January 15, 2014

Cities in Focus: Meet St. Louis

  • By: Grant Stevens
St. Louis skyline at night. Credit: ryanarcher.com
STL's night skyline

The Community Outreach Team sees a pretty constant stream of inspiration for what we do -- a young preservationists group forming in Philly, new Main Street projects in Iowa, the legacy bar program in San Francisco, etc. So, we were thinking -- how can we share some of these inspiring things with a bigger audience?  Our answer: Cities in Focus.

In this new monthly blog series, we'll pick a city and highlight some of the cool, inspiring things we see happening there, both in the traditional preservation field and beyond. We certainly can’t cover all the cool preservation things happening in a city, but we see this as a small start designed to spark your interest and get you interested in learning more. We think it’s going to pretty darn cool, but then again, we’re biased.

Our first City in Focus takes us down to St. Louis, Missouri. Home of the St. Louis Cardinals, Anheuser-Busch Brewery, and, oh yeah, the Arch. Here’s what stood out to us preservation-wise in the “Gateway to the West.”

The Trestle. Credit: Friends of the Trestle
The Trestle  will convert a historic, elevated railroad viaduct into an urban park and greenway asset as part of a region-wide system of interconnected greenways, parks and trails known as The River Ring.

Like many cities, STL experienced large-scale population loss in the second half of the 20th century, but now, as it stabilizes, urban beautification initiatives are springing up across the city. Projects such as Citygarden and others are leading the charge in the urban core. The one we’re most excited about? STL will soon have its own version of New York City’s High Line -- The Trestle.

At the neighborhood level, groups like the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group have been leading the push since 1981. Today, they do everything from restoration projects to farmers markets. Several murals are in the works for STL, too. One going up soon is the STL Mural Project, which achieved its Kickstarter goal in November and chose its first location specifically because of the allure of older buildings.

The interior of the St. Louis Central Library after its $68 million dollar renovation. Credit: Timothy Hursley
The interior of the St. Louis Central Library after its $68 million dollar renovation

Something else that stands out are the large-scale adaptive reuse projects taking shape around St. Louis. The city has seen its share of disappointing losses, but it also has some exceptional examples of adaptive reuse. In 1985, St. Louis’ Union Station was converted into a 539-room hotel, shopping mall, and restaurant complex. The largest example of adaptive reuse in the U.S. at the time, today it remains the one of the city’s most-visited attractions.

After ten years of planning, 2.5 years of work, and $68 million, St. Louis Central Library has undergone an award-winning beautiful restoration with all of the restoration work done by companies in and immediately surrounding St. Louis. (How cool is that?! So cool we gave it an Honor Award.) And in 2013, St. Louis preservationist Michael Allen took us through the remarkable transformation of the power plant at St. Louis’ City Hospital building into a climbing gym.

Cherokee St. has beautiful buildings, but it also knows how to have fun with street art. STL and community landmarks adorn the tiles. Credit: beltstl.com
Cherokee St. has beautiful buildings, but it also knows how to have fun with street art. STL and community landmarks adorn the tiles.

St. Louis has many funky neighborhoods that are doing great things. One people seem to feel is undergoing the biggest transformation: Cherokee Street. Home to more than 12 blocks of independently owned and operated specialty shops, art galleries, restaurants, and cafés, the area is also described as St. Louis’ Mexican-food mecca, and is home to an annual Cinco de Mayo Celebration and Cherokee Print League Holiday Sale, one of the largest print sales in the Midwest.

You can show some hometown love at STL Style, catch a show at the performing arts venue 2720 Cherokee, do some art gallery or antique store shopping, and grab a bit to eat at many different places, including one called the Fortune Teller Bar. Oh, and then read all about it in the Cherokee Street News.

Curious about getting involved with the local preservation groups? That's great! We recommend starting with the Landmarks Association of St. Louis, the Preservation Research Office, or STL's DoCoMoMo affiliate, Modern STL.

We know we couldn’t cover everything and likely missed some of your favorites, so let us know your STL must-sees in the comments below!

Grant is the manager of Community Outreach at the National Trust. He's proud to be from a Main Street Community and the Black Dirt Capitol of the World—Conrad, Iowa! Now a resident of beautiful Baltimore, you can most often find him reading, running, or out on the road saving places.

@GrantRStevens

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