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.


  1. I was born in Jennings and my Grandparents lived at the corner of 20th and John in north St. Louis. My other Grandma lived on Farragut. I remember going down Broadway to get to these places in the late 50's and mid 60's when I was a kid. Trolley tracks were still imbeded in the pavement. Used to go to sportmens park, and also to STL Cardinal football games BEFORE there were nets to catch the footballs after field goals and extra points. My uncle had season tickets to the Football Cards and used to take all of the nephews. Visions of the neighborhoods are etched in my mind, and the old water towers were/are awesome. LOVED old north st. louis.

  2. I lived in the College Hill area from 1958 thru 1969: that year I joined the Air Force and after a tour in Vietnam and several other places after being shot in Nam came back in 1970 and didn't know the place, East Prairie and W.Florisant many good memories of getting involved with old Chevys and Fords Roadrunner Plymouths and Dodge Dart Swingers, and the famous Hall Street Truck route where it was a bad kept secret that the Kids would drag-race their Jalopies or Dad's Buick on Friday or Saturday Nights, I remember Going to Bryan Hill grade School and Central High and the Western Auto on West Florrisant provided me with a Western Flyer Bike, and aftermarket bike parts which at age 12-yrs. old we made our bikes into Harley Davidsons, or so we thought they were with the high rise Handle bars and banana seats etc. Ball Games in the "Lot" as we called an empty dirt area which was about 200-feet x 450-feet, in size so being raised in that place was the best years we had in our lives and we didn't realize it at the time, but looking back on the friends made and the desertion of the people during the 1970's, and family's moving to North county or St. Charles or Arnold to escape the blight of our former homes and neighborhoods and the increase in Violent Crime I feel ashamed and felt as our parents and adults of the area let us down or made mistakes to where the College Hill Neighborhood died as a result of the elders mistakes and actions. Whatever the cause for the decay and deterioration of the area I feel a personal loss where seeing the place now and feel empty as I'd lost a best friend.

  3. Our family lived on O'Bear close to Blair in the mid 50's. The house we lived in was a huge old house that had been divided into 4 rental units....two with O'Bear entrances and 2 with entrances on E. Grand. Also went to Bryan Hill school. Went to the Velvet Freeze at 20th & E Grand...and 2 the show across from that. Mama shopped at the A.G. store on E. Grand. How I wish I had a picture of the place we lived, but it was torn down some years ago...that old house had belonged to a doctor years before and also had a connection to the family for which Bryan Hill school was named. Good times while we lived there....