Monday, October 22, 2012

Modern Infill And Other Excitement In The Botanical Heights Neighborhood

Inspired by a recent story on nextstl describing the UIC Vandegrove project, I learned that there is much activity in the Botanical Heights neighborhood including the new location for City Garden Montessori School and some housing rehabs and new construction around the area.  I wanted to do a drive by to see the progress for myself.

Holy cow, creative and inspiring infill right here in South City?  Indeed, and it looks dynamite.  St. Louis has so many holes and empty lots, this city NEEDS infill to make streets contiguous and sound.  You know not everyone wants to maintain a 100 year old home.  Some people simply want new and presumably lower maintenance, higher energy efficiency but with city living amenities.  Bring em on.  St. Louis NEEDS more infill of all types...and we can do better than the more traditional suburban designs that already exist in much of Botanical Heights (complete with cut off streets to form cul-de-sacs). 

This is a fascinating part of the city with so much potential to connect itself to the utterly amazing Shaw neighborhood and Missouri Botanical Gardens to the south and southwest and the dwindling (see SLU residential demolitions), but no less inspiring Tiffany neighborhood to the northeast and the burgeoning Forest Park Southeast neighborhood to the northwest.  For whatever reason I love this part of town.  The Willard Home Products and other factories are so well maintained and remind me of the old days when St. Louis MADE things and people lived near factories where they worked.  This area has tons of potential.

I've circled the area of Botanical Heights that is getting a face lift. 
I really like the idea of small chunks of the city undergoing a renovation.  The neighborhood, a trusted/proven developer and an overall plan for several blocks will go a long way toward improving a small bit of the city that has had piecemeal or no development interest at all in the last 10-15 years.  I think this is what St. Louis needs all over from north to south.

Again, note its proximity to Shaw immediately to the south of the I-44 we just need to get rid of the out-lived Schoemehl pots and street barriers that were installed to impede access from the formerly problematic McRee Town to the burgeoning Shaw neighborhood.  Now that there is positive activity and a larger school in this area north of I-44, the city needs to reopen the streets that the tax payers pay for to it comes...access from one neighborhood to another.  Here's an example of the roads cut off at I-44, the unofficial barrier between Shaw and Botanical Heights.
Physical barriers between Shaw and Botanical Heights

To me, the reopening of a street means an area has "made it" and the ghetto behavior that got the roads closed in the first place is now in check. 

Back to the construction work going on in Botanical Heights.  In my opinion, this modern infill looks fantastic against our old brick beauties.  Here's a fact:  they don't build em like they used to.  You simply can't, so our old brick, stone and wood beauties are relics of another era.  Yet many of them have not withstood the test of time and disinvestment & neglect of owners, so there are plenty of empty lots in mostly all neighborhoods.  Some areas such as Lafayette Square and Soulard have seen AMAZING new construction that fit in very well with the old classics...other neighborhoods have not done so well.  I've got nothing against modern and crisp/clean lines...heck, I'd be happy if the empty lots on my block (in a local historic district) were filled in with well-done mod designs like you'll see below.  It's simply a compliment if you ask me.  One era saying to another:  "here's the best design and materials of their respective times living together in harmony".

Check out this nice looking new construction underway in Botanical Heights:
I really like how the bright colors stand out next to the red brick on the older buildings. 

And there are also plenty of old buildings/homes undergoing rehab:
Another good thing to see are the alleys coming back to life with new garages being installed.  So many homes in St. Louis do not have off street parking, and I could see this as a big draw for potential buyers.

And there's evidence of future work that lies ahead:
As well as plenty of other opportunities in the general vicinity:
This new construction in and around McRee Avenue fits in well with the already in-use and/or recently renovated building stock along Tower Grove Avenue:
Notice the narrowing of the street by the addition of a dedicated bike lane and on-street parking.

And if that's not enough to get you excited about this area, there is also the expansion of the school building for City Garden Montessori and the rehab of a former filling station soon to be a wine bar/restaurant:
The former gas station at 4266 McRee in the Botanical Heights neighborhood (old McRee Town) is currently under a $400,000 rehab into a wine bar named Olio. It will be attached via structural hyphen to an adjacent home to the east on McRee, which will house a restaurant named Elaia. The restaurant and wine bar will be curated by Ben Poremba, co-owner of artisan meat shop Salume Beddu.
This project is a sub-set of the larger Botanical Grove development, in which Urban Improvement Construction has set about improving the once forlorn 4200 block of McRee with rehabs and new homes. The development also includes the stretch of Tower Grove just north of McRee, where a new bakery (Chouquette) is set to open soon and where City Garden Montessori School is set to move and expand. (source)
Check out the work being done on the restaurant buildings:
And the City Garden Montessori school complete with thoughtful placement of new street trees, landscaping and parking:
So go swing by and see for yourself the excitement under way near Tower Grove and McRee.  I will update my neighborhood blog on Botanical Heights to reflect these amazing changes.

