Abandonment Benton Park West South St. Louis

Two Blocks of Utah Street

by Michael R. Allen

Now that I live south of Tower Grove Park and work at Cherokee and Jefferson, my daily path has taken me through Benton Park West’s grid of state streets. Some blocks and buildings are familiar from my previous years living in Tower Grove East, but others are new. The dense cavalcade of vernacular red-brick (and some frame) buildings seems unending, and any way to and from the office seems to be the perfect way.

Still, as an architectural historian who works in historic preservation, my eye tends to wander toward the broken, the changing and the potential-filled buildings. The streets around Cherokee Street are changing a lot, but not always in concert with the renewal that is changing Cherokee almost-universally for the better. As with the relationship between Manchester Avenue and the rest of Forest Park Southeast, the relationship between Cherokee Street and its surrounding neighborhoods evokes a sense of social and architectural division. Then, of course, within the streets around Cherokee blocks are different from each other in unforeseen ways.

View southeast toward the house of the 2700 block of Utah Street.

This week a journey down Utah Street brought me into contact with two blocks in the midst of changes wrought by abandonment. The first of these is the 2700 block, between Iowa and California. On the south side of this block is a row of six houses marred by a vacant lot. Flat-roofed, with overhanging hoods and other elements, the brick houses are typical early twentieth century dwellings for this part of the city. Some people know these houses due to an unfortunate abnormality: several of these are crooked, sinking lop-sided below their lawns. The vacant lot marks the site of the first demolition, necessitated by a severe structural failure caused by subsidence. This demolition very likely won’t be the last.

Benton Park West Cherokee Street Gravois Park PRO Collection South St. Louis

Cherokee Street Decorated for the Holidays, 1940s

by Michael R. Allen

Undated photograph showing the view down Cherokee Street east from Iowa Avenue. Preservation Research Office Collection.

These two photographs from our collection show two eastward views from the late 1940s down Cherokee Street around Christmas time. Amid the wreaths decorating street lights are an array of shoppers and so many projecting store signs that a count seems impossible. These photographs really make clear how much signs and marquees are visually interesting and worthy parts of the historic built environment, unfortunately now discouraged or effectively outlawed in commercial districts by zoning and local historic district ordinances. (Apparently turning on a stopped historic clock on Cherokee Street is even controversial to the city government, despite the clock’s clear role in the physical fabric.) An exact date for these two photographs, taken on the same roll of film, has not been determined but visual information likely set the year between 1945 and 1950.

Also present is the tension between modes of transportation. The streetcar, whose sign reads “Jefferson Line” in the photograph above, is dominant in the center of the street, but parked automobiles outnumber the streetcars and their rider capacity. Soon they would be the only motor vehicles on Cherokee Street.

Above, we see the Casa Loma Ballroom at left in its present appearance, which dates to reconstruction following a fire in 1940. The Dau Furniture Company marquee at left projects from a lavishly-detailed terra cotta front on the building at 2720 Cherokee (1926, Wedemeyer & Nelson). To its right is part of the former Cherokee Brewery. Almost every building in this scene still remains.

Undated photograph showing the view down Cherokee Street east from Ohio Avenue. Preservation Research Office Collection.

To the east at Ohio Avenue, the view is even more abundant with blade signs touting various stores and companies on Cherokee Street. The northeast corner building, now home to Los Caminos gallery, was the the home of the South Side Journal. Frank X. Bick founded the newspaper in 1932, and it is now part of the Suburban Journals with an office in West County. Other signs include those for Fairchild’s and Stone Bros. attached the a now-vacant building once operated by Anheuser-Busch as the Kaiserhoff, and one in the far background for Ziegenhein Bros. Livery & Undertaking Company. Visible diagonally across the street from Ziegehein Bros.’ building is the sign of 905 Liquors, housed at Cherokee and Texas in what became the home of Globe Drugs. At the time this photograph was taken, murals by artist J.B. Turnbull adorned the walls of that particular location of 905.

