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Tenth Year Looking at St. Louis’ Doctor Martin Luther King Drive

This is my 10th year blogging on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, on each of the previous nine years I’ve taken a look at Dr. Martin Luther King Drive in the City of St. Louis. Let’s start at the Mississippi River withn the King Bridge, originally known as the Veterans Memorial Bridge.

The MLK Bridge viewed from an Amtrak train in 2012
The MLK Bridge viewed from an Amtrak train in 2012

The Veterans Memorial Bridge was built by the City of East Saint Louis as a toll bridge, opening in 1951. At the time, it was the 6th longest cantilevered truss bridge in the US, and the largest cantilevered truss bridge over the Mississippi River. It carried US-40 and US-66 from 1955 until 1967. When the Poplar Street interstate highway bridge opened as a free bridge in 1967, the toll revenue from the Veterans Memorial Bridge dropped off dramatically. Eventually, both the bridge and the City of East Saint Louis would end up going bankrupt. The bridge was renamed in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. The structure continued to go downhill until it had to be taken over by the Saint Louis Port Authority and rebuilt in the late 1980’s, opening again in early 1989. (Source)

At that time drivers coming into St. Louis on the newly renamed bridge crossed under the elevated highway but the road split — Delmar Ave. to the left (south) or Franklin Ave. to the right (north). This 1958 aerial is clearer than the 1971 aerial.  My guess is there was debate in St. Louis about which street to rename for Dr. King.  This is just a hunch given the fact it wasn’t until 1972 that part of Franklin Avenue and Easton Avenue were renamed to honor Dr. King.  I hope to do some research on the naming process before MLK Day 2015.

 MARTIN LUTHER KING DRIVE (E-W). (Official designation is DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING DRIVE.) Following the route of the early trail from St. Louis to St. Charles, this street was officially named St. Charles Rock Road in 1865 and renamed Easton Avenue in 1881 to honor Rufus Easton, an early St. Louis postmaster. It received its present name following the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968. King won a Nobel Prize in 1964 for his work to gain full civil rights for black Americans.  

EASTON AVENUE (E-W). Honored Rufus Easton, who was named St. Louis’ first postmaster in 1805. He also served as Missouri’s first attorney general and gained recognition as one of the leading lawyers of his day. The name Easton still occasionally appears on city street maps although Easton Avenue is now known as Dr. Martin Luther King Drive. (St. Louis Library Street Index):

Just a few years later we began removing blocks of Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, first the two blocks were between 7th-9th for the Cervantes Convention Center, which opened in 1977. This cut off the ability to drive directly from the King Bridge onto MLK Drive.

Cervantes Convention Center. 801 Convention Center Plaza. St. Louis Mo. August, 1977. Photograph (35mm Kodachrome) by Ralph D'Oench, 1977. Missouri Historical Society Photographs and Prints Collections. NS 30747. Scan © 2006, Missouri Historical Society.
Cervantes Convention Center. 801 Convention Center Plaza. St. Louis Mo. August, 1977. Photograph (35mm Kodachrome) by Ralph D’Oench, 1977. Missouri Historical Society Photographs and Prints Collections. NS 30747. Scan © 2006, Missouri Historical Society.
The block between 10th & 11th remains, the back of the Ramada on the south and surface parking on the north.
The block between 10th & 11th remains, the back of the Ramada on the south and surface parking on the north. The hotel was built in 1980
Looking east from 11th
Looking east from 11th, this block is now a private driveway. The building on the left is from 1984, the building on the right from 1987.
Looking west from the same spot this block was closed to vehicles
Looking west from the same spot this block of MLK was closed to vehicles in 1980 when the Board of Education building on the left was built.
The continuous MLK Dr begins at Hadley St, one block east of Tucker. Post-Dispatch on the north side, the rebuilt plaza formerly named Interco Plaza.
The continuous MLK Dr begins at Hadley St, one block east of Tucker. Post-Dispatch on the north side, the rebuilt plaza formerly named Interco Plaza.
The marker is about the rebuild of Tucker, not about this lifeless "park."
The marker is about the rebuild of Tucker, not about this lifeless “park.”
Between 19th-20th property owner Ameren/UE is doing some grading work, not sure why though.
Between 19th-20th property owner Ameren/UE is doing some grading work, not sure why though.
Another Crown Food Mart has opened on MLK, this one is at Vandeventer
Another Crown Food Mart has opened on MLK, this one is at Vandeventer
At Taylor I noticed this new storefront because it stood out from how it looked for years
At Taylor I noticed this new storefront because it stood out from how it looked for years
I couldn't find my photos so I grabbed this from Google Streetview.
I couldn’t find my photos so I grabbed this from Google Streetview. The building was originally built in 1885.
The Family Dollar store #1562 at 4949 Dr. Martin Luther King closed
The Family Dollar store #1562 at 4949 Dr. Martin Luther King closed
At the city limits we have the old Wellston Loop streetcar building
At the city limits we have the old Wellston Loop streetcar building
The other side of Hodiamont there's a new fence, but it's not clear what this area is for.
The other side of Hodiamont there’s a new fence, but it’s not clear what this area is for.
A year ago
A year ago renovations were underway
ggg
The Premier Lounge at 5969 Martin Luther King
The Wellston Loop shopping area has been described as the "black downtown"
The Wellston Loop shopping area has been described as the “black downtown”, click image to see YouTube video. This is likely a reason why Easton Ave was selected to honor Dr. King.
Image: Page 59 of the district nomination to the National Register, click to view
Looking east from Hamilton Ave in July 1963. Image: Page 59 of the district’s nomination to the National Register, click to view
One organization thinks a plaza on vacant land will revitalize the area
One organization thinks building a “Legacy Park” on vacant land will revitalize the area. Click the image for more information.
I'm not convinced a park/plaza is the answer when nearby buildings are boarded up -- one has a giant hole in the side.
I’m not convinced a park/plaza is the answer when nearby buildings are boarded up — one has a giant hole in the side.

