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Eclectic Mile : Chippewa Ave From Jefferson Ave To Grand Blvd

October 23, 2012 Featured, History/Preservation, Planning & Design, South City 24 Comments

A couple months back I took a look at a mile stretch of South Broadway, from Cherokee to Chippewa (see A Look At South Broadway Through The Marine Villa Neighborhood).  At the time I thought about looking at Chippewa, each time I went down Chippewa on the #11 to/from Target I admired the buildings. For years I’ve admired the mile stretch of Chippewa St between Jefferson Ave and Grand Blvd., I’d even walked, biked and scootered parts years ago. I had to travel it again though.

ABOVE: The #11 MetroBus crosses Jefferson Ave. heading west on Chippewa Ave.
ABOVE: The formerly urban character of the area has been destroyed by an over abundance of surface parking.
ABOVE: Gas stations used to be much smaller in size, now they are commonly used car dealerships.
ABOVE: Senior housing, many residents use the #11 bus.
ABOVE: The building ages and styles are varied. Wood side porches like this are very rare these days.
ABOVE: Many corners have large buildings facing them, no consistent setback to buildings but each block has some up to the sidewalk.
ABOVE: Newer infill housing is spaced too far apart, breaking the established rhythm of the street.
ABOVE: Red bricks vary from building to building, more warm than the new brick used above. The contrast with the beige brick corner building is striking.
ABOVE: Corner buildings mark the corner in various ways, such as this roof.
ABOVE: A few buildings are set way back from the sidewalk
ABOVE: Again the corner building acknowledges its place on the corner. One, two and three story buildings across Chippewa.
ABOVE: This gem is around the corner, facing Nebraska Ave
Most of the storefronts along Chippewa have been remodeled over the years
ABOVE: A former theater is now a church
ABOVE: West of the old theater is a large vacant corner, great for an infill structure or two
ABOVE: At Minnesota Ave is one my favorite storefront entrances! The storefront is currently vacant.
ABOVE: A closed gas station that hasn’t yet become a used car dealership
ABOVE: Another storefront altered years ago, love the faded sign
ABOVE: Yet another unwelcoming storefront alteration
ABOVE: Going west from Jefferson to Grand we’ve been going uphill but in places the building lots are well above the sidewalk.
ABOVE: Another bad storefront that possibly looked like an improvement decades ago. Corner buildings are all at the sidewalk whereas residences vary in setback.
ABOVE: Another quick detour, this time south on Louisiana Ave one block to Keokuk St. to see Dad’s Cookie Co.
ABOVE: Newer houses occupy the former parking lot of the old Sears store that used to be on Grand & Winnebego.
ABOVE: The last block before Grand is a depressing area to walk through, and through is all you’d do.
ABOVE: Former grocery store on the SE corner of Grand & Chippewa was built in 1976 after St. Anthony hospital moved to south St. Louis County.
ABOVE: St. Anthony Hospital faced Chippewa, not Grand. 1900-1975. Image source: St. Louis Postcards Facebook group.

Quite a stretch! Chippewa Ave was never a commercial street the way Cherokee St was, and still is, but it had  many neighborhood corner stores. For decades now people have been driving to bigger and bigger boxes to buy merchandise so these storefronts are no longer critical for daily needs.

However, all over this city we’ve seen cafes, niche retailers and others do well in these spaces. With a cohesive marketing plan Chippewa could become a cool street for new businesses. Attract the gays and hipsters to get those vacant storefronts occupied!

Getting someone to take charge will be a challenge though, the south side of Chippewa is in the Dutchtown neighborhood and the north side is in the Gravois Park neighborhood. This gives the mile road a split personality, although neither focus on it because it is an edge.

On the positive side, all but the last block before Grand are in the 20th Ward. I’ve known Ald. Craig Schmid for years and he’s a very nice guy, but I don’t see him leading an effort to attract hip new businesses — they might want serve alcohol in disproportionate quantities to food.