Benton Park West Demolition LRA South St. Louis

Iowa Avenue House’s Days Are Numbered

by Michael R. Allen

Last year, the Community Development Administration issued a “last chance” call for a proposal to rehabilitate the vacant house at 3244 Iowa Avenue in Benton Park West, owned by the city’s Land Reutilization Authority. (See “Last Chance for 3244 Iowa Street” from May 9, 2010.) A few weeks later, Landmarks Association of St. Louis placed the beleaguered building in its annual Most Endangered Places list.

The house at 3244 Iowa Avenue as it was in early May 2010.

Yet no one took the last chance, and January 12 the city applied for a demolition permit for the small house. Since the house is a contributing resource to the Gravois-Jefferson Historic Streetcar Suburb District, the permit will require approval from the Cultural Resources Office.

Benton Park West Cherokee Street Gravois Park PRO Collection South St. Louis

1950s Parade Scene, Cherokee at Compton

by Michael R. Allen

In November, we acquired a collection of 209 black and white amateur photographs taken in and around St. Louis between 1930 and 1980. Most of the photographs are from the 1950s and a large number feature parade scenes. Today we post two taken by the same photographer on the same date showing the intersection of Cherokee and Compton streets in south St. Louis.

A parade heading west on Cherokee Street near Compton Avenue in the 1950s. Photographs from the Preservation Research Office Collection.
The same view today.

The view in the first photograph shows the north side of the 3100 block of Cherokee Street toward the west end.  At right are the buildings now housing Tower Tacos (3149 Cherokee) and Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts (3151).  At left is the larger corner building where Peridot and the StyleHouse, housing clothing purveyors and St. Louis patriots STL Style and Lighthouse Design.  Kuhn Upholstering Company is long gone.  The Fort Gondo and Tower Taco buildings have lost their shaped front parapets.  Overall, however, the view remains remarkably the same.

The parade turned south onto Compton Avenue from Cherokee Street.
The same view today.

The second view looks north on Compton Avenue. Again, little has changed in the fifty-odd years since the parade passed by — just the removal of awnings. Even parades still pass by on Cherokee Street, at least around every Cinco de Mayo.

Benton Park West South St. Louis

Ribbon Cutting at Gravois & Michigan Friday

From Alderman Craig Schmid:

Advanced Environmental Services, an environmental remediation firm specializing in abatement services for asbestos, lead, and mold, as well as fire & water restoration and demolition, is showing off its new headquarters in the Benton Park West Neighborhood —


The event will be the culmination of a year of breathing new life into this old, abandoned warehouse in the Benton Park West Neighborhood. Dennis Ruckman, CEO of Advanced Environmental Services, and H & A Restoration & Development have focused on the historic details of this $1.2 million dollar investment. The building has been restored to look as it did in the 1940s (see Fabick CAT history with a great photo at url:

The project will result in the retention of 17 jobs in the City of St. Louis with growth opportunities and includes Brownfield Tax Credits and Historic Tax Credits. Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification at the Silver level is being sought.

Mayor Francis G. Slay is scheduled to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony.

Benton Park West Historic Preservation Housing LRA

Last Chance for 3244 Iowa Street

by Michael R. Allen

This week I received an e-mail about 3244 Iowa Avenue (pictured above) from JoAnn Vatcha, Housing Analyst for the Community Development Administration. The email stated that the city was issuing a “last chance” call to respond to a Request for Proposals issued last year for the beleaguered property.

The diminutive 19th century alley house — 600 square feet — in Benton Park West is owned by the city’s Land Reutilization Authority and has been considered a vacant building by the Building Division since 2003. The citizen complaints on the house keep coming, and the front wall has suffered spalling. Still, the house is in sound shape and is just a block off of Cherokee Street. This block is intact with historic buildings lining both sides of the street, and its loss would create a hole. The small size is perfect for a single person or couple wanting to be close to the buzz of Cherokee.

Hopefully a developer will answer the call. Meanwhile, some cities have historic preservation organizations that buy, rehab and sell houses that are facing the “last chance.” Should St. Louis follow suit?

(The city has posted all residential building RFPs here.)