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St. Louis Neighborhood Mixed-Use Circa 1909

The term “mixed-use” is a relatively new term.  Before Euclidian zoning was universally adopted to keep uses (say residential & commercial) apart, St. Louis had buildings that freely mixed it up.  And they did so beautifully:

Many of you have probably seen the Oscar Schneider Studio on the 3300 block of California.  This 5,000+ square foot four-unit building sits on a lot that is just inches over 40 feet wide.

The Cherokee Street commercial district runs side to side in the above aerial image.   The building is marked “A.” As you can see it is closer to Utah on the North than to Cherokee.  Additional “mixed-use” storefront are on the corner at California & Utah.

The storefront facade is old, but not original.  The Vitrolite glass was not yet available, to my knowledge,  in 1909 when this building was constructed.  This was likely a 1930s or 1940s remodeling.

Photography was so different back then.  They used this stuff called film.  Photography was expensive so you made the most of it.  I found a great collection of images online taken by Oscar Scheider at this studio, they were restored from glass negatives.  View the collection here.

This property is within the Gravois-Jefferson Streetcar Suburb National Register Historic District.

Gravois–Jefferson Streetcar Suburb Historic District
(added 2005 – St. Louis County – #05000115)
Grovois and S. Jefferson, S. Jefferson and S. Broadway, Meramac, S. Gran and Gravois, St. Louis (Independent City)
(7180 acres, 4635 buildings)  [Source]

Yes this area was considered a streetcar suburb.  Mixed uses in the suburbs.   The single-family house to the South was built 5 years earlier.

Our ideas about mixing residential & commercial soon changed.  What used to be normal developmemt now requires numerous hearings & variances to get approved.  I can’t imagine the owners of a single-family home today accepting a four-unit building next door that contains three residential units and one commercial unit.

They had it right 100 years ago — build it compact, mix it up and have fixed-rail transit very nearby.


Currently there are "13 comments" on this Article:

  1. samizdat says:

    I believe a streetcar line ran right past this storefront. I do know that there was a line running at least a portion of it’s route on California. You can, if you know what to look for, see where the tracks are located in the street. OT: Wow, would you look at all of that black roofing material. C’mon STL, it’s the 21st century; time to use 21st century materials. White TPO, epdm. A light roofing material will not only reduce your cooling load, but it will also reduce the heat island effect. I got TPO, more thermally stable (less prone to expansion and contraction).

  2. Jimmy Z says:

    Agreed, white roofs may be a better answer, energy-wise, but a) this is an older area with a lot of older (up to 30 years old) roofs, so you have to assume a minimum 30-40 years replacement cycle (or a big hail storm), b) this is a poorer area, so initial cost will usually trump any life-cycle analysis, and c) with both winter and summer loads, a black roof can actually be an asset in the winter months. Best answer would be an analysis of all trade-offs, in our local context, followed by modification, if necessary, of our local building code to force people to “do the right thing”. (This isn’t southern California or Arizona, where cooling loads predominate.)

  3. samizdat says:

    True, the cost of replacement may be prohibitive. But the number of coating products out there which are made with a pure white (titanium dioxide) pigment is growing. There is even a company here in STL which makes such a product. Do a search (I usually use GoodSearch: donate to charity and find cool stuff) on the Webs and you will find numerous listings for products which can be spread on with mops or squeegees. Some are even made with so-called green raw materials such as soy. They are low cost compared to any roofing product, and most seem to be a good fit for a do-it-yourselfer, property manager, or rehabber. And for three or four months of the year, there is enough of a load to justify a retrofit. Certainly enough to justify a coating. And the cost of the new roofing technologies (TPO has actually been around for over 12 years) probably isn’t much more than the petroleum-based products with which people are familiar. As a matter of fact, the cost of these petro products has gone up over the last few years, right along with the cost of petroleum. I would suggest that anyone facing the prospect of needing a new roof consider the newer products. Oh, and put a layer of ridgid poly iso insulation under the roof for additional reduction of loads. It won’t add much to the cost of a typical 1000squ. ft. roof. About ten dollars a sheet, or less, for r-9 (1.5 inches) equivalent. It won’t help with retaining heat in the winter, but the greatest energy consumption is due to AC use in the summer. I’m thinking to the future when the full affects of global climate change, warming, and disruption will begin to intensify.

  4. Jimmy Z says:

    samizdat – while I agree, in theory, with maximizing building performance, I’ve been in the architecture business long enough to know that clients don’t always want to do the right thing, even if it makes perfect sense. (And in the world of choices, spending money on a new roof, especially a “premium” product, or even some new-fangled coating, ranks a lot lower, with most folks, than spending money on things that they can see and enjoy, things like new kitchens and upgraded finishes.) I’ve also seen many “better” products come out that fail to live up to their promises – the older I get, the more I’m in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” camp.

    The other challenge I have is accepting that white roofs are the right answer for every micro-climate, and specifically for St. Louis. Have there been empirical tests done here or in a similar environment? Or are we just following the lead of southern California? LEED is evolving to recognize these differences – one size doesn’t fit all. And, taking things to extreme, to do the “right” thing here, besides replacing all our windows with “high-performance” ones, we “should” also be wrapping all our old, uninsulated brick structures with EIFS (“Dryvit”) over 2″-4″ of foam. That way, we’d both improve the structures’ insulation AND isolate the masonry mass from the exterior temperature variations! The only problem is that we’d destroy the historic, architectural character that attracts us to many St, Louis neighborhoods – life is full of trade-offs . . .

