Thursday, April 15, 2010

St. Louis Hills Neighborhood

St. Louis Hills is a south St. Louis neighborhood bound by Chippewa on the north/northwest, Hampton on the east, Gravois on the southeast and the city limits to the southwest:
As of 2000, St. Louis Hills was home to 7,560 people, a 1% increase from 1990. It's 97% white, 1% black, 2% Hispanic/Latino and 1% Asian (I'm rounding up). Of the 4,077 housing units, 97% were occupied with a nice mix of 57% owner occupied, 43% rental.

97% occupied, amazing!  This is truly a popular place to live, congrats to St. Louis Hills.  This neighborhood rightfully deserves credit for keeping this part of the city desirable for  ~80 years.

There is a lot to love in this proud neighborhood.  Firstly, there are two parks.  Francis Park serves as the heart of the hood.  It is a very popular park with no vehicle traffic allowed, so it's very serene and quiet.  There always seem to be people walking/jogging the perimeter trail.  It's a highly used park.  Then you have Willmore Park, the large park just north of the River Des Peres.  This park is great too, and much larger.  It does allow vehicular access, so it has a completely different feel than Francis Park.

Secondly, the streets and alleys are spic and span clean.  As clean as Holly Hills and Lafayette Square, Southampton and North Pointe.  People take pride in their surroundings here and they are acting as good stewards of the amazing homes, businesses and public spaces within their neighborhood.  Street after street are tidy and neat.  I would guess that if a Little Tykes slide was left in a front yard for longer than 48 hours, a black Cadillac Escalade would appear and whisk away with that front yard playground where it would be found in the River Des Peres days later.  Well maybe it's not like that, but you get my point.

Thirdly, there are huge old growth oaks and sycamores framing the homes and several of the streets with shade and cover.  This is a very walkable neighborhood with lots of shopping nearby, both chain and indie. 

It's a peaceful place.

Here are some interesting tidbits from the neighborhood website:
“Country living in the City” was the phrase used to market St. Louis Hills in the 1930’s, since St. Louis Hills was so far west of any other residential or commercial buildings located within the City limits.

Some 80 years later, the rich history and tradition of St. Louis Hills lives on, and the St. Louis Hills Neighborhood Association is formally trying to improve its historical focus on what is considered by many to be the most desirable neighborhood in the City of St. Louis.

The history of St. Louis Hills, developed from 1930-1950's, is relatively short by the city's beginnings in 1763. The land which became St. Louis Hills dates back to deeds granted to pioneer French colonists Madame Ann Camp and Anton Reihle in 1768 by one founder of the Village of St. Louis, Pierre Laclede. At the time, the land included 2,471 acres. Camp and Reihl's heirs sold the land to George C. Clarke, who gave it to two sons. When the Village was chartered as the City of St. Louis in 1836, St. Louis Hills was still remote, open and forested land, and essentially remained so until the early 1930's. In 1876, when the county and city of St. Louis divided responsibilities, the western boundary of St. Louis City was set just west of the River des Peres (River of the Fathers). Even then, what is now St. Louis Hills, was still open land.

David Rowland Francis, Governor of the state from 1889-1893, became owner of part of the property in 1884 on which he established his vast farm. At the turn of the century, David R. Francis was President of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition from 1889 until its opening in 1904. Francis originally considered use of his farmland as a site for the World's Fair, but logistics of transportation and construction to Francis' land persuaded use of Forest Park as the now famous 1904 World's Fair site. Francis was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Russia in 1916. The next year, Francis made a gift of the land to the city, and so it was named Francis Park. David Rowland Francis died January 15, 1927.

Cyrus Crane Willmore, for whom the neighborhood's second park is named, became the visionary developer of the St. Louis Hills 700 acre neighborhood. He came to St. Louis in 1912 after graduation from the University of Illinois law school, and worked for a realty firm until 1922 when he formed his own company. Willmore's intentions for the area were clear from the beginning: tree lined residential streets for families and single persons, churches and schools throughout, bordered on three sides by developing businesses, and open green spaces in parks. (See Architecture and Parks for more information.)
I passed the Nikon D-100 to my lovely wife Shannon who took all the following St. Louis Hills photos. 

