Bohemian Hill History
By the 1980s, the looming presence of the long-abandoned City Hospital across the street, along with the menacing high rises of the Darste-Webbe housing projects (demolished in the late 1990s), were helping to drag the neighborhood downward, even as neighboring Soulard's grassroots restoration got underway. Most of the houses suffered the same fate as the City Hospital across the street: abandonment and decay. Many are gone already.
In 1999, an innovative project by a coalition of local preservationists and Washington University faculty constructed three model urban infill houses on vacant lots. The three houses, designed by South African architect Jo Noero, are easily the best examples in St. Louis of how to sympathetically react to a historic context without ineptly aping it. They were intended to be the first of 67 new houses, concurrent with numerous historic rehabilitation projects -- an ideal project for the neighorhood. The news spurred other renovations in the area. However, while a number of renovations have been carried out by YouthBuild St. Louis, the full project fell apart after a couple of years.
Now the idealistic visions of a true urban neighborhood are being subsumed beneath the likelihood of a suburban landmine being dropped in the middle of the city.
With City Hospital renovated and occupied, Soulard ever on the rise, and Darste-Webbe replaced by the far more friendly small-unit housing of King Louis Square, the time is right for the wounded Bohemian Hill to finally heal. Instead, the process of decay has been artifically accelerated, and the proposed development threatens to place yet another gash in the city's fabric instead of mending it.
Hopefully, with enough citizen input, some thoughtful changes will be made to the proposal. The near south side can certainly use the proposed services -- but not at the cost of the very architecture that makes it such an appealing place to live.
What's Been Lost Already
A block south, a charming row of ramshackle houses stood at Picker Street; several were occupied. All but one were demolished by November of 2006. The sole holdout, the lovely corner building seen above, had long been a solitary voice angrily condeming threat of eminent domain that is allowing his neighborhood to be demolished. The house was bought out and demolished in February 2007.
Gallery: Lost Houses
1 2 3 4
1 - Circa 1997. Note the small house on the right.
2 - December 2002. The small house now stands alone.
3 - Circa 1997.
4 - The mansard-roofed house now stands alone, its companions demolished.