julian-goodfellow

West End Concrete Blocks

This ride really excited me. Pause, no, wait….what I learned after this ride really excited me. I had no clue of the Goodfellow-Julian Concrete Block Historic District. I’ve never heard a peep of it in my entire life. I’ll get to that later.

On this ride I’m revisiting the West End and Hamilton Heights. I last rode around here in November of 2015 – right before Thanksgiving. The trees were nearly bare. It was cool and gray that day too. It’s Sunday June 26th. It’s around 8am. There was some rain overnight so the streets were a little wet. It’s partly cloudy but there are some clouds that look a little threatening in the distance. I brush it off and tell myself it will be fine. It was. After I explore the West End, I dart into University City and ride around just north of the Delmar Loop to Olive.

I weave through the West End Streets west of Hamilton. Down and back on Enright, Cates, Clemens, Cabanne, etc. As I mentioned, last time I rode around there there were barely leaves on the trees. Now the trees are full of green foliage so much so I can’t see some of the houses as well. The Theodore Link house on Cabanne is hidden. Sigh, no point of taking it’s pictures. W Cabanne Place is probably the best known street in this neighborhood. It has a narrow entrance with some white gates. There is a plaque recognizing it’s historical significance.

Going way way way back in the 1700s into the early 1800s, this street would have been part of a Spanish Land Grant called the Papin Tract or Survey 378. This was west of Union between Maple and Delmar (some say Lindell..not sure which). It reached as far west as where Hanley Rd is today. Into the 1800s several parcels of this land were purchased by people like James Clemens, The Cabanne Family, Emanuel de Hodiamont, James Kingsbury and others. Later these parcels of land were subdivided – many of them into private places.

westcabanne

As for W Cabanne Place, in 1877 James Shepard Cabanne supplied the land in which the land for which the road would be built upon. It would strech from Union to Hodiamont. W Cabanne Place, which was on the far west section was ready for development and by 1885 it’s first residents moved in. George Townshend was in charge of the development. He hired Julius Pitzman (that name comes up a lot) to plat the street. He called for plots of 100 foot widths, 50 foot setbacks. It was touted as the next Vandeventer Place. This didn’t happen as the houses were not as grand and the rules for with size of land plots were not followed closely. It didn’t attract the wealthiest of the wealthy – they went further south near Forest Park. This is not to say this place wasn’t substantial. In fact it has some types of houses that are not anywhere else in St. Louis (as far as I have seen). Plus it was home to many of St. Louis’ most prominent architects such as Theodore Link, Charles Ramsey, Robert Walsh and others.

W Cabanne Place and even east of Hamilton are many examples of Shingle Style architecture. In fact there are shingle styles dotting the whole neighborhood. Just on W Cabanne there were ten houses exhibiting this style – including one by H.H. Richardson that was demolished in 1952. According to the book St. Louis Lost there are seven left on Cabanne but, sadly, I bet there are less today.

I head further north. I wanted to see Oakley Place. I saw some street views on Google that looked interesting. The houses have a Prairie/Craftsman style that all looked similar. Oakley Place is a short s-curvy road that stretched a block from Plymouth to the south and Julian to the north. Little did I know the significance of these but something about them were strange and interesting. I couldn’t figure out why. Again, I’ll get to it shortly.

I continue north to Page and then head south on Goodfellow and dart down some surrounding streets. I notice some more houses that look just like the ones on Oakley. I snap some photos. Something looks odd about them but I still can’t put my finger on it. I didn’t learn until after my ride that these houses are made of concrete blocks. Interesting. They certainly don’t look like concrete block buildings I’m familiar with. These are stylish and interesting – not bland or cheap or institutional looking.

concreteblock-groups

Someone told me about the Goodfellow-Julian Concrete Block Historic District on Instagram (One of the Stl Style guys is a hint). Oh cool! I had to look into it. What I find is most are built in 1905-1906. These are the earliest and largest concentrations of concrete block construction in St. Louis. When built the concrete block was considered experimental and the style of houses indicated a transition from Victorian styles to more modern styles. Why use this? Apparently, from what I read, there was fear of a timber shortage in the midwest at the turn of the 19/20th century so builders were looking for alternatives. Concrete was promoted as being more “healthful”, having low cost and needing less maintenance. It was touted as being fire resistant and earthquake proof. They were deemed as being efficient in heating and having strength and durability, resistance to vibration and cracking. During the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis there were exhibitions touting concrete block construction. A year after, builders started experimenting with it.

