Saturday, February 27, 2010

The North Pointe Neighborhood

North Pointe is a north St. Louis neighborhood bound by Goodfellow Boulevard to the north and north west, West Florissant Avenue to the south west and Riverview Boulevard to the east and north east:
The 2000 census data counted 4,327 residents (down 10% from 1990's count) of whom 97% were black, 2% white. There were 1,648 housing units counted, 97% occupied (84%/16% owner/renter split).

This is a very high occupancy and owner rate for a north St. Louis neighborhood. The highest I've seen so far.  This bodes well.

Here's some info from the neighborhood website:
Institutions:  This quaint and stable neighborhood is home to the North Park United Methodist Church and Mizpah Lutheran Church. The Herzog Elementary School and Northwest Middle School has provided quality primary education to many generations of children in the neighborhood. Lot a Luv and New Northside Child Development Centers offers convenient a quality child care to the working parents of the North Point neighborhood. The Riverview/West Florissant Housing Corporation provides area residents with access to housing information and administer the implementing housing development projects. On the outer boundaries of the neighborhood major employers are present. Boatmen's Bank (Nations) is the only institution, North Point is primary a residential area.
Characteristics:  This thriving middle class neighborhood is one of the most stable neighborhoods in the city. It has been able to weather urban crisis and population shifts without affecting its stability. The neighborhood has maintained its residential middle class flavor and has a quaint suburban quality. Smaller one-and two-bedroom bungalows and fewer larger frame homes are found throughout the neighborhood. The majority of housing in the North Point neighborhood was constructed between 1938 and 1940's. Currently nearly 85% of the housing available is owner occupied. Proximity to quality education's institution make innovative and challenging education's opportunities available to the children residing in the neighborhood. Several commercial districts are found on the outskirts along West Florissant, Goodfellow and the Halls Ferry Circle.
That sounds pretty good, eh?  Quaint, stable, middle class...that all sounds pretty positive.  Although this information might be quite dated as per the Boatman's Bank reference in paragraph 1.  Boatman's Bank was bought out by Nations Bank in 1996 and then became Bank of America.  

Before I show you what I saw today, let me say this is in the top 5 most stable, spic-n-span clean neighborhooods I've seen to date.  I was blown away by this awesome neighborhood.  It's like the Southampton of the north, only maybe cooler because of it's proximity to Calvary Cemetery, the wicked cool turnabout at the convergence of Riverview, Halls Ferry and Goodfellow. 

This neighborhood is arguably better cared for than most south side hoods.  Meaning, there are new sidewalks and curb cuts everywhere.  They are handicap/stroller/bike accessible corners, beautiful street lights, impeccable city and private landscaping.  There are established bike lanes along Riverview that are clearly marked with ample sinage:
There are striking new gates at several entry points.

Even the railroad tracks that cut through North Pointe have old growth trees beautifully spaced along the easements within the neighborhood.  The cool train bridge over Riverview (one of the most fascinating streets in the city) are landscaped.  The aldermen need to be acknowledged here.  This place is absolutely beautiful. 
 If you got a job at Express Scripts or UMSL or any of the other north city/county major employers, this would be among the best places to live.  I'd move here in a heart beat.

The roofs, the sidewalks, the yards, the alleys, the tuckpointing are overwhelmingly being cared for on the residential properties.  Many little gingerbreads have been updated with central air, personal investment is evident everywhere.  This neighborhood is pridefully cared for, congrats to all those North Pointers out there maintaining this beautiful place for the next generations to come.

So let's take a look at some late 1930's - 1940's home in a stable north St. Louis neighborhood:
^Love the capital "R" on the awnings.

The angles at which the homes along Riverview Blvd. were built is really cool, they are kind of staggered and slightly angled from the bend of the road.  I tried to photograph it but it doesn't come through; go check it out for yourself.
 There are also more 1940's/1950's homes stylishly mixed in:
 There are VERY few non-brick structures, but the ones I found were out of sight:
^This is now in my top 10 favorite non-brick homes in St. Louis.

Businesses within North Pointe are plentiful on the outskirts and the vacancy rates in the retail buildings appear to be consistent with those all over the city:

Check out the awesome little greenspace at Astra and Vivian avenues.  The homes face each other along this circle.  It reminds me of Holly Hills or St. Louis Hills.

 Herzog Elementary:
Nance school:
 A couple of the churches serving North Pointe:
 What a beautiful neighborhood!  What a great way to start this beautiful even prouder St. Louisian than I was before.  My daughter and I stopped in the Walnut Park Library on our way out to check out the music selection and get a couple books.  Just like all the other branches, this is a clean, safe, beautiful library. 

If you haven't explored North St. Louis, start now.  It's awesome!  Try heading north on Riverview Blvd., it's amazing.  Just think of what St. Louis would be like if the middle class had not abandoned her in previous decades.

