Home » South City » Recent Articles:

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


Project destroyed by 2006 arson fire getting rebuilt

February 5, 2010 Neighborhoods, South City Comments Off on Project destroyed by 2006 arson fire getting rebuilt
ABOVE: morning of June 14, 2006

A few years ago St. Louis experienced some high profile arson fires. In April 2006 a condo project under construction on South Grand was totally destroyed.  Then in June 2006 two separate projects in Lafayette Square were torched.  A year later, to the day, an arsonist destroyed an apartment complex under construction.  All but one were rebuilt, finished and have been occupied for a while.

ABOVE: destroyed building finally being replaced.
ABOVE: destroyed building finally being replaced.

The other day I noticed the last of the damaged buildings going up on Mississippi Ave. .  It is nice to see this hole facing Lafayette Park get filled in.

– Steve Patterson


Non-profit runs out of money, boards building

Above: Pillar Place Apartments, 3407 Lafayette Avenue
Above: Boarded Pillar Place Apartments, 3407 Lafayette Avenue

I recently received an email from a reader asking if I knew why the Pillar Place Apartment building was now boarded.   I didn’t know the name but once I looked up the address provided to me (3407 Lafayette) I knew the building.  In August 1990, when I first moved to St. Louis, the building was vacant, just waiting to be reused.  By February 1993 I was delighted the building was renovated into apartments.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch February 27, 1993:

“On Wednesday, they [the Brown family] became one of the first six families to move into Pillar Place, a newly renovated apartment building for 19 low-income families at 3407 Lafayette Avenue, St. Louis.
“This is one of the happiest days of my life since I moved to St. Louis,” said Brown, 29, who came here from Mississippi 11 years ago.
The 19 Roman Catholic religious orders and a nonprofit corporation that came together to make Pillar Place will celebrate with a grand opening there at 1 p.m. Sunday.
They have taken a four-story building listed on the National Register of Historic Places and converted it into two- , three- and four-bedroom apartments for people “stuck in the funnel” of temporary housing.
“We realized the real need is for permanent, affordable housing,” said Sister Mary Louise Denny, a Sister of Loretto and a board member of the Intercommunity Housing Association, which helped start the project. “This will be a drop in the bucket – we could have found 10 times the number of people who need this. But it’s a start.”
The building opened in 1907 as the Loretto Academy, a posh school for girls and a residence for the Sisters of Loretto. The school moved to Nerinx Hall in Webster Groves in the 1950s, and the retired nuns who then made the building their home moved to the suburbs in 1988.
About that time, the St. Louis Equity Fund was started. Through the fund, area companies invest in partnerships that provide low-income housing. In return, the companies can earn tax credits. The Intercommunity Housing Association – made up of 13 religious organizations – joined with the Equity Fund and six other religious groups to raise the $1.5 million needed for renovation and organization of Pillar Place.”

From the  Intercommunity Housing Association website:

“Formerly Loretto Academy high school for girls converted into 19 two, three and four bedroom apartments. Pillar Place serves about 22 adults and approximately 70 children. The complex has a large parking lot, two playground areas, a picnic area, and vegetable gardens for the tenants to use.”

Also from their website is an overview of who they are and what they do — uh, did:

“IHA is a not-for-profit organization with 501(c)3 tax exempt status.

Our support services are paid for through generous donations of individuals, families, churches and religious groups, civic organizations, corporations, foundations, and special events.

The operating expenses of our buildings including mortgage, insurance, maintenance, and repairs are partially paid for out of tenant rents which are subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Tenants at Pillar Place and Compton Place pay rent based on their income. They also pay their own utilities. The apartments at both locations offer ample space, providing residents with feelings of comfort, dignity and self-worth they may not have experienced before.

The families of IHA have come from various backgrounds. Some come from shelters, often a family may live in one room at a shelter while they wait for an opening. Some have lived in another family member’s basement, some have lived in hallways of buildings, some have lived in their car. Some of our families are immigrants who have fled oppression and abuse. Others are referred from agencies and organizations in the area. All must meet our guidelines for admission, including police checks and credit checks. A home visit prior to their admission is required for all tenants before acceptance.

Intercommunity Housing Association’s staff, board members and volunteers are constantly working to provide for the 33 families and over 100 children in need. However, they cannot do this alone. Individual and corporate donations are the driving force behind our success. The programs offered make a significant impact on their lives by bringing security and stability. This is accomplished by moving beyond the fundamental needs of a roof over their heads. IHA supplies our residents with the tools necessary to help improve their life circumstances and move them to independence.

History of IHA and What we offer

IHA was created through the collaboration of 19 religious congregations of women who saw the need to provide more than affordable housing for the poor of St. Louis. They saw the need to help the families that came to live at the two apartment complexes to become independent through social, economic and educational supports. Our families are primarily African American, single parent families with an average of 4 children. For the past sixteen years, IHA has provided life skills training, after school tutoring, summer children’s programs, camps for the children, bridges to work and financial assistance with furthering their education.”

Many had to find new homes.  Attempts to reach someone from the IHA were unsuccessful.  I contacted 19th ward alderman Marlene Davis who indicated the non-profit ran out of money for their operations and needed building improvements.  The future of the building is uncertain.  Hopefully someone can take over the property.

I was concerned about the other properties the IHA owns, a row of six buildings near Bates at 5300 – 5328 South Compton:

“Four-family flats converted into fourteen one-bedroom and three-bedroom townhouse style apartments to provide permanent housing. The complex has a playground area, picnic area and fenced yard. Each townhome has its own parking pad in the rear. Compton Place serves about 16 adults and approximately 30 children.”

IHA has worked with their investors to ensure these occupied buildings remain occupied.