A few years ago, when I was still a real estate agent, I listed and sold the first house on Virginia Ave just south of Chippewa. Thus, I realize the area has real, and perceived, issues but I also think it is worth fighting for. I’m unwilling to write it off, saying the all mighty market has spoken. The market is always changing! In my 22+ years I’ve seen an enormous  amount of positive change because people weren’t willing to just discard entire neighborhoods. With some effort the market could be altered to see this mile Chippewa as an eclectic gem.

— Steve Patterson


Currently there are "24 comments" on this Article:

  1. Scott Jones says:

    I think this is definitely an eclectic gem worth fighting for. The existing infill is not so bad, it at least attempts to match the “urban St. Louis row house” aesthetic of the existing buildings and is far superior to some of the suburban house style development infill in other parts of the city (though it isn’t perfect). You have opportunity for even a large infill project where the abandoned grocery store now is. I see this are developing more once the Cherokee Street revitalization movement is further along and people start getting priced out and move into the surrounding area.

  2. Great pictures, Steve. In regards to the in-fill that you feel is set too far back, is it not merely following the example of other Italianate houses on the street?

  3. Josh says:

    Thanks for this post, Steve. I live on Chippewa between Iowa and California (right across from those infill houses), and I agree wholeheartedly that this is a really great, unique stretch. My wife, son, and I love it here, and we’re not planning to go anywhere anytime soon.

    You’re completely right though that we need more advocates for the development of this street. Schmid is definitely not progressive in his thinking when it comes to neighborhood growth and promotion…

    Unfortunately, Slim Cox just died. He was a great presence, and did a lot to bring neighborhood residents and businesses together. I believe his wife, Zella May, is moving out of the neighborhood, and closing the Furniture store at 2831 Chippewa (an amazing three story building with a storefront), which is a big loss, but also an opportunity for the right business/owner.

    One big thing that you missed (or likely may not know) is that much of the stretch from Iowa to California was saved by urban pioneer, Jack Ulrich. If it wasn’t for him, the three story mixed use building on the southeast corner would not be there today. He tells a great story about when he bought the place 15+ years ago. He was on the back of the building, rehabbing the back wall (which had all but collapsed), when an old lady walking by said something to the effect of, “I’m so glad someone’s finally tearing down this building!”. To which Jack replied, “I’m not tearing it down, I live here!”…or something…

    He also tells the story about how the house that I now own was at one time slated for demolition. The city was just letting it go into disrepair, and Jack had been fighting to purchase and rehab it before it fell completely apart. The city brought in a bulldozer to tear down the trees and growth that had overtaken the back of the property. There’s an amazing old Magnolia tree in the side yard, and when the workers got close to it, Jack threatened with a shotgun from the third floor of his corner building. And the tree stands today.

    Jack also found out the house had some historical significance. Apparently it’s one of the last standing homes built by the Clamorgan family. Jacques Clamorgan was one of the founding landowners of St. Louis – a book was actually written about the Clamorgan family by Julie Winch recently (http://www.stlmag.com/St-Louis-Magazine/October-2011/Sex-Lies-and-Property-How-the-Clamorgans-Found-Their-Place/). I even got a mention! Check it out. It’s a cool book about St. Louis history.

    One place that Jack couldn’t save was apparently a huge, very ornate 4-family, where those infill houses now sit. He said it was the most beautiful building on a block full of great ones.

    Jack currently owns 6 properties in a two block radius (5 on Chippewa), not including the aforementioned one I bought from him, that he has either rehabbed (and are occupied) or is currently working on. We owe a lot to this guy for helping to maintain the historic fabric of this stretch of Chippewa because most of those buildings would not still be standing. Hopefully others with the same passion continue making a difference on this street.

  4. Sal says:

    Thanks. I forgot about the old St. Anthony”s Hospital.

  5. Eric says:

    The faded sign, the clashing colors – the things you like other would see as signs of decades-old ugliness or decay. I submit that appearance is irrelevant to a neighborhood’s urban character. What matters is density, mixed usage, and navigability. The artistic value of the buildings is irrelevant.

