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14th Street Pedestrian Mall, Thirty Years Ago Today

The first day of the grand opening of the 14th Street Pedestrian Mall was thirty years ago today, March 21, 1977. The big
official dedication followed on the 26th:


Three decades ago someone thought it a good idea to close off two blocks of a commercial street, intending to compete with then “open air” suburban malls. However, by 1977 the city had already experienced significant population losses, making it more challenging for the retailers, which included a JC Penny department store, harder to stay in business. Interestingly, a classmate of mine mentioned her family visited the new mall — once. They came to see what it was all about because it was new. After seeing the new mall they resumed their shopping at Northwest Plaza.

By 1977 the “pedestrian mall” movement was pretty well over, except in St. Louis obviously. By this point new suburban malls were enclosed. Thus, while 14th Street was intended to compete with the suburbs it was dated by the time it was opened. In the 1980s formerly open suburban malls, such as Northwest Plaza & Crestwood Plaza, were often enclosed.

onstl - 06.jpg

Today the mall is nearly vacant, with a few holes where buildings have been razed and as you can see, another is in the process of collapsing.  A long debate in the area is about the wisdom of the mall at the time.  Some suggest the mall helped preserve these buildings — that they would have fallen to the wrecker like so many others immediately around the area.  Others, myself included, counter that we would have seen abandonment and destruction in the area anyway but that the mall prevented revitalization efforts from taking hold in this former commercial district — that without the mall efforts to revitalize the neighborhood over the last 30 years might have gone further.

The neighborhood is on a role, finally.  Many of the remaining old buildings on the surrounding residential streets have been rehabbed or are in process.  New homes are being constructed on in-fill lots and of late organizations working together have purchased many of the buildings along the mall.  Plans are in the works to rip up the “mall” and return this to a street once again.  The only debate I am hearing at the moment is if the single cross street, Montgomery St, should be opened as well or remain closed.

The new 14th Street will most likely never be the major shopping destination it once was.  This would be the case regardless of the ‘malling’ or not.  The question is can it hold its own as an interesting commercial street anchored by the outstanding and popular Crown Candy Kitchen on one end?


Currently there are "25 comments" on this Article:

  1. Tom Shrout says:

    Do you know how the 14th Street Mall planners thought their patrons were get to the mall? What were the parking plans?

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Good question, patrons would arrive by car of course!  They provided a single parking lot to the East of the mall by razing a few buildings. If you are a fan of vintage parking meters, check it out.  The neighborhood and indeed much of North St. Louis had considerably more people in 1977 than today so a good amount of foot/bus traffic was to be expected.  Still, the “newness” factor of the mall went away pretty quickly from what I gather.]

  2. dave says:

    North St Louis is what it is, and as much as I would like to see it recover, it is going nowhere. There is absolutely no way to stop the crime. You got Crown Candy, which people visit only because of the bravery of it’s owners. And they only go there at lunch, before the crack heads wake up and wander some where for some chinese food.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Dude, where have you been?  I lived in Old North St. Louis in the early 90s and had less crime problems than I’ve had since living in South City.  Safety has improved considerably since then.  Crime is something that varies from area to area, you cannot rate all of north St. Louis the same just as you cannot say crime is uniform throughout south St. Louis.]

  3. I haven’t been back up there since last summer but I think that those parking meters are gone. I shot a music video there for Casey Reid on July 4th that features that lot and some of the rest of the area. If you want to see it you can see it here: http://lofistl.com/2006/07/23/world-premiere-casey-reid-music-video/

  4. Jim Zavist says:

    Soooo . . . were there functioning businesses there when the original mall was created? Or was the mall an attempt to put businesses into vacant storefronts? My experience and observations in many cities is that “the mall” was actually a death knell, especially for marginal retail districts. The only way a “new” district will survive here, much less flourish, is to address the perceptions (and realities) about safety and to make it a unique destination. CCK is a good start. But if all you get to go with them is a Subway, an H&R Block and a Rent-A-Center, there’s no reason for anyone outside the neighborhood to make the trek over. We can’t make crappy strip centers work very well in some of our “better” neighborhoods, so why would a similar tenant mix work here without the parking?! It’s all about getting all the right parts of the “equation” in place – without it, no effort will do very well . . .

