Category Archives: street

Hill and Ville

NOTE: The following post was created in Fall 2011 during Community Building. Some of the text refers to specific things that occurred in class at that time, however the overall point remains apropos.


Reflecting on the music and discussion we had in yesterday’s class. The drawings the students’ worked on were representations of The Ville and The Hill. It almost seems too cute in the way they rhyme but there’s certainly a logic involved in making the comparison.

One of the things about the two tours that strikes me is that I felt our visit to The Hill tended to preference the built fabric and the vernacular sense of continuity that makes for a very compelling and cohesive neighborhood. The insistent repetition of the overall house forms had an almost numbing effect in some areas despite the individuality of each home not just architecturally, but also in the way each family ornamented and presented their homes to the public.

My suspicion is that it would have been possible to visit The Ville and take a tour with a similar sense of architectural continuity. Our tour tended to favor the larger institutional buildings and organizations over the urban fabric of the residential community. When we did look at homes, they tended to be unique for historical reasons and due to the residents who grew up there rather than for their architectural or urban content.

There’s nothing wrong with this difference between the tours, but it does lead to a varied perception. Clearly much of the difference that was noted related to the general comfort and ease with which we generally felt in visiting The Hill. Part of that has to do with the “branding” of the neighborhood as a source for Italian culture and food that is widely known and appreciated in Saint Louis. Also, the neighborhood itself has made a particular point of reminding visitors (and residents) that they are in the “Italian” section of the city.

Bob’s explanations have made it clear that while Italians were among the original residents of the area, it wasn’t a monolithic culture that dominated the area in the way that I think is suggested by the constant reminders (flags, banners, fire hydrants, etc.). In fact, the branding has so successful as a strategy for attracting restaurants and bakeries, that there seems to be a much higher concentration of such businesses in the area than could be supported by the local economy. The great number and variety (and expense) of many of the restaurants clearly seem to be in business because they attract customers from a relatively wide area.

It seems that this dominance of branding neighborhoods has been so successful in certain respects that it tends to suppress many other features of the community that are beneficial, but not publicly understood to be connected with The Hill. It would be interesting to take photographs of less typical sections of The Hill that might be suggestive of other cultures, practices and locations and to present them to a group and ask them to identify the neighborhood in which they were taken.

I suspect that it would be possible to find buildings and sites and locations just within The Hill that could be suggestive of the industrial riverfront areas, Soulard, Wellston, The Ville, Clayton and West County. In a similar way, I suspect one could take photographs of various locations around the city to could be considered to fit into the image that is commonly accepted for The Hill and have people identify them as having been taken there, when in fact they represent restaurants, homes, churches, parks and businesses in other parts of the city.

So what does this mean? Does it mean that the representations of The Hill that we have ingrained in our minds is false? I don’t think that’s the case, however it does suggest that we’re somewhat brainwashed in the way we understand segments of the city. I wonder to what extent our preconceptions determine our reactions?

Another thought experiment might be to take students on a drive blindfolded and then arrive somewhere without knowing where they are going in advance. Then they would be forced to really “read” the city they find themselves in for clues and information about its condition, history, demographics, prosperity, density, etc.

Our conversation about the drawings was instructive, but also revealed some things about our own ideas and how we project them onto situations. Someone commented that, “Well of course we feel more comfortable going to The Hill, since we all have a European background.” I felt this statement was, at a minimum, insensitive.

My sense is that part of the intentions behind the class has to do with overcoming stereotypes and preconceptions that we have about people and places that cause us to distort reality and block us from really seeing things as they are.


After writing this post, I decided to go ahead with my thought experiment and take still frames from the video I shot during our visits to the Hill and the Ville. Can you identify which are which?

#1

#2

#3

#4

#5

#6

#7

#8

#9

#10

#11

#12

#13

#14

#15

#16

Please test yourself and put down whether you think each photograph was taken in The Hill or The Ville.

