by Michael R. Allen
While demolition permit numbers show that the peak decade for material building loss in the Old North St. Louis and St. Louis Place neighborhoods was 1970-1980, a substantial slower loss has transpired since then. The cumulative result is that streetscapes recognizable as urban places twenty-five years ago now form desolate landscapes lacking architectural definition.
Two photographs of the west side of Florissant Avenue in 1985 taken by Mary M. Stiritz for Landmarks Association of St. Louis depict the absurd reality that in the near past, the eastern edge of St. Louis Place was marked by the familiar nineteenth century vernacular masonry buildings that typify other sections to this day.
Nowadays, Florissant Avenue is a confused corridor notable for its many vacant lots and the needless wide expanse of roadway that awaits MetroLink expansion. This area was once a vital part of a beautiful neighborhood. In 1985, Landmarks was preparing a survey leading to expansion of the Clemens House-Columbia Brewery Historic District; sufficient physical stock existed here to allow major expansion of a national historic district. Today, further expansion remains a fantasy at best due to continued loss.
Behold the northwest corner of Warren Street and Florissant Avenue, today a sun-scorched vacant lot:
While the architectural context is visibly diminished, the important corner site is occupied by a building that becomes a landmark heralding the site as one for human comfort and exchange. As we rebuild St. Louis Place, we should ensure we have good corners, and not drive-through lanes, curb cuts and fences where the marks of human settlement should be.
The second photograph shows the block of Florissant between North Market Street on the south and Benton Street on the north:
Here was a hybrid row of commercial and residential buildings, all brick but differing somewhat on setback, height and style. There are a few side-gabled buildings, with a mansard-roofed store second in from the corner adjacent to a flounder house with a generous side gallery porch. Dormers abound. There’s even a modern Payless Shoe Store at the right of the image. This is a resolutely urban group, friendly to the pedestrian and attractive to the eye.
All of these buildings are now gone.