On Saturday, Ben and I went to a book sale over at West County Mall. I have enough books for a small library and I haven’t read many of them. I wanted to just look and if an art, design or architecture book stands out, I may get it. I did buy a field guild to American architecture which will be of use. However, I found a book that is important to why I went cycling up North Broadway that same eventing. The book is called Sidestreets by M.M. Constantin. It’s a book of a collection of columns that were written for a local publication. All the short columns are about various places within the city of St. Louis in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The book was published in 1981. When we arrived home I read the first couple columns. One was on North Broadway and while I have biked up that street many times, I felt inspired to ride up again.
My assumption before I read the column, “North Broadway Love Song”, was I would find my experience to be much different than hers. In some ways it wasn’t but in many ways it is very different. It has been 35 years. It’s still a gritty area on, in Constantin’s own words, “the wrong side of I-70”. The Central Waste Materials Company sign is still at 1510 North Broadway. Still peeling away. The Federal Cold Storage Building is still there just north of the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge. If your not very familiar with the Near North Riverfront, there are many cold storage warehouses. They are basically huge refrigerators. They don’t have many windows. They are huge hulking thick brick structures that sit heavy. Solid. St. Louis was a leader in refrigeration technology in the early 1900s and many refrigerated buildings were constructed at that time to store cold items. Why was St. Louis a center of this technology? One word: beer.
The triangular intersection at Howard, just south of the bridge, is still there. The platform of cobblestones to commemorate the Indian burial mound that was torn down is still there but I wonder how many know what it is? It is still missing the bronze plaque. Stolen many times that eventually the plaque was never replaced. Wedge Tire Company is still at Chambers. Produce Row is still on North Market. The sign for The Crystal Grill, Established in 1946, is still there but shuttered. The whole block of wonky storefront – shut. My assumption is that it was open since it’s written in the present tense. I wonder what it was like? William Patented Crusher and Pulverizer is still at Montgomery. Past Palm is still a tractor-trailer gas station. Near Dock Street are still scrap and salvage yards. The Bremen Bank Building is still at Mallinkrodt.
However, North Broadway is very different from the North Broadway of 1981 and earlier. First of all many of the places the author speaks of are gone. Either the business is shuttered, torn down and replaced with a vacant lot, or replaced with a pre-fab metal structure, or absorbed into other industrial complexes. The biggest thing I realize is that most of the homes, bars and restaurants, and other services she speaks of are gone. It seems the transition from a true neighborhood to a large riverfront industrial park is mostly complete. Over time, the neighborhood has been sliced and diced by highways and bridges.
From the book I learned a few things such as as just south from Brooklyn Street, that is right by the bridge up until the 1940s, were a bunch of houses where many Irish families lived. When the book was written they were gone and what was left was a vacant lot. Today the Stan Musial Bridge passes directly over that. So next time you cross that bridge just think that you are driving over the ghost of an old Irish block. Would they ever have thought that in the future such a structure would replace them? Do you ever think of what you currently drive over?
Near Mullanphy St. was a place called Ina’s Restaurant that served brain sandwiches or if you wanted a hearty breakfast, brains and eggs. They had full liquor service too. You could start your day off with brain and eggs and wash it down with some whiskey. If that isn’t a working class dive, I don’t know what is. That place is gone and the local brain food is almost extinct too. Nearby on Mound Street was a fish wholesaler which is gone and is in the footprint of the bridge. Today Mound St is basically a small spark/landmark for the Indian mound.
All Around Town Express Company near Brooklyn seems to be gone. Either it was in the odd shaped lot on the northwest corner or was on the southwest corner (which is in the footprint of the bridge). United Disposal and The Scrubby Dutchman don’t seem to exist. All I could seen between Labeaume and Hempstead are nameless metal prefabs. At one corner of Tyler was a Japanese Barber Pole Factory but that seems to have slid off into obscurity. My guess is was right across from the American Brake Company Building? Today, the rough and tumble brick building with grimy grid windows is nameless. On the other corner is another metal pre-fab. Maybe it was there?
