by Michael R. Allen
The year 2010 could bring better fortunes to the St. Louis Place neighborhood on the near north side, but that fortune may be wayward and abstract. What the new year ought to bring is strength to the community and its historic fabric. Beset by decades of neglect and targeted land banking, the neighborhood deserves a strong future. St. Louis Place ought to get more attention for what it already has: beautiful historic buildings, an elegant Victorian Park and wonderful proximity to downtown.
In September, the monthly Rehabbers Club tour visited the neighborhood. While the tour included a realistic discussion of problems and a trip to the James Clemens House, the tour started with tours of amazing historic buildings — one being restored and one ready for restoration.
The historic house at 3001 Rauschenbach Avenue dates to the 1890s and fronts St. Louis Place Park (laid out in 1850 and lanscaped in the early 1870s). The rambling mansion was once transformed into a retirement home but the current owner has been restoring the house. She has made great progress.
The second stop on the tour was a stone-faced mansion at 2223 St. Louis Avenue built in 1879 but later converted to the Henry Leidner Funeral Home. The connected white glazed terra cotta-faced chapel in the Gothic Revival style dates to 1921. In recent years, the former funeral home has housed the Greater Bible Way Community Church. The church recently moved across the street into a Gothic Revival church at 2246 St. Louis Avenue, and has placed this building for sale. Pastor Tommie Harsley kindly led people through the giant mansion and chapel.
The old Leidner funeral home needs a great deal of work that was beyond the church’s needs. The chapel roof suffered a bad leak, and the house needs new systems and a lot of plaster work upstairs. However, little of the historic fabric has ever been altered. Much of the millwork is unpainted. The funeral home installed the strange, awesome ceiling fan fixtures shown below.
The only problem with the Rehabbers Club tour is that its participants included few neighborhood residents and that it only happened once in 2009. St. Louis Place could use regular tours of the wonderful accomplishments and opportunities there. Leaders who support large redevelopment like the Northside Regeneration project ought to invest in educational efforts suited to current and potential neighborhood residents and property owners. Face it: large-scale redevelopment is an unproven strategy. It’s wiser to invest in the proven work of the people already making St. Louis Place tick.