Photo Flood 93: McKinley Heights

photo by Valerie Rippey

McKinley Heights is a south side neighborhood that possesses some of the best aspects of all of the neighborhoods surrounding it, yet continues to fly under the radar of most St. Louisans. How is this possible?

photo by Bailey Elizabeth Rogers

photo by Jennifer Mishra

 

photo by Jason Gray

 

photo by Vivian Nieuwsma

Like Lafayette Square to its north and Soulard to its east, McKinley Heights started out agrarian, as part of the city’s common fields and pastures. Where now there are cars racing down Russell, there once was grazing livestock. This is a heritage that we often forget even when it is plain to see, since many of the city’s most recognized thoroughfares started out as trade routes for farmers, trappers and merchants, including Gravois, one of McKinley Heights’ boundaries.

In 1835, the State supported the city’s bid to allow for the remaining common fields to be sold off for development (some had been claimed already in court). This opportunity coincided with a dramatic influx of European immigrants to St. Louis, especially German and Irish, which continued in waves for the remainder of the 19th century. Beginning in the 1850’s, following that of neighbor communities, most of the area that would become McKinley Heights was plotted for development. However, it was not really until after 1870 that McKinley Heights, as we know it, would begin to take shape. 1875’s Compton and Dry Pictorial Atlas shows that most of the northern part of the neighborhood remained as fenced, grazing area, while the triangle south of what would become Ann Avenue, toward the intersection of Jefferson and Gravois, was quite dense in terms of both commercial and residential buildings. This was likely due to the convergence of these two major transportation lines- an intersection that remains busy today.

photo by Diane Sieckmann

 

photo by Valerie Rippey

 

photo by Joe Rakers

 

photo by Ryan Stanley

After the civil war, European immigration to St. Louis began to peak again, and the areas of the city that were not yet developed began to see lots of activity. Around the turn of the 20th century, McKinley Heights transitioned from a predominantly German neighborhood to one with a large population of Serbian and Russian immigrants. This inspired a second wave of development (after 1900 and prior to 1930), perhaps the largest of the neighborhood’s history.

In 1928, construction was completed on St. Michael the Archangel Russian Orthodox Church, which is still one of the neighborhood’s most distinctive and attractive buildings. Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church was built around the same time, and with its annual Serbfest, remains as a major influence on the culture neighborhood.

photo by Cathy Ray

 

photo by Mike Matney

 

photo by Jane DiCampo

 

photo by Joe Harrison

In 1897, William B. Ittner became the Commissioner of School Buildings in St. Louis, and set in motion his ambitious plan to construct modernized learning environments for St. Louis public school students. In 1904, he designed the McKinley School, which still operates today as the McKinley Classical Leadership Academy- a school for gifted students. The school, with its beautiful, soaring twin turrets is also the namesake of the neighborhood.

McKinley Heights prospered for many years of the 20th century as a quiet, stable community that shared the virtues of both Lafayette Square and Soulard, but when Interstates 44 and 55 carved their routes through the city in the 1960’s and 70’s, McKinley lost its physical attachment to both. The effects of this isolation were significant, and the neighborhood fell into a period of decline.

photo by Mike Matney

 

photo by Jane DiCampo

 

photo by Valerie Rippey

Today, much of the neighborhood is again healthy, and as the Jefferson commercial corridor continues to grow, McKinley Heights will surely prosper. Inside the neighborhood, we saw evidence of new construction, as well as of renovation, and very little abandonment. We also encountered plenty of folks out on the streets, walking dogs or going for a run, which is always a sign of stability for a neighborhood. It seems as though McKinley Heights has finally found and embraced its own unique character. I guess flying under the radar can sometimes have its perks.

photo by Jason Gray

 

photo by Vivian Nieuwsma

 

photo by Joe Rakers

 

photo by Bailey Elizabeth Rogers

A map is available here.

0 Comments

Leave a reply

©2020 Photo Flood Saint Louis

Log in with your credentials

or    

Forgot your details?

Create Account