Sunday, November 28, 2010

The College Hill Neighborhood

College Hill is a north St. Louis neighborhood bound by Warne Avenue to the north west, I-70 to the north east, Ferry Street to the south east and West Florissant Avenue to the south west:
The 2000 census data counted 2,956 residents (down 32% from 1990...yikes) of whom 94% were black, 4% white, 1% Hispanic/Latino.  There were 1,342 housing units, 69% occupied by 46%/54% owner/renter.  You get the picture, major losses of residents, 31% of the housing units unoccupied.

The name College Hill was given to this area because it was the location of the St. Louis University College Farm. This area was acquired by the University for garden and recreation purposes in 1836, it was subdivided in the early 1870's.  Source

College Hill's claim to fame is probably the 2 water towers that grace the neighborhood.
The Bissell Point plant included a standpipe, which is the present Old Water Tower at 20th Street and East Grand Avenue, and the reservoir at Compton Hill. The tower on East Grand was placed in service in 1871. It was considered to be the largest perfect Corinthian column in existence, reaching a height of 154 feet. It was designed by George Gingham Barnett, the first architect to receive training abroad. In the late 1920's lights were placed on top of the Corinthian tower to serve as aviation beacons. They were extinguished in World War II as a security precaution and were reactivated in 1949 to guide flyers to Lambert Field. The lights are presently not in use and the tower itself has not been used for its original purpose for many years.

Another familiar landmark in this area is the so-called Red Water Tower at Bissell Street and Blair Avenue. This structure was erected as a stand pipe to augment the "Old Water Tower" on East Grand Avenue. It would counter the water surge from high service pumps at Bissell Point. It was built in 1887 at a cost of $79,789 after a design by architect W.S. Eames, who was then the assistant city water commissioner. The 206 foot high tower was created when new high service pumps were installed in the water works at Bissell Point.

After Bissell Point plant was retired from service in 1960 its site was sold and subsequently became the location of the Metropolitan Sewer District's north sewage treatment plant, which began operations in 1970. A portion of the site is occupied by a city incinerator and garage.

The two north side water towers, as well as the one at Compton Hill, have been declared to be local and national land marks and represent nearly half of all such surviving structures in the nation. Admirers of the north side towers have successfully resisted action to raze them and some funds are reported to be available for their restoration. In 1997 the Gateway Foundation had lighting added to the towers to light them at night. The effect has been stunning. The towers are now visible at night from the interstates and from many vantage points in their respective neighborhoods. Source
Here is the 1887 "Red Water Tower" at Bissell and Blair:
The properties that are still standing around the water tower are St. Louis classics.
Here's the Old Water Tower at Grand and 20th Street:
Overall, College Hill has huge potential, as it has a nice mix of all styles of architecture that old St. Louis has to offer.  It has of course seen better days and much of the neighborhood is crumbling; but it's not a hopeless place at all.  There is still enough of the backbone to make this a contiguous neighborhood with a lot of future potential.

College Hill is clearly another neighborhood lying in wait for those with the ideas, resources and desire to make change and bring this place back to it's original glory.  College Hill with some TLC could easily add to St. Louis' resume as one of the, if not THE brick city of the universe.

Here's what I mean, check out these aging beauties:
 Many structures are falling:
 Many are boarded up, or not:
There are several commercial corridors and former businesses, mainly along Grand and Florissant:

College Hill's proximity to ONSL, its history and amazing architecture make it an area worth investing in.  So get in now, the price and time is right.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Old North St. Louis: Old North Grocery Co-op

My recent visit to Crown Square led me to another fascinating personal first...a stop into the Old North Grocery Co-op.  The amount of positivity that has sprung up around Crown Candy Kitchen is simply amazing.  The ONSL Restoration Group is doing a great job at organically building the neighborhood back up to it's original glory.

Now, there are some things that simply make sense to me on every level.  Buying fresh, locally produced food and products is one of those things.  I like to spend every dollar I can within the limits of the City of St. Louis.  And when I can't find it there, extend my reach to the state level and then made in the U.S.  It's a challenge for me, and I think it's my duty as a good citizen to support local business owners.  When it comes to food, it's getting easier and easier to get local (within 100 miles of the city) produce and meat products.  With farmer's markets and co-ops and neighborhood gardens popping up all over the city, I'm very impressed with the locavore activities in St. Louis.

The Old North Grocery Co-op is just one positive example of this. 
Upon my visit, I bought some bacon, pork chops and an ~8 pound chicken (butchered within 48 hours of purchase) from a local farmer in Truxton, MO.  Lee Farms is approximately 70 miles from DT St. Louis; a mere 1.5 hour drive.  The processor (Davis Meats) is also in the great state of Missouri in a town called Jonesburg only ~66 miles from DT St. Louis.
It gets better.  As I was shopping for some delicious food, there was a couple in the back having a conversation.  As I approached the cashier to check out, one of the people at the back table approached me with an extended handshake and introduced himself as the farmer that raised the animals that I was purchasing.   He gave me a heartfelt thanks and I returned the thanks for doing one of the most important jobs in the world, providing food for the masses.  It was a good experience.

I am very proud of the work that farmers do to feed the world, especially farmers that are interested in serving their communities and regions with fresh, healthy food.  I am also very proud of folks like the Old North Grocery Co-op that are working toward fresh, local solutions toward healthy nutrition and living well.

Old North never looked so good.  You've got to check this place out.

Old North St. Louis: the 14th Street Mall or Crown Square

I've been reading a lot about the opening of the 14th street pedestrian mall or as it's referred to now: Crown Square in the Old North St. Louis neighborhoodBuilt St. Louis has some great "before" pictures from this section of the neighborhood.
It's clear, the space had seen better days.  But today a major transformation has occurred.  Not only has 14th street been opened up to vehicular traffic, this is straight up one of the most handsome business corridors in the entire city.  The views of DT and the Arch are unmatched.  The buildings look fantastic, and I was beaming with pride as I walked around.  This is one of the greatest transformations in my time living in St. Louis.  Cheers to all involved on a top notch effort.  Take a look:

views from in front of Crown Candy Kitchen

new street signs, lights, bike racks, parking meters and planters/benches
landscaped path to parking lots
PARKING IN THE REAR!!! So the storefronts can shine!
WOW!!!!  Can I get an Amen St. Louis? 

The regional/tourist draw of Crown Candy Kitchen should not be underestimated.  People from all over the suburbs and metropolitan region come here, especially at lunchtime and weekends.  Tourists flock here as well.  Hopefully more tenants in Crown Square will bring more tourist/visitor dollars to the neighborhood. 

On the day of my visit, people were walking around peeking in windows and admiring the workmanship and feel of the area.  It's great to see.

Now keep in mind this is St. Louis...the naysayers are already out in full force....they say, I'll call this a success when and only when there are businesses occupying all the storefronts.  I see what they are saying and there is still many a negative element in the surrounding areas.  They will try to make their mark (some genius started a fire in one of the brand new trash receptacles):
But the guts and drive it takes to make a successful renovation on this scale is simply astounding.  If you let the naysayers have their way, it would never have gotten off the ground, nor would it have come to completion. 

I commend all those involved!  You make this city guy proud!!!!

Want to read more?  Here's some great content:

St. Louis business journal
St. Louis beacon
Urban Review STL