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Think Twice Before Writing Off an Ugly Building

virginia ave kroeger - 2I hear it often, “that building is not worth saving.” Indeed, many of our buildings have been so poorly remodeled over the decades that it is hard to imagine them as anything but an eyesore. Such is the case with the building shown at right.

If you’ve been to the awesome Iron Barley restaurant on Virginia in Dutchtown then you’ve probably seen this building at the corner of Virginia and Fassen (map). To most eyes it is not worthy anything except the wrecking ball.

But what did it once look like?

… Continue Reading


Hodak’s Seeking to Close Part of Cushing Street

The Benton Park Neighborhood is being asked to support a plan by Hodak’s restaurant (map) to close part of Cushing St. so that the popular eatery can expand its increasing number of parking spaces.

Hodak’s is seeking to close Cushing St. from McNair Ave. to a small street known as Devolsey St. Hodak’s is already surrounded by way too much parking, especially since they (illegally) razed buildings to the east a few years ago for more parking. Yet, that is not good enough. They want more spaces and more control.

As it is Hodak’s parking remains vacant during most hours of the day with a large spike at dinner time. Do we really want to see streets closed and possibly more buildings razed simply for a dinner crowd? Not me.

Granted, Custing St. is not much of a street. Really, it is more of a glorified alley but it does serve a number of adjacent property owners along McNair & Victor as well as some real alleys connecting to the street. It is wide enough to provide access for emergency vehicles for various properties on both sides.

At this time I do not know what position, if any, that Alderwoman Phyllis Young has taken. If you have an opinion please be sure to share it with her and in the comments below.

The Benton Park Neighborhood Association meeting is tonight at The Epiphany United Church of Christ located at 2911 Mc Nair. The first hour, 6:30pm – 7:30pm, is a pot luck dinner and problem property meeting with the main meeting starting at 7:30pm.

[UPDATE 5/3 @ 9:20am – The closure of Cushing would only be “partial”, not going all the way to McNair. It still prevents through traffic.]

– Steve


Pyramid’s Claims to be “Leader in Urban Redevelopment”

sullivan_place - 12.jpg

John Steffen’s Pyramid Companies is trying to remake its tarnished public image. Their website is newly updated with a vision statement:

The Pyramid Companies were founded in 1992 to realize owner John Steffen’s vision to rebuild urban areas with high quality historic renovations and the construction of new homes. Today, Pyramid is the acknowledged leader of urban redevelopment in the City of St. Louis with over $500 million in projects completed or in various stages of development.

“Acknowledged leader?” Under who’s terms? Perhaps if you look solely at the total cost of the projects they are the biggest, most likely with the most tax-payer contributions. Biggest does not mean the best. What about criteria that includes urban form factor? How about neighborhoods that have long-term prospects of remaining sustainable in 50 years?

With most of Pyramid’s bigger projects located downtown in existing structures it has been nearly impossible for them to screw up the urban form. But their new construction, throughout the city, has been highly questionable.

The mission statement talks about “John Steffen’s vision to rebuild urban areas.” I think his vision is a bit cloudy. One look at Pyramid’s new Sullivan Place project, at right, and it is easy to doubt any vision other than a money making suburban one. Steffen certainly can’t think Sullivan Place represents a wonderful urban vision!

Over the years they’ve built numerous projects of questionable urbanity. Early projects included very suburban looking houses along Delmar with front-facing garages. Moving on they started and then abandoned Keystone Place. What was built there had attached garages and long driveways, a small step up from front garages. Sure, a detached garage option was listed in sales literature but customers were never shown a display from which to chose.

Next up was King Louis Square, an apartment complex trying hard to be urban but falling short on several levels such as building form and the actual architecture with its PVC molding carelessly applied to the facade. Just up the street they built Old Frenchtown, another uninspired apartment complex. Now we have La Saison, a new single family home project between King Louis Square & Old Frenchtown. In La Saison many of the homes are set far apart and nearly all are set way back from the street as if they were in suburbia. Poor detailing on the houses does not bode well for their long-term value. Pyramid had a great opportunity to create a wonderful mixed-used neighborhood where these recent projects stand yet their suburban “vision” resulted in the housing types all being segregated from each other. This land, cleared once in the 1950’s for public housing, was cleared again in the 1990’s. We should have demanded better. Although, we should have gotten better from a major developer and the city.

A true urban vision would have resulted in a greater variety of housing types, all mixed. We would have seen rental buildings next to single family homes next to attached townhouses. Granny flats over some garages could have helped create affordable rental units convenient to transportation and jobs. Commercial activity on Park in Lafayette Square should have been continued East toward Tucker. Apartments/condos over storefronts would have helped create streets people might actually walk down. As it is, this redeveloped area is clean but lifeless. Is this Steffen’s vision?

Back to propping up Pyramid’s image.

A recent St. Louis Business Journal article on Pyramid was little more than a press release. Everyone got into the act:

“We have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that John will be able to complete St. Louis Centre and the other projects he has embarked on, based on the fact that over the past five years, everything that he has said he would do in the downtown area, he has done and done on schedule,” Geisman said.

The key phrase is “in the downtown area.” Other quotes in the same article used the same ‘downtown’ qualifier. Pyramid’s downtown track record might be good but outside downtown the track record is poor, and getting worse.

– Steve


BicycleWORKS Offers Great Programs & Great Bikes

Gas prices got you down? Try bicycling either to work or for errands. If you need a good & inexpensive used bike I know just the place: BicycleWORKS.

Located in the Shaw neighborhood at the corner of Shenandoah & Thurman (map), this non-profit teaches kids to rebuild bicycles through the Earn-A-Bike program. Their mission statement:

Saint Louis BicycleWORKS was founded in 1988 by a Shaw Neighborhood resident who saw the need to provide area youth with the opportunity to develop a skill and to challenge them to test the limits of their abilities. This vision combined with the universal appeal of the bicycle became the building block of this innovative organization. BicycleWORKS is the first St. Louis program to use the bicycle as a vehicle to teach youth responsibility and good work habits. Its programs are structured and work-intensive. BicycleWORKS combines vocational training with educational enrichment and challenging physical and mental activity. Bicycle Works is located in the Shaw neighborhood at the southwest corner of Shenandoah and Thurman and welcomes applications from youth ages 9-17 from any St. Louis neighborhood.

Adults seeking a good used bike will have luck there as well as the volunteer staff rebuilds bikes to sell to help fund the work they do with kids. I know many of the people involved in the group and trust me, they know bikes!

Their main hours are 10am to 1pm on Saturdays. Volunteers are needed if you are interested.

Even if you are not in the market for a bike I suggest you check out their new website — it is really well done with some great photos.

– Steve


New Retail Garden Center Opens in CWE

Please do not buy plants at Home Depot. Preferably, don’t buy anything at Home Depot or the new Lowe’s when it opens in Loughborough Commons. I would be thrilled to see both of these big box chains close their St. Louis area stores due to everyone shopping at locally owned stores instead. But, I’m getting sidetracked on a big box rant. This is a positive post!

Bowood Farms

A very cool looking new garden center has just opened in the West End at 4605 Olive:

Bowood Farms has been growing quality plants since 1989, specializing in perennials, roses, ferns, groundcovers, grasses, shrubs and vines. We have an extensive line of missouri native plants as well. Now we are bringing these quality plants directly to you so please come check out our new St. Louis retail garden center when it opens this spring. Please call for hours and directions. We can also special grow native plants for you landscape projects, please call to inquire.

4605 Olive St.
St. Louis, MO 63108
Telephone: (314)454-6868

This company is making a huge investment in the area. They’ve done a great job with the buildings so far and they are planning more, including a cafe. From hellmuth+bicknese architects:

The project is being designed as a destination point featuring a central street side cafe with a terrace overlooking the plant displays. A high loggia surrounds the open-air displays with an upper gallery beneath a green roof. The cafe itself contains a bar and seating area with 14′ ceilings and views to the plant displays through a green screen archway. The inside seating area is around 860 SF with an outdoor terraced seating area of 1,200 SF.

The cafe are is still under construction but the retail garden center is open for business.

St. Louis City and County are dotted with other locally owned retail garden centers such as Bayer’s on Hampton. I’ve also bought plants at the place on the NE corner of Watson & Fyler (I always forget the name). I think the South Side Garden Center is still open on Cherokee at Compton. Even if you are not in the city you most likely have a locally owned nursery near you home. Some are small but others can be quite big and offer a larger selection than the big box places.

So back to Bowood.

Ghetto barriers in CWEThe building is located on Olive just East of Euclid. But, if you are going there by car don’t take Euclid because you can’t get through. The streets in this area have been blockaded for years.

At one time these concrete barriers may have made sense but today they stand in the way of investment marching through areas where it is needed. A few places, like Bowood, have leapt over the barriers but the area still has the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ feel. Take them away, or at least move them a block or two every few years.

– Steve