    [UrbanReviewSTL — It is my understanding that at the time the storefronts were full, with a combination of locally owned and chain stores (JC Penny).  The mall was likely an attempt to prevent the loss of customers and maintain what the business they had.  I believe many of these stores would have closed anyway, but that is hard to say.  My belief is the storefronts  could have been revitalized over the years easier if a street were in front of them rather than a vacant mall.  Removing the mall & renovating the buildings will certainly help the perception of safety. The new mix is the big question,  you may end up with non-profits and various businesses owned by local residents — not a bad combination but certainly not a flourishing retail street.]

  5. awb says:

    RHCDA has plans for the 14th Street Mall, and for various other sites in Old North. In the link below, the Old North info is in the second section. When I last saw a presentation on their work, RHCDA planned to rehab all the buildings on the mall, including the ones that are falling. Hopefully, this is still the plan.


  6. Adam says:

    i’m living in charlottesville, VA, for school right now. charlottesville’s downtown mall is flourishing. so apparently they CAN
    work in the right context (for example it’s the nearest entertainment district to the UVa campus). very similar to 14th
    street but a little fancier, i.e. brick instead of concrete, fountains, big old trees. no view of the arch though!

  7. Jim Zavist says:

    Some malls have worked (Boulder, CO., for instance) and some have not (Louisville, KY.) Without either a significant “draw” (a university, for instance), a significant number of pedestrians, and “destination” retail (certain restaurants and retailers), it’s hard for typical, mundane, “neighborhood” businesses on a mall like this one to survive without convenient/”safe” parking (especially if their nearby competitors have it). Whether it’s picking up dry cleaning or grabbing some coffee or a sandwich, we’re lazy and getting lazier, especially as we get busier, older and wealthier. Bring back on-street parking, and there may be a chance to resurrect the retail here.

  8. jeff says:

    Instead of trying to turn this into a “destination” shopping strip, why not aim for a neighborhood retail center with dry cleaners, small grocery, drug store, deli, etc. With the increasing residential renovations in this area, you’d think the residents here would want more than a GAP or Martini bar. If this area becomes a true neighborhood center, then transportation by bike, bus and walking would be feasible and expected. But honestly, if we try to turn this into a regional destination, how will people from Maplewood, Ferguson, or even Carondelet get there except by car? And then we’d need parking lots…

    It seems that most neighborhoods like this do well when you allow the neighborhood to fill its own retail needs organically. Then if the neighborhood matures, it becomes more of a destination. After all, the heart and soul of a neighborhood are the people who live there. Lay down the infrastructure for their needs, and the rest will come. I agree, btw, that opening up 14th and adding street parking will be essential.

    Downtown, CWE, and the Loop are maturing into the City’s retail destinations. We shouldn’t spread everything thin and pit every city neighborhood against each other for “destination” status. If done right, I have high hopes for this project, and the “near north side” in general.
    [/end rant]

  9. Barbara says:

    Hi guys, you are talking about my neighborhood again. First of all, crime in Old North is similar to crime in St Louis Hills. I know, I have lived in both parts of town. Ya haters will deny it, but look at the city crime stats and weep.

    Yes, I know that this time of statistic is open to all sorts of argument, but it is the statistic the city supplies. It is at least a measure of how likely you are to encounter a serious crime as you move across the landscape in a neighborhood. I am out walking my fluffball puppy at all hours in the neighborhood, including on the mall, where there are, by the way, operating businesses, and have never been the least bit worried.

    Think I am oh-so-wrong? Call me and I will give you the tour.

    Barbara Manzara

  10. GMichaud says:

    I remember when 14th street mall was a street. It was vibrant and resembled Cherokee in many ways. If anything it was more intense than Cherokee. In addition there were businesses down St. Louis Avenue and over to 14th and North Market.
    After the mall was built, everything began to go downhill. The area was largely intact up until then, not quite to the level of Soulard, but close. Whether this decline would of happened without the mall is a question to be discussed. I think not, because you must remember that St. Louis officials have it it out for this and other northside areas for some time. In other words numerous policies have insured the decline of the area.