  6. JZ71 says:

    Agree there are possibilities and “good bones”. Disagree on “Attract the gays and hipsters to get those vacant storefronts occupied!” Neighborhoods should not be transitory projects, the “next great thing”. The current residents (primarily low-income white, African-American and Bosnian?) are the ones that should be supporting neighborhood-centric businesses. There’s a limit to the number of cool, trendy businesses any city can support. IF you want truly walkable (and walked) neighborhoods, you gotta quit relying on outsiders and newcomers, and empower the current residents to make THEIR own neighborhoods better!

  7. JZ71 says:

    Storefronts get infilled, many times poorly (architecturally) for four main reasons – the use inside changes / evolves, better lighting and air conditioning reduce or eliminate the need for glazing, glass is not a good insulator (wood/vinyl/fiberglass/drywall is) and glass is a greater security risk (and more expensive to replace) than a solid wall. Add in the reality that window shopping has been supplanted, for the most part, with printed circulars, TV advertising and the interwebs and it’s no surprise that these (formerly) large windows are viewed as an anachronism and a negative by many (most?) tenants and owners. While I certainly “get” why you like them, in an academic way, people will always use and modify their space in ways that work best for them, and not for the random passerby . . . .

  8. JZ71 says:

    In the immortal words of Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us”. You say “. . . . each time I went down Chippewa on the #11 to/from Target I admired the buildings.” You live downtown. What do Macy’s and Culinaria not offer that Target does (other than lower prices)? People have choices, in stores and in transportation. These corner stores no longer exist as retail establishments simply because their local customers CHOSE to shop elsewhere. There’s no grand conspiracy to destroy the urban environment, just the evolution of how we all live our daily lives.

    I guess it’s good, from an urban form perspective, that the shells of these structures survive / live in on with new uses. But the real challenge with this neighborhood (and many others in the city) is not the presence or absence of corner retail, hip bars or cool advertising agencies, it’s the fear of crime, the financial inability to maintain aging properties and the eventual choice to just walk away, for whatever reason. Yes, some neighborhoods improve over time. Yes, this neighborhood is not beyond saving/improving. Yes, there are multiple possibilities. But it’s going to take many (more?) people with the motivation and the resources to invest in the area than is what is evident now. Marketing is one small part of the puzzle, but the real change needs to come organically, from people CHOOSING to invest here, and not in the nearby Bevo Mill, Benton Park, Morganford or Tower Grove areas.

    • I buy a lot at Culinaria but they don’t carry some of the food products I like, so I go to Target.I shop at Macy’s as well but the product mix is different than Target.

  9. Fozzie says:

    How do you market a neighborhood where a man was beaten to death in his alley during a “knockout game” attack only a few months ago?

    • JZ71 says:

      That could’ve happened anywhere?

    • KRL says:

      Central West End still seems to be doing pretty well, despite both a knockout attack and a robbery-turned-murder recently.

    • Josh says:

      I’ve lived on Chippewa on this section of street for 6 years, and before that, on Nebraska at Potomac for 4. I have not once had a problem in this neighborhood and there are a ton of good people working hard to do good things. Can craziness like this happen? Obviously, yes. But using a random incident to condemn a neighborhood is the kind of attitude that perpetuates the perception. How do you market a neighborhood like this? You promote the positives, continue to show diligence as a community to address the negatives, and work with local leadership, businesses, and residents to positive change and alter perceptions.

      • And also the knockout game death was west of Grand; this post focused on the street east of Grand.

      • Fozzie says:

        You’re right. The dozens of vacant lots and boarded-up buildings are unfair representations of the neighborhood. What are all of the people who have moved away missing? How do you get the gangbanger residents near Froebel School involved?

        And to place the CWE in the same breath is absolute nonsense.

        • Josh says:

          Do I detect a hint of sarcasm? Look man, you can spin any situation any way that you like. I choose to look at the positives and try to build on them to continue the progress that’s taking place. I can certainly acknowledge the challenges, because there is definitely real work to be done. But painting the situation with a broad negative stroke is counter productive.

