Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Daydream #380

Wouldn't it be great if the new Metro president could revolutionize the way Metro is structured for funding and to whom Metro is tasked with providing services to? A whole new philosophy for providing light rail and bus service to the metropolitan region.

By that I mean, a new strategy where Metro focuses on St. Louis and St. Clair County (the 2 regions that appear to value light rail and bus service). Remove St. Louis county from the overall funding and voting equation. The county voters have consistently voted down Metrolink light rail expansion and funding for Metro. Why not let the counties go to a fee for service where STL, St. Charles, Franklin, Jefferson counties would only get limited service from Metro and they would pay for it directly. All federal and state general funds would go directly to Metro who would in turn focus strictly on St. Louis City/Metro East light rail expansion and limited/focused/phased down bus service. Doesn't that make sense?

I think the county has made it clear that they do not value public transportation, so let's allow Metro to focus on those that do.

I'd like to see a comprehensive plan in my lifetime to immediately focus on connecting all parts of the city with light rail and scale back bus services. This only seems possible if we have a change in leadership and philosophies on the role of public transport in the metropolitan region. This only seems possible if we focus on St. Louis and the metro east. Let the sprawling regions pay for the services their people truly want. If St. Charles doesn't want buses and light rail, fine. If St. Louis county doesn't want it fine. Let them pick and choose who/where gets limited services. Maybe just a rush hour rapid bus service to the main employment pods would make more sense for those regions. Let the city operate 24/7 with the most expansive and comprehensive service. This would allow St. Louis to leverage itself as THE best public transit option and connected city in the region. This might draw those that value public transport to the city from the surrounding regions.

Metrolink is great at getting people to major entertainment attractions and institutions, we need to focus now on getting people to and from work and school via light rail and short walks.

Hey, I can dream can't I?

Compton Heights Neighborhood

Compton Heights is one of the premier neighborhoods in St. Louis. Here are the boundaries:If you haven't checked this area out already, you must. You won't be disappointed by the winding streets south of Russell. Hawthorne and Longfellow are strikingly beautiful, as are the surrounding areas in Tower Grove East, Fox Park and Shaw. Let's start with the interesting places along Grand in CH:
The former Pelican's Restaurant is on the north side of Shenandoah.
It was built in 1895 for local brewer Anton Griesedieck, who hired German-born Carl Anschuetz from Tony Faust's restaurant to run a first-class restaurant and "liquortorium." Mmmm liquortorium. I can't find a photo of the old neon Pelican sign that once adorned the corner of this building. If anyone has a photo please forward to me or post a link. This building is slated for renovation and redevelopment. I hope the old neon sign is somewhere safe while the building is in limbo, and that it gets reinstalled upon renovation.

The old YMCA between the Pelican and the above CH gates is planned to be demolished for a new 3 story mixed use building.
I can't figure out how to post a picture, but you can see the plans on pages 4 & 5 of this pdf. The development looks very handsome and HAS PARKING IN THE REAR!!! Usually I would mourn the loss of an old building, but in this case, I think it would be a net gain to get a residential/office/retail building that is nicely scaled and apportioned to the surrounding buildings on Grand.

Also on Grand in Compton Heights is the striking water tower just north of Russell and south of I-44:

The Reservoir Park water tower is probably one of St. Louis' most recognizable landmarks. Did you know there were tennis courts and a dog park here as well? I sure didn't. The water tower is open to the public on the 1st Saturday of each month between April and November from noon to 4 pm. There appears to be some major stone/marble work going on around one of the fountains/pools.

Here are some facts and stats on the neighborhood:

Compton Heights is one of the earliest examples of planned residential developments of the American 19th century (1889). It was curiously designed "to view nature as neighbor not as an enemy to be subjugated by some rectilinear grid." Damn, that's harsh. I've come to love the rectilinear grid of St. Louis. In fact the homes on the grid north of Hawthorne and Longfellow are among my favorites in the neighborhood.

Not unlike the other neighborhoods I've visited so far, Compton Heights experienced a loss in residents from 1677 in 1990 to 1448 in 2000 (14% decline in population). Sad. Another loss was observed in the 2010 Census count where a 9% loss was observed.  1,315 people now call Compton Heights home, of which 71% are white, 21% black, 4% Asian and the 2% Hispanic/Latino.
This neighborhood is so beautiful, I don't think I have much to say that won't be too emotive so I'll just let the pictures do the talking.  This first mansion was the former home of the Magic Chef founder:

Pretty nice, eh?

There are opportunities for more intra-neighborhood services, restaurants, stores, etc. along Shenandoah. With just a few more businesses and services, this could be a very walkable, self contained, mixed use neighborhood.

