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St. Louis’ Cherokee Street developing organically

ABOVE: STYLEhouse (STL-Style), Fort Gondo & Tower Taco.

I recently attended an evening open house on Cherokee Street.  Not the blocks immediately East or West of Jefferson, but on the block East of Compton (aerial of Cherokee & Compton).  Slowly and organically storefronts along Cherokee Street have been filled by various businesses.

Pictured above is local garment company STYLEhouse (advertiser STL-Style), gallery Fort Gondo (compound for the arts) and restaurant Tower Tacos.   Across the street snowflake/citystock was hosting an event as well. To the West is a new independent bookstore,  The Archive.  See Dotage St. Louis for a list of independent bookstores in the City of St. Louis. All Along Press was on this block but they recently moved East on Cherokee Street.

What is great about Cherokee is that the rebirth is very organic.  There was no grandiose plan, no multi-block project.   Building by building the area is coming back.  Collaboration among the individuals and entities has been important but that is different than a big physical project.  In places where you have strong urban context intact all you need are measures to ensure the urban/walkable building fabric remains — no razing a block for a drive-thru.  In those parts of the city what the urban fabric has already been lost you need good form-based codes to guide new construction so you eventually end up with good walls along the streets.  With good zoning in place, the infill can also happen organically over time.

Whenever you have the transformation of a street or neighborhood one word often comes up: gentrification.   As it happens, gentrification is the discussion topic for the March 4th City Affair to be held at STYLEhouse (STL-Style) on Cherokee:  CITY AFFAIR XIV: GENTRIFICATION.

– Steve Patterson


Brick by Brick: 2857 Cherokee Street

At the West end of the Cherokee Station Business District lies a three story brick storefront property. Ruined by years of neglect, this rotting structure stands in defiance of being utterly forgotten by its owners.

2857 Cherokee

2857 Cherokee

The city finally issued a condemnation notice last week. The door had been kicked in by vagrants, unmasking the internal ruin. This debris-filled stairwell degrades right inside of the front doorway. Plainly visible to any passerby; and enticing to anyone needing a free place to stay the night.

Saint Louis doesn’t need to be losing any more buildings, that goes especially for 107 year old brick storefronts. South City has done a remarkable job of avoiding the wholesale tear-downs that ravaged North City. South City has thoroughly rejected bulldozers and the McKee’s that circle over them. Thanks to dedicated landlords, an undaunted Alderman, energetic entrepreneurs and activists, and a sprinkling of idealistic artists Cherokee Street has managed to save, restore, and invigorate its numerous historic buildings.

2857 is the only building within the mixed-use/commercial district in the shape it’s in.

20th Ward Alderman Craig Schmid, once contacted about the property’s condemnation, committed to finding what resources the city has in getting the property into the hands of a responsible developer.

The situation is ripe for a community-driven rehab project. As a resident and proprietor on Cherokee Street, I have a vested interest in seeing this building reconstructed. Other stakeholders, business owners and residents, have expressed interest in pooling what resources they have to save this building.

To be sure, this is a major job. The structural report states plainly that whole walls will need to be relaid. Internal damage is severe, water has had nearly every window open to its invasion. Plants have managed to grow from the windowsills and a tree has sprung out of the garage.

This post is a call for more involvement. Brick by Brick Saint Louis needs to be preserved. If you are a rehabber, a member of the Cherokee Street community, or simply a fellow Saint Louisan dedicated to the preservation of architectural history I ask that you join this project.

For more information on how to get involved please contact me.   With enough volunteers we can start putting together an organization and a plan to save this building.

Update: Before I’ve even managed to post the first installment, new developments have arisen. On Saturday, June 20th, workmen were spotted making superficial fixes on the building. A real door has been placed in the front; no other changes are visible.

Photos provided by Cranky Yellow’s photographer Amanda Beard; www.amandabeardphotography.com. All rights reserved.

– Angelo Stege


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.


The Future of a Tiny Vacant Lot on Cherokee Street

For decades a handsome 3-story building stood over the SE corner of Cherokee & Texas (map).  The building served as home to the Empire Sandwich Shop.

Above: Building at Cherokee & Texas before being razed in the Spring of 2006. Source: City of St. Louis.

By 2005 the Empire was closed.  The building’s owners, unable to sell the property, “gifted” it to the City of St. Louis.  Within months the roof caved in.  9th Ward Alderman Ken Ortmann was faced with a “heartbreaking” reality: emergency demolition of the building.

Source: Google Maps Street View
Source: Google Map's Street View

In the 3 years since the building came down the city owned corner has changed little.  The ground is uneven and bare.  It is a hole in an otherwise mostly intact and up and coming commercial district.  The other three corners at the intersection are in the 20th Ward represented by Ald. Craig Schmidt.  Furthermore the South side of Cherokee Street is the Gravois Park neighborhood while the North side is Benton Park West.  Add in the Cherokee Station Business Association and you quickly get a lot of interested parties.