She writes of an old hotel near Madison but all I see are more pre-fabs on the northern corners. In this area between Madison and Clinton with a place called Mabel’s Cafeteria, an adult bookstore, saloons. It was nicknamed Dodge City because it was a violent place – shootings, stabbings, etc,… Though on one of the saloons was a Budweiser mural. All that is gone. All replaced by nameless pre-fab metal structures.
At Benton looking toward I-70 would have been older houses that would have been included in the 1875 Compton and Dry, Pictorial St Louis book. Today all those houses are gone. Today all I see are vacant lots full of weeds. Near St. Louis Ave were a bunch of scrap yards but today I see mostly plants where a nursery occupies three corners of the intersection just west of Produce Row. You can buy Christmas Trees here if you want. All fenced in by chain-link. Fresh Inc. which occupied the southwest corner is gone.
Just down Branch in a very odd intersection where the off-ramp of I-70 meets 9th Street and 11th street was The St. Louis Farmers Market and nearby was an old icehouse. Today a fleet of trailers are parked there and mostly looks barren. I’m curious about the block of buildings on a triangular lot at the end of the 1-70 offramp to go west on Branch. It looks to me to be a couple of multi-family dwellings with a building on the end that looks like it could have been a tavern or a small corner market. On the second story looks to be one of those square plastic beer signs but it’s covered. The entrance is on the Branch and 11th St. corner and is of brown painted cast iron with a column. The entrance has been closed up with white siding.
The ruins of Buchanan are gone. Just grassy vacant lots. Tobin’s Hardware at Angelrodt is still there. There are still snarling, menacing, intimidating watch dogs on duty and let you know their presence. I’m sure they are not the same dogs though.
Catty corner from Bremen Bank (northeast corner) was Westerheide’s Tobacco and Cigars. Established in 1860. Today it’s part of the Mallinkrodt complex – a gated and landscaped parking lot. That’s about as far as I got. There were storm clouds on the horizon. The bright sunny evening was turning angry.
I zig-zagged a bit more over to Second Street near where the old fire station that is now a salvage lumber company. I took a look into the narrow alley of spiral fire escapes in the Ford Hotel Supply Complex. More warehouses. Smelly dumpster farms that smell of death. I do start to imagine finding a dead body and what I would do if I found one. Yeah, that is morbid. As the dark clouds to the northwest get closer I start to think I should end the ride. In 1981 there wasn’t a bike path and that was my easiest and shortest route back to my starting point. The sky is getting dark. The people fishing along the edge of the Mississippi are quickly packing up. Anyone that was out by the Cotton Belt and the small Bob Cassily park were gone. Though a couple sitting on a car just south of the Stan Musial bridge were still making out….eyes straight ahead, I move along. I don’t want to know. The things I see on my rides…sigh. I suppose it could be worse. Most people were smartly seeking shelter.
North Broadway is still a grimy character where much is gone. There are still links to it’s past but most of all the restaurants, bars and houses are gone. I imagine in 1981 it being a dying residential/industrial district – strangled by I-70. Though back then factories and houses were near each other. People lived near their jobs but today we decidedly live a good distance from our jobs in neatly zoned areas. Today, the houses are few and far between. There are some that dot the landscape west of Broadway. There are even less east of Broadway. I remember one on Ferry St. There is a group of rough and tumbles at 9th and Angelrodt. All brick, a couple Second Empire styles. A couple with mouse-holes. One on the south east corner covered with a stone veneer. There’s one on the southwest corner that has lost part of the south side wall near the roof. South of Branch near 9th Street are a few more houses. The block of Warren was cleared last year. Slowly but surely those houses that have been orphaned by their old neighborhoods of Murphy-Blair (ONSL) and Hyde Park because of the construction of I-70 are disappearing.
I do resist calling it a wasteland or abandoned. It’s not. It does look desolate and it isn’t a place of beauty. There are many businesses but it certainly isn’t a place to go and do stuff like eat or shop. Tourist will not be scampering down it’s sidewalks. It’s good to see Bissinger’s set up their factory just south of the bridge. The area between the bridge and Laclede’s Landing has been threatened by demolition for a variety of projects such as the recent football stadium. In the time between 1981 and now, North Broadway has been many changes. I wonder what will happen over the next 35 years? By then, I’ll be an old woman.