Here are some cool signs within the neighborhood:
And some of the art deco touches that highlight this neighborhood:
 This next one is an eight sided house with no two sides the same length:
Churches and Schools are plentiful in St. Louis Hills:
The streets are cozy and tree lined:
Some businesses along Hampton and Chippewa (Route 66):
 But most of all St. Louis Hills is a residential neighborhood filled with pre-WWII homes and mid-century ranches:


  1. Just as startling as the 97% occupancy rate in St. Louis Hills is its 97% of residents who are white, and only 1% African American. This in a city that is 51% black.

    It's no accident: As discussed in Colin Gordon's book Mapping Decline, St. Louis Hills was developed as a white-only neighborhood, using restrictive-deed covenants. It was one of the few areas in the city that the FHA would insure mortgages in because it was not occupied by blacks and was far from the areas where blacks were concentrated.

    Does St. Louis Hills deserve credit for keeping this part of the city desirable? Maybe. But it should also be noted that this area has been (and seemingly still is) closed to half the population of the city, and that it has benefited from policies that have spelled hard times for most of the city.

  2. ^framiko, this country and city have a dubious past when it comes to real estate policies for minorities. But here and now, money talks. If a black family desires and can afford a home in STL HILLS, than they are free to move there.

  3. But Frank (framiko), this wasn't the only racial covenant neighborhood in the city. It's just that this was on the far edge of the city and no where near African American areas. West Belle Place and other areas of Mid-North City were once exclusive white neighborhoods, too, but the realities of the Great Migration were that there weren't enough neighborhoods in which to "contain" African Americans. So the battles played out closer to the core, where blacks were once legally required to live.

    That said, I have heard stories of a fanatical neighborhood association that does seek to remove "undesirables". I can't confirm that personally.

    Whatever the reasons, St. Louis Hills is a very desirable place to live. I do understand in a city with severe crime problems that some residents would be a bit protective of their neighborhood. I just hope that they do not conflate racial shifts with "urban problems" as I so often hear in St. Louis.

    I would bet you that the racial makeup has changed slightly. If you recall, as recently as 1990, neighborhoods such as Dutchtown were 80% white. My own neighborhood, Bevo, was 95% white in 1990. Today, it's probably 55% white at most. Times and places change. I think St. Louis Hills' overwhelming whiteness has more to do with its geographic location than specific policies these days.

  4. Most N. city neighborhoods are 90+% are these neighborhoods closed to half the city population?

  5. ^anon 11:01 pm, you nailed it. When a neighborhood (nearly all of north st. lou) is >90% black it's considered "diverse". On the south side, it's considered "exclusive". I will delve into the racist bullshit I've encountered in my travels through STL when I complete my 79 neighborhood tour.

  6. ^Hey framiko, I didn't know it was you Frank until Matt mentioned it. Sorry, we should talk sometime about this topic. Maybe we could make more progress toward understanding this topic of >90% uni-racial neighborhoods than the gentrification panel was able to at City Affair....

  7. No problem, Mark. I shouldn't expect you to recognize my handle. :-)

    I'd love to talk with you sometime about residential segregation. And I've been meaning to do a post about that gentrification panel we were both at.

  8. And Matt--yes, I'll be interested to see the 2010 census info for STL Hills and many other areas of the city.

  9. I think the borders are off a bit in the map. The original St. Louis Hills borders end at Jameison and Eichelberger and did not include Wilmore Park. The old purple sidewalks and curbs which used a black sand to give the purple color, unique to the hills, are not present south of Francis park in what was originally know as St. Louis Hills Estates and is primarily filled with Ranch style homes. And like the area between River Des Peres and Jameison it has no sidewalks at all. The wedge shaped area bounded by Jameison, Chippewa and Landsdowne was known as St. Louis Hills Annex added after the majority of the lots in the original hills were purchased. It too had the purple sidewalks and curbs and 2 story architecture but unlike the "original" Hills homes the builder no longer was required to install the slate roofs on homes and garages.