In October 2008 it was announced “the Incarnate Word Foundation has agreed to invest $25,000 to seed what those who care about the neighborhood decide would be most effective in answering these questions.”  A meeting was held to get ideas.  Out of that came three concepts: a free wi-fi network for Cherokee Street, a community garden and a plaza on this vacant corner lot (more info from Cherokee Street News).  In November a community vote on the 3 concepts was held.

The plaza on the vacant city owned lot won the vote, eventually.  Voting took place over a couple of months.  The plaza idea was announced the winner in late January (view).

Alderman Ken Ortmann refused to release the lot, he wants to keep it available for new construction.  He supports grass but with the city staying in control of the lot.  I agree the lot needs to have a building.  There is no such thing as a temporary plaza.

A couple of people brought the issue to my attention.  I called Ald. Ortmann to discuss.  I’ve been at odds numerous times with Ald Ortmann before but in this case I think he is right to hold out for a new building. I agree with him that a miscommunication occured.  This is why email makes such a nice record.

So what is the wait?  Yes, the current economy is a mess.  But 3 years later no grass?  No RFP (Request for Proposals) issued by the city to unload the lot and get a new building?

Further reading:

All this talk of Cherokee Street has me thinking I need to find a smoke-free place there for some good Mexican food!


Cherokee Street May Remain a “dry” Street

Ald. Craig Schmid (D-20th) is continuing his anti drinking establishment campaign in the 20th ward, which includes parts of Cherokee St West of Jefferson Ave. Schmid has introduced new legislation titled “Prohibiting package liquor in the 20th Ward.” (see BB47) The exception is for restaurants that get at least 35% of their revenue from food sales.

Schmid’s attitude is summed up in the bill as legislative findings:

The existence of alcoholic beverage establishments appears to contribute directly to numerous peace, health, safety and general welfare problems including loitering, littering, drug trafficking, prostitution, public drunkenness, defacement and damaging of structures, pedestrian obstructions, as well as traffic circulation, parking and noise problems on public streets and neighborhood lots. The existence of such problems creates serious impacts on the health, safety and welfare of residents of single- and multiple-family residences within the district, including fear for the safety of children, elderly residents and of visitors to the district. The problems also contribute to the deterioration of the neighborhood and concomitant devaluation of property and destruction of community values and quality of life. The number of establishments selling alcoholic beverages and the associated problems discourage more desirable and needed commercial uses in the area. In order to preserve the residential character and the neighborhood-serving commercial uses of the area.

Wow, why do we allow such debauchery to run rampant throughout the rest of the city? Gee, maybe because he is operating under the false impression that prostitution will cease to exist if only people can’t buy a drink at a bar.

Oh but it gets better:

the Excise Commissioner shall have authority to:

(3) Issue a drink license only with the following conditions applied and enforced in an area with a Cherokee Street address from the west curbline of Iowa Avenue to the east curbline of Nebraska Avenue
A. No package liquor and premises must be operated as a restaurant with gross food sales constituting at least 35% of gross sales; and
B. Operator of the premises must have and maintain at all times written permission to use a public commercial parking facilities within 350 feet of the premis:
with a minimum of at least 15 parking spaces (paved, striped, having a six foot good quality, sturdy ornamental metal fence surrounding it and adequate lighting, and with concrete wheel stops, all complying with City of St. Louis requirements); and if there is live entertainment or live performances, with a minimum of at least 30 parking spaces (paved, striped, having a six foot good quality, sturdy ornamental metal fence surrounding it and adequate lighting, and with concrete wheel stops, all complying with City of St. Louis requirements); and having at a minimum at least 30 additional parking spaces for every 1000 square feet of business space in excess of the first 1000 square feet of business space.

Well, there we have it. More parking in an urban neighborhood commercial district.

And we all love establishments with cafe tables — as long as they keep a clear path. But what about a cafe table behind a 4ft high fence?

J. Sidewalk tables for restaurant purposes only may only be permitted in accordance with an extension of premises permit with an appropriate 4 foot high good quality, sturdy, black ornamental metal fence separating the tables from the rest of the minimum 4 foot wide public sidewalk;

The reality is nobody is going to open a wine bar under such conditions which probably suits Schmid just fine.  This isn’t a class thing for Schmid — the person who downs a $2 bud is just as bad as friends that share a $40 bottle of wine.

To the business association this legislation would be an impediment to competing with other commercial districts where the rules are less restrictive.  To me Schmid only knows how to run off perceived problems — he hasn’t a clue how to bring life back to a once thriving commercial street.