– Steve Patterson


Locating Rec Centers

The City of St. Louis is building two new large ($20 million + each) recreation centers, one just completed in Carondelet Park (map), on the south side, and one just getting started in O’Fallon Park (map), on the north side.  As is typical of rec centers of this type, it turns out that access for people who won’t be driving seems to be both an afterthought and a real challenge. Bigger picture, this really shouldn’t be a surprise. There are three primary reasons. One, the majority of the users, especially the adult ones, WILL drive. Two, siting rec centers is a function of both budget and protecting departmental turf. And three, large rec centers, rightfully, generate the same NIMBY responses from many residential neighborhoods as many big-box retail developments – they operate long hours in large structures that generate a lot of traffic.

Parking at new Carondelet Rec Center, photo by Steve Patterson
Parking at new Carondelet Rec Center, photo by Steve Patterson

When it comes to building new, modern, larger rec centers, rarely are there “enough” funds to do everything one would want to include, so the first decision is usually to locate the rec center in a park; after all, the land is/would be “free”, there is no specific line item for land acquisition. In reality, it’s never free. One, parkland is a finite resource, with multiple demands from multiple user groups to accommodate their programs. Land dedicated to a rec center and its parking lots can’t be used for, for example, soccer fields or Frisbee golf. And two, like any other greenfield development, utilities need to be extended from the park boundary into the site. Since these are large, multi-million dollar public investments, there’s also a tendency to want to make them monuments, and what better place to put one, where it will remain visible, for decades.

Both of these centers are/will be prominently located, visible from neighboring interstate highways (I-70 on the north, I-55 on the south). While this may be good for the civic and political egos, as well as for marketing their programs, it means that both utilities and pedestrians will need to travel a lot further from any park boundary to reach them, to say nothing of the physical barrier the highway creates. There’s also an assumption that there is a need to connect rec center activities with other park uses and facilities. In reality, there’s rarely little, if any, interaction among uses, although a few staff members may end up multi-tasking. For example, the locker rooms used for the gym and the pool don’t get used by softball players or picnickers, and home runs hit over the outfield fence don’t interact well with either the outdoor pool deck or a parking lot full of parked cars. Still there’s an inherent desire in any department to protect turf – if they give up a program, that can mean a reduction in both staffing and budget.

In the case of the new Carondelet Rec Center, the nearest bus stop is on South Grand, at Holly Hills Avenue, approximately 3 blocks from the rec center’s front door. Getting there, as a pedestrian, is possible – there is a sidewalk, but one that follows a circuitous route, first south on Grand to Holly Hills Drive, then east across an ancient (and non-ADA-compliant) bridge over the railroad tracks, then south along the east side of the new parking lot. It looks good, and somewhat “easy”, but if you’re riding the bus, because you’re young or disabled or just don’t want to drive, 3 blocks is still 3 blocks, especially when compared to all the free, at-the-door, parking offered to those who drive.

North entrance to park, no way into park for pedestrians
North entrance to park, no pedestrians access to rec center at left. Photo by Steve Patterson

With the clarity of 20/20 hindsight, I would’ve preferred to have seen both rec centers sited much closer to a major public street, and potentially located closer to the population centers of both sides of town. I also would have had no problem locating them outside a park, on land already under the control of the St. Louis Development Corporation. When I was researching both sites, I made the mistaken assumption that the north center was being located on the southwest corner of Taylor and Broadway, behind Metro’s North Broadway Metro Bus Center; there was dirt being moved on what appeared to be an ideal, and very-accessible, site. It turns out that, much like on the south side, that the north side rec center will be located near the center of O’Fallon Park:


And no, this isn’t unique to St. Louis. Whether it’s Richmond Heights or Des Peres, St. Peters or Fenton, Kirkwood or Chesterfield, most new rec centers end up being located in recreation complexes, ideally suited for the proverbial soccer moms (and dads) and their mini-vans, but not so much for even local kids on their bikes.  To move away from an auto-centric urban environment, we need to be doing more of what Clayton has done, either consciously or by coincidence, and less of what St. Louis and too many other suburban cities have done and continue to do.

The just opened rec center on the South side is operated by the YMCA as the Carondelet YMCA.

– Jim Zavist


The opposite of the big box store

Nothing defines “big box” more than Wal-Mart, take this recent bit from Iowa:  “the Wal-Mart Supercenter will cover 150,000 square feet of land — around 40,000 feet fewer than the company originally planned.” (source)  40,000 feet fewer?

In the earlier days of our city we had the small box store.  No, make that tiny box.

4219 Virginia
4219 Virginia (Source: Google Street View)

This tiny storefront was built in front of a single-family detached home just down the street from the streetcar commercial district at Meramec & Virginia (map).  Built in the time before zoning laws this storefront extended the established commercial district just a bit farther.  But head down Virginia or most city streets and storefronts dot the landscape.  Commercial activity was not limited to the strip/power center or mall.  Of course most customers were on foot back then.  Thanks to our progress we are forced to drive a car to make purchases.

I can see in the future adding such structures in the sprawling suburbs.  Attitudes and zoning laws will need to change before we will see these in suburbia but it is an option I think we will see explored to make sprawl more walkable in the next half century.

This storefront on Virginia Ave. was vacant for many years.  Finally a creative couple found the answer.

Last month I attended the opening of The Virginia House, a new art gallery.  I had seen the inside 4-5 years ago so I know they did a lot of work on this tiny space. So the space is no longer offering sundries, it is adding activity to the street.  It is a window to peek into even when closed.

I’m not the only one that likes these storefront.  Michael Allen has featured many on The Ecology of Absence.  Here is a recent post of a fine 3-story home that gained a storefront addition in 1912.

It makes a much more intimate space for a gathering than say a former Wal-Mart big big store.

– Steve Patterson