  10. ^CMW-2, my source for the borders of all 79 neighborhoods was the St. Louis City website. I've been told that the city's info was wrong, but at least I'm consistent in my source :) Thanks for reading.

  11. It was hard to get the feel for the neighborhood with those pics. They were pretty dark and the contrast was quite high. Maybe you're just trying to be "artsy." : (

  12. ^"anonymous", photography is a bona fide art. I would never claim to be an artist nor a photographer. I am a dude on a scooter with a camera, in this case, my wife in a mini van with a camera trying to enjoy her time and make an honest and personal representation of a particular place at a particular moment in time. I look forward to reading and seeing your take on St. Louis Hills, please forward me the link to your photo album or post. Cheers.

  13. St Louis Hills is obviously divided into 2 parts. The newer side, with it's ranches and attached garages and larger lots are called "the Estates.". Some have sunken living rooms, others have high-end amenities like walk-in closets and master bathrooms. The Estates have their own set of ordinances.

  14. I think you missed the boat here. I grew up in St. Louis Hills, and St. Louis Hills Estates is very much apart of this southside neighborhood. I recognize only a few houses from the Estates, and missed seeing a photo of St. Raphael church (most beautiful) you didn't have pictures of either Francis Park or Willmore Park, but included a lot of homes around Francis Park. Their are beautiful and exquisite homes that back up to Willmore Park, down Willmore Road, you missed taking a picture of Stan Musial,Joe Garagiola, and mayor Pelker's homes in St. Louis Estates. Most of this was cenetered around the north side of the "Hills" Would have loved to see some of the Estates homes and surroundings included as well.

  15. ^Ms. Kohne, thanks for the feedback. I tend to agree with you that I missed the mark and would say Clifton Heights is another one I could've done better on. Good news is, I'm working on updating these and have also have full profiles on Willmore and Francis Parks. Check them out! And, thanks for reading.

  16. ^Ms. Kohne, thanks for the feedback. I tend to agree with you that I missed the mark and would say Clifton Heights is another one I could've done better on. Good news is, I'm working on updating these and have also have full profiles on Willmore and Francis Parks. Check them out! And, thanks for reading.

  17. Framiko's point about FHA redlining is crucial. The FHA is an aberration among developed nations. It nationalized the mortgage industry through new mortgage insurance when it was created in 1934. Previously mortgages were all private, but now residential mortgages -- this applies to condos too and in many cases small apartment buildings -- are nearly all underwritten by the FHA and its creatures Fannie, Freddie, Fannie, etc.

    Consider -- if a bank can lend on one property and Uncle Sam will guarantee that mortgage, but if it lends on another property the gov't won't insure that, why would the bank lend on the one that FHA refuses to insure?

    The FHA's redlining continued in to the 70s. It did not end when racial covenants were ruled unconstitutional. The FHA continued to use requirements like racial make up of the surrounding area, minimum setbacks, maximum lot coverage areas, etc.

    WHY did the FHA do this? For the same reason that the GI bill had these requirements for new homes built under the act; because FDR and his brain trust thought low density suburban neighborhoods were idyllic.

    The modern suburb is a creation of the New Deal. Like it or no gov't intervention in the RE market is directly responsible for much of our urban problems and suburban explosion. That's the power of the control of capital. Nobody would lend for purchases or maintenance of inner city properties, and the Accredited Investor Rule cut off much of the private equity funding for these activities as well.

    Once again, absolutely crucial to understand; the FHA STILL monopolizes residential lending activity, creating much of our foreclosure crisis problems during busts (it's a lot of the reason properties stay vacant until they fall apart). Further, the accredited investor rule STILL prevents people from publicly soliciting their neighbors' capital to build up their neighborhoods.

    Instead power is concentrated in the hands of national REITs, large funds, massive banks, etc. It goes without saying that those people care nothing for the North side of St Louis.