In 1905 Pendleton Investment Co. bought several tracts of land. A. Blair Ridington designed nine of the houses,
while Pendleton worked both with Edward F. Nolte, to design four houses. Ridington, supplied plans for two. These were all near Julian and Goodfellow. There was a second group built around Oakherst and Oakley Places by Pendleton too. These were built in 1906.

However despite the success in building these houses in design and construction, the concrete block house didn’t get as popular in St. Louis city as hoped. By 1910 fears of timber shortages waned. In the end brick in the city won.

concrete-vacant

If you want more details check out the National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form.

I get on Hodiamont and loop by the old Walbash Train station by the Metro station (covering my face as I head through a cloud of construction dust – there were workers out on a Sunday morning) and head up Skinker a few blocks. The good thing about Sunday morning is traffic is relatively light because normally Skinker is heavily traveled. I turn down Vernon Ave which is a two-lane street, tree-lined. There are no houses facing the street. There is also no shoulder. Then I head up Westgate then loop around Olive to Kingsland. Olive has mostly rundown storefronts and on the south side of the streets are large vacant lots. As I head down Kingsland, I turn down Clemens (I find many of the east-west streets have same names as streets in the West End such as Cates, Cabanne and Enright. I wonder if they were once connected with the West End streets?) and find most of this are are multi-family flats all packed together. Most of the places are 3-4 stories. There was a bunch being worked on and had Washington University signs on them. My guess is that they own a lot of these. Surprisingly there are a few tudor style houses mixed in. I’m going to say the centerpiece of this area is the octagon-shaped All-Saints Church. It’s an interesting stone building but didn’t get a good picture that illustrates it’s shape well. This is known as the Eastgate-Westgate Apartment District.

There is a chapter in the M.M. Constantin book, Side Streets, that gave me some interesting information about this area. First of all where these apartment sits today was a horse racing track called the Delmar Racetrack. It was closed down around 1904 when horse racing was made illegal in Missouri. The street names Westgate and Eastgate were where the actual gates were for the racetrack.

It was thought that in it’s place a bunch of single-family bungalows would be built. The church was built to replace it’s old location north of Olive and just west of Skinker which is mostly industrial today. The church was Irish Catholic and so was the neighborhood around it. When the church was built in Eastgate-Westgate it was thought that the Irish Catholic neighborhood to the north would expand because of the church. Instead the neighborhood became mostly Jewish. In fact as World War II loomed, many of the Jewish people that moved into the flats were refugees that fled from Hitler. Many of the stores on Delmar were owned by Jewish immigrants too. Post World War II the area was victim of many of the same issues plaguing the city. Families were moving in droves to the western suburbs. Black families started moving into areas just west of Skinker for the same reason the Irish moved in decades before – to have a nice place to raise a family. Unfortunately blockbusters descended on the area. Many took the money and fled out of fear a “black ghetto” was coming. Business on the Delmar Loop started closing. Many stayed, including the Church. Many say it was instrumental in not letting the area slide into further blight. The church worked the University City’s city council to build housing for the elderly, create more park, provide more dumpster for the apartments and businesses, and financial help for those too poor to keep their property in sound shape. It was an anchor/a rock to the neighborhood.

ucity

The loop area was hurt by the exodus to the suburbs and had it’s down time. I vaguely remember when the Loop was not as “pristine” and “great” as it is now but while many say Joe Edwards saved it, there was a lot of people in the area working to set the platform for a rebirth of this area to what it is today. Speaking of how it is today, I took my bike onto the Delmar Loop for about a block since traffic was light. I do have to say the trolley tracks are not friendly to cyclists. In my opinion, it’s downright dangerous. In some spots, the tracks are not even a foot from the curb and crossing the tracks at a slight diagonal is recipe for getting a wheel stuck and the rider flying off into traffic. There is no margin for error. This street is normally highly busy and a spill could easily kill a cyclist. Note to self – avoid at all costs.

While the ride itself was not enthralling, what I learned about these areas after the fact was. Time after time I am marveling over the interesting history this area has to offer. It is fascinating how places to change over time and how if you are in the know or look close enough you can see traces of the past in what exists today.