Home » Neighborhoods » Recent Articles:

Village of North St. Louis Founded 200 Years Ago Today

October 1909 Sanborn map shows 2 of 3 circles, click image to view full page
October 1909 Sanborn map shows 2 of 3 circles, click image to view full page

Twenty-Five years ago I’d just moved to the Murphy-Blair neighborhood, now known as Old North St. Louis. The tiny 3-room flat was significantly cheaper than the tiny efficiency I had on Lindell in the Central West End.

Prior to my arrival, neighbors had already been trying to get the neighborhood’s name officially changed. They thought playing off the history was better than being named after a public housing complex.

That history is the area was founded as a separate village — North St. Louis — on June 29, 1816. St. Louis was founded 50+ years earlier, in February 1764.

June 29, 1816:

A town was incorporated which rivaled its southern neighbor, St. Louis, for many years. The new town, founded by Maj. William Christy, was named simply “North St. Louis.” Its southern boundary line was Madison Street, then a considerable distance from the northern boundary of the city which Christy and his associates referred to as “St. Louis under the hill.”

Christy had come to St. Louis from Pennsylvania with advanced ideas about city planning. With two partners, he proposed a scheme for developing a city which would appeal to the settlers flocking in from the East. Street names reflected the founders’ interest in politics — Madison and Monroe; Benton for the young lawyer who would become one of Missouri’s first senators; and Warren, for a hero at Bunker Hill.  A boatyard was established, and inducements offered steamboats to land at North St. Louis instead of farther downstream. A ferry made regular runs between North St. Louis and Alton.  In 1841, just a quarter century after its founding, the city was absorbed into St. Louis. (Source: St. Louis Day by Day by Frances Hurd Stadler, page 122) 

bHere’s another quote, this from the City of St. Louis:

The first attempt to develop this area was made in 1816, when the Village of North St. Louis was incorporated by William Chambers, William C. Christy and Thomas Wright. It was bounded by the present Monroe, Hadley, Montgomery Streets and the Mississippi River. It continued as a village until 1841 when it was absorbed into the City of St. Louis.

A unique feature of the village layout was the provision for three circular public use areas. These were Clinton Place as a school site, Jackson Place for recreational and assembly purposes and Marion Place for a church and cemetery. A public wharf at the foot of North Market Street was called Exchange Square.

The Village was to provide sites for mills similar to those in the New England hometowns of the village’s first settlers.

The village was about a mile upstream above Roy’s Wind Mill, which marked the northern limit of the town of St. Louis at the foot of Ashley Street, and on the Great Trail which later became North Broadway. Other prominent roads of the north side were Natural Bridge Road, which was laid out in the 1840’s as a northwestward extension of Mound Street, and Florissant Road which was a northward continuation of 16th Street in a western addition to the village. 

Today, North St. Louis generally refers to everything North of Delmar — the Delmar Divide. North St. Louis has more poverty, crime, abandoned buildings, & vacant land than the rest of St. Louis. Will this always be the case, or will it change over time?

Readers who voted in the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll were optimistic:

Q: In 25 years, will North St. Louis be better or worse than today?

  • Substantially better 13 [24.07%]
  • Better 13 [24.07%]
  • Slightly better 14 [25.93%]
  • About the same 6 [11.11%]
  • Slightly worse 2 [3.7%]
  • Worse 4 [7.41%]
  • Substantially worse 2 [3.7%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 0 [0%]

Nearly three-quarters feel North St. Louis will be better within a quarter century. I wish I could share their optimism, but the last 26 years have used up all the enthusiasm I had for the future of St. Louis. I do have fond memories of my 3+ years living in Murphy-Blair/Old North St. Louis.

— Steve Patterson


Sunday Poll: Was Opening A New Baseball Stadium Downtown in 1966 A Mistake?

Please vote below
Please vote below

Fifty years ago today  the final baseball game was played at Sportsman’s Park, aka Busch I, a site where where baseball had been played since 1867. On May 12, 1966 Busch Memorial Stadium, aka Busch II, opened. St. Louis’ Chinatown, called Hop Alley, was razed to make room for Busch II:

The earliest Chinese settlers congregated in an area stretching East and West between Seventh and Eighth Streets, and North and South between Market and Walnut Streets, which became the Chinatown of St. Louis, more commonly known as Hop Alley. Hop Alley was the name of a small alley running between Walnut and Market Streets where most boarding houses and apartment buildings were occupied by Chinese residents. It is not known how this neighborhood came to be called Hop Alley, but the name was widely used in contemporary newspapers and other accounts to represent the Chinese business district in St. Louis downtown where Chinese hand laundries, merchandise stores, grocery stores, herb shops, restaurants, and clan association headquarters were located. (Journal of Urban History January 2002)

One neighborhood was razed, another lost a major employer. Was it worth it?

