Corner Invasion

St Louis Place Corner

stlplace-nmarketcorner

I find it really hard to blog and keeping up with what I am doing. Essentially I have a stack of drawings that I haven’t even documented formally and it has become overwhelming. So I have to start somewhere. This is a building on N Market in the St. Louis Place neighborhood. With this one I have managed to capture the building in focus but also the context to an extent. In the background there is the old brewery and the line of houses along North 20th Street.

I know I drew this in the middle of last summer and sat along the edge of a community garden across the street. I’m sure where that garden was, there were buildings of some sort there. Also I am sure there was something right next to the building I did draw – on both sides. Most are gone. Just vacant weed infested lots. St Louis Place is a neighborhood with clusters of buildings/houses and then areas of vast vacant lots that make you question if you are really in a city or not. When I ride my bike through here I am reminded of when I was a kid in Troy, IL and riding my bike out on the back roads in the middle of nowhere.

What strikes me about this place, built in 1898 (est), which used to be a store at ground level and maybe apartments on the top levels, is the cast iron “columns” that are stylized to look like classical columns. A lot of the woodwork is heavily damaged, or missing but what is left looks well crafted and intricate. I notice this more in the woodwork in the dormers. There are intricate patterns and corbeling along the cornice. The mansard roof looks in tact but if you take a look from above via Google Maps, you will learn that the roof is nearly gone. This winter, once the leaves of the trees were bare, more of the building on the west side was revealed and it isn’t pretty. It’s crumbling. The building is literally being squeezed by the trees and plants that surround it. Nature is gobbling it up. It’s hard to imagine people from the neighborhood walking in and buying milk or whatever and walking out, hanging out – it being alive.

When I was drawing a long time resident came out wondering what I was doing (this happens sometimes) and of course I show him what I am working on. In general, it opens up a conversation and he was telling me about the place and honestly I don’t remember much but he does remember when the block I was sitting in and the lots surrounding this building were full. He has lived in the neighborhood since he was a kid in the 1960s. When the neighborhood was sliding into disrepair and people were leaving he bought a bunch of properties for very cheap just to the west of N 20th along N Market and he rents them out. I really wish I could remember more and that makes me think I should record conversations if they consent and take their pictures. Either way, I should keep tabs on this one, for it wouldn’t surprise me if it were demolished soon.

North Market

North Market

View from N 20th Street

View from N 20th Street

Howard Street Three

The Howard Street Three

Howard Street Three

These three are just to the east of the other house I drew that is on Howard street. This is close to the corner of Howard and North 22nd St in the St Louis Place neighborhood. This one is a little bit closer to the old Columbia/Falstaff Brewery. To the east of 22nd, the area becomes more inhabited with some newer multi-family units, rehabbed rowhouses, and the old brewery. To the west of 22nd the grid turns into an “urban prairie” that I find haunting but alluring.

Across the street from these houses are small Victorian-era brick houses. I would describe one as a brick “shotgun” house with decorative brick corbelling, a roof that is slightly terraced toward the alley. It has one window at the front with shutters and the front door to the left with a small wood deck, a stone foundation, and the small front yard has a damaged white picket fence near the sidewalk. According to here, it was built around 1885. The other one has a roof that slopes toward the street with one dormer. It looks like a one-story from the road but from the side it has two-stories with what looks like a later wood frame addition to the back. This one seems to have more in common with the Second Empire townhouses across the street and was built in 1895. It has a more recessed front door with some painted wood moulding in the entryway, smooth stone foundation at the front, white stone lintels, some brick corbeling along the cornice that is more simple than the other. However, I think it has the front sloped gable roof with dormer that reminds me of Federal Style houses. Now they are in varying degrees of disrepair, cluttered with trash, overgrown grass and weeds, leftover objects from previous owners that felt no need to take them to their new place. Maybe the previous owner died and their relatives didn’t want or couldn’t take the stuff. Who knows? All these houses probably have hundreds of stories to tell.

I think I picked these because they were grouped and are quite different from each other but all were built in 1887/1888. The one on the far left was built in 1887 and the two others were built in 1888. I would describe the two on the left as being Second Empire Townhouses and the one on the right is confuses me a little because it was built at the same time period but has no mansard roof at the front and is more modest but has some later attachments such as the awnings and wood deck. I love the colored shingles arranged in stripes on the mansard in the middle. My guess for the one on the far left, it has lost it’s mansard, which looks taller, and has been replaced with some wood covered in contemporary shingles and the wood corbeling along the cornice is gone. I saw something distinct in each of these in terms of style, and it’s stages of abandonment but don’t look like they are in abysmal shape. Yet you never know. I haven’t seen the back or inside. An intact front can be deceiving. However these don’t look like they have been empty for a real long period of time. I image at one time most of these lots were full with the shorter ones on one side and the taller 2 to 3 story houses on the other. I would also think on each corner were a store or a bar/tavern.

Again so much history, so many stories that seem lost forever. Each one of these houses has something unique about them, a distinct character, additions and can give you insights to previous inhabitants. I suspect the inhabitants of one on the left liked some privacy because of the fence and the bushes. The built on deck and awnings gave shelter from the sun. The deck would give a nice place to sit in the summer. I would suspect these didn’t have air conditioning at one time and St Louis summers can be miserable. Sitting outside and not in a brick oven would be great on a 100 degree summer day. The other two have chain linked fences, not as many bushes and that gave it more connection to the sidewalk and street. I imagine families sitting on their stoops, conversing with others by the fence.