There are now several groups working in the Wellston Loop area, each with the stated goal to revitalize the area. Their strategies are diverse and not entirely compatible with each other. Over the next year I plan to talk with the various players, asking each why they think their strategy will be successful.

— Steve Patterson

 

Arlington Grove Apartments: An Urban Project In An Unplanned Context

In yesterday’s post, my 9th annual look at Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, I briefly mentioned the now-complete Arlington Grove Apartments. Today is a closer look at this project by McCormack Baron Salazar, the folks behind the North Sarah Apartments.

The biggest problems with Arlington Grove is the context: crossing Martin Luther King Drive on foot and recent non-urban developments.

ABOVE: The urban Arlington Grove Apts as seen from the auto-centric gas station across the street
ABOVE: The urban Arlington Grove Apts as seen from the auto-centric gas station across the street

The gas station across the street is a 4,300 square foot building on a 52,087 square foot lot, built in 2007.  It is massive and destroys urban potential of the three-story buildings facing MLK Dr.

ABOVE: The Arlington Grove project will occupy the entire city block.  Image: Google Maps (click to view)
ABOVE: Aerial view of the site before construction began. Image: Google Maps
ABOVE: Aerial after construction completed. Image: Google Maps
ABOVE: Aerial after construction completed, note the solar panels. Image: Google Maps

Arlington Grove contains 112 1, 2 & 3-bedroom apartments in 22 new buildings and a renovated 3-story school on two parcels totaling 213,800 square feet. At the scale of the gas station, this large site would contain just 17,650 square feet of interior space. Each floor of the renovated school contains nearly 15,000 square feet!  The school, without the 22 new buildings, was already far denser than the gas station.

In other words, these two are radically different visions for the community. The 112 new apartments doesn’t detract from the gas station, but the gas station is a major detractor from the new residential neighborhood.  An urban gas station like this one in Milwaukee would’ve been ideal to create a 3-story front to MLK while also providing a place for people to fuel their cars. Update 1/122 @ 9:25am: See this example of an urban gas station on Google maps here.

Artist rendering of people easily crossing MLK
ABOVE: Artist rendering of people easily crossing MLK
ABOVE: The actual street is missing places to safely cross.
ABOVE: The actual street is missing places to safely cross.
ABOVE: The nearest place to cross MLK is the west side of Clara Ave that runs next to the gas station. Arlington Grove can be seen in the far right.
ABOVE: The nearest place to cross MLK is the west side of Clara Ave that runs next to the gas station. Arlington Grove can be seen in the far right.

The next place to cross is Arlington Ave four blocks to the east! Someone needs to look at this area and make it easier/safer to cross the street.

Ok, back to the development itself. Like I said, the Arlington School, built in 1900, is the centerpiece.

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ABOVE: In 2011 work had begun on adapting the Arlington School to apartments
ABOVE:
ABOVE: The renovated school building now full of apartments
ABOVE: The old Arlington School is the centerpiece of the development
ABOVE: The old Arlington School is the centerpiece of the development

The one flaw I found with Arlington Grove is wheelchair access to the school building. A wheelchair ramp is provided in back — very convenient for anyone driving a $45,000 van.