This neighborhood has a personal significance, as my wife and I slumbered at the Fleur-De-Lys mansion on the night of our wedding, before we headed to Charleston, South Carolina for our honeymoon. Shan, thanks for the photos of the water tower!

This is one of the neighborhoods I would take an out of towner on a tour to showcase St. Louis.

On to Hamilton Heights...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tum T Tum Tum Tums

TUMS are made in St. Louis. Their handsome factory is right downtown on Broadway, just east of Busch Stadium. According to Patrick Murphy of Channel 9's Living St. Louis, the Tums plant is the last major manufacturing factory downtown.
Is that set to change? I haven't heard any news or facts that the TUMS plant will be closing, or moving overseas. But one simple omission on these labels leads me to believe change is on the way.

TUMS has a new look:
But that's not my concern. If you pay attention to the back of the old label, it clearly states Made in the U.S.A. Sorry for the crappy photo:
The new label omits where the Tums are made:
I'm a compulsive label reader; and usually when companies get rid of the Made in the U.S.A. info, it means they are closing domestic operations and heading overseas. When products are made in both the U.S.A. and abroad, they will state that as fact on the label. But when the products don't say where they came from it usually means overseas or Central or South America.

In my treks through St. Louis, I am reminded of what a force the U.S. once was in manufacturing. Those days are gone. I miss the identity of American made goods. I miss the pride. I always thought Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars were a truly American style and product. The rubber All-Star tag on the back used to say Made in the U.S.A. Now it does not, as they are made in China. But they don't say that. I guess Converse doesn't find that fact interesting enough to put on their product. And by the way, the current price for low top All Stars is ~$44. So much for passing on the cheap Chinese labor to the consumer....
Anyhow, does anyone know if the DT TUMS plant is in danger of closing or curbing output?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Clifton Heights Neighborhood

I'm skipping Boulevard Heights for now, since it's my neighborhood. I want to explore something not as familiar to me, so I'll get back to Boulevard Heights later. On to Clifton Heights.

Clifton Heights is located in southwest St. Louis:

The neighborhood has a fantastic website, with a wealth of information on the history and current goings on. The history is long and rich, and expertly documented in the website. Subdivision of this part of the city began in 1880 for residential purposes and continued through 1955 when the large Clifton Hills subdivision was platted north of Southwest Avenue and west of Tamm. This long history of slow development and subdivision is very apparent in the mix of housing that you find within Clifton Heights.

So who and how many call Clifton Heights home?

Clifton Heights saw a 3.5% decrease in population from 1990 (3570) to 2000 (3444). It is largely white at 95% of the total population. The remaining 5% is comprised of 2% Black/African American, 2% Hispanic/Latino, 1% other.  The neighborhood had 3,074 residents per the 2010 Census count (-12%) split 90% white, 4% black, 3% Hispanic/Latino and 2% Asian.

There are 1531 households, 65% with 2 or more people. 87% of those are family households, 74% of which are married-couple families.

The housing is 93% occupied, 75% of which is owned. Lot's of families, lots of married couples, low vacancy rate. This is clearly a stable neighborhood.

The best way I can describe the housing stock in this neighborhood is mixed. There isn't really a prominent style or defining "feel" to the neighborhood, until you get close to the actual park, which serves as the centerpiece for Clifton Heights.

The southwest reaches of the neighborhood have a strangely compelling mix of sided homes mixed with brick bungelows, 3 stories, 2 stories, duplexes, multifamilies, you name it. Even the street trees have no uniformity or continuity. Here's a couple examples of the varied housing stock:

Closer to the park is some of the most unique housing I've seen in St. Louis. It actually reminds me of the hilly sections of Webster Groves or old Kirkwood. There are large Victorian style homes surrounding the park. The setting is very serene. This may be one of those truly unique, "nothing else like it" kind of places in the city.
The park is in a low lying area with some nice features around the lake.
Some of the institutions in the neighborhood are more typical of other parts of the city.

Some of the local nuances I appreciated:
Honey, grab the tree stumps, chainlink and paint, I've got an idea...
One neighbors disapproving stare as I surveyed the streets. Doh...
Some parkside commentary:
In closing, I would call this a gateway neighborhood. One that is so safe and familiar that it is a good first move for someone who wants to get their feet wet with city living. There is not really a set street grid, so it has a meandering, hilly feel to it. With the rich and beautiful corner store fronts, there are many opportunities for this to be a self contained neighborhood.
There is a lot of rehab work going on, especially around the park.

There is a huge, relatively new Drury Inn at the northern border of Clifton Heights. Does anyone out there remember the name of the Chinese restaurant formerly on that site? Was it the Diamond Head?

Two neighborhoods down, 77 more to go. Onward and upward to Compton Heights...