My commutes through St. Louis County are a constant reminder of why I choose to live, shop, play and raise a family in the city. I loath strip malls, especially contemporary ones. I can't think of anything uglier than the unending chain of fast food restaurants and half empty strip malls that dot Manchester, Olive, Clarkson and many of the other main streets heading west out of St. Louis.
However, I might be a hypocrite. I frequent the strip mall at Hampton Village at Hampton and Chippewa in southwest St. Louis. There is a sea of parking, and a hideous McDonalds on the property. But, something seems different and more tolerable at this shopping center. It's less offensive than the oodles of strip malls in the burbs. Am I just being a homer? Do I have my city goggles on?
Why do I go here in the first place? The Schnucks in clean and they play classical music over the speakers. I don't even like classical music, but for some reason it calms me. I like the high ceiling in the produce and deli area. I also like the seafood dept here. The Emperor's Wok is a guilty pleasure. When it's time to get my MSG on at the Americanized Chinese buffet, this is my choice (mmm steamed mussels), and my kids like the ice cream machine. JC Penny's. I like this department store. Ever since Value City closed in Crestwood, this is where I get my office/work clothes. It's got a lot of useful stuff packed into the 2 floors, and they have some great change of season sales. It's way less offensive than going to the typical suburban mall. My dentist is here. The shoe shop is useful, I like me a seafood grinder at Bellacino's, my kids love sitting at "the bar" in the Noodle Co.
But why is this place any different than the strip malls in Generica? Maybe it's the history.
Hampton Village was developed in 1939 and according to the above source is probably one of the oldest in Missouri. It may have been one of the first auto-centric strip malls west of the Mississippi. Original developer Harold Brinkop was a wise man, he saw the writing on the wall when it came to the personal automobile. By the 1940's it housed one of the city's 1st supermarkets with 20 stalls leased to farmers and merchants. By the 1950's the place was so successful, they added the medical building and the JC Penny's. They tried to incorporate the Colonial feel of the neighborhood at the time.
This strip mall has stood the test of time, and the occupancy rate still appears to be very high. So is this strip mall any different than it's more contemporary counterparts in the county? Maybe the fact that it actually has a history, and I can conceptualize this in my sentimental mind when I go to the shopping center, I can justify this as place worth appreciating.
So it begs the question. Where do you stand on modern, auto centric structures when it comes to historical preservation? The San Luis debate that has raged on in the CWE has me questioning my opinions on the merit of this age as it relates to the much older buildings/places in the city. Maybe Hampton Village should be considered for the national registration of historic places. If nothing else, to chronical the history of the automobiles impact on the outer limits of the city. Heck, if a freaking reproduction boat built in 1969 in St. Charles can be listed as a landmark, why not Hampton Village. If this site is considered a landmark, or historic in nature, does that somehow cheapen the overall landmark status? Will the county strip malls follow suit in 30 years?
Will there come a time when future generations fight to "save" the autocentric strip malls of the current day?