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Finally impressed by new residential construction in the city

“You’ll love these townhouses,” real estate agent & friend Leigh Maibes recently said to me.  “Yeah, right,” I thought. She mentioned the location and at first I got it confused with another new construction development that I don’t like.  After I Googled the address I knew the location but I didn’t realize anything had been built there.   I was skeptical about liking the design, we’ve had lots of new residential construction in neighborhoods throughout the city over the last dozen years or so and the bulk has been boring and highly suburban in it’s relationship with the sidewalk and street.  I agreed to take a look the next time I was in the Hill/Southwest Garden area but my expectations were low.

Here are some suburban new construction in the blocks near the townhouses that have a poor relationship to the sidewalk, the norm if you will:

ABOVE: Corner house has a tall flight of stairs and the bright white garage door jumps out at you.

The original plans called for three units on the site above but it ended up being only two.

ABOVE: View from the street.

The garage door is the most prominent feature on this house.  The front door is so far from the sidewalk and the porch is just a decoration.

ABOVE: Despite having an alley this house placed the garage facing the sidewalk.

Any car parked on the above driveway would block the public sidewalk.

ABOVE: No alley here but a garage below or behind would have been better.

So wrong!  Bright white and you have to walk up the driveway to access the steps to the front porch.

ABOVE: This could be nearly any suburban subdivision, anywhere in the country.

Again, the walk to the front door connects not to the sidewalk but to the driveways. Nobody should be subjected to such houses and certainly not within the urban core of the region.

ABOVE: At least the garage doors are not bright white.

Where to begin? It just hurts to look at the above.  Hey, they could be worse:

ABOVE: My eyes!

The above site doesn’t have an alley but better options exist.  The best for this site would have been a shared garage with a single garage door.  New construction here should have been built closer to the street, roughly in line with the existing building to the right. Again, the bright white paint is what jumps off the picture.

So you can see why I was not optimistic about what I was about to see:

The development, Magnolia Heights, is at the SE corner of Macklind & Reber Place.  When finished four units will face Reber Place and six will face Macklind.  Above you see the first four units facing Macklind. What is great is how they filled in around the 1896 building on the corner.

ABOVE: Townhouses (right) fit well with 19th century corner building (left)

I like the different brick colors with the old buff building in the red on the new construction.  Had the corner building been red I would not have liked the selected color but it works very well here. The black trim and windows on the new construction is classy and works well with the overall color scheme of the facade.

From the sidewalk we immediately see the differences with the other new construction shown earlier. The units are only slightly set back from the line established by the corner building. Steps exist but they are few in number. Hand railings on both sides of the steps would enable me to easily navigate them. This facade enriches the sidewalk experience rather than taking away from it as the other examples do.  Each townhouse has their own two-car garage accessed from a private rear drive off the public alley.

I hope to see more infill like this in the future!

– Steve Patterson


Poultry in the city was once common

ABOVE: St. Louis Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center on Arsenal

We don’t know where our food comes from. Sure, the supermarket.  But where does the supermarket get it? My grandparents and parents had gardens their entire lives.   Before the 1950s industrialization of our food production, people in cities and suburbs raised food.  Large facilities such as the 1869 St. Louis County Lunatic Asylum at 5300 Arsenal, now known as the St. Louis Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center, raised the food they needed.

“On April 23, 1869, St. Louis County Lunatic Asylum opened its doors to 150 mentally ill people. Work began in August 1864. Designed and built by architect William Rumbold, it is the second governmental facility in the state to serve this population. Rumbold’s vision was to recall Imperial Rome, resulting in the cast-iron-dome and plans that called for fine imported marble pillars for the front portico.” (Source)

As a side note remember that prior to 1876 the city was located within the boundaries of St. Louis County.

ABOVE: 1909 Sanborn Map. Source: Univ of MO Digital Library

As you can see when the facility was 40 years old it had a number of buildings behind it to the South. If we look closer we get a better idea of the uses:

ABOVE: 1909 Sanborn Map. Source: Univ of MO Digital Library

There near the center is the hen house and poultry yard, over on the right is the dairy and on the left is the greenhouse.  The pink structure is a brick bread room.

Food production within the city is not a new concept, it is an old one that many are thankfully discovering and reintroducing.  I’m not suggesting we eat only what we can grow ourselves, I just don’t want the “animals belong on the farm” to prevent people from raising some of their food in urban areas.  Thanks to John Palmer for pointing out the hen house on this map to me.

– Steve Patterson


President Casino license to proposed gaming facility along the River Des Peres?

ABOVE: The Admiral serving duty as the President Casino until July 1
ABOVE: The Admiral serving duty as the President Casino until July 1

Pinnacle recently agreed to close the President Casino on the St. Louis riverfront and local officials are scrambling to keep the license within the City of St. Louis.

“On Thursday, the Missouri Gaming Commission staff announced it wants to hear by May 1 from casino companies and political jurisdictions interested in the license, which will become available this summer when Pinnacle Entertainment plans to shut down the President Casino downtown.” (St. Louis pursues casino license)

Last month Pinnacle’s River City Casino opened in South County where the River Des Peres meets the Mississippi River so others are now looking up the River Des Peres for a new casino site. I’ve got word that today, April 1, a casino operator will announce plans for a casino complex near Gravois & the River Des Peres.

