Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Boulevard Heights Neighborhood

Boulevard Heights is roughly bound by Gravois on the west, the city limits to the south, Holly Hills/Loughborough on the north and I-55 and Grand to the east:

In full disclosure, I lived in this neighborhood for nearly five years.

It's an oddly shaped neighborhood that does not include Carondelet Park nor the Loughborough Commons shopping center.  I always thought the River Des Peres was the dividing line between the city and the county, but the map above from the city website shows the city limits extending south of River Des Peres to Weber road.  The neighborhood has some areas that are typical of south city, a la Holly Hills, Princeton Heights, Southampton, etc.  Other parts of the neighborhood are more suburban with cul-de-sacs and no sidewalks, etc.

The no longer active BH website claims to be the safest residential neighborhood in the entire city.  I think this is generally true.  We've had no problems living here, and people look out for each other.  There is somewhat of an identity crisis in BH, not unlike the Patch:Carondelet situation, many in BH think they live in Holly Hills.  In fact the Holly Hills Improvement Association represents part of Boulevard Heights.  Notice in the photos how many Holly Hills signs and flags are present in BH.

BH lost 5% of its population from 1990 to 2000.  Census data counted 8,503 residents in 2000, 95% of which were white, 2% Hispanic/Latino, 2% Asian and 1% black.  There were 3,939 total households, 57% of which are "family households"-78% are married.  That's a very high marriage rate.  Of the 4,093 total housing units, 96% were occupied.  85% by owner, 15% rental.  BH is one of the rare neighborhoods that gained in population from 2000-2010, albeit a mere 2.3% increase.  90% white and ~3% each for Asian, black and Hispanic/Latino counts.

This neighborhood is home to much greenspace, several large cemeteries, mixed architecture, quality necessary services, some cool independent businesses.  This is also a very socially conservative part of town.  Not that that's a bad thing, I'm just sayin'.  Many cops and firemen and city employees live here.  I think it's one of the neighborhoods that people that HAVE to live in the city due to residency requirements choose because it's the most reminiscent of the county or a mid-century suburb, and again it's a very safe and quiet neighborhood.  Don't just take my word for it, read the sign:
For what ever reason, this sign cracks me up.  What is this sign attempting to accomplish?  Beware all you drivers with the booming systems...all you air horn holders, keep em securely tucked away in the glove box when you pass through BH....they'll track your honkin' ass down.  Makes me want to lay on the horn as I drive by.  I mean, what is loud, what is too loud, what's up with the range in the monetary fine?  What constitutes a $500 fine?  Is someone supposed to see this sign and turn down their radio?  Why did we spend tax dollars on this?  Something tells me this guy would not be welcome performing along Loughborough:

Wow, I've digressed, enough on the sign already.  Anyhow, if you are a walker, runner or bicyclist, you'd love it here due to the fantastic Great Rivers Greenway (GRG) trail that goes right through BH as well as the marked bike lanes along Christy and Holly Hills heading toward Carondelet ParkCarondelet Park recently installed a jogging path that is extremely popular and creates a lot of activity and vibrance to the park.  I can't tell you how much the pedestrian/bike trail has improved BH.  Before it existed, Christy Park/Joseph Leisure Park/St. Marcus Park between Holly Hills and the River Des Peres Extension Park was just a swath of unused ground that the city mowed (infrequently).  

Nobody, I mean nobody was seen in the park.  There were homeless people living in several areas of St. Marcus Park complete with mattresses and cardboard walls.  The new path changed everything, it's made the neighborhood safer in that I trust my kids to run around by themselves more now that there are extra eyes on the street so to speak.   Here's a before picture:
Since the GRG project was completed, there are now hundreds of trees, tons of bikers, dog walkers, joggers, etc enjoying the paths and adding vibrancy and life to a once boring stretch of unused land. Bravo to Great Rivers Greenway and the city of St. Louis park's dept. for kicking it up a notch and really staying on top of park maintenance now that the parks are actually used.
I'd like to see St. Marcus Park, a former cemetery rededicated as a park in honor of veterans of all wars, see some improvement as many of the monuments that were left have been vandalized or simply knocked over.  Here's a couple of the sights at St. Marcus Park:
 Some of the gravestones were constructed into a series of walls:
Most of the veterans are from World War I, but some date back to the nineteenth century.

I have nothing to note that has gotten particularly worse in my neighborhood in the last five years.  The main improvements have been the shuttered 7-11 at Gravois and Loughborough was renovated and now has a Papa John's in it.  This was a net gain over the shuttered convenience store, but it resulted in the closing of the Papa John's just up the street in Princeton Heights. The old Aamco Transmission property is now a QT, the shuttered BP/Amoco station at Germania/Gravois is now a CVS pharmacy; the first CVS to enter the St. Louis market (Olivette and SoCo are not St. Louis).  The former Goodwill (which I miss) on Morganford was handsomely renovated into a Plumbers Supply and Dollar Tree.  Yes, I understand these are auto-centric developments, but they are upgrades over what was there before.  In some cases incremental change is better than nothing at all. The site of the former city greenhouses was converted to a new housing area called Boulevard Heights
Here are some more unique businesses, bars, restaurants worth trying if you are in Boulevard Heights:

