Historic St. Louis: Then and Now

Author NiNi Harris' new book, This Used to Be St. Louis, tells the story of our 90 places in our city that have seen great change. From the Church of Scientology mansion that's become Saint Louis University's Office of Admissions to the historic Chinatown (once known as Hop Alley) that's become Spire Energy's headquarters, Harris walks the reader through the layers of history, one place at a time. Buy your own copy online or meet the author at the Carpenter Branch of the St. Louis Public Library on Saturday, July 7. She'll be giving a talk about the book at 7 p.m.

Author NiNi Harris' new book, This Used to Be St. Louis, tells the story of our 90 places in our city that have seen great change. From the Church of Scientology mansion that's become Saint Louis University's Office of Admissions to the historic Chinatown (once known as Hop Alley) that's become Spire Energy's headquarters, Harris walks the reader through the layers of history, one place at a time.

For more in-depth St. Louis history, you can buy your own copy online.

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This Used to Be: "Shoe Street USA"
Now It's: Washington Avenue Loft District
Location: Downtown St. Louis
"By 1905," writes Harris, "St. Louis ranked third in the nation in shoe production. ... By 1929, annual production of shows in St. Louis had risen to 87 million pairs. During the 1920s, more shoe trade was carried on along Washington Avenue than on any other street in the world." Today, it's a vibrant residential district -- and a great place to get a cocktail.
"Bustling Washington Avenue -- lined with giant dry goods stores, warehouses and shoe factories -- in 1909." Image courtesy of postcard from a private collection.
This Used to Be: "Shoe Street USA"
Now It's: Washington Avenue Loft District

Location: Downtown St. Louis

"By 1905," writes Harris, "St. Louis ranked third in the nation in shoe production. ... By 1929, annual production of shows in St. Louis had risen to 87 million pairs. During the 1920s, more shoe trade was carried on along Washington Avenue than on any other street in the world." Today, it's a vibrant residential district -- and a great place to get a cocktail.

"Bustling Washington Avenue -- lined with giant dry goods stores, warehouses and shoe factories -- in 1909." Image courtesy of postcard from a private collection.
This Used to Be: Chouteau's Pond
Now It's: The Enterprise (Scottrade/Savvis/Kiel) Center
Location: Downtown St. Louis
Harris shares this postcard of "scenic Chouteau's Pond, which stretched westward from present-day Busch Stadium to beyond present-day Union Station. The booming growth in population and industry during the early nineteenth century polluted the pond and turned it into a health hazard. It was drained after the cholera epidemic of 1849." So a giant pond used to cover much of the downtown area? Crazy.
Image courtesy of a postcard from a private collection.
This Used to Be: Chouteau's Pond
Now It's: The Enterprise (Scottrade/Savvis/Kiel) Center

Location: Downtown St. Louis

Harris shares this postcard of "scenic Chouteau's Pond, which stretched westward from present-day Busch Stadium to beyond present-day Union Station. The booming growth in population and industry during the early nineteenth century polluted the pond and turned it into a health hazard. It was drained after the cholera epidemic of 1849." So a giant pond used to cover much of the downtown area? Crazy.

Image courtesy of a postcard from a private collection.
This Used to Be: A saloon that served as weapon storage during the Civil War
Now It's: Big Daddy's Bar and Grill
Location: Soulard
The book taught us that Soulard's party HQ actually has an important history. "The site of the 120-year-old building that dominates the corner of 10th and Sidney Streets had historic significance long before the St. Louis Brewing Association constructed the three-story brewery and saloon, now Big Daddy's Bar and Grill. When the Civil War was tearing the nation apart in the spring of 1961, Home Guard volunteers stashed up to twelve hundred muskets at that corner to defend the United States of America."
"The St. Louis Brewing Association constructed the Big Daddy's building as a brewery and saloon in 1897." Image courtesy of Emma Prince.
This Used to Be: A saloon that served as weapon storage during the Civil War
Now It's: Big Daddy's Bar and Grill

Location: Soulard

The book taught us that Soulard's party HQ actually has an important history. "The site of the 120-year-old building that dominates the corner of 10th and Sidney Streets had historic significance long before the St. Louis Brewing Association constructed the three-story brewery and saloon, now Big Daddy's Bar and Grill. When the Civil War was tearing the nation apart in the spring of 1961, Home Guard volunteers stashed up to twelve hundred muskets at that corner to defend the United States of America."