This non-scientrific poll is open until 8pm tonight. Thursday I’ll post the results and share my views on the topic.

— Steve Patterson


Downtown & Downtown West Neighborhoods Should Be Merged Into One

Technically Downtown, a city neighborhood, is only East of Tucker Blvd (12th). So much of what we think of as downtown is considered Downtown West.

Map of Downtown West Neighborhood bounded by Chouteau, Jefferson, Cole, & Tucker; click image to view on city website
Map of Downtown West Neighborhood bounded by Chouteau, Jefferson, Cole, & Tucker; click image to view on city website

All of the following are located not in Downtown, but in Downtown West:

  • Police Headquarters (old & new)
  • City Hall
  • Peabody Opera House
  • Scottrade Center
  • Main U.S. Post Office
  • Soliders Memorial (WWI)
  • Central Library
  • City Museum
  • Campbell House
  • Downtown YMCA
  • Union Station
  • Schlafly’s Tap Room
  • Civic Center MetroLink/MetroBus
  • Transportation Center (Amtrak, Greyhound, Megabus)

But I don’t want news reporters outside police HQ to say “Reporting from Downtown West”, I think we should combine the two.

From a 1989 Post-Dispatch article:

SECTIONS OF St. Louis have an identity crisis, says Mayor Vincent C. SchoemehlJr. ”There’s this impression that north St. Louis is some monolithic area that’s unfit to live in,” Schoemehl said. ”Frankly, there’re some very good neighborhoods in north St. Louis, as good as any around. But when you hear about a murder or a rape or some other crime occurring in north St. Louis, all the neighborhoods in north St. Louis become tarred with the same brush.” The identity crisis has sparked a campaign, beginning this week, that stresses neighborhoods – 74 to be exact. No longer will there just be the North Side, the South Side, the Central West End or downtown. ”This is one of our attempts to market the neighborhoods of the city,” said Clara Kinner, director of communications for the city’s Economic Development Corp. ”People should understand that there are several different neighborhoods with several different personalities and attributes,” she said. Many, but not all, of the new neighborhood boundaries will coincide with the boundaries set by existing neighborhood associations, Kinner said. (P4, October 15, 1989)

So when the city first created the neighborhood map it had 74 neighborhoods, but currently it is 79:

There are 79 different neighborhoods, each with its own distinctive style and characteristics. Many of these neighborhoods have very active community organizations and associations. Some are on the rebound, while others have remained stable for decades, and still others are striving for renewal. A variety of sources for information about neighborhoods exist, both on and off this website. None of these sources include everything there is to know about a neighborhood, but by putting together information from each of these sources, one may get a sense of the incredible variety of lifestyles available in the diverse neighborhoods of the City of St. Louis. (St. Louis Neighborhoods)

Now you might be wondering if the Downtown West neighborhood association would object to being consolidated with Downtown’s NA. Well, there has never been a separate Downtown West neighborhood association. The Downtown Neighborhood Association boundaries had included all of Downtown and about half of Downtown West, but last month their bylaws were amended to expand their boundaries to match both.

The Downtown Community Improvement District boundaries also includes much of Downtown West. Just because people in 1989 wanted to better identify where murders happened doesn’t mean we can’t alter the map 26 years later. It’s time to reduce the 79 neighborhoods to 78!

— Steve Patterson



Rehabbed Corner Storefront Now A Bright Spot In Fox Park Neighborhood

In November 2011 I posted about a Saturday in Fox Park, the city park in the neighborhood of the same name. At that time a storefront building just across California Ave from the park (map) was vacant, boarded up, and for sale. Neighborhood resident and blogger Mark Groth and I discussed that cold morning how nice it would be to have a restaurant across from the park.

The vacant commercial building in the background on November, 2011
The vacant commercial building in the background on November, 2011 as neighbors work in the park
The building at 2800 Shenandoah on January 24, 2012. Source: Geo St. Louis
The building at 2800 Shenandoah on January 24, 2012. Source: Geo St. Louis

I know what you’re thinking, two bloggers dreaming again.  Show me the money, right? The demographics aren’t right, or some other negative viewpoint. To the rest of us, we look at the above and see potential. We may not have the ability to rehab the building but there are rehabbers that share our vision. One such rehabber bought the building and renovated it. Michelle Veremakis, originally from upstate New York, came to St. Louis in 2008 after five years in California.  I asked Veremakis how she decided to buy and restore this building:

It was listed on the MLS. I had looked at it and was a worried that it would be more work than it was worth, considering the condition of the building and the immediate neighborhood. Instead, I put an offer in on a ‘safer’ building in McKinley Heights… But I just couldn’t shake the feeling I got standing inside 2800 Shenandoah. So, I followed my gut, ended the contract on the other building and began negotiations with DeSales.

