Each year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation celebrates the best of preservation by presenting National Preservation Awards to individuals and organizations whose contributions demonstrate excellence in historic preservation. This is the latest in a series of posts highlighting 2010′s winners.
Written by Sean Thomas
When the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group and the Regional Housing & Community Development Alliance decided to take on the dead zone known as the 14th Street Pedestrian Mall, in the heart of the Old North St. Louis neighborhood, we knew we had our work cut out for us. What we didn’t know, however, was just how big the project would become, how long it would take, or how much it would transform the community.
By the time we signed the first contract to purchase property in February of 2005, we were well on our way toward planning what eventually would become a $35 million, 27-building mixed-use redevelopment called Crown Square. Reaching the finish line took quite a bit longer. Although most of the historic rehabilitation of the buildings had finished by the end of 2009, it wasn’t until October 29, 2010 that cars could drive down the street again, just as we were walking across the stage to receive the National Trust/HUD Secretary’s Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation at the National Preservation Conference.
The award and the national recognition it has generated reflect a dramatic turnaround for a neighborhood that had been abandoned and given up on by many. The transformation of what had been a symbol of urban decay into a showpiece for revitalization through historic preservation also changed attitudes among the diverse community of current and former residents. Not too long ago, when former residents would return to their old neighborhood for visits, they usually went back home with heavy hearts as they reflected on how much had been lost. Now, these former residents stick around for a while longer to walk up and down N. 14th Street to marvel at the beauty of the restored buildings dating from the 1860s to the 1930s.
Some of these individuals drop in to view the history exhibit in the offices of the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, which now occupies a building that had been a Kroger grocery store 75 years ago. As these former residents recount stories of shopping down the street at the first J.C. Penney in the city (which opened in 1928) or at the Woolworth store across the street, both of which are long gone, they cross paths with current residents who now live in apartments in those buildings. One of the new residents at Crown Square, a 12-year-old boy named Tiger, helps distribute fliers along the street for the next movie night at the Old North Gallery, while an older woman who lived on the block in the 1930s stops in to view the new fashion boutique, which occupies a space that had housed a dress shop 50 years ago. These interactions reflect the vibrancy of a community with deep roots and a bright future. All of this was made possible because of a determined community and strong partners that recognized the value of its past and the importance of decent, affordable, and attractive housing for its current and future residents.
Crown Square Development, St. Louis, Mo.
Award Type: National Trust/HUD Award
Sean Thomas is executive director of the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, a not-for-profit community development corporation pursuing the revitalization of the physical and social dimensions of the Old North St. Louis neighborhood in a manner that respects the community’s historic, cultural, and urban character.