by Michael R. Allen
Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to spend some time at the site on Locust Street where the livery stable demolished by St. Louis University in 2007 once stood. The site would be located at the northwest corner of Locust and Josephine Baker Avenue, except that the university requested that Josephine Baker be removed.
The occasion was the filming of This Was the Future, a short documentary on the efforts to save the DeVille Motor Hotel (more on that film later). For the film, interview subjects were invited to select a site where a historic building once stood that is now an empty hole in a vibrant area. While it is hard to choose from some of the harsh empty lots we have in this city, I settled on what has to be one of the worst urban planning disasters in recent years.
The two-story livery stable building was a bridge between the emergent renewal in the Locust Street Business District and the more established revitalization of Grand Center. Grand Center’s motto is “the intersection of art and life,” an acknowledgment of the power of crossroads. Here stood a building that was a crossroads, and now we have an asphalt chasm, and not even a literal crossroads since one of the two streets here is now gone.
Even as a warehouse, the livery stable exuded more life than the parking lot on a busy night. On a Saturday afternoon, not a single car was parked on the lot, and few were parked at nearby meters. Clearly, the lot is there for special events. However, trading the potential of daily urban activity in a rehabilitated building for the occasional overuse of a parking lot makes no sense in a central city location. Not at all.
The side effect of the livery stable debacle is the spatial segregation (through building density) of Grand Center from the emergent area on Locust and of Renaissance Place (through removal of Josephine Baker) from St. Louis University and Locust Street. Human-scale urban renewal has finally come to Midtown on Locust Street and at Renaissance Place, and a potential connection between those successes is lost, and replaced with a land use that not only divides but is totally alien to the surrounding urban fabric. We could have done so much better.