Gravois Park Infrastructure South St. Louis

Brick Alley Restoration Underway in Gravois Park

by Michael R. Allen

Recently I wrote about two lovely intact brick alleys in the St. Louis Place neighborhood on the north side (see “St. Louis Place: Sidewalk Plaques and Brick Alleys”, February 11). After publishing that post, I learned that there is a pilot program underway to restore 17 brick alleys in two of the city’s south side historic districts, the Gravois-Jefferson Historic Streetcar Suburb District and the Benton Park Historic District. Some work began in December in Gravois Park, and more will start when weather is consistently dry. Work will be completed by August 10, 2011.

A crew working in December 2010 on brick removal in the alley between the 3500 blocks of Louisana and Tennessee Avenues. Photograph by Eric Bothe.

When alderpeople put in requests for allocation of the city’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, Alderman Craig Schmid (D-20th) successfully applied for $975,000 to restore and retain historic brick alleys in the historic districts of his ward. The city’s Department of Streets stopped repairing brick alleys in 1978. Subsequently, many miles of brick alleys — which are durable, made from long-lasting brick, easy to repair and moderately water-permeable — have been paved over with asphalt that comes from a nonrenewable source, is not water permeable and is expensive and difficult to repair. Paved brick alleys typically have problems with settling that new paving only compounds. The city fills depressions in brick alleys that eventually sink again, and finds itself having to pave and repave alleys that could have simply been restored. Asphalt paving destroys the integrity of paver bricks, so that even when asphalt surface material is removed the alleys cannot be restored. The practice is unsustainable and expensive.

Removing bricks in the alley between the 3500 blocks of Louisiana and Tennessee avenues. Photograph by Eric Bothe.

Meanwhile, the city no longer repairs existing brick alleys. If residents don’t want asphalt, they won’t get any repairs. Also some aldermen use allocations of paving to pave brick alleys with no problems in order to avoid having to return allocations. Schmid has wanted to retain brick alleys for awhile, but could not use existing money to do so. The Department of Streets needs to change its brick alley policy. Meanwhile, the 20th Ward is the first to experiment with restoring brick alleys using a one-time grant of federal stimulus money.

The good news is that federal stimulus money is funding a small but significant project that implements a sustainable approach to retaining brick alley paving. The project fits the goals of the Obama administration in encouraging green practices through federal spending, but it still leaves permanent policy changes up to the city of St. Louis.

8 replies on “Brick Alley Restoration Underway in Gravois Park”

Wow! What the–? Really? One of the reasons I like Craig Schmid: he loves him some brick alleys. He’s actually quite a strong advocate of sustainable theory and practices. Still wouldn’t vote for him if I lived in his ward, but…this is really good. Imagine the number of jobs which could be created nationwide if the brick streets and alleys could be relaid? Thousands, hundreds of thousands. But, no, our elected “representatives” in DC are too busy sucking corporate teat and dismantling everything which benefits us (at the behest of the elites) to do something which makes sense. As for the D of S and their jones for asphalt paving: kind of makes you wonder if anyone was getting a little under the table to continue that program. The alley paving program was just a busy-work program, with little or no benefit, except to the pols–our exalted alderman–who could say, “hey, look, I did something here”. And as you point out, if the money wasn’t spent, more was oftentimes not forthcoming.

A suggestion — would love to see a resource list of books on historic preservation on your sidebar. On such subjects like historic bricks, historic vernacular commercial buildings etc. Those of course that you are familiar with and would recommend. You always have such interesting insights — barbara

Great, Informative Post, like this one must be maintained so I’ll put this one on my bookmark list of Brick Restoration. Thanks for this wonderful post and hoping to post more of this. Have Great Day.

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