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Tuesday, May 2, 2006

The South End of Old North

The southern end of Old North St. Louis -- which includes the National-Register-listed Mullanphy and Sts. Cyril and Methodius historic districts -- has been recently cut off from the more vibrant part of the neighborhood by two unfortunate grid-busting, suburban-style housing projects and cut off from downtown by vacant lots, fast food restaurants and automobile and truck yards. Demolition has been rampant, and truck-related businesses own many buildings here. Speculators have seized some of the area, including an impressive half-block owned by Blairmont Associates LC. There is one city block -- bounded by Tyler on the south, 13th on the west, Chambers on the north and Hadley on the east -- where not a single building stands.

Yet the last few weeks have seen signs of life no one could have predicted: a side-gabled, two-and-a half-story house at 2111 N. 13th Street that is the last building on its block is undergoing renovation; someone purchased an LRA-owned building at 1723 N. 13th Street in March and has already made progress on rehab; the owner of a corner tavern at the southeast corner of Howard and 14th streets has taken down part of a brick wall for relaying. These rehabs are by no means historic, and in the case of 2111 N. 13th, maddening for a preservationist to observe. Yet given the economy of that end of Old North, even these projects are somehow comforting -- rather than crumbling shells, we have two bad rehabs to critique. (We will need to go a long way before even contemplating local district standards on acceptable alterations.)

The strangest event lately had to be the revival that took place over the weekend on the south end of that totally-vacant city block. A church group threw up a tent, put out folding chairs and a port-a-potty, and brought in preachers and bands. The scene was almost surreal, especially amid the stormy weather of the last few days.

Hopefully, someone will make a more long-term investment in that block, which would make a great location for modern infill housing. In fact, I would love to see both the 1970s-era Murphy-Blair Apartments and the Bristol Place Townhouses developments fall to the wrecking ball for a large-scale infill project. With vacant land to the north of both projects along Monroe Street, a new project with restored street grid would meet the North Market Place redevelopment project. With rehab of the remaining historic buildings in this area, reclamation of the Blairmont land for responsible use, and the stabilization of the Mullanphy Emigrant Home, this end of Old North would blossom.

It's comforting that a few good things are happening despite the barriers of the two housing projects. Yet there's no way much else will happen until the barriers are removed.


Anonymous said...

If these "barriers" are occupied housing units, rather than concrete sewer pipes blocking streets, is this preservationist actually recommending demolition and displacement, when saying "until the barriers are removed"?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the "barriers" are just gated parking between occupied housing units. You can't walk or bike through them.

I still think the suburban apartment complexes are a drag on the urban environment on that end of downtown. But at least re-open the streets instead of making them part of an enclosed parking lot.

Michael R. Allen said...

Yes, I do advocate demolition of the buildings. As for displacement, I would like to see existing residents retained in the neighborhood in new, urban versions of their current apartment buildings. This would entail relocation but not displacement. The residents of Bristol Place paid market prices to live there, while Murphy-Blair residents rely on a fixed-rate. Both groups deserve better housing that will hold its value and appearance over time, and will not be the target for real displacement when the neighborhood's property values get a lot higher.

At the least, I think that the suggestion by Anonymous #2 to reopen closed streets through these developments is a good one. These closed streets turned parking lots are circulation barriers, while the housing projects are architectural barriers.

Anonymous said...

where were you when work was needed in this area years ago? some companies tried very hard to make this area a better place to live.funny you weren't spotted with a tool helping.those of us who are here now consider it much better with the bad building gone.a lot of the vacant lots are at least cleaned and cut in the summer.the new work is welcomed but wasn't started until the apartments were done first.

Michael R. Allen said...

Where was I then? Probably in high school in Illinois -- not "on the scene" and not aware of those problems. If I had been, and had the resources, I would probably have been there.

Where am I now? Investing over $80,000 into my building in Old North.

The only time we have for action is now. Faulting new residents of a neighborhood for not moving in sooner doesn't seem productive -- after all, the neighborhood sure needs residents right now. I'm doing all that I can.

Anonymous said...

dear sir,
we appreciate the fact that fencing was installed to disrupt the flow of traffic. It has slowed down the drug trade and a lot of drive by criminal activity. I consider this to be a good thing. You would rather have the drive through easier, so that crimes can be commited? The police are doing what they can, but the people who did this are doing what they can.

Anonymous said...

yep, a dead end -- an apt name. closed streets create great places to corner someone, dump a car or a body or otherwise avoid being seen by traffic.

close every street in old north, cuz i gots crimes to commit. thanks for the support.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the tip off.mabe the police can arrange to meet you.then something constructive can be done.or mabe m------ can help chase people thru the area we think this works best.