Friday, February 26, 2010

New Gifted Program for St. Louis Public Schools

I have 2 children attending Kennard Classical Junior Academy in the North Hampton neighborhood.  Our 3 year old just got a slot to start pre-K next year.  Woo Hoo!  Kennard is a gifted program where children are tested at age 3 for comprehension, functional logic, motor skills, etc.  They teach a grade up in curriculum; meaning the 1st graders learn the typical 2nd grade curriculum.  Kennard is the only gifted elementary school in Missouri.

 We love it here; our kids LOVE it here.  The families are great.  The kids are great.  The parents are caring.  The community is strong.  It is diverse in economic background.  There are kids from all over the city that go here.  It is as racially diverse as St. Louis can be, meaning there are only black and white people here, Asians and Hispanics/Latinos make up a tiny percentage of STL. 
 Our oldest is in second grade, and so far every teacher he's had and my daughter (Kindergarten) have had are top notch.

 One problem is that Kennard has gained such a great reputation within the city and county, that the waiting list exceeds capacity.  This is a good thing.  There were only 15 schools that received the Gold Star Award for excellence in Missouri education:

Similarly, a group of schools (including the eight schools submitted to the U.S. Department of Education) are identified by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. All of the identified schools are sent letters inviting them to apply to become Gold Star Schools. Those that wish to apply are asked to complete an application similar to the one used in the original Gold Star and Blue Ribbon Schools Programs. To be a Gold Star School, a school will not only have to meet the high performance standards established by the U.S. Department of Education (see the eligibility criteria), it will also have to provide evidence on its application that it meets criteria shown by research to promote school effectiveness and best practice.

The Gold Star Schools are honored at the Gold Star Schools Reception held in the Spring. Information about the schools is prepared by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and disseminated via its web site.

The high standards for recognition in the No Child Left Behind-Blue Ribbon Schools Program and the Gold Star Schools Program should make the programs successful in recognizing excellent schools and in calling attention to schools that could serve as models for schools wanting to improve.

Children that graduate from Kennard go on to McKinley in the McKinley Heights Neighborhood.  And from there, they can go to Metro High School which Newsweek has ranked as Missouri's top public high school.

My least favorite suburbanite argument for leaving the city comes from those former city residents who leave for the lame/boring suburbs because "the schools are too bad".  Talk to these people, the overwhelming majority never investigated, nor tried the SLPS.  They just "heard" about it.  It's like new resident to the area who "hear" from their lame ass suburban realtor that the city should not be on their list of places to buy a home.  All these losers are part of the problem and not the solution.  Sorry if this sounds to harsh, but if you knew how many times I've heard this, and followed up with a few probing questions to these folks, it usually boils down to fear of the unknown, racism, and/or social or economical intolerance. I've said it before: if caring, devoted parents flood the halls with their children, the standards will rise. 

Well, Kennard/McKinley/Metro are certainly success stories in the city.  But, it's highly competitive for a limited amount of slots.  So I was happy to read this St. Louis Post Dispatch article that Mallinkrodt school at Hampton and Pernod will be extending a gifted and talented program.  And the former Kennard principal, Mary Denny, is the Mallinkrodt principle (she's great, too).

This is excellent news for those who want to stay in the city but couldn't get a slot at Kennard.  There is one less excuse to go running for the county's school system. 

St. Louis is on the rise.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The LaSalle Neighborhood

LaSalle is a south St. Louis neighborhood bound by Chouteau Avenue to the north, I-55 to the southeast and Tucker Boulevard to the west:
Take a look at the street grid, it's all chopped up and disconnected.   This is my major criticism of LaSalle; that and the 1980's looking public/low-income housing.  The north side of LaSalle is one of the most suburbanized neighborhoods I've visited in that there are corporate "campuses" that are reminiscent of St. Louis County or Anytown, Generica.  The Lohr ABI distributorship and Nestle/Ralston campuses really set the suburban tone.  But it doesn't end there.  The Maronite Catholic Pastoral Center, the Ray Leisure park/playground/neighborhood center are right out of the late 1970s, early 1980s.  The same can be said for the low incoming housing complex called La Salle Park that comes to you right out of the 70's/80s.  That's not to say Nestle, formerly Ralston Purina, hasn't been helpful in maintaining order in LaSalle as you can read from the exerpt from the La Salle Park website, it seems Nestle has been a good steward of the neighorhood.
A quick tour through La Salle will certainly leave you with the same impression, the fight between the old and the new.  The European ways vs. the suburban American ways.  Both are there in pure sight. Churches and homes dating back to the late 19th century, right next to the cheapest building materials, large surface parking lots and thoughtless design of the late 20th century burbs.

The city calls the neighborhood LaSalle, the neighborhood org. calls it LaSalle Park.  LaSalle had 1,408 residents in 2000 (16% increase over 1990s count) of whom 71% were black, 27% white 1% each Asian and Hispanic.  Only 650 housing units existed, but 93% of them were occupied, 28% by owners and 72% by renters.  That's a pretty hefty increase in population.  I think it may be attributed to some nice new infill construction that I photographed below.

