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Un-Malling 14th Street

December 4, 2008 Pedestrian Mall 30 Comments

The year was 1977.  The city was hemorrhaging population at an alarming rate (nearly 170,000 between 1970-80).  What to do?  Emulate the suburbs! So why not close the street grid and create a pedestrian “oasis”?

Advertisement in the paper in 1977.
Advertisement in the paper in 1977.

Except it never quite turned out as expected.  The pedestrian space was free of cars but it also appeared empty most of the time. There is indeed safety in numbers.

Next year sometime 14th Street will be a through street for the first time in 32 years.  This experiment that last 32 years will finally be over.  Many experiments were tried in cities — the money was found to do the experimenting but harder & more costly to undo the results of the experiment.

Above: Work continues on buildings facing 14th.  The street will re-open in 2009.
Above: Work continues on buildings facing 14th. The street will re-open in 2009.

If only the citizens had run off the mad scientists promising suburban bliss inside our historic neighborhoods.

Did closing 14th street slow down population loss or speed it up?  My instinct tells me we would have lost population anyway.  But had the street not been closed this neighborhood commercial district might have had a better chance of rebounding in the last 30 years. Unlike other areas that simply had to worry about the buildings, in Old North they had that plus a dead pedestrian mall with no population to populate the space.

The day in 2009 when the ribbon is cut and the street is reopened I will be there front and center. Then I’m going to Crown Candy for a banana malt!


Currently there are "30 comments" on this Article:

  1. John Daly says:

    While it’s certainly exciting to witness ONSL making a comeback, my sentiment is more with the 4th Baptist Church. I still don’t understand why this historic structure was allowed to sit vacant for so long? And now it stands condemned; a once vital and crucial part of the fabric is now torn and discarded. The 4th was once known for meeting the needs of its people but the people seemed to never have returned the favor.

  2. northside neighbor says:

    Please direct questions about 4th Baptist to the church’s pastor. The church is responsible for the building being vacant so long, not the general public.
    Re. the 14th Street Mall, while the years of vacancy were a blight on the neighborhood, on the plus side, the buildings there did mostly survive the neglect.
    Maybe being situated on a “mothballed street” helped them avoid total destruction?

  3. JMedwick says:

    Northside, I think your point is an interesting one. Perhaps because the street was closed to traffic actually helped prevent the total destruction of the historic fabric of the street. Perverse, yes, but when you see the way other major thoroughfares in this City have fared once the population around them was gone, it might well have been a good thing.

  4. John Daly says:


    Been there, done that…no response. And I wasn’t really asking a question per se…just venting a bit.

  5. Tim says:

    Close 14th, don’t close 14th….really makes no difference. The people have spoken, that area is a ghost town like any other that has past it’s prime.

  6. Jon says:

    Yeah I don’t think traffic or no traffic is the issue here. Vibrant public space requires more than just… space. It needs programming, amenities, trip generators, mixed uses, attractive design, attentive maintenance and management. Most of all it needs people, people with a reason to be there.

  7. john w. says:

    The people speaking are the one’s doing the renovation, and much to the notice of the St. Louis public. Did the people speak about Crown Candy? Why has that survived? Traffic from outside finds its way to Crown Candy, and has for years, so to suggest that traffic is not the issue here is off the mark. Had that street remained open all these years, could you imagine that some of that traffic destined for Crown Candy would have traversed this long-closed street? Hmmm… I wonder.

  8. poncho says:

    theres an identical outside-of-downtown pedestrian mall in baltimore built at the same time that flopped also… old town mall. if these dont work with the downtown levels of foot traffic they sure dont in the inner city neighborhoods

  9. Tim says:

    Crown Candy is a destination. No one lives there. What is the population of that area? People have been re-habbing down there for the last 30 years. How many ghost towns have come back to life? I’m guessing not many.

  10. northside neighbor says:

    Tim: You’re a dunce. Lots of people live there.

  11. Dennis says:

    Ok, nn, so Tim’s a dunce. But what IS the population of that area? It’s hard to tell when you drive around. People seem so scattered. I see some blocks that have more than others tho. It’s no surprise that the street closing idea was a falure in 1977. I didn’t get here until ’79 but I also remember reading about some kind of revival of the Hyde Park area in the early 80’s. Well, last I heard people arent beating a path there either. HOWEVER, I think something like the street closing idea might have a better shot in todays world. In the late 70’s I think I lot of people were just downright afraid to go into north city. Or at least that’s the impression I got from people. But today we’re a little more inquisitive and adventerous. Regardless, I’m in favor of having it open again.
    If it were one of those really close and tight together streets, like Steve has shown us of Boston, it would have worked.

    [slp — I need to get the census track data but in 1977 the population of the neighborhood was considerably higher than today. Again while I think other factors have played into population loss in the city I think closing this street and killing the commercial district made matters worse – accelerating the loss of population.]