    My friend Gerry showed me some info about demolition in St. Louis. About 15 million has been spent to demo property in the past 5 years in St. Louis. Detroit, in contrast, a much larger city, has spent about $800,000 a year on demolition, or approximately 4 million over 5 years. In fact I believe St. Louis may be first in the nation in demolition. First in Beer, and first in Demolition.

    As a side note, I remember protests about the mall going in years ago, but then as now, they were ignored by city government. Seems the method of running government hasn’t changed a bit.

  11. Jim Zavist says:

    Barbara – There’s a difference between crime stats and the perceptions of crime. I’ve only been here a couple of years, so I have fewer preconceptions than people like my wife, who’s lived here most of her life. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “lock the doors” when we’ve been driving around the city, especially on the north side. For businesses here to bounce back/thrive, it’s going to take getting past these gut reactions to attract anything other than local residents. I don’t know if it’s the daily coverage on the TV news, the graffitti, the vacant lots and/or the boarded-up/falling-down buildings that many locals equate with the “north side”, but it’s a huge hurdle for many potential patrons.

    That said, looking at this section of town through “rose-colored glasses”, it looks a lot like the CWE. The question that needs to be answered is how are the two SO different from a market standpoint? The CWE has a major employer (BJC) nearby, as well as a fairly dense residential population combined with several very-wealthy single-family areas. It also has streets with on-street parking, street trees and pedestrian activity 16+ hours a day. So, you get the “rooftops” and demographics that make an area attractive to retailers. Still, there’s no real reason why truly locally-focused businesses shouldn’t succeed in Near North. We all need our dry cleaners, “convenience” stores and coffee shops. One or two other casual restaurants/bars should do well, too. And there always seems to be a market for retail space converted to office or art gallery uses. (And, from what I’ve heard, the Loop wasn’t so great 15-20 years ago, either.)

    I believe you, Old North is on the rebound. The two big problems it faces are stats, both crime and demographic, that may or may not be out of date, and perceptions, which can only be changed by repeated “good” news. And, to be honest, I’ve been to CCK a couple of times, and like some other local “institutions” such as Mom’s Deli and Ted Drewe’s, I don’t quite “get it”. Probably, like toasted ravioli, they’re an “acquired taste” – doesn’t make them bad, it just is another “challenge” in reinvigorating the area . . .

  12. Jim Zavist says:

    Jeff – “Destination” retail is a technical term, and differs from “impulse” retail. “Destination” retailers are not necessarily chains, they just attract customers from a larger geographic area. Crown Candy Kitchen is one. So is Tony’s, Whole Foods, Sam’s Club or Ted Drewe’s. In contrast, places like QT or any of the fast-food places rely on drive-by, impulse shoppers as much as they do on people who started out purposely to go there. This area has little drive-by traffic – it’s not a Manchester Road (which is probably just fine with the residents). So, by default, the only retail businesses likely to do well here are either “destination” retailers or neighborhood-serving businesses, who do the bulk of their business with nearby residents.

  13. awb says:

    The paragraph below is from RHCDA’s website. It appears they aren’t striving form a GAP and chain restaurants:

    The next crucial phase of “Crown Village” is our planned redevelopment of the abandoned “14th Street Mall.” This development will reinvigorate an obsolete neighborhood commercial district—which is the critical “heart” of the community—by introducing revitalized residential and mixed residential/ retail/ commercial, offering the possibility of “live/work” spaces, and re-establishing some level of retail, service, and dining opportunities to serve the needs of the growing number of residents of the community, thereby enhancing the sustainability of the neighborhood with increased vibrancy and self-sufficiency.

  14. joe b says:

    Virtually every single street that has become “active” over the past 30 years has become so because of a couple of small business owners who had the guts to open retail.

    Retail is an extremely difficult beast to master. It takes money, time, long hours and a good product or service and a plan.

    Couple that with the nuances of opening a biz in the city and a lot of the smart biz owners simply shake their head while they look to other locations outside the city.

    These locations simply start to “happen” literally overnight. The retail activity at The Grove is a classic example. Retail development there happened so fast, it cought the city off guard.

