by Michael R. Allen
The two-and-a-half-story, side-gabled house at 1416 Montgomery Street is Old North St. Louis is fairly nondescript. Its front elevation probably bowed years ago, and was taken down and relayed with a harder modern brick and newer fenestration. The rebuilt front wall is boring, although the side and rear walls show the house to be a late-19th-century house that could be restored to some more appropriate appearance.
But doing that work would take imagination, patience and a faith in the neighborhood’ renewal. You see, this modest dwelling is right across the alley from the so-called 14th Street Mall, the two blocks of commercial buildings fronting a part of north 14th Street closed in 1971 to form a pedestrian mall. The mall conversion killed the vitality of the commercial district, and by the 1990s only a few stores remained open. Today, the only occupied storefronts on the mall are a hair salon and a storefront church. Every other first floor is boarded or broken in, and the upper floors of the multi-story buildings have been empty even longer.
All of this is set to change, though, as a major collaborative redevelopment project is in the works. Most of the buildings on the mall are now owned by a partnership between the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group and the Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance, two organizations whose work is often miraculous. Imagine what they might do with 1416 Montgomery Street if they had the chance!
All we can do now is imagine, because at a recent Sheriff’s tax sale the house and its accompanying garage sold to one of the Blairmont companies. Although their purchases in Old North have slowed, they still wanted to buy a derelict building that needs to be included in the 14th Street project.
Perhaps Blairmont can rehab the building better and faster than the partnership. Perhaps I am a dog person. Perhaps someone will rebuild the buildings cleared for the Arch. Perhaps asbestos is actually a nutrient…