  12. Tim says:

    My guess is that there is more open land in the area now than there was 150 years ago. Take a look the next time you happen to fly over the area. I hung out in the area during much of the mid to late 80’s. In the times I have traveled through there the only difference is that more buildings are gone or burned out. There have been several attempts to rehab the area but those pioneers ended up with more arrows in their backs than people following them into the area. Like I said, ghost town. What happened to the devolper that bought up most of the area? Is he still sitting on that land or did he dump it?

  13. john w. says:

    Tim, that developer is believed to be at least partially responsible for some of the buildings that are gone or burned out. He’s obviously responsible for one’s that are known to have been removed by him, but there is a lot of suspicion about many others. I think I’d rather be Custer and die with a bunch of arrows in my back than move to a shithole like the exurbs, but of course, that shithole can be left to folks like yourself.

  14. Dennis says:

    Heck no he didn’t dump it. He’s still sitting on it and wondering if the Parnell station, the Fair station, the Kingshighway station, and the Goodfellow/70 station will ever be built.

  15. othernorthsideneighbor says:

    Tim, you have an open invitation to come by and visit anytime. Seriously, follow up here.

  16. GMichaud says:

    I remember 14th street well before it was converted to a mall. It was puzzling at the time because it was a viable business district, dense with shoppers, much more so than Cherokee is today. It definitely contributed to the decline of the area. A had a friend who owned Jim’s furniture on North Market and 14th, he hung on for a long time but the area went down hill quickly after the mall was built.
    Hyde Park also had a viable restoration effort similar to Soulard and Lafayette Square at the time. That also went downhill after the mall was built. Obviously it is a distance away from the mall, but I think the decline of 14th Street contributed to the general decline of the Northside.
    Notice Crown Candy at one end and Marx Hardware at the other survived because they were not in the mall.
    The fact city officials love to tear down old St. Louis is also a factor. The Old North area had buildings and an architecture much more unique than Soulard, but it for the most part gone now.
    Slashing the grid apart and creating dead ends with the housing project to the south didn’t help, but the mall was still functioning well after it was built.
    I would say that the planners of the those days were mental midgets and that would be true, only city government does not seem to me doing hardly any better job today than those in charge in the sixties and seventies. Old North is successful without the leadership of City Hall, they have just latched onto the coattails of what has happened.
    Citizen activism is the difference.

  17. Eric says:

    Citizen activism is the difference here. St. Louis Avenue

  18. Eric says:

    I too invite you to stop by anytime and visit, St. Louis Avenue.

  19. Tim says:

    My guess is those buildings would have been destroyed by neglect no matter if he owned them or not. I just wish I had the cash to land bank like that. But I would have probably spent the money to knock them down for the brick and anything else I could of sold out of them instead of letting the area theives get it all.
    More power to any of you that want to pioneer there. I think you should just be left alone to do just that and not have to deal with busy body city government types that want to “plan” for the area. Pointing out the mall as a failed plan only to suggest a “better plan” to me is the wrong solution to the wrong question. Call me crazy but I’m a beliver in local knowledge and spontaneous order. Frankly I’ve considered the idea of buying a couple of vacant lots there and putting one of those cool ass Rocio Romero prefab homes on the lot. For me though this idea is always driven by the concept that it is a “ghost town”. But then when I consider the wild west style stories of my friend that owns a home on Hebert over the last 20 years I think a 10′ high wall would be required as well.
    I wonder how much the survival of Crown Candy is more chance/luck then it not being in the mall.
    Who knew being a contrary jackass could generate so many invites. It’s been about year since I took a drive around the area. It might be time to take another look.

    [slp — to me the planning in the 21st Century will be about undoing the mistakes made by planners in the 20th Century. The city still has very specific zoning on the books that dates to 1947. With 60+ years of the 1940s thinking it is no wonder we have the city we have. For example the zoning mandates excessive parking for most uses — let the market determine how much parking is necessary.]

  20. Tim says:

    “[slp — to me the planning in the 21st Century will be about undoing the mistakes made by planners in the 20th Century. The city still has very specific zoning on the books that dates to 1947. With 60+ years of the 1940s thinking it is no wonder we have the city we have. For example the zoning mandates excessive parking for most uses — let the market determine how much parking is necessary.]” And therein lies the essence of my argument. I’ll take “unplanning” over “planning”.

    [slp — I tend to agree with you on that but it will take planning to unplan all the previous planning! Unless you have a better suggestion on how to get from where we are today to this unplanned point?]

  21. UrbanPioneer says:

    I agree with many of the sentiments on here, with the exception of Tim’s (no offense) misconstrued notions. I specifically agree with the idea that the building of the mall, the “slashing apart the grid”, as GMichaud put it, probably did contribute to the decline of ONSL, and arguably much of the northside.

    However, I do have to point something out regarding similarities to planning ideas in Baltimore. While both projects were failures, not all such projects are. Take “Pearl Street Mall” in Boulder, Colorado. It was built the same year as the 14st Street Mall, but remains to this day extremely vibrant and is arguably the most urban node in Boulder. While there are certainly other factors contributing to its success (namely its close proximity to the University of Colorado and the inherent wealth of the area), I think it’s important to note that not all pedestrian mall are failures.