Bartholomew’s City Plan (1947)

City Planner Harland Bartholomew developed a detailed, comprehensive plan for St. Louis which documents the existing conditions at the time and projected future development based upon increasing population density and totals. In actuality, the city’s population peaked shortly thereafter and then following a steady decline as St. Louis County became increasingly suburbanized.

This chart presents four primary demographics. The top line represents the population of the United States (dashed lines at right indicate projected figures). The second pair of lines represent the populations of the states of Illinois and Missouri. The third line represents the City of St. Louis. The shorter line at the bottom represents St. Louis County.

Population growth (historical and projected)

This analysis of the population of the region formed the basis for the comprehensive plan. The caption for this illustration (Plate Number Two) reads, “St. Louis cannot expect sizeable population increases in the future.”

This pair of maps compares the population density within the boundaries of the City of St. Louis as of 1940 (top) and the projected/desired density as of 1970 (bottom):

Population density (historical and projected)

As illustrated, Bartholomew suggests that the density of the city’s core would increase and that the westward expansion would not only stop, but actually be reversed. The same desire for increasing the density in the center of the city has been suggested as desirable and ideal by many urban planners since, but the reality has been exactly the opposite.

The multicolored plan below represents Bartholomew’s ideal Land Use Plan. The reality is much more complex and heterogeneous. Achieving such clarity in function and use was a dream for planners of the modern American city was an ideal never to be attained in practice.

Desirable Ultimate Land Use Plan

The mismatch between the actual and zoned uses are indicated in this diagram of the Lafayette Neighborhood District. These drawings compare the existing land uses with the existing zoning. Clearly the actual facts on the ground were much more heterogeneous, mixed and complex than the simplistic organization suggested by the area’s zoning.

Lafayette Neighborhood District (present land use and present zoning)

The serious nature of reconfiguring the city to correspond to the desired land uses is suggested by the sample rezoning of a neighborhood in this series of plans for the Macklind Neighborhood District. From left to right the drawings depict: Present Land Use, Present Zoning and Proposed Zoning. Clearly to achieve the purity of the desired zoning would require major alterations to the city fabric.

Macklind Neighborhood District (present and proposed uses)

Achieving the clarity of vision suggested by the “Desirable Ultimate Land Use Plan” (above) would require massive rebuilding of the city as suggested by the following plan which highlights in red areas of Substandard Housing (“a measure of obsolescence and blight”).

Substandard Housing

The plan indicates two areas of city which would require massive reconstruction. The red hatched areas indicate “blighted areas” and the black hatched areas indicate “obsolete districts”.
Obsolete and Blighted Districts

A key method for determining whether districts were obsolete and/or blighted involved determining how many residences in the area relied on outside toilets. This map documents the absolute numbers (red figures) and the density of such conditions in the city. In general, the closer to the riverfront and the older the age of the structure, the more likely that they did not include indoor plumbing.

Percentage of Dwelling Units with Outside Toilets

The necessity for rebuilding the city along different lines altogether is made bluntly clear by this suburbanized images of a redesigned Soulard. To Bartholomew’s way of thinking, this district was entirely obsolete and needed wholesale replacement.

Soulard Neighborhood District

The following map delineates neighborhoods (outlined in red) and industrial districts (highlighted in yellow). In general, the greatest density of industrial districts were located along the Mississippi River or along the Mill Creek Valley area. Both of these areas were served by extensive rail networks. These areas remain largely industrial in nature with greatly reduced railroad activity, however many of these tracks remain in place.

Neighborhood and Industrial Districts

The plan features two maps indicating the massive investments in upgrading infrastructure the city was undertaking. The first indicates the many improvements that were a part of the 1923 Bond Issue. The largest projects included major upgrades to the system supplying potable drinking water for the city ($11,000,000) and construction of the River Des Peres drainage system beginning in Forest Park, extending through the south city before draining into the Mississippi River.