For many who buy & rehab buildings it is about that “gut” feeling they get. Veremakis rehabs property in the city and county, preferring the “worst of the worst.” She closed on the property in December 2011 and completed the rehab by October 2012.

Long-time Fox Park resident Brooke Roseberry had been thinking about opening a neighborhood restaurant. Brooke and her husband Tony considered the former Tanner B’s space, but in 2013 decided to lease the newly-renovated storefront space at California & Shenandoah. After a delayed build out of the interior, The Purple Martin opened a few months ago.

The same building today
The same building today
At night the interior lights illuminate the life the building now contains. Source: The Purple Martin
At night the interior lights illuminate the life the building now contains. Source: The Purple Martin
Inside looking out. Source: The Purple Martin
Inside looking out. Source: The Purple Martin

My last question to Michelle Veremakis, the owner of the building: When you first looked at the building did you have a vision for what would go into the first floor?

Everything in reference to that building was motivated by vision.  Having purchased one of the most prominent buildings in Fox Park, we felt that we were in the unique position to benefit and inspire the neighborhood; first by revitalizing the neglected building and secondly by choosing a business (and business owners) that had the energy, intention, and vision to create something great.  After completing construction we advertised the space to the public, specifically targeting eating establishments, feeling that food creates community, and that community could bring this corner to greatness.  But money talks, right?  Unfortunately, it does which made deciding to turn away paying commercial tenants because their business type failed to meet our vision, particularly painful.   However, my genetically inherited stubbornness paid off, and V2 properties could not be more proud or excited to have The Purple Martin at 2800 Shenandoah.   Brooke and Tony are exactly what this neighborhood needs and deserves… they share in the vision, but more importantly, they are all heart.

I think Fox Park and St. Louis are lucky to have these two businesswomen! Here’s information on The Purple Martin:

Try the lablabi!

— Steve Patterson


Absentee Landlord Quickly Located Using Internet

This post is about an absentee landlord, how the city reacts to code violations, and a blogger stepping in to make change happen. I’d originally planned to post the property address and the name of the owner, but he responded to my letter, we’ve texted, talked on the phone, and emailed. Publicly embarrassing him would serve no purpose, at this point.

Twenty-four years ago tomorrow a prominent local family bought a property in the McKinley Heights neighborhood, they’ve been renting it all these years. The house is very attractive, and maintained. The carriage house, however, has been falling down for years, at least according to a neighbor. I viewed the carriage house from the alley, from the neighbor’s 2nd floor porch, and satellite images.

You can easily see daylight by pushing on the carriage door
You can easily see daylight by pushing on the carriage door, the entire structure is covered in vines

The flat roof has large holes, the floor to the 2nd floor no longer exists. When I emailed city officials to inquire about why this property was allowed to be in this condition, I’d been cited for much less. At the last minute in my email I added a sentence wondering if the owner’s last name is why ore if it was incompetence. I got called on that, and apologized. A couple of days later a reply comes from a staff member at the Building Division with a copy of the 2011 violation letter and a note saying the owner failed to contact them, failed to show up for housing court in 2011, and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. Wow, so a prominent last name doesn’t get them off the hook!

I got involved and within a week had the owner talking to the building department about fixing the carriage house. My secret? The internet!  The address of record for this property is the owner’s bank in suburban Ballwin, they pay the annual tax bill. However, it seems they discard all other correspondence sent by the city. I used the internet to find the owner’s home address, also in Ballwin. Before I’d heard back from the city about the violation letter and bench warrant, I’d mailed the owner a letter asking his intentions. I found his phone number online too, but chose to mail a letter knowing that would be less confrontational. He called me, we played phone tag a little before finally speaking.  He had no idea about the 2011 violation letter, the missed housing court date, or the bench warrant.

I got his email address so I could forward to him what the city emailed me, along with contact information for the Building Division, Cultural Resources, and a link to the McKinley Heights Historic District Design Standards. I immediately replied to the city officials I’d been emailing with to fill them in on the discussion along with how to reach him. The very next night the Neighborhood Stabilization Officer (NSO) told the neighborhood meeting the bench warrant had been served. With a bench warrant the police don’t come looking for you, but get pulled over for speeding you’ll be taken in when they see it in the system.

The bench warrant wasn’t served, as told to the neighborhood, I used the internet to track down the property owner. Most likely everyone at city hall followed their procedures, mailing letters to the recorded address. Waiting and mailing more letters. It’s very clear the address is in care of a bank. Many property owners have the tax bill sent to an address other than their home, sometimes it is the property itself. When the city fails to get a response from the first letter mailed to such an address they need to try something new rather than mailing a court notice to the same address.

How many other properties are in the same situation because city staff haven’t searched online for the property owner? The staff may not be incompetent, but the official procedures are if they don’t include taking a half an hour to do some searching online.

— Steve Patterson