ABOVE: The River Des Peres
ABOVE: The River Des Peres

Do we have any casinos remaining that are located in actual boats?

– Steve Patterson


Researching 2817 Cherokee Street

Recently while driving down Cherokee Street I noticed something I had never noticed before.

I’m usually so distracted by the beautiful glazed terra-cotta on the building on the right above, 2817 Cherokee. But the void between the buildings is what caught my eye.  The short stone wall with the break and steps.  Was there a narrow building between these that was torn down, I wondered?  The answer is yes and no.  The building we see today was constructed in 1936. The date on the building on the left is unknown except it is newer.

From the alley on the side of 2817 Cherokee to the corner at Oregon Ave contained five one-story brick homes (pink) with wood back porches & sheds (yellow) at the 9ft alley in 1909.  What was platted as five parcels of approximate equal width in 1909 is now three parcels of different widths (27.5ft, 25ft , & 75ft).  The above 1909 Sanborn Fire Insurance map is from the University of Missouri Digital Library.

Neighborhoods and streets are not static.  As the streetcar line on Cherokee Street brought more and more people to the street homes gave way to commercial development.

– Steve Patterson


St. Louis to close Gasconade animal control facility

The city’s animal control facility has been located at 2120 Gasconade St since 1941:

A week ago today the following announcement was made on Mayor Slay’s campaign website, mayorslay.com:

St. Louis has made remarkable progress over the past few years in becoming a more pet-friendly city. That has meant acting on our resolution to treat all animals, beloved pets and ferals, humanely.

Because of its age and obsolete design, the City’s Animal Control Center is no longer able to provide humane care for stray animals. After consultation with its staff, I have decided to close the facility by summer, at the latest.

Several years ago, the City first made the decision to replace the Animal Control Center. The plan – which I strongly supported – was to build a new facility, privately financed by animal lovers. Unfortunately, fund raising for Animal House has lagged.

I no longer believe we can wait for the economy to rebound and fundraising to improve for taking action. So, in the next few weeks, the City will issue an RFP or RFQ from non-profit animal shelters to take over the Center’s function. I am confident that one of the region’s many animal care organizations will give these pets the best possible chance to find new homes.

I have already spoken to the leaders of Animal House. While they have not raised enough money to build a new facility, they believe they have raised enough money to retrofit an existing building. Therefore, they plan to compete in the process.

Under the new system, City employees will continue to respond to complaints about abandoned or dangerous animals. However, once they have picked up the animals, the new entity will take care of the animals until permanent homes can be found for them.

The Health Department has studied various options and believes this sort of approach has worked well in other cities and will work well in St. Louis.

While we go through the competitive process of selecting a service provider, I have asked acting Health Director Pam Walker to focus as much of her time and energy as necessary to make sure the dogs and cats are treated well during the transition.

As an aside, I am deeply disturbed that such decisions are announced not through the city’s press release site but through his political campaign website. The City of St. Louis has issued no press releases in 2010 and the last one from the mayor’s office was released on December 1, 2009.  City business should be announced via the city system, campaign business via the campaign site.

Okay, on to the issue of the welfare of the animals.

I am a supporter of the fund raising effort, the Animal House Fund.  They day after the mayor made his announcement they issued the following statement (PDF):

Animal House Fund received news that the City of St. Louis would announce plans to outsource the management of an Animal Care Facility through an RFP selection process. Chairman of the Board, Ed Throop, has responded to the Mayor’s announcement in saying, “We have been made aware of the situation. It was our hope that the building project would be further along at this point, but we are still committed to building a better life for the City of St. Louis’ animals. We look forward to participating in the City’s RFP process and are confident we can make a positive impact.”

The organization, founded in 2003, and later taken over by Throop, was created to make a new location for an Animal Care Facility in the City possible, to reduce the number of strays, to give homeless and abandoned animals a better chance to find families, and to help St. Louis become a more pet -friendly city. The City’s current Animal Control Center, located at Gasconade and Highway 55, was constructed in 1941 and was intended for short-term use only – to catch or receive animals and dispose of them quickly. Animal House Fund has worked tirelessly over the years to form a partnership with the City, the animals and the residents, in furtherance of the organization’s vision.

Animal House Fund has the support of a strong board, dedicated volunteers and a passionate community of animal lovers. The organization will be an enthusiastic participant in the RFP process and is excited about continuing its work to find a greener solution in compassionate care for the City’s animals.

While the City’s announcement changes the original hope of constructing a new, state-of -the-art facility, it provides Animal House Fund with an opportunity to explore other options, including retro- fitting an existing building, which would reduce the required level of project funding and allow the organization to have a hand in bringing about, more quickly, a brighter future for animals in the City.

I hope the Animal House Fund is successful in their effort to provide good accommodations for animals in the City of St. Louis.

I want to learn more about the current 1941 building.  I have to wonder if the stone used was from the demolition of buildings for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

– Steve Patterson