by Michael R. Allen
So much of Chouteau Avenue has been cleared of street-facing historic buildings that the character remaining is hard to find. The mention of Chouteau is more likely to conjure suburban-style industrial buildings with front lawns and parking lots than a measured urban environment. I hold no complaint against the presence of businesses like Villa Lighting and Andy’s Seasoning, since they provide jobs in a centrally-located part of the city within easy travel of city residents. However, I do lament that the influx of larger uses has meant destruction of the character of the street. Chouteau used to be very different, even just a few decades ago.
But all is not lost — yet.
The three-story building housing Preston Art Glass Studio is a reminder of the historic density of Chouteau Avenue. Although the front wall was once relaid, the building retains historic features including a lovely cast iron storefront. The difference between walking past this building and the newer buildings on Chouteau could not be more stark.
Across the street is a row of six historic buildings, two of which are occupied and four of which are now endangered. Right at the corner of Jefferson and Chouteau is a two-story brick building (barely visible here) housing a dental office. There is a Chinese restaurant in the building to the west. There are two gaps in the street face, but this group provides a welcome transition between the residential streets of the Gate District and Lafayette Square, with front gardens and street trees, and the harsh contemporary industrial environment on Chouteau to the west and, to a lesser extent, on the east.
Gas station operator Crown 40 Inc. applied to demolish the four buildings from 2612-2630 Chouteau, and had its application denied last month by the city’s Cultural Resources Office. Crown 40’s appeal is on Monday’s agenda of the St. Louis Preservation Board.
The end building once housed a crude industrial use — it was a print shop for the Lindstrom Wagon Company around the turn of the 20th century. The graceful transition to the street kept the use from oppressing its surroundings. I wish that the same could be said about what is getting built on Chouteau a century later.
The potential for a higher use is strong. There is a lot of consumer power in the vicinity of Jefferson and Chouteau, and the Gate District is woefully under served by neighborhood business — because planners tore down most of the corner storefronts inside of the Duane Plater Zyberk-planned urban experiment. Well, some old urbanism exists here and could serve both the neighborhood and the hundreds of workers employed on Chouteau and the nearby LaSalle Street floral row. A gas station might be handy — of course, there already is a new Crown Mart just north at I-40 and Jefferson — but how about a deli or a neighborhood bar and grille?
The Preservation Board meets at 4:00 p.m. on Monday, April 26 at 4:00 p.m. in the 12th floor conference room at 1015 Locust Street downtown. Send written testimony to Adona Buford at BufordA@stlouiscity.com.