Photo Flood 33: Holly Hills

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photograph by Dan Henrichs Photography, St. Louis

A south St. Louis neighborhood of distinction, Holly Hills began as little more than grand ambitions. In the 1920’s, a planned community project began on land purchased from the Missouri-Pacific Railroad (which runs through). The developers named the effort to emulate the glitz and glamour of Hollywood living, but the Great Depression squelched much of that aspiration, in order to make home sales more likely. Still, Holly Hills does not lack in beautiful dwellings, a fact supported by one of the oldest and most dedicated neighborhood associations in the city.

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photograph by Janet Henrichs

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photograph by Jason Gray

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photograph by Michelle Bates

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photograph by Ann Aurbach

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photograph by Diane Cannon Piwowarczyk

Holly Hills has as its origin a pastoral beginning. The land that is now the neighborhood was originally part of the common fields for the Carondelet settlement. As described in our post on Lafayette Square, this open field system derives from a medieval prototype, and consisted of land, usually on the outskirts of communities, that was divided for communal agriculture or livestock use. While not as heavily used as the common pastures for St. Louis, the clearing of this landscape for cultivation helped to create an opportunity for the railroad that would later wind its way through south city on its way north to the busy warehouse districts and levee of St. Louis. This fact, of the railroad’s presence in Holly Hills, is significant because it has assured some level of industry for the neighborhood, even as the Interstate severed its artery to the river and made truck transportation a viable, versatile and inexpensive shipping method.

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photograph by Dan Henrichs Photography, St. Louis

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photograph by James Palmour

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photograph by Dave Adams

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photograph by Scott Jackson

The Missouri-Pacific Railroad made another significant contribution to the Holly Hills neighborhood in the 1920’s, when it sold land adjacent to its tracks north of Carondelet Park to private developers, William Federer, Gus Arendes, and Don Livingston. The three men envisioned the need for a new subdivision in far south city, to accommodate the ever swelling population of St. Louis. With open land to spare, the developers were free to dream big. Inspired by the opulence of Golden Era Hollywood, the fledgling Holly Hills neighborhood would soon consist of some of the most elegant homes in all of St. louis. Enthusiasm for this building philosophy was cut short, however, when the Great Depression left few families able to afford the ornamented mansions of Federer, Arendes and Livingston’s initial vision. Fortunately, the Holly Hills Improvement Association had already been formed, which managed to preserve the young neighborhood from degradation during America’s long period of economic calamity. Although further development had been stalled, this neighborhood association (the oldest still active in the city) assisted residents to find work, and initiated maintenance programs to keep Holly Hills vibrant.

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photograph by Jason Gray

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photograph by Dave Adams

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photograph by Michelle Williams

After World War II, Holly Hills’ location near the border of the city helped to fuel a new residential building boom. The homes built during this period, brick bungalows stylistically reminiscent of the earlier mansions though smaller, were constructed rapidly following an increased demand. Automobiles enabled city residents to live further away from Downtown, where the air was cleaner and conditions for living were less dense. The affordable bungalows meant that former renters could now own homes, an exciting prospect for many (even if the square footage of their living space was not dramatically increased).

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photograph by Patrick Gioia

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photograph by Ryan Stanley

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photograph by Dan Henrichs Photography, St. Louis

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photograph by Dawn Mills

Today, Holly Hills is easily one of the safest and most beautiful neighborhoods in St. Louis. The neighborhood receives a lot of comparisons to St. Louis Hills for this reason, although the neighborhood is much more diverse than its comparison (economically, culturally, and racially). If the neighborhood lacks anything, it is in commercial properties. This is due to the fact that the community is largely residential with commercial buildings wedged along its far east and west borders. On the other hand, this ensures almost every asset that residents are attracted to (low traffic and crime, contributing to a community atmosphere, etc.). No doubt, Holly Hills is a great place to live in the city of St. Louis, and one where residents are rewarded by the rich beauty of some of the best housing stock currently available.

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photograph by Jason Gray

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photograph by Susan Price

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photograph by Sue Rakers

MAP:
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Our endpoint for Photo Flood 33 was Chimichanga’s Mexican Restaurant, which is a beloved dining destination along south Grand Avenue. Amazingly, the busy restaurant was able to accommodate our large group. If you have not been yet, we strongly recommend that you give Chimichanga’s a try; its winning combination of delicious (though inexpensive!) food and potent margaritas are well worth a visit.

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photograph by Michelle Bates

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photograph by Sue Rakers

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