One thing I didn’t mention in my previous post was that St Louis Place has been hit hard by brick thieves. Some people were looking to make a quick buck literally tearing down houses by pulling walls down, setting fires to burn most of the building to rubble and then taking the brick (less work this way, I guess). So anyway, perfectly inhabitable buildings, though vacant, were torn down by “poachers” to sell brick to people around the country. All to make a quick buck. It’s a shame really to lose these types of houses so someone can have a pretty patio. You can read more about the problem of brick thieves here.

I think what i remember most about the drawing is while I was on site it was late in the evening and the sun was setting. In a drawing with no color, it’s hard to tell but the light that evening made everything glow almost orange-pink. The light was very distinct. It was humid and I was getting eaten up by mosquitos. Like many, this was started outside but then finished in my studio. I just started this one so late in the day, I couldn’t finish it there. I rarely ever finish them on site though.

One thing that strikes me when doing these is how isolated I feel. In the middle of the city and it feels quiet but I know that at one time these streets were alive with people, industry and commercial enterprises. I feel like I am sitting and drawing surrounded by ghosts from the past. Under my chair is a brick road covered by cracked asphalt. Sidewalks are cracked and weeds sprout tall, bricks are scattered. The light posts seem frivolous. Sometimes I find pieces of terra cotta, stone, glass, random fragments. I wonder what else was there and is there as a clue to life there.

Howard Three

Howard Three

Howard Street Sunset

Howard Street Sunset

Howard Street Sunset

Howard Street Sunset

Howard Crumbles

Lone One On Howard St.

2325 Howard St

This particular building is in one of the most devastated parts of St Louis city. It is in the St Louis Place neighborhood just north of the infamous, former location of the Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex. This once dense neighborhood has some life in some areas but in the blocks just north of Cass, it is mostly vacant lots with a few houses scattered around. Some blocks are cornfields. Not much is left of sidewalks and when looking around it is easy to forget you are just blocks from downtown St. Louis. Few are occupied. At one time, these blocks were full and vibrant but obviously something changed.

I have inquired about what this area was like and what happened. A former resident who lived there between 1939 to 1955 told me that most of the housing looked like the ones in my drawings but more had flat roofs and the architecture was more plain. Not as many had the more ornate mansard roofs. Most had arch top windows with stone sills. Ornamental fences were common to the small front yards so most houses were very close to the street. Most corner structures were store fronts with cast iron facades.

It was a real walking neighborhood where taverns, bakeries, groceries, hardware stores, barbers, confectioneries, drug stores were all within walking distance. He doesn’t remember what stores were on Howard, he says there was a neighborhood shopping group was at 25th and North Market. There was a pool hall, a diner, a dime store, and others. The 18th streetcar ran west on 22nd and east on 23rd. There were entire blocks of two story, two family and four family “flats” that were connected or built touching each other.

He says many of the structures had a three foot “gangway” open from the front through to the back yard. Many houses had wooden back porches with stairs led to the second floor apartments. There were alleys to the rear of the property and most had a wooden “coal shed”. Occasional small cottages dotted the blocks (his home was a 16 foot wide four room “shotgun” brick home on a 25 foot wide lot.) Some houses in the area lacked indoor bathrooms in the late 1940s, with outhouses in the back yard.

He described the area as a mix of elder couples and families with lots of kids. It was also a segregated neighborhood with Cass as the rough dividing line. He remembers when Pruitt-Igoe was new, the people raved about how nice it was. Crime was low. Over time things deteriorated and I have a feeling the downfall of St Louis Place was somewhat connected with the downfall of Pruitt-Igoe. As crime spread through Pruitt-Igoe, it spread into areas surrounding the complex. People who could move, did move. Drug addicts, criminals and people desperate for money started stripping the old houses of it’s plumbing or of whatever could be sold. Within a matter of 20 years or so the neighborhood went from vibrant to gutted and destroyed. HUD tried to build new townhouses but most ended up abandoned. A few stand today along with a few houses from when the neighborhood was a bustling community.

I also talked to a current resident that lives near N Market and has lived there since he was a kid in the early 1960s. He said his family was one of the first black families. He said most of the people were of Polish heritage. I didn’t have too much time to really inquire about what happened in the neighborhood but he said when it was emptying out, in the 1970s he purchased some houses for almost nothing and fixed them up and rents them out now – all on the same block and he lives on that block. It is one of the few pretty intact blocks just north of the old Columbia/Falstaff brewery. He seems to sort of watch over the place and we talked for a few minutes as I drew. I’ll go more into that later when I share that drawing.

So now that you got some background on the neighborhood, I want to go more into this particular house on Howard Street. I think I was struck by this one in that it is all alone but so tall and imposing on the flat, deserted blocks. Standing and then sitting there and drawing it, I felt alone and it made it’s abandonment seem more palpable. I felt like I could feel it’s aloneness. At the same time it’s a rugged survivor – yet destroyed and on life-support. I felt like I was with someone who has had a rough life, survived hardships, seen so much, but is in their last days of life. When I felt that, I had to draw it.

Here’s some basic info. It was built in roughly 1892 and the architectural style seems consistent with that date, I think. The address is 2325 Howard St and is owned by the Northside Regeneration LLC and they are located in O’Fallon, Missouri. Is that a Paul McKee property? Maybe. It is on a 25 ft X 130 ft lot. It also was a reported building collapse on November 21st, 2013. That seems consistent with the google street views that are dated in 2011 and my pictures that are from the summer of 2014. You can go here for more information. I’m not sure when it became abandoned but I am curious to know.

House on Howard from the southeast

Howard Street – Demolished

Up close at the stoop on Howard St

Howard Stoop – Demolished

House on Howard Street in sunset

Howard Street Sunset – Demolished

Looking up at the house on Howard St.

Howard Street – Demolished

Howard St House to the west

Howard Street – Demolished