  15. The mall originally was supposed to extend one block south to the block where Marx Hardware and Paint has stood since 1890. The Marx family strongly opposed the mall, which would have killed a hardware business dependent on curbside loading. They won their battle and are still in business despite not baing a huge draw and despite the sad fact that many rehabbers pass them up in favor of the “name brand” materials warehouses masquerading as hardware stores. The mall would have killed this business, as it did to so many others.

    The mall could have worked, I suppose, had Old North retained the high population density needed to promote pedestrian-based shopping. As the population plummeted, remaining businesses on 14th needed to draw on business from outside the neighborhood to survive. Without street-front visibility, attracting and retaining shoppers who drove or took the bus in was difficult. My guess is that Crown Candy would not be a household name in this town had it been located just a block south on the mall.

  16. ATorch says:

    I remember my grandmother walked to the JCPenny and Crown Candy there before the ‘mall’, there also used to be an active bus line (and street car line) close to the area that she used. I still make the trip to Crown Candy about twice a month, and I am on the far southwest side of STL. IF another shop opened on 14th Street that interested me, I would be more than happy to shop there before or after my meal and malt!


  17. Barbara says:

    I want to point out that RHCDA is not the developer of the mall project. RHCDA is a partner with Old North St Louis Restoration Group. ONSLRG gets the developers fees, which can be used to roll forward on new projects. Speaking as someone who gives up at least two nights a week to ONSL community-building activities, this is not outsiders coming in, this is neighbors doing it for ourselves.

    Michael Allen and I were just at a Mullanphy Alliance meeting working on saving our Mullanphy Emigrant Home on the edge of downtown where Tucker meets Florissant. That is on top of North Market Place, CONECT and 14th St Mall projects, not to mention the drive to get a local historic ordinance in place and the “special relationship” with LRA to sell the last 20 LRA shells. This is just the real estate committee. There are 3 other standing committees working just as hard at social outreach, fundraising and greenspace efforts.

    I know, old-StL wisdom says don’t cross Delmar. Until recently, more than one local university had “don’t live North of Delmar” in their student housing guides. We got that fixed. It is just old memories of bad times. Yes, I found bullet holes in my windows while rehabbing. No, I have never seen a gun or heard gunshots from my house. There was indeed a battle here in the 80’s, but the battle has moved on and it is now all quiet on the Near Northside.

    Did you know this neighborhood has 100% occupancy of habitable buildings? Did you know that a vacant apartment up here is snapped up within days of being advertised? Did you know the CFO of EM Harris just bought the old shoe warehouse at 14th and Palm for loft development? We have one other fantastically loftable building facing the Arch, and it is just coming on the market. I wouldn’t be surprised if it sells before it ever hits the MLS. People *want* to live here, and we are trying to accommodate them by building as fast as we can. Recently, Kevin Dickherber started doing rehabs in the neighborhood and decided to move his young family into one of his projects. We are that good 😉

    The goal for the mall is to Get The Lights On!!! Next step is a Demun-like residential area with a few key businesses on the corners. We are so close to downtown, we don’t really need a drycleaner. But a coffee house and diner, hell, yes! The staff at the ONSLRG office is starting to hear from small businesses wanting to know when there will be something available for rent on the Mall. Completion target is 2009, but the partnership is hustling to get the retail corners done sooner rather than later.

    So, Jim, when are you and your lovely wife going to come up here and let me give you the “insider tour”? It is beautiful up here in the spring. Or email me your home address and I’ll get the ONSLRG office to send you complimentary House Tour tickets.

    Barbara on 19th

  18. I wish to point out to ATorch and anyone seriously interested in urban revitalization that transit lines which “used to” serve the neighborhood have not totally vanished: MetroBus #30 stops every half-hour every day at 14th & St Louis, right at Crown Candy and the ONSL office. The ride is less than 10 minutes from downtown, a little farther from Rock Road Station. Sure, it’s not “the good old days” before almost every St Louisan became car-dependent, and it doesn’t work for everyone, but it is part of the solution not part of the problem. It’s how I bring visitors to the area on walking tours and we have never encountered problems. Crown Candy is always the draw and then people make other discoveries – such as Metro offers courteous and reliable service.

  19. Jim Zavist says:

    Barbara – you don’t need to comp us on the home tour – just let us all know when it will be happening!