First, a little background from Wikipedia:
LaSalle Park is an integral part of the three-neighborhood "Old Frenchtown" area — LaSalle Park, Lafayette Square and Soulard — bordering the southern edge of downtown St. Louis, Missouri. It was formed as a "new neighborhood," distinct from the larger Soulard district, through the efforts of Ralston Purina, which has its world headquarters in LaSalle Park, and The City of St. Louis.
LaSalle Park contains a mixture of Victorian and Federalist architecture. At least two of the homes in this French neighborhood were built at the time of the Civil War. New construction is also found in the neighborhood. The current urban renewal guidelines [1], approved by the City of St. Louis, require that all new construction be built in a style similar to and compatible with the existing architecture.
The LaSalle Park Neighborhood enjoys Federal Historic Status with homes that are considered to have neighborhood, city, state and national architectural significance. Plans were filed by Ralston Purina Co. and Landmarks Association of St. Louis, Inc. in 1977 (revised in 1979, 1980, 1982) to establish the historic importance of the neighborhood architecturally.

The LaSalle Park neighbor hood was "cut-off" from the rest of Soulard when Interstates 55 and 44 were built through the neighborhood. The area fell into decline even while Soulard was maintained. In March 1969, 137 acres (0.55 km2) were declared blighted and the Saint Louis Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority applied for a federal planning grant to rehabilitate the neighborhood.

Federal funds were approved for redeveloping LaSalle Park in 1971. Brick sidewalks, extensive landscaping and street lamps designed to mirror those that were in the neighborhood many years ago were installed.
Property throughout the neighborhood was sold in early 1976 to both individuals and developers who were willing to restore homes and businesses or to build "in-fill" houses. These structures are so named because they are designed and built to match or resemble the surrounding architecture. Through the efforts of Ralston Purina and the City of St. Louis, an Urban Renewal Plan and Guidelines for upholding the integrity of the neighborhood's properties was established.

The neighborhood continues to operate and maintain its distinctive architectural design and character through a revision of this urban plan. In 2006, all new street lamps were installed and sidewalk repairs undertaken, keeping the neighborhood a wonderful place to live.

The interstate freeways that butchered St. Louis' neighborhoods have had a lasting negative effect.  La Salle is one such neighborhood that felt the isolation of the interstate systems dissecting it from Soulard and Lafayette Square.

Anyhow, there is still a lot of beauty to cherish in La Salle.  More than most American cities can claim as a whole.  But as far as St. Louis neighborhoods go, I'd be remiss if I didn't stress the fact that this in not a contiguous neighborhood, but rather a smattering of 19th century classics amongst a lot of late 20th century mistakes. However, I really like some of the new condos/apartments that fit in quite nicely with the older homes.

There is a St. Raymond's Maronite Catholic Pastoral Center right off of Chouteau that is as strange as the sect itself.  First of all, there is Islamic and English writing on the outside of this place.  This is a Lebanese/Syrian sect of the Catholic church that dates back to the 5th century.  Nothing about this church campus fits in with the more traditional St. Louis characteristics of the neighborhood:
^No this is not Lady of the Snows shrine in Belleville...
Contrast that with the St. John Nepomuk and St. Vincent De Paul Catholic churches and some other classics from the 1880's:
^Isn't that plaque just kind of creepy?  Something about the eyes and the fading color that looks like blood overflowing out of the creepy hat, coming down his face.  I'm Catholic and must say their symbolism has always kind of freaked me out. 

Having a partially Bohemian bloodline, I'd be remiss if I didn't note that:

In 1854, a small group of Czech Catholic immigrants were laboring against great odds to organize the first Czech parish in America and to build a little wooden church, Saint John Nepomuk.

The church of St. John Nepomuk became the first tangible accomplishment of the St. Louis Bohemian community. The growth and progress of St. John Nepomuk from 1865 to 1896 was remarkable. From the original small church of 1855 the parish grew one of the largest in St. Louis.
For more info on this church, click here.

Here are some photos of the housing stock with La Salle, see if you can pick out the new construction from the old:

La Salle Park:
Some tasteful newer infill construction:
At least I think the above is new based on the poured foundation, they fit in so well, you can't really tell.

The Ralph Bunche International Studies Middle School:
Some recent renovations/rehabs:

Here are some more familiar sights within La Salle:

Notice the Cubs Suck sticker in this next photo:

And some former industrial relics:

Driving along Tucker/12th street, or Chouteau, you might not even notice the awesome homes that exist in LaSalle.  But as you enter the central and southern portions of the neighborhood, you'll think you were in Soulard or Lafayette Park, except the streets are frustratingly hard to navigate through.

Congrats to La Salle for the 16% increase in residents in the last decade.  Here's to a bright future and more sensitive infill both for the low income residents and gentrifiers.