  5. Jimmy Z says:

    And speaking of green, there’s a lot of embodied energy already in place in the existing roofs. It takes a lot less energy to fix what’s already there than to remove them and replace them, before they fail, with new, petro-chemical-based roofing products. Yes, eventually there will be a positive payback, but what are the current numbers, both in dollar costs and in energy/recycle/landfill costs? Much like driving a hybrid, sure you’ll save on gas, but it still makes more sense to drive pretty much whatever you have now until it dies, since both the additional cost for fuel for the beater and the non-impact of not manufacturing and transporting a new vehicle to your dealer will be less than buying the new PC vehicle.

  6. GMichaud says:

    I think you are right, they had it right a 100 years ago “build it compact, mix it up and have fixed-rail transit very nearby.”

    Nor is it living in the past, it seems like we have lost the connection with the design principles of the city that date from antiquity.

    So what practical solution to building St. Louis in a different way? and at the same time get rid the hearings and variances? Is it just a matter of writing new regulations that govern planning? Who should write them? Get rid of zoning? focus on transit in the city proper? Install form based plans?, how do you plan without determining the projected nature of the transit system?

    Shouldn’t the projected building and rebuilding be somehow coordinated with new transit routes?
    How do you build an inclusive city process for the citizens in a new planning model?

    As far as white roofing is concerned, I agree it might be a wash between heat gain in the winter(black) and heat loss in the winter(white). It probably depends on how much you use AC also.

    • M.C. says:

      Good scientific studies show little or no heat loss in winter due to a white roof. The three main reasons cited are: more cloudy days, shorter daylight hours, and lower sun angle. Plus, I would think that because heat rises, in cold weather a black roof wouldn't be able to absorb/trap much heat anyway, and some of the time there'd be snow cover.

  7. john w. says:

    I’d have to say the cooling loads in St. Louis place higher demand than heating loads, so a higher albedo surface in this region is probably a safer bet. The vast majority of the historic structures that are seen in the aerial photo are at least two stories, so any ground floor flats would reap no benefit from either a high or low albedo roofing material. I’d also wonder whether the trapped air volume in an attic (poorly ventilated despite best efforts) becomes the stagnant heat mass that causes the sensible heat gain in upper floors of buildings an not simply an solar heat absorbant surface like a black roof.

    In Minneapolis, low albedo roofs would be preferable to the high albedo roofs in Miami.

  8. Marlene Mangold says:

    Oscar Schnieder was my grandfather so I know much about the studio. I have the original deed to the building and spent much of my childhood at the studio. My grandparents retiered from the business in 1935 and it was turned over to their children. The studio was in business until the late 70’s and sold in 2002. My mother and siblings grew up above the studio and all worked in the business. The original storefront was probably changed in the late 20’s or are early 30’s and another store show window front added on the side of the alley. I have a picture of the studio when the gas lights were changed to electric. I have never heard that the streetcar ran in front of the studio as it was on Cherokee Street. It became an important bus route throughout the years. The bus stop was at Utah and California but would stop in front of the studio if asked. The windows had cloth awnings over the years. There was also a sign over the studio that stated when my grandfather started in business at 3314 as he was at 3414 from 1909 until studio was built. He worked for Rasch Studio downtown in the early 1900’s The family camera is now at the Missouri Historical Socity and as they will be given many glass negatives and film our family has. Any glass negatives or photographs they would love to have. I am proud that the building is still in great condition and in the historical district. Not much had been changed over the years except the glass skylites. I even know the name of the architech. Marlene Mangold

  9. What a coincidence. I am currently designing the renovation of the two buildings next door to the north. I have admired the Oscar Schneider Studio for years and for a while I will get to see it more frequently during site visits.

  10. Marlene Mangold says:

    Dustin You said you were in the process of the renovation of two buildings next door to the studio. On the corner on the studio side there was a tavern than a deli and store. Than there were two residences and a vacent lot in which in summer there were tables and neighbors sat and visited and enjoyed summer drinks. I read notes on the roof and I remember when the roofers put on the tar and gravel. They had a hot job but never complained and the studio didn’t have air conditioning. The upstairs had a porch (not a walkout )with many windows. I never heard my grandparents or mother and her siblings complain of heat. Of course the main studio was ground level with also many windows and fans. Most of the work on the photographs was done in the basement. Dr. Davenport lived and worked ( a dentist) in the mid-40’s. until the St. Louis Hills Medical center was built in 59 or1960. My great grandfather William Schneider a carpentar and cabinet maker did the carpentar work when the studio was built. The idea of flats connected to the studio was a great idea as it always provided income for the family. The book on Images of America Benton Park West by Edna Gravenhorst provides a unique look of architecture in south St. Louis. My aunt could name every builder of buildings in the city. Now I have the memories, family picturies and love books on history of St. Louis and St. Louis County. Marlene Mangold

  11. @jimmyz, I keep hearing about white roof. Do they actually work or does it need something mixed in?

    • JZ71 says:

      Everyone makes claims – it's hard to know who to believe. The physics make sense, but so does increasing insulation under the roof. The biggest real-world challenge with white roofs are that they're either applied as a single sheet membrane or painted on, while the traditional “tar and gravel” roof is built up in layers. The bane of “flat” roofs are leaks – identifying them and fixing them, and there are proponents about why “their” system is best. Personally, I'm a big believer in insulation. Making a roof more reflective will obviously help, but spending the same money on insulation will yield better results. The best analogy is a thin, aluminized, “space” blanket versus a more-traditional wool or acrylic blanket – they both claim to do the job, but most people choose thetraditional answer.


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