Other significant improvements included the following new structures in the downtown area: Civil Courts Building, Municipal Opera House, Municipal Power Plant and the Soldiers Memorial. Other amenities included a series of public hospitals, fire houses, parks, playgrounds, sewer upgrades and a major street lighting program. Public spaces to be improved included Union Station Plaza and Memorial Plaza. The total cost of the 1923 Bond Issue exceeded $67,000,000).

1923 Bond Issue

Further investments in the city were made as part of the “Post War Bond Issue” of 1944 which totaled more than $63,000,000 and included improvements to streets, water systems, sewer systems, parks, fire stations, telephone networks, hospitals, airport, art museum and zoo.

Post War Bond Issue of 1944

Of course, the actual development of the City of St. Louis in the second half of the 20th century followed an altogether different design which was occurred through the combined action of major highway construction, massive new suburb development in the surrounding communities and the demographic shifts associated with “white flight”.

If Bartholomew had considered the evidence of population shift away from the city center toward the perifery, he might have been able to more accurately visualize and create a realistic city plan that could possibly have been implemented in a more coordinated way. Clearly, such a plan would have to deal with (at a minimum, St. Louis City and St. Louis County). My suspicion is that he was only authorized to prepare a plan for the city itself.

Population Change (1930–1940)

Views of St. Louis (1840–1960)

Plan and perspective view of St. Louis (c. 1840)

View looking north over Chouteau’s Lake (c. 1840)

Aerial perspective (c. 1876)

Perspective view (c. 1893)

Aerial perspective emphasizing industry

Aerial perspective emphasizing landscape

View of the city and surrounding countryside

1894

1895

1896

1904 looking south from Lucas

Early 20th century view

“The City of a Thousand Sights” (c. 1920)

Downtown aerial view (c. 1960)

Maps of St. Louis (1764–1960)

This drawing presents the raw landscape surrounding the Village of St. Lewis:

Map shows landscape with locales indicates for early communities.

 

This drawing depicts the boundaries of the City of St. Louis from it’s origins beside the Mississippi River in 1764 through it’s current boundary which was established in 1876 at the time of the City County Divorce:

1764-1876

 

This drawing depicts the French fort built around the perimeter of “St. Louis des Illinois” in 1780:

1780

 

This 1804 survey locates the houses on the blocks of the French city at the time:

Survey of French city of 1804

 

At this point, the expansion of the city has not yet reach Chouteau’s Pond:

Survey of city blocks (c. 1822)

 

This drawing depicts expanded boundary of the city as of 1822:

1822 (population 5,000)

 

This drawing depicts expanded boundary of the city as of 1841 (including Chouteau’s Pond):

1841

 

This drawing illustrates the city as it existed in 1844:

1844

 

This diagram outlines the city’s boundaries in 1855 and it’s final limits established in 1876:

1855 and 1876 city boundaries
City districts and boundaries (c. 1855)

 

This drawing outlines St. Louis City and County with the bounding rivers and general topopgraphic features:

St. Louis City and County (c. 1885)

 

This drawing depicts the rapidly growing city as of 1885 (note: Eads Bridge has been constructed, Chouteau’s Pond is no longer present and Mill Creek Valley is now centered on new rail lines):

1885

 

This drawing depicts the expanding city as of 1812 (note second bridge over the Mississippi built on the north side and the development of East St. Louis):

1912

 

This topographic map includes St. Louis City and County as they existed in 1920 (Mississippi River is at the bottom and the Missouri River appears at right):

1920

 

Aerial photograph of downtown (c. 1960)
Central City aerials depicts regions lost to demolition

Architectural themes in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis of 1927

Following are two movie posters, a series of film stills and two images depicting the construction of the city.