    Bigger picture – how are we, as a city, going to get past the perception that all of north St. Louis is “scary”? Half of the equation is the constant news about shootings, crime and general mayhem. A few days ago, it’s the Emo’s delivery guy getting shot. This morning, there’s news of more shootings. The other half of the equation is lumping all of north St. Louis into one big pot. I live on the southwest side. I’ve learned where the various neighborhoods are and have varying “expectations” of them, whether it’s Soulard, Dogtown, the Hill, St. Louis Hills, S. Grand, Tower Grove Park, Carondolet, etc., etc., etc. I don’t have the same “knowledge” of the north side, and I’m guessing that many other folks are in the same boat. And without that knowledge, the perceptions of “outsiders” continue to be skewed. (It’s also a big reason why some suburbanites are leery of all of St. Louis, when we’re “the most dangerous city in the country”!) What are the neighborhoods of the north side and why aren’t they nearly as well known (or infamous) as those on the south side? I can think of the Fairgrounds Park area, Gaslight Square area, and, depending on now you place them (north or south), the CWE, and Skinker-Debalivere areas. Without an ability to define smaller areas, localized crime “hot spots” are perceived to be affecting a much larger area.

    The north and south sides of town are roughly equal in both size and population. I’m also pretty sure that crime occurs more frequently on the north side, but that’s where statistics need to be looked at more closely. Crime stats get skewed when they’re compared as rates per population – business districts and industrial areas have far fewer residents than residential blocks (duh!), yet that’s how the stats are reported. The number of burglaries per 100,000 population will be higher in areas where stuff is and people aren’t! On a smaller scale, a street like Kingshighway (north or south) will see more crime than a residential street two blocks away, yet the residential part of the neighborhood suffers unfairly (in the stats and in perception) when there’s a lot of crime on the commercial strip. Yes, there are parts of north St. Louis that have serious problems, including crime, but there are many other parts that are doing well and/or bouncing back. There are also problem areas on the south side, but since they’re isolated percuptually, they’re eaiser for us “scaredy cats” to both understand and avoid.

  20. LisaS says:

    actually, Jim, if you look at the crime report that Barbara posted earlier in the thread, the CWE is the most crime-ridden neighborhood in the City. No North City neighborhood is even close. I wonder if that’s not at least partially because of sheer geographical size … the CWE is a lot larger area than Fountain Park or Lafayette Square. It would be interesting to see the same numbers reported in terms of crimes per resident or crimes per square mile so that statistically relevant hot spots could be more easily identified and avoided (by us) and resolved (by the police).

  21. Jim Zavist says:

    My point exactly – statistics can be spun a lot of different ways, and they play a (big?) role in shaping perceptions. My bigger question is how do we get past the assumption (on many people’s part) that “North St. Louis = crime, murder and mayhem = be afraid and stay away!”? This discussion centers around perceptions, many of them based either on experiences from decades ago and/or the constant drumbeat in the media about crime in (all of?) “north” city. Until perceptions change in the general population, north city will remain either a) an undiscovered gem, or b) forsaken wasteland to be avoided at all costs . . .

  22. Barbara says:

    Crime stats are definitely spinnable all sorts of ways, but at least there are some numbers there. I am working on breaking stats down by sq mile and then mapping onto a standard neighborhood map.

    Regarding the neighborhoods of the north, here’s some maps —
    LRA Prices 2007
    (It is pretty interesting to compare this one with 2006 and 2005, to see the trends — hint, think north-eastward)


    Basic city map


    Historical view

    But don’t feel too bad, old time northsiders who know exactly where Fountain Park and the Ville are located probably don’t have a clue about Boulevard Heights. We all have our local blinders on.

    ONSL House Tour is May 12, we’d love to see you there.

    Barbara on 19th

  23. Jim Zavist says:

    I stopped by the ONSL tour today and saw some interesting progress – looks like incipient Soulard / Lafayette Square to me – I hope the momentum continues to build . . .

  24. Brady Dorman says:

    I am a 4th year architecture student at Iowa State University. We are visiting the Old North area in a few weeks for our project to design a community arts / neighborhood center at 13th Street between St Louis Ave and Montgomery St. Looking forward to learning more about the neighborhood.

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