Mini-Flood 73: Locust Street

photo by Jennifer Mishra

St. Louis is known as the “Gateway to the West” for its role in the nation’s westward expansion, to which the iconic arch stands as a monument.  The city itself experienced a microcosmic westward expansion of its own.  It was founded on the banks of the Mississippi River and over time people migrated further from away from Mississippi River.  Today, a sizable segment of the metropolitan area extends even beyond the Missouri River.  But the first western “suburb” was Lucas Place, a private street developed in the 1850’s by James H. Lucas.  And that is where we begin our Locust Street walk.

photo by Carol Sluzevich

photo by Susan Bramley Donovan

We met at the intersection of Locust and 13th (photo above), the eastern boundary of Lucas Place, and as we began our stroll westward we walked past a dog park on the right and the central library on the left (photo below).  But this was originally all one park, which Lucas donated to the city to serve as a buffer for his new development.  Until the 1880’s, with Lucas Place overtaken by urban sprawl, Locust Street was extended, thus bisecting the park and turning the formerly private street Lucas Place into an extension of Locust.  The residents moved to newer private places further away, and so Lucas Place dissolved into what is now the “Downtown West” neighborhood of St. Louis.  Their mansions devolved into derelict boarding houses and were finally replaced by a various commercial and industrial buildings, except for one:  The Campbell House, which is now a museum.

photo by Carol Sluzevich

Incidentally, before the library was built on the park ground, an exposition hall was built which housed the 1888 and 1904 Democratic National Conventions.  In 1907 it was demolished and a competition was held by Washington University to pick the architect for the new central library.  The winner was Cass Gilbert of New York who had previously designed the St. Louis Art Museum.  The runner-up was William Ittner, a famous St. Louis architect whom we have mentioned in several previous articles.

photo by Ann Aurbach

Continuing on our walk, after we pass 15th Street, we saw the aforementioned Campbell House Museum on the left. It stands in stark contrast to the surrounding buildings.  But it stands only because of a tragic twist of fate.  The Campbells had 13 children but ten did not survive childhood and another died at the age of 30.  Consequently, the two remaining sons became reclusive and lived in the house the rest of their lives, leaving it intact.   The Stix Baer & Fuller department store corporation saved it from demolition, and then it was opened as museum with its original furnishings.  Ironically it was the first home to be built and the last to survive.  In the early 2000’s, it received a massive multi-million dollar renovation.  Today, Trip Advisor claims it is “#1 of 54 Museums in Saint Louis”.  It is on the left side in the next photo below.

photo by Dave Adams

There is an abundance of interesting architecture and history that make Locust Street a great walk.  We are just hitting a few highlights here.

To the right of the Campbell House in the above photo is the enormous old Downtown YMCA complex (1528 Locust).  It was built in 1926, and in 2017 they downsized to the ground floor of the MX building at 6th and Locust in the former One City Center.  There are 24 Y’s in the region and this is the only one downtown.  This old location is in the process of being converted to a 200-room 21c Museum Hotel, which will feature contemporary art collections in a public exhibit space when it opens in 2020.

photo by Jennifer Mishra

photo by Ann Aurbach

The Locust Street Sub-Station (1711 Locust) (photos above) was built in 1903 as an electrical substation to power the streetcars.  Last used as a nightclub in the 1990’s, today the roof is a state of collapse.  This has appeared several times on Landmarks Association’s Most Endangered Buildings list: “Containing a single soaring story, this building possesses an immense and dramatic interior space which could be suitable for many different uses. Paradowski Design’s superlative rehabilitation of a similar building [the 1891 Missouri Light and Power building at 1928 Locust Street] serves as an example of how a former generator building can be repurposed in such a way that takes advantage of the open space.”

photo by Susan Bramley Donovan

photo by Michael Matney

photo by Jennifer Mishra

photo by Joe Harrison

photo by Gabriel Miller

photo by Joe Harrison

Lambert Pharmaceutical Building (2007 Locust) (in the photo immediately above) was built in 1891.  The founder, Jordan W. Lambert, invented Listerine here, and his son, Albert Lambert, was an aviation pioneer who purchased and improved what has come to be known as Lambert St. Louis International Airport.  The T. M. Sayman company bought the building and carved their name into the sandstone above the entrance where it remains today.  Sayman left in 1975 and in 1991 it was converted to hold 12 loft condominiums.

Across the street, the John S. Swift building (2010 Locust) (in the photo below) was a small quality press from 1901 until it was damaged in 1976 by one of the worst fires in recent St. Louis history.  It remained vacant and in such a state of disrepair that it was used as a post-apocalyptic movie set in “Escape From New York.”  In 1991 Tom Schlafly turned it into his first microbrewery, and it remains his flagship.

photo by Gabriel Miller

The St. Louis Provident Association Building at 2221 Locust (below) has had a long history of providing various social services.  In 1944 it was transformed into the new home of the People’s Hospital, serving African-Americans regardless of their ability to pay, and stayed there until 1966.

photo by Michael Matney

At 2301 Locust, just before we reach Jefferson Avenue and the geographic end of the old Lucas Place, the Beethoven Conservatory (on the right side in the photo below) was built in 1892 at the chronological end of Lucas Place.  It was re-purposed several times and now it is the home of the innovative Bruton Stroube Studios, the subject of Mini Flood 37:  http://www.photofloodstl.org/mini-flood-37-bruton-stroube-studios-2/

photo by Michael Matney

This is where Lucas Place transitions to “automobile row” which continues to the end of Locust.  Directly across the street at 2300 Locust is the Willys-Overland Building constructed in 1917.  John Willis was a dealer who sold Overland cars, at one time a distant second in sales behind Ford.  This building was a dealership and a regional distributorship serving Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and Arkansas.

Jefferson Avenue is where we are leave Downtown West neighborhood (which includes Lucas Place) and enter Midtown.  Downtown West was the subject of Flood 37, read all about it here:  http://www.photofloodstl.org/photo-flood-37-downtown-west/.  Midtown was Flood 49:  http://www.photofloodstl.org/photo-flood-49-midtown/ which includes a discussion of the automobile industry in St. Louis.

photo by Joe Harrison

Transportation was a major factor in the expansion of the city.  The first street cars were installed in 1886 on Locust and four other streets.   Ten years later, 90 percent of the population lived within three blocks of a streetcar line.  In the 1950’s and 1960’s, automobiles and interstates replaced the streetcars and made it possible for people to live even further away from the city.

photo by Ann Aurbach

photo by Dave Adams

Nobel Laureate poet T. S. Eliot wrote: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”  He was born on Locust Street.  His birthplace and boyhood home is now a surface parking lot.

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