Gyro Company on Gravois and Allemania:
Apollonia at Gravois and Loughborough; home of great hamburgers, mousaka, chicken gyro salad, lamb slouvlaki, pasticco, dalmades and spanakopita
The Haven at 6625 Morganford recently re-opened.  I haven't been there yet, but the sign is undeniably cool:
Garavaglia's Hilltop Inn is one of my favorite beer guzzling joints and their burgers are pretty good.  This place in many ways epitomized the southside bar.  I like the Bud signs too:
The Sno-Cone stand at Morgan Ford and Loughborough is a popular gathering place for summer refreshment (home of extremely nice owners, homemade syrup flavors and best sno-cone in town):
A violin maker and hair salon occupy some handsome retail spaces on Loughborough at Morganford:

I'll also try to give you a feel of some of the varied housing styles available in Boulevard Heights.

Some homes on the north and north western side of BH are more like typical south side neighborhood like Holly Hills, Princeton Height, :Southampton and North Hampton.  Check out these timeless beauties:
 I love the corner windows on this next home:

Here are some more sights along Morganford.  This firehouse is home to some of the nicest firemen around.  They have let my sons gawk at the trucks and are great with the kids:
The south side of Boulevard Heights near the county border is a little more reminiscent of Affton, Lemay, Mehlville and other South St. Louis County suburban municipalities.  There are post war frame houses, typically wood sided and some ranch homes:
The closer you get to the city limits, the more suburban the neighborhood settings become:

Here's an all metal house (roof, walls, etc.) along Germania:
If you are looking for a safe and quiet neighborhood, with many convenient services near by and are a lover of pedestrian paths, check out Boulevard Heights!  It's also a couple miles from the Shrewsbury Metrolink stop!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

St. Louis City Talk On Facebook

I just started a page on facebook for all my brief rants and adventures in trying new bars/restaurants/businesses in the city of St. Louis.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Old North St. Louis Neighborhood

According to the city website, Old North St. Louis is bound by Palm Street CORRECTION, BRANCH STREET (01/29/10) on the north, Cass on the south, Howard on the east and Florissant on the west; to me it seemed more like 10 street or I-70 was the eastern boundary:
Firstly, this neighborhood has the best website I've seen to date.  Shaw's was good, McKinley Heights and Clifton Heights were good, this one is exceptional.  This place sounds like the garden of freakin' eden.  I'm a gardener, I'm a lover of local foods and produce, I'm a fan of old buildings; I was giddy to check this neck of the woods out.

After visiting Patch yesterday and ONSL today, I feel as though I've discovered two of the neighborhoods with the most rehab activity and positive improvement going on.  I really like it here.  This could be the Soulard of the north because of all the row houses.  I feel optimistic about the future of this place.

There are amazing things going on in this neighborhood.  It's been a couple years since I've been up here and much has changed.  Most in St. Louis are probably familiar with ONSL because of the landmark Crown Candy Kitchen.
And just across the street is the awesome Crown Square or 14th Street Mall.  Man, does this place look amazing.


There is a Confluence Academy campus in ONSL:

I wanted to try Urban Studio Cafe but it's closed on Sundays:

Some Paul McKee critisism I presume (the second photo says Legacy by McEagle).  I thought McKee's development was outside of ONSL, guess I'm wrong:
Just like every other St. Louis neighborhood, there are beautiful churches:

My favorite spiral fire escape in the city (and a couple others):

Wow, some cool looking formal industrial sites and old businesses too:

This neighborhood is not without it's problems.  Empty lots, fallow fields, falling structures and some suburban styled developments called Bristol Place and Murphy Blair Apartments that don't seem to fit in with the historical homes/buildings:

But don't let this cloud the fact that this neighborhood is clearly on the mend.  I sense this place has a lot of pride.  The new construction I observed was extremely tasteful and fit in quite nicely with the surrounding cool properties.  The street grid seems very much intact and it's easy to get around.  The ONSL Restoration Group appears to be doing a fantastic job suring up historic properties and they are making great head way.  This neighborhood has a very positive vibe and I think this could be one of the coolest places in the city due to the amount of AMAZING row houses.

I am personally interested in landscaping this triangle park.
I am serious, if anyone from ONSL reads this, I'd be willing to help.  This part of the neighborhood is really cool and has tons of potential.  If this pocket park was redone it would really highlight the homes around the park.

Some new construction that fits in quite nicely, and some other interesting odds and ends:

Population wise, ONSL took a beating from 1990 to 2000 losing 37% of its residents.  1,498 people called ONSL home in 2000, 27% white, 69% black (the north city neighborhood with the most racial diversity that I've visited so far).  There were 1,036 housing units counted, 58% occupied, 42% vacant.  Of the occupied units, 21% were owner occupied and 79% rented.

I expect these numbers to improve in the next round of census data.  I expect many more good things to come in ONSL.  Another great St. Louis neighborhood on the rise.  Congrats to the work of the ONSL restoration group.  Another good sign for ONSL is that there are 3 National Historic Districts within it's confines that were established in the 1980's (Mullanphy, Murphy Blair and SS Cyril and Methodius).