Built St. Louis: Crumbling Landmarks
Bohemian Hill

March 2007 - a line of beautiful houses along Tucker Boulevard, south of Lafayette -- targeted for demolition.

December 2003 - the new (constructed in 2000) infill houses at 13th and Soulard, targeted for demolition.

Above: the Bohemian Hill neighborhood. The boundary in red shows the extents of the intended development. Houses in gray are still standing; houses in red have been demolished.

The houses in the path of Phase One are gone (click here for photos.) But the ones in Phase Two are not only still standing, but many are occupied, in good condition, and architecturally noteworthy. Cilck here for a photo tour of the surviving houses.

Below: the proposed site plan. This is an approximate construction based on the rendering shown in the St. Louis Business Journal. An actual site plan can be seen here. The components of Phase Two have not yet been revealed.

Above: a perspective rendering of the proposed Phase One. Click on the image for a larger version. The view is from the roof of City Hospital, looking southeast. Phase Two would be in the blank area in the upper right, on land occupied by the historic properties shown on this page. Image reproduced from the Friday, February 9th edition of the St. Louis Business Journal

November 2006 - houses on 13th at Lafayette, targeted for demolition.

Two of the houses along Tucker, with St. Louis City Hospital in the background, and part of King Louis Square at right.

February 11, 2007: Do these stalwart, recently renovated, and occupied houses look like the sort of thing that needs to be torn down?

Should modern additions to the city, new houses that fit elegantly with their historic surroundings, be demolished?

That seems to be the belief in certain circles. Developer Gilded Age, LLC, responsible for the renovation of St. Louis City Hospital across the street, has been working to acquire and demolish the remaining houses in the Bohemian Hill neighborhood -- including three modern infill houses that are less than ten years old!

The Proposed Development
Koman Properties has been acquiring the various parcels that comprise the land south of City Hospital, assembling a large site out of numerous smaller parcels. At least some of the land was purchased directly from private owners. It is not presently clear if some was city-owned, or if eminent domain has been used.

Now, in conjunction with Gilded Age, Koman has announced plans to level the entire site -- including several extant streets and all the buildings -- to put up a mixed-use complex called Georgian Square.

Phase One of the proposed development would consist of a grocery store, parking lot, and pair of outlot buildings. A rendering of the proposal was published in the St. Louis Business Journal and can be seen below. The last house on this land was demolished as this story came to light in early February; the site is now vacant.

Phase Two -- condominiums and offices -- has not been fully unveiled. It calls for tearing down everything between 13th Street and Tucker Boulevard, a site which is occupied by over a dozen older houses and three new ones (click here for a full gallery of these homes.)

What's At Stake
Bohemian Hill stands between Lafayette Square and Soulard. Properly redeveloped, it should function as a connection between the two, creating safe and comfortable pedestrian transit between the two neighborhoods.

Let me state clearly: I support the idea of development on this site. This vacant land needs to be built on, to help Soulard, Lafayette Square, and the renovated City Hospital reach their full potential. This should be an exciting opportunity to building something that will enhance the value and aesthetics of the surrounding community.

What I am opposed to is demolition of historic, urban homes for Phase Two, and the suburban-style site plan for Phase One.

With some simple rearrangement of what goes where on the site, Phase One could fulfill the needs of the surrounding communities for pedestrian-oriented connections, while providing a shield against the roar of interstate traffic nearby. This does not mean eliminating the parking lot; it means designing so that the parking lot is not the dominant element of the plan.

But there must be a careful design for this portion to work. A grocery store, on a site which was doubtless chosen for its easy highway access, is unlikely to have the fine scale that an urban neighorhood needs unless the designers pay close attention to details. That's exactly what didn't happen at the south city Lowes development , another project where private, small-scale homes were torn down for a suburban-style shopping center.

Phase Two needs to be scaled back -- demolishing over a dozen historic homes is simply unacceptable. These houses are what makes this such a desirable neighborhood. They would have to be bought out (or siezed, in yet another flagrant abuse of eminent domain). Most of them have historic and architectural value. Three are brand new. All are of fine, urban, pedestrian scale. These homes would be torn down to make room for... homes, apparently.

Alderman Young has denied that use of eminent domain is pending, yet in the same statement admits it's a possibility. There's hardly any point in pretending it isn't waiting in the wings.

There is quite a bit of empty land on the north end of the block. I suspect the current residents would welcome additional development there. St. Louis should be demanding that developers worth with, not against, the city's context; in this case, that means building around the houses that are there, not using the looming threat of eminent domain to compel homeowners and landlords to sell.

Update, February 21, 2007: Word down the grapevine is that the rendering from the Business Journal is subject to change, that the developers have been meeting with preservation advocates, and compromise on the design is a possibility.

The pressure must be kept up to ensure that it happens. Don't let up, folks!

What YOU Can Do
- Contact Phyllis Young, Alderman for the Soulard, Bohemian Hill, and Lafayette Square. Voice your displeasure with the use of eminent domain -- threatened or actual -- to remove citizens from their homes for the profit of developers. Urge her to push for a more urban site plan for Phase One and to scale back Phase Two to omit further demolition (or to include renovation of the vacant properties.)
- Contact Mayor Francis Slay and express the same concerns to him.
- Write to Guilded Age developers and ask them to reconsider taking further houses. Point out that the irreplaceable historic architecture is the very reason that many people choose to live in this area.
- Write to Koman Properties and express the same concerns. Like many developers, they are primarily a suburban concern; it's not impossible that they haven't even considered a more urban approach. Developers, at the behest of massive retail chains, often default to a stock suburban model unless pressured to do otherwise.
- Visit the Castle Coalition web site to read further on protecting homes from eminent domain seizure.

Media and Internet Coverage

St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
- Pace of city's redevelopment overtakes tiny Bohemian Hill.
- Lafayette Square Will Get Grocery.

Southwest City Journal:
Developer, Spare My House

St. Louis Business Journal:
Evolution of the 'cave' man
I have to comment on this one. I and numerous other urban critics are not "against everything". We are opposed to non-urban development happening in our urban environments, when it is entirely possible to build something appropriate to the city, something that makes it a better place aesthetically, functionally, AND economically.

St. Louis Front Page
Specialty Grocery Store Slated for $80 Million Georgian Square Mixed Use Development Near Lafayette Square

Urban Review STL:
- St. Louis To Use Eminent Domain to Raze Owner-Occupied Homes for Auto-Centric Retail
- City Hospital Square - current photos at Flickr.

One More Walgreens Will Surely Complete Our City.

Urban St. Louis:
Bohemian Hill Mixed Use Development.

More on Bohemian Hill:
- Gallery of the surviving houses.
- A short history, and photos of the houses already lost to Phase One.
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