by Michael R. Allen
In these days of biological terrorism and digital warfare, money is rapidly flowing from the United States government and private donors into all sorts of research into biological weaponry. St. Louis University is participating in this boom by constructing a new Level-4 biolab right at the bustling intersection of Grand Avenue and Choteau Avenue. Well, okay, not exactly right on Grand. The ten-story laboratory will sit behind a carefully-groomed sea of bollards and barriers, dubbed by the deceivers and the deceived as a “plaza.” The building’s relationship to its city environment will be as detached as that of the average American researcher from the human “collateral damage” of the latest “smart” war.
The central corridor in particular has been besieged by such buildings until there literally is no sense of place left on most street corners. Sadly, even major intersections — would-be locations for great visual interest — have been spoiled by the occupying forces of visual cleanliness. The demolition of nearly the entire central corridor, a plan began with the horrible Mill Creek Valley clearance of the 1950’s, continues despite the supposedly greater understanding of urban design on the part of our city planners. In place of a dense and connected series of commercial strips and flats has risen a disconnected and uninspired grouping of institutional and corporate mexa-complexes, cheaply-built suburban-style housing, fast-food outlets and surface parking.
One thing that is nearly extinct in much of the central city is the small business. The new vision for this area enforces a strict use segregation outside of the residential portions (Central West End, Downtown, Midtown). City planners don’t want to see an errant diner or locksmith alongside their gleaming hospital towers and biolabs.
The St. Louis University biolab will occupy ground that the University has already cleared over the years — except for that one remaining small business, Peerless Restaurant Supply at 1124 S. Grand Boulevard. Peerless has occupied its modest, two-story commercial building since 1974 and has brought in some foot traffic to the ailing neighborhood around Grand and Chouteau. Not anymore. After a protracted legal fight against SLU’s use of eminent domain, Peerless has reached a settlement with SLU and is vacating its fine building. The building will be gone by year’s end, and the neighborhood will lose one of its last remaining small businesses.
Peerless Restaurant Supply will be relocating to St. Louis County, which often is the beneficiary of relocation from the city’s central corridor.
At least the graceful Arts-and-Crafts style buildings of the Pevely Dairy complex still stand at Grand and Choteau, saved by their compatible single use. As things stand, their preservation is essential to providing any visual beauty to one of the city’s busiest intersection. The biolab’s tendencies will be a powerful sight requiring a mighty antidote like the Pevely complex.