by Michael R. Allen
Alex Ihnen has reported the his St. Louis Urban Workshop blog that a substantial new scattered-site infill housing project is in the works for part of Forest Park Southeast. Specifically, the Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance hopes to build 40 new houses on and around Norfolk and Vista avenues west of Newstead. These are some the neighborhood’s roughest blocks in its most neglected portion, the area south of Manchester Avenue known as Adams Grove. Adams Grove was platted in 1875 and is the oldest part of Forest Park Southeast, but long has lagged behind the northern section of the neighborhood in development efforts.
Readers may recall that in 2006, these blocks were targeted by the Forest Park Southeast Development Corporation during a wide round of demolition that took down over 30 buildings across the neighborhood. The Preservation Board approved demolition permits for one building on Norfolk and eight buildings on Vista.
One of the worst aspects of this round of demolition was the wholesale removal of vacant frame houses like the row shown here. These six houses stood from 4452-4462 Vista Avenue. Proponents of demolition argued that the houses were too small for people’s demands, and that wide clearance would allow for a large-scale new housing effort.
While the large-scale infill project is welcome fulfillment of the promises that the Development Corporation made in support of demolition, there remains some bittersweet irony that the houses now proposed for construction are small, one-story homes like those rejected as unfit for housing needs. Make no mistake, though — the size of the proposed infill is perfect for the area and the housing needs. That’s why some of us opposed demolishing the frame shotgun houses that also could have served those needs.
The wide demolition in 2006 could lead to two other losses, one of which is the prominent two-story brick corner building at Newstead and Vista that recent was being rehabilitated. Getting remaining buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places to attain historic rehab tax credits might be difficult, although certainly not impossible. The demolitions are tentative, though, and could be avoidable.
One problem for these specific block of Adams Grove are the cul-de-sac street closures on the western end. These closures are partly responsible for the decline of the building stock in this area. Placement of the closures at an unsightly and moribund stretch of Taylor Avenue has compounded the ill effects. The “dead ends” on Swan, Norfolk and Vista avenues attract enough criminal activity to deserve the term.
Here’s the closure on Norfolk:
And this is Vista:
The Vista closure even has large evergreen trees that close off the sight lines of the street. To make these blocks safe and desirable places to live, the closures must be removed and Taylor must be improved. I want very much for the infill project to succeed, because Adams Grove needs major development. That development must address the circulation problem to succeed.