Cities in Focus: Meet St. Louis

Posted on: January 15th, 2014 by Grant Stevens 17 Comments

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!

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Grant Stevens

Grant Stevens

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! Growing up on a farm, he always loved going to town and looking at the historic buildings. Now a resident of DC, Grant enjoys reading, running, and anything rural.

Local Preservationists

17 Responses

  1. Pat T

    January 16, 2014

    Thanks for the good words about St Louis. This city often gets a bad rap but there are MANY wonderful things going on here. I’d list them all but then a bunch of outsiders would be flocking to live here. We like living well but quietly under the radar.

  2. peggy martinez

    January 16, 2014

    I grew up on Cherokee St. Some of best Childhood memories are there. So glad to see the community brought back to life

  3. R.J. Hartbeck

    January 16, 2014

    Thanks for the link to the STL Mural Project kickstarter ! We were funded back in November with 4 days remaining on are campaign. We were really excited to reach our goal and begin working on our design. We’ve been hard at work, working on our concepts and are waiting for painting weather to return to St. Louis so we can prep the wall at Lab1500 for mural mania !

  4. Rick Bonasch

    January 16, 2014

    There is a treasure trove of history in St. Louis. 61 compact square miles of interesting urban space. Plenty of history in its neighboring communities also.

  5. Urb

    January 16, 2014

    It’s beautiful here. Shhhhhh.

  6. sonia dae

    January 16, 2014

    you failed to mention the city museum….
    now that is a fine example of preservation and the most fun thing to do in the city or in the whole world really…..
    check it out.

  7. Mike Murray

    January 17, 2014

    Here’s a link to the Great Rivers Greenway…home of The Trestle.
    http://www.greatriversgreenway.org/

  8. Irene Leland

    January 17, 2014

    A very exciting, beautifully rising neighborhood in the vital southeast Forest Park area of the city is “The Grove”! A gem of a versatile community attracting all cultures and diversities, The Grove offers a fun blend of upbeat energy with relaxed, easy-going ambiance. It seems there is no end to the marvelous variety of establishments growing here, whatever one’s taste or yearning might be, and the unique living opportunities are endlessly popping up as these classic, historic houses are being re-vitalized and transformed. The Grove. A treasure. A brilliant example of history renewed. A vibrant, cozy community cuddled close by to great parts of St. Louis, from Forest Park to Central West End to BJC Hospital and all of its major Bio Science expansion.

  9. Bonita Dillard

    January 23, 2014

    Howdy–Thanks for the good p.r. on St. Louis!
    2 other exciting current projects are the restoration
    of the Old Cathedral near the Arch and the
    improvements to the Arch itself ((museum, grounds, access, etc.). St.Louis has a huge
    number of beautiful and architecturally significant buildings-great brickwork, etc.
    Come to visit!

  10. Bill Briggs

    January 23, 2014

    Loved the article. Where would you recommend we stay if we were to drive down for a week?

  11. Ellen Byron

    January 23, 2014

    I was introduced to St. Louis by my husband, who grew up there, and I adore it. I think it’s one of America’s most under-appreciated cities. It’s a goldmine for historic preservation buffs, with fantastic architecture ranging from the 18th through the 20th centuries. A week in St.Louis with side trips to Hermann and St. Genevieve would be a wonderful vacation for anyone!

  12. Kathy Brewer

    January 24, 2014

    You can’t forget about the Grand Center area, around St. Louis University (the oldest university west of the Mississippi), the Fox Theater (are wonderful restoration story in itself), Powell Symphony Hall and all the museums that have now taken root in the area. Galleries, theaters, cafes and nightclubs have joined them, and it has become an arts venue for the region. Also don’t overlook the wonderfully restored historic residential areas like Lafayette Park and Soulard. There is so much history and so much to see in St. Louis! The free museums and zoo in Forest Park are also huge draws for visitors, and the historic park has recently undergone a complete restoration as well. The St. Louis Art Museum still has as its core the Beaux Arts building from the 1904 Worlds Fair, and the cast iron bird cage from that fair still adorns the zoo.

  13. Sister Mary Ann Nestel CSJ

    January 29, 2014

    Carondelet Murals Program on South Broadway is fantastic. There will be eight murals in total when the project is completed. All four are different and unique. We are soliciting artists for the fifth mural. Drive down South Broadway from 6300 to the 7700 to see the murals done in a variety of mediums.
    We are looking for creative ideas. Call for information 314 752-6339

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  15. Chris Gerli

    February 1, 2014

    For those readers expressing interest in visiting our fine city you might consider planing your visit to coincide with the many special activities
    planned to commerate and celebrate the 250th anniversary of the founding of the city. Check out http://www.stl250.org for more information.

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