    Under a perfect storm of the right social and economic conditions, the idea does work. but those opportunities are few and far between.With that being said, I’m certainly not advocating retrying this grid slashing elsewhere. The 14th Street Mall is certainly proof that the idea is fundamentally flawed… most of the time.

    I’m glad the mistake is being corrected and I look forward to see it be reborn.

  22. Jim Zavist says:

    The Boulder Mall, like the rest of the city, is an aberration, in the best sense of the word. Along with the the mall the citizens voted to buy up all of the open space surrounding the city to create a greenbelt, resulting in extremely skewed demand versus supply – the mall succeeds because the enire city is desirable. The challenge with 14th Street here is there are MANY other alternatives, so any negative will be amplified, not worked around . . .

  23. john w. says:

    I was disappointed to learn the Romero’s LV homes were kit products, and not at least panelized, when I visited the model in Perryville… but, quality prefab infill in north St. Louis, respectful of the historic architecture, delivered en masse and as quickly as needed to instill a sense of confidence in potential new homebuyers… I love it.

  24. GMichaud says:

    The 14th Street Commercial District was a lower to lower middle class shopping area. It was not like converting a street in Ladue to a mall. While the area was fighting problems, many, many (too many) sound buildings were wrecked. Destroying the area certainly was supported by the powers that be who in turn supported development in the outer reaches of the urban area.
    In fact the underpinnings of the current economic crisis is right here. Poor choices with an emphasis on maintaining the easiest and seemingly most profitable line of development, in full cooperation with the government: that is buying raw land in the suburbs and turning it into housing and commercial areas.
    Even now there is a clinging to the old development models, if not the highway 40 project would have been mass transit rather than new highways.
    It is a changed world, but the rape of the current culture continues, with only a high risk for the culture as a whole. New choices must be made. Reopening the 14th mall is such a choice, it envisions a vital community in the a new city.

  25. Adam says:

    the downtown mall (main street) in charlottesville, VA is another example. but like jim and others mentioned, the context is very different – it’s a college town with few destinations so the mall doesn’t have much competition. much like 14th street, it’s surrounded by historic residential, and most of the mall itself is mixed commercial/residential (AND it’s closed to traffic). now that i live within walking distance it’s become a part of my daily life. i really hope the same happens with 14th street. judging by the progress of old north restoration and the commitment of the residents i think it will be wildly successful. if i get to move back to STL after grad school (i hope) old north is at the top of my list. what a view of the arch!

  26. TM says:

    On the topic of street closures I’m wondering what people would think of closing Delmar to private automombiles between say, Kingsland and Skinker, while still allowing buses, cabs, scooters and bikes. While not a total closure this could allow for an expansion of the sidewalks, more room for seating, strolling etc. I think with the combination of a Metrolink stop, future trolley, and unique destinations in the Loop it would be an interesting possiblilty. Most of the times I visit the Loop I end up parking at either end and walking in anyway, who really needs the Delmar parking? As far as being a through street this would be the most difficult part of it, but you have Clayton Rd., FP Parkway, not to mention a rebuilt I-64 to channel people through this part of the city.

  27. Jim Zavist says:

    TM – after 40/64 is complete, maybe. But it may just be easier to eliminate parking from one side and widen the sidewalks on both sides by 5′ each . . .

  28. Population in Old North is probably around 1500-1800 people — and growing. The 14th Street project is creating 78 housing units, and the North Market Place project created a large number of rental units as well as (to date) 18 new single-family homes. Yes, that’s slow progress, but it is what it is. Unless St. Louis starts drawing population away from other regions, or the city starts drawing away from the county in a big way, Old North and other neighborhoods are going to be growing slowly. If one wants high-density urbanism, Old North is not the place and won’t be for another 20 years. Then again, with the proximity to downtown, Old North is closer than almost any other neighborhood to the highest density the city offers. That density will spread over time.

  29. Adam says:

    “On the topic of street closures I’m wondering what people would think of closing Delmar to private automombiles between say, Kingsland and Skinker, while still allowing buses, cabs, scooters and bikes.”
    they’ve done this in Madison, WI along state street with (seemingly) great success. similarities could be drawn: State St & U Wisconsin/Delmar Blvd & Wash U.

  30. Csharris22 says:

    I was born and raised On Montgomery until i was 12 yr. old. Such great times we had as kids. Ames School. great school Crown Candy that was our hangout. Grace HIll what a fun place. An then their is 14 ST. Family worked then also fun place to hangout . My anuns house is still on St. Louis Ave. Alot of gret tlmes. I think of them often. My grandmothers house on Montgomery is still there on the corner next to where Mikes Bar. was . Its great to see what they are doing to 14th St. Would love to be there during the Grand opeing.


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