College Hill Fairground Housing North St. Louis

Architectural Creativity on Prairie Avenue

by Michael R. Allen

Two blocks of Prairie Avenue on each side of West Florissant Avenue are home to some of the most interesting small houses from St. Louis’ 19th century vernacular past. Above is the two-flat at 2111 East Prairie. This unique duplex dates to 1884 and is the lone survivor of a row of four. The trapezoidal entrance bay with its tall, narrow windows gives an otherwise conventional box a commanding street presence. The contrast between the masonry cornice work on this bay and the rest of the building reinforces the presence of the entrance. Now, this has been converted into a single-family home.

Across the street toward Florissant Avenue is the side-gabled house at 2144 East Prairie, built in 1885. Homes like this are common across St. Louis, but how many have Roman arches over all window and door openings — not just on the front, but on the sides as well?

While not eccentric like the others here, I had to mention the frame house at 2128 East Prairie, built in 1884. This side-entrance house is in fine shape, and worthy of preservation. Owned by the Land Reutilization Authority and located in the ailing College Hill neighborhood, there are already two strikes against the house.

One block west across Florissant stands one of the coolest shotgun houses ever built in our fair city. The house at 4316 Prairie (the bend in the street changes numbering from east-west to north-south) dates to 1896 and is fully within the fin de siecle eclectic vein of American architecture. The double pyramidal roof may be unique to a house of this size in St. Louis. Alas, this house is also a survivor of a row of four identical houses. The houses at 4312 and 4314 were LRA-owned and demolished in 2004, while the fourth house at 4310 was lost before 1980. In 2002, Landmarks Association of St. Louis prepared a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places of the three remaining house paid for by Community Development Block Grant funds, but for some reason the organization and Alderman Freeman Bosley Sr. (D-3rd), who represents this area, never proceeded with submission of the nomination.

These two blocks of Prairie Avenue lie in different neighborhoods — east of West Florissant is College Hill, and west is Fairground. Both neighborhoods are within the city’s Third Ward. These blocks are each largely devoid of houses at all these days, with over 50% of the parcels on each street face vacant. Thus, the odd houses stand out more. However, I think their unique qualities must have seemed even stranger when contrasted with so many more conventional vernacular buildings around them. Context is always key.