          Vacant lots and boarded-up buildings don’t always mean shady-ness and gang activity. They’re often a symptom of past neglect, misfortunes, and changing use of buildings, but they don’t in and of themselves mean trouble. I look at these properties and see great opportunity.

          And the people/businesses that moved away could certainly have done so for a multitude of reasons. Maybe they got old and couldn’t maintain their property anymore, maybe their business closed as the neighborhood dynamics changed, maybe they lost their home to foreclosure…and yes, maybe they got driven out by hoards of kids in gangs. I can’t pretend to know the reasons, so I’m not going to make assumptions.

          My brother used to live next door. The reason he moved was because he wanted to own, rather than rent…and he stayed in the neighborhood when he moved. What about all the people that have moved in? What are their motivations? On my block alone, off the top of my head, roughly 12 people/families have moved into places that were vacant when I bought my house. On that one block. And the “gangbanger” kids near Froebel?…nothing like taking the extremes to try and make a point… Obviously, this handful of kids may not be super receptive to the idea of neighborhood improvement…but if we, as concerned residents and businesses work with our local leaders, law enforcement, and neighborhood groups, long term, the “bad element” will continue to get pushed out, and positive investment will in fact continue.

          • branwell1 says:

            You are right on in your responses and advocacy for your neighborhood. People like yourself can be the foundation for enhancing the community, generally and in specific ways, such as promoting a revitalized commercial district and investment in the area. Cherokee Street has changed dramatically for the better in a few short years. Is it perfect? No. Is there crime there? Yes. Still, every neighborhood has distinctive trends and conditions. Some may be comparatively stable, but with emerging trends indicating incipient decay. Others may be rough and underserved, but showing an emerging vitality indicating steady (if slow) improvement. I grew up in the CWE at a time when the “smart money” view was that it was irretrievably decayed, obsolete, and abandoned by all but a handful of delusional people. This view smugly predicted the exact opposite of the stunning success that area enjoys today. The point is that trends and conditions are not permanent and can be guided to at least some extent by residents who want to sustain a community.

          • moe says:

            Just substitute Laf. Square for CWE as well. Or Tower Grove South, East, or Shaw. All neighborhoods go through cycles. From all indications, this neighborhood has reached the bottom of this cycle and is starting to improve. And that happens two steps forward, one step backward.

  10. GMichaud says:

    The challenge in the coming years is going to be keeping what is already there in place, including the surrounding neighborhoods that support Chippewa. There has been more and more demolition in this area. While there are laws on the books mandating property owners take care of their property, it is rarely enforced except for favored areas such as Lafayette Square, where a nonconforming property owner will be harassed to death over minor details.
    There are many reasons neighborhoods turn around, in the case of Soulard and Lafayette Square, it was individuals finding bargain properties to live in. That is less the case today with lazy speculators all over the place who have no interest in anything but making a buck.
    Ultimately city government must foster the development of a vision and a reason for renewal, but if they are incapable of that, which seems to be the case, then the city government should at a minimum find a way to keep neighborhoods intact until a generation with more foresight can come along and take action. (And tax the hell out of speculators!)

    During the pennant race I heard Joe Buck and Tim McCarver go on and on about how San Francisco is a lovely city. They would never say that about St. Louis, And why not?, it is a failure, for decades now, to properly build a viable city on the part of city and regional leaders. Chippewa is part of that failure.
    The recent Sustainable Regional Plan draft says all of the right things, but it will probably be destined to the old circular file. The reality is there that no political mechanism is in place to rebuild the city in a way that will support this section of Chippewa.

  11. This great strip of land to connect withh the other parts that going throu a new resurgents!!! We all should play a major role in ward meetings…So we can have an impact on where we live or we like to vist with friends for drinks…But the city needs to get some funding and just do some massive sweeps to get the dealers of the corners or where ever ther hangin out at these days days!! if we dont stand up for our community it will never be what we want it to be!!


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