Monday, October 15, 2012

St. Louis: Brick City Becoming Beer City...Again

In passing I heard a local news story on one of those bets the Mayors of San Francisco and St. Louis made over who will win the 2012 National League Championship Series. 
The Mayor of the losing city will change his Twitter profile picture to the logo of the winning team for a day. Also, the losing Mayor will send food and beverages traditionally associated with the respective cities so the winning Mayor can invite the community into City Hall for a party to celebrate. Mayor Lee will send dim sum and Anchor Steam Beer. Mayor Slay will send St. Louis barbecue, toasted ravioli and a court of St. Louis brews, led by the King of Beers.  source
In the couple of seconds that took place before naming what the STL mayor would offer up, I was thinking what beer the mayor would choose from to represent our city...there are so many.  Then they said he would offer up several local beers.  Wow, how cool...several beers.  San Francisco isn't exactly a beer city...but we are.
I love the brewing history of St. Louis.  I love how the German immigrants lagered beer in the caves under our fine city in the days prior to refrigeration. They wanted to make beer like they had at home and keep their European traditions alive in the new country...and St. Louis was and still is a beer brewing heavy in the United States.  There were many breweries throughout the city and taverns on almost every neighborhood corner.  And with the influx of Irish, there were plenty of loyal customers (ba dum dum).

Ghost signs of these former breweries can be found all over the city:

Anyhow, I love how the Anheuser-Busch brewery was part of growing up near St. Louis.  The AB song ("Here Comes The King") and the Clydesdales are synonymous with Cardinal baseball and the memory of Jack Buck and Mike Shannon together on the mighty KMOX meld very nicely into a lot of great memories.

I love smelling the hops in my neighborhood when the wind is just right.  It's simply a great traditional beer city....especially American lagers.

But the thing is, it's gotten exponentially better in the last 5 or so years.  If you like craft beer you are in heaven.  We have (if my numbers are correct) 9 microbrews in addition to the big one on Pestalozzi Street to choose from right here in St. Louis.  Did you know since the In-Bev takeover, we now brew Becks in St. Louis City?  How cool is that? 

And if that's not enough, there are another 2 micro breweries slated for opening in the near future.  Per a recent Post-Dispatch article by the great "Hip Hops" PD reporter Evan Benn, Alpha Brewing is set to open by February, 2013 at 1409 Washington Boulevard in the Downtown West Neighborhood.  Here are a few words from the 26 year old owner Derrick Langeneckert:
Owner and head brewer Derrick Langeneckert, 26, a St. Louis native, says he plans to begin build out immediately on what will be a small craft brewery and modern-style tasting room with seating for about 60 people...Langeneckert chose a location downtown because he used to live there (he's since moved to south St. Louis) and wished he had a brewery within walking distance.  "Urban Chestnut is really more midtown than downtown, and 4 Hands is closer to Soulard. And Morgan Street is on Laclede's Landing, which is a different beast entirely. I just wanted something I could get to without having to get in my car."  His space is located in the back of 1409 Washington Avenue, facing City Museum. The front part of the building houses a credit union.
Another, Heavy Riff Brewing, is set to open in the awesome Clayton/Tamm Neighborhood of Dogtown at 6413 Clayton Avenue. 
So add that to the already existing list:

Buffalo Brewing in Midtown

Wow, what an impressive lineup; am I missing any?  It's hard to keep up, heck I haven't even tried all these yet.  How many other cities can claim 12 breweries in a city of ~320,000 people?  Many of the smaller micros are now being distributed in bottles including Perennial, UCBC and Six Row.  The suburbs and surrounding areas of St. Louis have a few as well:  O'Fallon, 2nd Shift, Schlafly Bottleworks, Crown Valley, etc.

What other American city has this kind of beer scene going on?  Boulder?  Milwaukee?  I think the Brick City takes the cake as the nation's Beer City capital.  Cheers to St. Louis!  Cheers to all the smart, dedicated young men and women working so hard to open small businesses in the city of St. Louis that give our city a feel and an identity.  Cheers to all those who support the locals!  Cheers to the tasting rooms and beer gardens popping up all over town that give us unique and soulful PLACES to hang out.  Thanks for choosing the city...Beer City U.S.A.