by Michael R. Allen
On St. Louis Avenue in Old North St. Louis, a one-story storefront building just bit the dust. Located at 1315 St. Louis Avenue, the modest narrow building was once a productive part of neighborhood commerce, and was part of a connected group of three buildings. Such groups have allowed the neighborhood to evince strong historic character despite the fact that over half of its 20th century built environment is gone.
Across St. Louis Avenue and a half-block to the west is the two block “14th Street Mall,” a section of the commercial district turned into a pedestrian mall in 1977. The buildings on the mall are largely abandoned and some have been lost. However, this is the most dense and intact group of commercial buildings left in Old North, or anywhere on the near north side between downtown and Salisbury Avenue.
A remnant of 1970’s era urban planning, the closure of 14th Street from St. Louis Avenue southward to Warren Avenue left a once-bustling shopping district in decline. The shop buildings gradually became vacant, and only a few businesses on the fringes remain open — notably the venerable Crown Candy Kitchen at 14th and St. Louis. With some renewed attention to the surrounding Old North St. Louis area in the last two years, though, the 14th Street Mall could enjoy some form of rejuvenation soon. Hopefully, rejuvenation will not consist of massive demolition; the two blocks suffered from much demolition when the mall was built to accommodate parking behind the stores on 14th Street.
The scale of this shopping district is as intimately urban as that of the Cherokee Street district. Buildings here are small and close together, and within walking district of beautiful and remarkably intact — by northside standards — 19th century row and town houses. It could be instrumental in developing a multi-racial, mixed-income district of housing and shopping north of downtown, which is priced out of range for most of Saint Louis and is woefully lacking in diversity in its emergent population.
This area could anchor a near-north belt of family-friendly housing, cooperatively managed rental units, urban gardens, live-work spaces (Neighborhood Gardens, anyone?), and neighborhood schools. Imagine: affordable, restored historic living space in the inner city in the 21st century!