ABOVE: Pedestrians entering from the pedestrian entry off Cote Brilliante don't have a direct path, a curb is a barrier.
ABOVE: Pedestrians entering from the pedestrian entry off Cote Brilliante Ave don’t have a direct path, a curb is a barrier (foreground).
ABOVE: What could've been an excellent pedestrian route is easily fixed
ABOVE: From the opposite view, what could’ve been an excellent pedestrian route is easily fixed. I had a leasing person come out to see the problem.
arlingtongrove8
ABOVE: The blue line shows how the current ramps force wheelchair users to go out of their way and into the auto drive rather than just crossing it at a less busy point.
ABOVE: I like that one of the two 3-story buildings facing MLK has storefront spaces
ABOVE: I like that one of the two 3-story buildings facing MLK has storefront spaces
The 22 new buildings have similar materials but unique designs.
The 22 new buildings have similar materials but unique designs.

I realize the entire 5+ mile stretch of Dr. Martin Luther King Drive can’t be lined with 3-story buildings, some with storefronts. But with some advanced planning the Arlington Grove development could’ve been anticipated prior to the construction of the gas station in 2007. That would’ve allowed for the plans to create similar building scales on both sides of MLK with either an urban gas station or with the gas station located a little further away.

But we don’t plan, we do piecemeal.

— Steve Patterson

 

Little Change on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive

This is my ninth look at St. Louis’ Martin Luther King Jr. Drive on Martin Luther King Day.  As before, the street doesn’t do the man justice. For the previous eight years I started downtown, west to the city limits and returned. That was done by car or motor scooter, but I longer have a car.  Recently returning to St. Louis in a rented car I had the foresight to exit I-44 at Jamison, making my way over to McCausland and Skinker to the west end of MLK Dr.

The following are sixteen images from my drive east to downtown.

ABOVE: Commercial district continues west off the city limits
ABOVE: Commercial district continues west off the city limits line
ABOVE: Just inside the city limits is the old Wellston Loop streetcar building
ABOVE: Just inside the city limits is the old Wellston Loop streetcar building
ABOVE: Across the street the once bustling district is largely vacsant
ABOVE: Across the street the once bustling district is largely vacsant
ABOVE: The former JC Penny store continues to deteriorate
ABOVE: The former JC Penny store continues to deteriorate
ABOVE: But businesses do exist today, still serving the needs of area residents
ABOVE: But businesses do exist today, still serving the needs of area residents
ABOVE: Just east of Goodfellow is one of my personal favorites
ABOVE: Just east of Goodfellow is one of my personal favorites
ABOVE: Housing development Arlington Grove is now open -- and fully occupied. More on this tomorrow.
ABOVE: Housing development Arlington Grove is now open — the residential units are fully occupied. More on this tomorrow.
ABOVE: Surprised to see this building still standing, even more surprised to see the front being tuck pointed.
ABOVE: Surprised to see this building still standing, even more surprised to see the front being tuck pointed.
ABOVE: Two of the four corners of Union & MLK have former gas stations, a third is currently a gas station.
ABOVE: Two of the four corners of Union & MLK have former gas stations, a third is currently a gas station.
ABOVE: A new tenant is in the retail space at MLK & Kingshighway, but it wasn't even built with a connection to the public sidewalk just a few feet away
ABOVE: A new tenant is in the retail space at MLK & Kingshighway, but it wasn’t even built with a connection to the public sidewalk just a couple of feet away
ABOVE: Boards over former windows is a too common sight
ABOVE: Boards over former windows is a too common sight, auto-related businesses dominate the area east of Kingshighway
ABOVE: Across from the renovated buildings of Dick Gregory Place is a nice looking restaurant
ABOVE: Across from the renovated buildings of Dick Gregory Place is a nice looking restaurant, Arkansas Fried Chicken. Click image for Yelp listing
ABOVE: The corner of one building is collapsing
ABOVE: The corner of one building is collapsing
ABOVE: Another favorite building waiting for a new use.
ABOVE: Another favorite building waiting for a new use.
ABOVE: Nearby is yet another favorite, in very original condition.
ABOVE: Nearby is yet another favorite, in very original condition.
ABOVE: Skipping ahead from Vandeventer to Tucker we have the ongoing project to fill in the former railroad tunnel.
ABOVE: Skipping ahead from Vandeventer to Tucker we have the ongoing project to fill in the former railroad tunnel.

