit Oriented Development will gain traction on both the residential side and on the employment/educational side – it’s actually slowly playing out here locally at the Barnes campus on Kingshighway.  The single-occupant vehicle could very well become an anachronism for the daily commute, saved only for shopping, recreation and regional out-of-town trips.  Whether it ends up being garaged for days at a time or rented only when needed will be a personal decision.  But these decisions will inform what “sells”, and in turn, what gets built, and ultimately, what our legislators will see a need to codify.

– Jim Zavist


Sit anywhere on the bus

Fifty-four years ago today a 42 year old (my current age) woman refused to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama.   Of course the woman was Rosa Parks:

Her refusal to surrender her seat to a white male passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, December 1, 1955, triggered a wave of protest December 5, 1955 that reverberated throughout the United States. Her quiet courageous act changed America, its view of black people and redirected the course of history.  (source: rosaparks.org)

I am so grateful to her for refusing to give up her seat simply based on her race. But it wasn’t so simple:

Montgomery’s segregation laws were complex: blacks were required to pay their fare to the driver, then get off and reboard through the back door. Sometimes the bus would drive off before the paid-up customers made it to the back entrance. If the white section was full and another white customer entered, blacks were required to give up their seats and move farther to the back; a black person was not even allowed to sit across the aisle from whites. These humiliations were compounded by the fact that two-thirds of the bus riders in Montgomery were black.

Parks was not the first to be detained for this offense. Eight months earlier, Claudette Colvin, 15, refused to give up her seat and was arrested. Black activists met with this girl to determine if she would make a good test case — as secretary of the local N.A.A.C.P., Parks attended the meeting — but it was decided that a more “upstanding” candidate was necessary to withstand the scrutiny of the courts and the press. And then in October, a young woman named Mary Louise Smith was arrested; N.A.A.C.P. leaders rejected her too as their vehicle, looking for someone more able to withstand media scrutiny. Smith paid the fine and was released. (Source: TIME)

We have come a long way but we still have so far to travel. We all owe Parks (and so many others) for chipping away at the walls of hate that were commonplace at that time.

– Steve Patterson