by Michael R. Allen
This week, night-time pedestrians trying to catch a glimpse of the rehabilitation progress on 14th Street in Old North St. Louis saw the light — the light of the newly re-lit Park’s Drugs sign that has been a fixture of the intersection of 14th Street and St. Louis Avenue for decades. Although the sign resides inside of the building that once housed Park’s Drugs, soon it will return to the side of the building.
The sign’s restoration is testament of a dramatic rescue of both the sign and the building. In 2004, this is what the Park’s building (built in 1931) looked like:
Colorful murals adorned plywood hiding the sad fact that most of the roof had collapsed inside of the building. The sign had once been symmetrical, wrapping the corner with the word “DRUGS.” The sign was reduced through overzealous actions by the state pharmacy license coordinator in 2000. The coordinator was enforcing a state law that forbids use of the word “drugs” in signage on a business that does not have a pharmacy license. The Park’s building was fire-damaged, vacant and owned by the city’s Land Reutilization Authority.
The scrap value of the enameled metal sign board was high enough that many wondered when the sign would simply disappear. However, the worst never came. Instead, the Park’s building became part of the transformational Crown Square redevelopment project that started in September 2007 and is slated for completion this April. That project entails gut rehabilitation of 27 buildings as residential and retail spaces and the reopening of the closed section of 14th Street.
The Park’s building will even return to its original life. The entire building will be returned to retail use soon. Substantial work is complete and the building has been used for art openings, community events and educational events in recent months.