Downtown PRO Collection

Twelfth Street in the 1930s

by Michael R. Allen

This amateur photograph may be out of focus, but its view is monumental: the Depression-era skyline of St. Louis, would-be metropolis of the Midwest. Looking north up the Twelfth Street (now Tucker Boulevard) viaduct over the Mill Creek Valley railyards, the photograph captures the hustle and bustle unfolding against the backdrop of the city’s earnest skyline. The date of this image is unknown, but it includes the Terminal Railroad Association’s Mart Building (1931; Preston J. Bradshaw, architect) and the Civil Courts Building (1930; Klipstein & Rathmann, architects for the Plaza Commission). At left is a glimpse of the J.C. Penney Warehouse (1928; T.P. Barnett & J.F. Miller, architects) and at right, obscured behind the Chevrolet billboard is the top of the Southwestern Bell Building (1925; Mauran Russell & Crowell with I.R. Timlin, architects).

Although these commercial and civic attempts to reach the sky were modest for the era, they are nonetheless beautiful and part of a fully urban scene. In the foreground, the viaduct receives repairs from a crew while the streetcar advances southward. Out of the frame, further south on Twelfth Street, would be some of the most densely populated blocks of south St. Louis. Although the city was suffering alongside the rest of the nation, its sense of purpose would not wane.

Our intern Christina Carlson digitized the photograph used here.