Photo Flood 35: Midtown

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photograph by Anne Warfield

Site of the only Civil War “battle” in St. Louis, Midtown has a storied presence in the city. Today, much of this section of Midtown is owned by Saint Louis University, which has been a controversial agent of change for the neighborhood.

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photograph by Donna Burch

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photograph by Shelly Cendroski

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photograph by Jason Gray

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photograph by Allen Casey

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photograph by Ann Aurbach

Although not the first school in St. Louis, the St. Louis Academy was the first major effort toward an institution of higher learning west of the Mississippi River when it was founded in 1818. At the urging of the Catholic Church, Bishop Louis William DuBourg opened the school in a residence not far from the Downtown levee, and donated his personal 8,000-volume library to the venture. In 1820, the school separated its secondary curriculum from its post-secondary one, creating both the St. Louis Academy (later SLU High School) and the St. Louis College (later SLU). Initially, the Jesuit-led education included a focus on at least six languages, math, geography and drawing. Shortly after the Civil War, the University moved to its current site, a once forested valley on the outskirts of the city, known as Lindell’s Grove. From this location, the second oldest Jesuit University in the country built itself into an internationally recognized institution for higher learning, and one of the most influential factors shaping St. Louis’ growth. No doubt, if St. Louis University had changed addresses to the suburbs during the era of population loss and urban decline in the city (an option the School must have considered, even if it was ultimately too expensive), the neighborhoods that it now anchors, Covenant Blu/Grand Center and Midtown, would surely have recovered more slowly than they have. However, the appearance of that “recovery” is worth remarking upon.

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photograph by Vivian Nieuwsma

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photograph by Michelle Williams

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photograph by Joe Rakers

In Grand Center, the visitor is greeted by a vibrant wealth of cultural options to explore in a district whose high-rises once served as a “second downtown”. Meanwhile, in Midtown nearby the University, the buildings that once existed there have been largely leveled for semi-public parks or fully private parking lots. When you consider that this trend of tearing down usable buildings for the sake of a parking lot extends over a diameter of nearly one mile, and across what was once one of the most mature sections of the city, it becomes clear why the naysayers exist. Still, if one could weigh the positive versus negative impacts of SLU on St. Louis on a scale, the result would likely be more positive than negative (though that evaluation is certain to change depending upon who you ask). All things considered, St. Louis University does possess at its core, one of the most beautiful and dynamic urban campuses around; a setting that is a perfect compliment to the quality of education to be found there.

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photograph by Jason Gray

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photograph by Ann Aurbach

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photograph by Sue Rakers

Before SLU moved into Lindell’s Grove, the site was host to the Camp Jackson Affair, the only Civil War battle in St. Louis City. Named for the southern-sympathizing Missouri Governor, Claiborne Jackson, “Camp Jackson” was the encampment of the State’s militia outside St. Louis, under his executive order. Governor Jackson realized that an opportunity existed for the South to control the expansive trade route through the city and the weaponry stockpiled at the Federal Arsenal. Frank Blair, a Union General, led an organization of local militias (mostly German) in a preemptive strike, and was successful in forcing the State’s surrender without a shot being fired from either side. Unfortunately, an antagonistic Nativist crowd had gathered to watch the events unfold, friendly fire occurred, and almost 30 people (mostly Union men) lost their lives. Though flawed in execution, the victory protected the U.S. Arsenal and St. Louis, and ultimately, even prevented the state from seceding. Interestingly, both William Tecumsah Sherman and Ulysses Grant were in town to witness aspects of the event well before the start of their own legendary careers as generals.

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photograph by Jason Gray

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photograph by Ryan Stanley

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photograph by Michelle Williams

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photograph by Donna Burch

Today, this section of Midtown is an odd mix of the past (the Armory, Federal Mogul, etc.) and the present, wherein the present tends to usurp what existed before. Most of the neighborhood is given over to St. Louis University, which continues to expand. Yet, the area remains an interesting place to walk, especially for those willing to accept this crossroads for what it is.

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photograph by Jason Gray

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photograph by Ryan Stanley

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photograph by Theresa Harter

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photograph by Allen Casey

MAP:
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Our endpoint was Vito’s Sicilian Pizzeria and Ristorante. A longtime favorite for families visiting students at SLU, the restaurant features a comfortable and inviting atmosphere with delicious food (highly recommend the Ortolana pizza). Additionally, our wait staff was exceptional, and the friendly bartender even offered to charge a member’s cell phone at the bar.

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photograph by Jason Gray

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