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Brick vs. Frame in St. Louis

St. Louis is a brick city.  Every block in every neighborhood you see brick.  I love St. Louis’ heritage of brick.  But I love wood framed structures too.

“Frame” is a reference not just to the exterior material but to the structural construction method.  St. Louis’ brick structures are made of structural brick walls.

Newer brick structures are wood framed with a veneer of brick applied.  Most framed structures have siding covering the framework.

The above house is a beautiful wood-framed example from my home town of Oklahoma City.  Similar homes can be seen in the St. Louis region. This house was never modest, originally built for a growing middle class.  In the City of St. Louis frame homes are typically modest:

I love the simplicity of these homes on the Hill North of I-44.

In places you will see frame homes next to the more standard brick, such as above.  To my eye the contrast is quite pleasing.  With so many stunning brick buildings in the City of St. Louis I think we unfairly dismiss our more humble frame structures.

Both construction methods have their own pros and cons.  Both are stable if they have a good foundation and water is kept out.  Renovation of each has issues.  Frame structures can be insulated easier than brick structures.  Ditto for running wiring & plumbing.  Wood siding & trim needs paint.   Weatherproof (vinyl) siding & trim ruins the look of these structures. Brick must stay pointed.

– Steve Patterson


St. Louis Neighborhood Mixed-Use Circa 1909

The term “mixed-use” is a relatively new term.  Before Euclidian zoning was universally adopted to keep uses (say residential & commercial) apart, St. Louis had buildings that freely mixed it up.  And they did so beautifully:

Many of you have probably seen the Oscar Schneider Studio on the 3300 block of California.  This 5,000+ square foot four-unit building sits on a lot that is just inches over 40 feet wide.

The Cherokee Street commercial district runs side to side in the above aerial image.   The building is marked “A.” As you can see it is closer to Utah on the North than to Cherokee.  Additional “mixed-use” storefront are on the corner at California & Utah.

The storefront facade is old, but not original.  The Vitrolite glass was not yet available, to my knowledge,  in 1909 when this building was constructed.  This was likely a 1930s or 1940s remodeling.

Photography was so different back then.  They used this stuff called film.  Photography was expensive so you made the most of it.  I found a great collection of images online taken by Oscar Scheider at this studio, they were restored from glass negatives.  View the collection here.

This property is within the Gravois-Jefferson Streetcar Suburb National Register Historic District.

Gravois–Jefferson Streetcar Suburb Historic District
(added 2005 – St. Louis County – #05000115)
Grovois and S. Jefferson, S. Jefferson and S. Broadway, Meramac, S. Gran and Gravois, St. Louis (Independent City)
(7180 acres, 4635 buildings)  [Source]

Yes this area was considered a streetcar suburb.  Mixed uses in the suburbs.   The single-family house to the South was built 5 years earlier.

Our ideas about mixing residential & commercial soon changed.  What used to be normal developmemt now requires numerous hearings & variances to get approved.  I can’t imagine the owners of a single-family home today accepting a four-unit building next door that contains three residential units and one commercial unit.

They had it right 100 years ago — build it compact, mix it up and have fixed-rail transit very nearby.


Controversial “Blairmont” Project to be Revealed Tonight

Tonight we expect politically connected developer Paul McKee, of McEagle Development, to publicly unveil the controversial development project nicknamed “Blairmont.”

The project got this name after one of the early holding companies used to acquire properties, Blairmont Associates LLC.

Here is a video that explains Blairmont:

Another source of info on Blairmont is a January 2007 RFT article.

Out of the controversy came an August 2007 bus tour of McKee’s properties.  Here is 5th Ward Alderman April Ford Griffin:

The next month the meetings continued.  Here is 19th Ward Alderman Marlene Davis:

I got involved by asking a question of Alderman April Ford Griffin.  Griffin is the chair of the Neighborhood Development committee at the Board of Aldermen.  She has a warped view of zoning.  Rather than have excellent zoning that codifies the community vision, she likes outdated zoning so developers must come to her.  The video starts out rough but gets better:

Congressman Clay talks about a hearing held at city hall with a reference to the 1970s Team Four plan that called for reducing services in parts of the city:


Here is a summary of the infamous Team Four plan:

This document contains the technical memorandum that was submitted to the Plan Commission by Team Four, Inc. in 1975. This memorandum proposed public policy guidelines and strategies for implementing the Draft Comprehensive Plan that was prepared by others. It offered a series of considerations concerning the process of adopting, staging, budgeting and ultimately implementing the Draft Comprehensive Plan. In addition, this document contains a preface dated 1976 that attempts to clean up any inconsistencies and or controversies surrounding the proposed implementation strategies and a bibliography or annotated listing of Technical Memoranda and Appendixes. Part I of this document focused on strategies for three generic area types: conservation, redevelopment, and depletion areas; and Part II of this document discussed major urban issues and their solutions.

Today “shrinking cities” are studied and various techniques are debated.  In the 70s in St. Louis the Team Four plan was seen as a racist plot to deny services to a minority population.  We know more today about how to adjust to shrinking populations.

Tonight we will see another, a huge heavily subsidized redevelopment plan.  Many are opposed simply based on the history of the project to date.  I for one plan to go with an open mind. I have reservations about both the developer and the political leadership.  Griffin’s view on the role of zoning doesn’t give me a lot of hope for what may be presented in pretty artist renderings actually being completed as promised.  A good framework of a zoning code can help ensure the promised vision develops into reality.

Tonight’s meeting starts at  7pm at Central Baptist Church Education Building 2843 Washington Ave (Google Map).  I’ll be there and will report on the presentation next week.


New Dog Park Opens in South St. Louis Neighborhood

At noon today the Benton Park West Dog Park opened for business — bring neighbors and their dogs together.

The site selected was two city owned lots on the SE corner of Nebraska & Utah (map).  A decade ago one lot was intended as a pocket park for the neighborhood.  Some paving & benches were added.  Without ongoing positive activity, the pocket park attracted a bad element.  The old lot and the adjacent lot were fenced in to create the dog park.

Now neighbors have a reason to come to this corner — to let their dogs play with other dogs off leash.

The two combined lots are 58ft x 128ft.  All but a wedge from the corner is fenced.  The old concrete paving from the pocket park was retained.  There are four benches inside the dog park.

Access is for members only.  Annual membership is only $35 for residents ($15 per additional dog). Not a resident of Benton Park West but want to become a member?  Submit your application (PDF) now.  First memberships go to neighborhood residents but it will soon be opened to others.  The annual fee will be slightly higher for non-residents. Members get the code to the outer gate to the vestibule entry.

I don’t have a pet of any kind.  And when I did it was always a cat.  But I love dog parks.  They have a great way of bringing neighbors together.  They create activity  in places that might otherwise only have illicit activity.

Water is one of the required items.  This fountain serves humans and their doggy companions.  The city has regulations regarding the requirements for dog parks — fencing, surface, water, managing organization, etc.  President of the Board of Aldermen Lewis Reed, when he was 6th Ward Alderman, introduced the legislation to set up the process for dog parks throughout the city.

Reed, above, was on hand for the opening.

Alderman Craig Schmid (left) shakes hands with Bill Byrd (right), President of the Benton Park West Neighborhood Association at the opening.  Schmid used ward funds to help with infrastructure costs.  Newly sworn in 25th Ward Alderman Shane Cohn was present for the opening.  Hopefully we’ll see a new dog park in the 25th ward in the future.

Actually I hope we will see dog parks in every ward, in every neighborhood in the city.  We no longer walk to the local commercial district so neighborhoods need a way to get residents out walking and talking.  Dog parks are one of the best ways to accomplish that.    My congrats to the residents of Benton Park West for making this project happen.

Further reading & helpful documents:

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Flashing Lights Outside Walgreen’s

February 5, 2009 Retail, South City 29 Comments

Last night, as I was at the light at Chippewa & Hampton (map) I noticed annoying flashing lights on both street facades at the Walgreen’s.  I had noticed these before but this time they really struck me.  I presume the purpose is to get folks to look toward the flashing light and thus toward the security cameras.


Or just plain tacky.  The big parking lots for the Walgreen’s stores are bad enough.  Plus the fact they are on every corner it seems.  Still these flashing lights, of all things, are more than I cam stand.