A few bright spots exist along this 5.7 mile stretch (map), but a more comprehensive approach is needed to address the myriad of problems that exist. The piecemeal approach isn’t going to do much beyond the immediate areas that have seen reinvestment.

We must find ways to get sources of good employment in the area again. It’s easy for you tell tell me the reasons why reality is that won’t happen, why jobs left and won’t return. I know why.  I want to know ideas for bringing new jobs in the future.

Tomorrow I’ll take a closer look at the Arlington Heights Apartments.

— Steve Patterson

 

Clemens Mansion Was To Kickoff McKee’s NorthSide Regeneration Project

November 17, 2012 25th Ward, Accessibility, Featured, Grad School, MLK Jr. Drive, Parking Comments Off on Clemens Mansion Was To Kickoff McKee’s NorthSide Regeneration Project

It was three years ago today that many gathered on the lawn in front of one of the most historic properties in St. Louis: The Clemens Mansion, located at 1849 Cass Ave.

ABOVE: Blueprints for the adoption of the Clemens Mansion to senior apartments was on display on November 17, 2009
ABOVE: St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay signs a bill for Paul McKee’s NorthSide Regeneration project

From The Beacon:

Mayor Francis Slay put his ceremonial seal of approval Tuesday on the first step of the $8.1 billion plan to redevelop a large portion of north St. Louis, but he remained noncommittal on what developer Paul McKee considers a key part of the project.

The signing ceremony for two bills passed by the Board of Aldermen — the bills were actually signed into law by the mayor on Friday — took place under a tent on the front lawn of the Clemens House, one of the most visible properties in the McKee project area. (St. Louis Beacon)

Initial work had begun on the renovation but work stopped when part of the financing fell through, I believe a low-income housing tax credit. Soon much of McKee’s project will have a final airing in court.

The state Supreme Court has set Nov. 28 as the date for oral arguments in the lawsuit that has blocked McKee’s massive NorthSide Regeneration project for more than two years. There’s no telling how long after that a ruling might come down, but that ruling will help the project advance, McKee said. (stltoday.com)

Disclosure: I was a very minor consultant on the Clemen’s Mansion project, assisting with accessibility and starting to look at traffic calming and walkability along a larger stretch of Cass Ave. Hopefully the project can be completed in the future.

— Steve Patterson

 

Positive Signs Along St. Louis’ Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, Room For More

January 16, 2012 Featured, MLK Jr. Drive, North City Comments Off on Positive Signs Along St. Louis’ Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, Room For More

This is my eighth annual look at St. Louis’ Dr. Martin Luther King Drive on the holiday that celebrates the civil rights leader. Let’s begin at Tucker and head west.

ABOVE: Looking east toward Tucker Blvd that's closed for rebuilding
ABOVE: Just west of 14th a warehouse is getting a large expansion. Hopefully some jobs will be added.
ABOVE: At the end of 2011 a new downtown community garden was built. Click image for more info.
ABOVE: 3047 Dr. ML King was condemned in May 2011. The building was built in 1880. Click for Google Maps
ABOVE: The gas station & convenience store at 1300-1310 N Grand @ Page & @ Dr. ML King built a new building but didn't address pedestrian access
ABOVE: Same property as seen from Page.
ABOVE: Wheelchair user heading eastbound on Dr. ML King sidewalk just east of N Sarah. Click image to view area in Google Maps and see lots of empty land.
ABOVE: This beautiful building at 4635-37 Dr ML King was close to being razed a few years ago and was under rehab last year. It has 3,375sf and was built in 1899.
ABOVE: And just a few doors to the west at Dr. King & Marcus Ave this 1894 building was in sad shape. Both are part of the Dick Gregory Place Apartments project (click for info)
ABOVE: New construction as part of the Arlington Grove project at Dr. ML King Dr & Burd Ave. Click image for project info
ABOVE: More of Arlington Grove at Dr. ML King Dr & Clara Ave. Click image to see Google Maps
ABOVE: The historic Arlington school was the only structure retained on the block. Click for history.
ABOVE: I used this photo of 5955 Dr ML King a year ago, this building was razed in September & October 2011. Click to read last year's post.
ABOVE: In the Wellston Loop area a building is getting some needed maintenance and new streetlights can be seen.

So some progress is being made but so much work remains to be done. The potential exists but I don’t know that we have the ability to realize it.

– Steve Patterson

 

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