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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Urban Character of Eastern JeffVanderLou

Looking east toward the Pruitt-Igoe site on James Cool Papa Bell Avenue.

One of the characterizations often raised about the area of north St. Louis included in the McEagle project is that it is "urban prairie" where few houses remain. The area is marked by only a handful of historic buildings, vacant land, and people who are unseemly and whose eviction will only benefit the area. There are many vacant lots and houses (too many) and a few bad apples, but by and large the persistence of these neighborhoods is contrary to the word on the street. The worst parts happen to be very photogenic examples of disinvestment, but the best parts show resilience and an urban character impossible to recreate.

St. Louis Place and JeffVanderLou are amazingly rich with fine architecture, caring residents and many efforts at neighborhood improvement. These neighborhoods could use a boost -- the bigger the better. However, that boost must complement what is already there.

Here are photographs of the rich architectural character of the part of JeffVanderLou just west of an admitted urban forest, the site of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project. These photographs show that historic preservation and sensitivity to existing residents must be part of the McEagle plan -- there is critical mass here.

2713 and 2715 Mills Street


2834-42 Gamble Street



2820-34 Thomas Street


2700 Block of James Cool Papa Bell Avenue


2623 James Cool Papa Bell Avenue


2627-31 Madison Street


2626-28 Howard Street


2946 & 2950 Thomas Street


2703 and 2707 Stoddard Street


These houses date from 1870 through 1910, and span a wide stylistic range. There has not yet been a comprehensive architectural survey of the area, but a cursory examination shows much remaining building stock with strong significance. The building density in JeffVanderLou is higher than that of Old North St. Louis -- there is tremendous opportunity for preservation-oriented development. Many individuals and the St. Louis Equity Fund have invested in historic buildings, but a lot of work remains. Listing as much of the neighborhood as possible on the National Register of Historic Places would help bring economic development incentives and recognition of the unique architecture that remains.

Of course, photographs only tell part of the story. In JeffVanderLou, one also can find the photographs that would prove an "urban prairie" theory. The truth is complex, and best experienced in person away from the manipulations of photographs and aerial plans. One will find a neighborhood -- flawed, deprived, lively and urban. New investment must face this reality and work with it.

3 comments:

STLgasm said...

I'm going to change my last name to Vanderlou

brian said...

What's with all the newly boarded windows? Are those McKee properties?

samizdat said...

The greenest project always begins with NOT demolishing buildings. If this procest incorporates massive, default razing of extant structures, then I would hesitate to call it "green". Greenwashing, perhaps, but not green. And what about solar thermal heating, ground-source geothermal (not a hot water/steam system), common-wall townhomes, solar PV, wind turbines: the technology is there, these systems are being manufactued in the tousands and hundreds of thousands, and the prices are coming down daily. And there are federal tax credits for all of it. Perhaps, if Mr. Mckee is serious about job creation, he could persuade a PV or turbine constructor/fabricator to locate a plant in the City? Just sayin'.