01metropolis-movieposter.jpg02metropolis-transport.jpg03metropolis-thecity.jpg04metropolis-towerfromabove.jpg05metropolis-nightcityscape.jpg06metropolis-pipes.jpg07metropolis-pipeswhistle.jpg08metropolis-shiftchange.jpg09metropolis-thecontroller.jpg10metropolis-machinesteam.jpg11metropolis-officewindow.jpg12metropolis-hauling.jpg13metropolis-catacombs.jpg14metropolis-cathedral.jpg15metropolis-slaves.jpg16metropolis-death.jpg17metropolis-searching.jpg18metropolis-searchcity.jpg19metropolis-cityatnight.jpg20metropolis-nighttower.jpg21metropolis-robotmaria.jpg22metropolis-majesticposter.jpg23metropolis-setconstruction.jpg24metropolis-miniatures.jpg

8th-Grade Journalist Spotlights Violence in School, Hopes Obama Will Notice

From the PBS NewsHour:

“How does violence affect students’ ability to learn? That’s what eighth-grader De’Qonton Davis and his classmates set out to investigate as part of the NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs project in partnership with PBS station WEDU in Tampa. The students produced a unique video report that they hope President Obama will see.”

St. Louis video

Zach Hernandez suggested this video which is a kind of promotional piece for the city. Do you think that it offers a fair representation of the city? Are certain aspects overemphasized and others de-emphasized? How would you change a video like this?

 

Here is St. Louis from Anastasis Films on Vimeo.

Drycleaning for the unemployed

Generosity, kindness and empathy. We need more of these in the world.

A friend of mine posted this on their Facebook page. I don’t know the original of the photograph.

The Legend of Stagger Lee

In response to recent plans to “revitalize” the Arch Grounds and modify streets in downtown St. Louis, blogger Rick Bonash (of STL Rising) wrote a post entitled, “Staggered Lanes for the Home of Stagger Lee?” which refers to a notorious event in St. Louis history commemorated in American music throughout the 20th century (in blues, folk, rock, R&B, pop and more). Based on the true story of a legendary encounter of violence that encapsulated the kind of incident that St. Louisans wished to dispel.

Depiction of Stagger Lee in graphic novel.

From Wikipedia:

“Lee Shelton (March 16, 1865 – March 11, 1912) was an African American taxi cab driver and pimp convicted of murdering William “Billy” Lyons on Christmas Eve, 1895 in St. Louis, Missouri. The crime was immortalized in a popular song that has been recorded by numerous artists. Stagger Lee (also “Stackalee,” “Stackolee” and “Stagolee”) ultimately becomes a folk figure of the trickster type as numerous legends accumulate around him.”

Mississippi John Hurt’s original 1928 recordings.

From an article in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat from 1895:

William Lyons, 25, a levee hand, was shot in the abdomen yesterday evening at 10 o’clock in the saloon of Bill Curtis, at Eleventh and Morgan Streets, by Lee Sheldon, a carriage driver. Lyons and Sheldon  were friends and were talking together. Both parties, it seems, had been drinking and were feeling in exuberant spirits. The discussion drifted to politics, and an argument was started, the conclusion of which was that Lyons snatched Sheldon’s hat from his head. The latter indignantly demanded its return. Lyons refused, and Sheldon withdrew his revolver and shot Lyons in the abdomen. When his victim fell to the floor Sheldon took his hat from the hand of the wounded man and coolly walked away. He was subsequently arrested and locked up at the Chestnut Street Station.

It seems that the earliest recorded version of the song may have been by Mississippi John Hurt from 1928. He tells the tale in this recording and a later recording of the legend (beautifully sung and played).

Bluesman Mississippi John Hurt

Taj Mahal’s Stagger Lee (1969)

Taj Mahal, folk, blues and rock musician.

Lloyd Price’s Stagger Lee (first number 1 Rock & Roll song to be censored):

“Stagger Lee” topped the pop and R&B charts, sold over a million copies. Dick Clark insisted the violent content of the song be toned down when Price appeared on American Bandstand but it was still the “violent” version that was on top of the R&B charts of 1959.

Lloyd Price

Pop music’s Neil Diamond.

Neil Diamond

Grateful Dead (live recording from 1993).

Grateful Dead in concert in the late 1960s.

Post-punk alternative group Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds (2004).

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds