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Friday, April 23, 2010

Let's Save What's Left on Chouteau


So much of Chouteau Avenue has been cleared of street-facing historic buildings that the character remaining is hard to find. The mention of Chouteau is more likely to conjure suburban-style industrial buildings with front lawns and parking lots than a measured urban environment. I hold no complaint against the presence of businesses like Villa Lighting and Andy's Seasoning, since they provide jobs in a centrally-located part of the city within easy travel of city residents. However, I do lament that the influx of larger uses has meant destruction of the character of the street. Chouteau used to be very different, even just a few decades ago.

But all is not lost -- yet.


The three-story building housing Preston Art Glass Studio is a reminder of the historic density of Chouteau Avenue. Although the front wall was once relaid, the building retains historic features including a lovely cast iron storefront. The difference between walking past this building and the newer buildings on Chouteau could not be more stark.

Across the street is a row of six historic buildings, two of which are occupied and four of which are now endangered. Right at the corner of Jefferson and Chouteau is a two-story brick building (barely visible here) housing a dental office. There is a Chinese restaurant in the building to the west. There are two gaps in the street face, but this group provides a welcome transition between the residential streets of the Gate District and Lafayette Square, with front gardens and street trees, and the harsh contemporary industrial environment on Chouteau to the west and, to a lesser extent, on the east.

Gas station operator Crown 40 Inc. applied to demolish the four buildings from 2612-2630 Chouteau, and had its application denied last month by the city's Cultural Resources Office. Crown 40's appeal is on Monday's agenda of the St. Louis Preservation Board.

Perhaps the showiest of the buildings is the two-story building at 2612 Chouteau, with a fine cast iron storefront.

No matter how shabby the buildings of the row are, they sure are easier on the eyes -- and on the pedestrian -- than newer outposts of commerce on Chouteau.

The end building once housed a crude industrial use -- it was a print shop for the Lindstrom Wagon Company around the turn of the 20th century. The graceful transition to the street kept the use from oppressing its surroundings. I wish that the same could be said about what is getting built on Chouteau a century later.

The potential for a higher use is strong. There is a lot of consumer power in the vicinity of Jefferson and Chouteau, and the Gate District is woefully under served by neighborhood business -- because planners tore down most of the corner storefronts inside of the Duane Plater Zyberk-planned urban experiment. Well, some old urbanism exists here and could serve both the neighborhood and the hundreds of workers employed on Chouteau and the nearby LaSalle Street floral row. A gas station might be handy -- of course, there already is a new Crown Mart just north at I-40 and Jefferson -- but how about a deli or a neighborhood bar and grille?

The Preservation Board meets at 4:00 p.m. on Monday, April 26 at 4:00 p.m. in the 12th floor conference room at 1015 Locust Street downtown. Send written testimony to Adona Buford at BufordA@stlouiscity.com.

8 comments:

Adam said...

villa could at least plant some trees on the lawn between their blank wall and the sidewalk.

a quick question (to which i'm pretty sure i already know the answer):

would a letter from an STL native, long time resident, expatriate, and hopefully future resident, make any impression on the review board or would i be wasting ink?

andy said...

email sent. Thanks Michael.

Eric said...

Once these buildings are saved (hopefully), you may start to see row buildings built in the same style.

STLgasm said...

I will try to make the pres. board meeting. I have a photo that I took in the late '90s of some old rowhouses on Chouteau and Compton. They were pretty shabby, but still inhabited and ALIVE. Sadly, they were demolished about eight years ago, and in true St. Louis fashion, an empty lot remains. Auguste Chouteau would be rolling in his grave he saw how St. Louis has butchered his namesake!

Anonymous said...

Why Chouteau?

Michael R. Allen said...

Last Anonymous -- could you elaborate on your question?

shaun said...

If we want to get our city back on the map we need to norture these areas like Chouteau back to life. We need to push for strict zoning laws to save these areas. For example, only allowing new structures that are built to uphold the historic integrity of the neighborhood. I know unfortunately few people have the time and money to rehab these old beauties back into homes. It doesnt mean that the new homes built in there place cant hold some of that old St. Louis mystic in their facade. Look at some of the new homes in Soulard, they did it.

Anonymous said...

Chouteau has parts near Lafayette Square that are inspiring, especially between Mississippi, the James Eads House, and Truman Parkway. West of there things are pretty suburban. Lots of loss. Lots of new construction.

What makes Chouteau more special than Manchester, Natural Bridge, or North or South Broadway? Dollar for dollar, it's probably doing better than those other areas, even though they have more intact historic fabric.