"The St. Louis Brewing Association constructed the Big Daddy's building as a brewery and saloon in 1897." Image courtesy of Emma Prince.
This Used to Be: Mertz Cabin
Now It's: Maryville University land
Location: Town & Country, MO
Conway Road is one of the coolest roads in St. Louis, and Harris digs into its history. "In 1961, the Religious of the Sacred Heart purchased the acreage between Conway Road and Interstate 40 for the new West County Campus of Maryville College. The college told the southern border it ifs property facing highway 40, including a log farmhouse built by nineteenth-century settlers Ludwig and Katherine Mertz, for development as the [Maryville Center] corporate park. The log home stood on the site while the office buildings of the corporate park rose above it."
"The Ludwig and Katerine Mertz log house in its original setting on the Maryville campus. The original chinking between the logs is still visible on the end wall." Image courtesy of the St. Louis County Parks Department.
This Used to Be: Mertz Cabin
Now It's: Maryville University land

Location: Town & Country, MO

Conway Road is one of the coolest roads in St. Louis, and Harris digs into its history. "In 1961, the Religious of the Sacred Heart purchased the acreage between Conway Road and Interstate 40 for the new West County Campus of Maryville College. The college told the southern border it ifs property facing highway 40, including a log farmhouse built by nineteenth-century settlers Ludwig and Katherine Mertz, for development as the [Maryville Center] corporate park. The log home stood on the site while the office buildings of the corporate park rose above it."

"The Ludwig and Katerine Mertz log house in its original setting on the Maryville campus. The original chinking between the logs is still visible on the end wall." Image courtesy of the St. Louis County Parks Department.
This Used to Be: Strassberger's Conservatory of Music
Now It's: Strassberger Apartments
Location: South City, St. Louis
South Grand is full of bars and restaurants now, but it used to be much fancier. "In 1904 Clement Strassberger chose Otto Wilhelmi, a prominet South City German American architect, to design his new conservatory building on South Grand Boulevard. Strassberger, a German immigrant himself, had begun his musical conservatories in the heart of the German community of North St. Louis in 1886. At the turn of the century, he expanded his music classes to serve the south side German community."
"This postcard of the Strassberger Conservatory dates to the beginning of the twentieth century when Grand Boulevard was the cultural spine of South City." Image courtesy of a private collection.
This Used to Be: Strassberger's Conservatory of Music
Now It's: Strassberger Apartments

Location: South City, St. Louis

South Grand is full of bars and restaurants now, but it used to be much fancier. "In 1904 Clement Strassberger chose Otto Wilhelmi, a prominet South City German American architect, to design his new conservatory building on South Grand Boulevard. Strassberger, a German immigrant himself, had begun his musical conservatories in the heart of the German community of North St. Louis in 1886. At the turn of the century, he expanded his music classes to serve the south side German community."

"This postcard of the Strassberger Conservatory dates to the beginning of the twentieth century when Grand Boulevard was the cultural spine of South City." Image courtesy of a private collection.
This Used to Be: a home, a boarding house and base for the Church of Scientology
Now It's: SLU's Office of Admissions
Location: Midtown
"In 1988, Saint Louis University -- which has incorporated recycled mid-century modern office buildings, convents, and Victorian-era residences into the institution's Midtown campus -- aquired the mansion. The university renovated the Lindell Boulevard mansion as Saint Louis University's spectacular Office of Admissions."
"The stonework of the mansion at 3730 Lindell Boulevard is a testament to the wealth of its builder, English immigrant and Businessman Alexander Euston." Image courtesy of Brian Kolde.
This Used to Be: a home, a boarding house and base for the Church of Scientology
Now It's: SLU's Office of Admissions

Location: Midtown

"In 1988, Saint Louis University -- which has incorporated recycled mid-century modern office buildings, convents, and Victorian-era residences into the institution's Midtown campus -- aquired the mansion. The university renovated the Lindell Boulevard mansion as Saint Louis University's spectacular Office of Admissions."

"The stonework of the mansion at 3730 Lindell Boulevard is a testament to the wealth of its builder, English immigrant and Businessman Alexander Euston." Image courtesy of Brian Kolde.
This Used to Be: a trough to water horses
Now It's: a water fountain
Location: the Ivory Triangle
"The streets meet at angles forming Wedge-shaped blocks in the Ivory Triangle, the historic German area of South City's Carondelet Neighborhood. The focal point is a triangular block framed by Ivory Avenue, Virginia Avenue, and Schirmer Street that serves as a commemorative park. It includes a flagpole and a bust of neighborhood leader Albert 'Red' Villa. The son of Italian immigrants, Villa served as alderman for the Carondelet neighborhood from 1953 to 1990. During the late nineteenth century, this iron pool served as a trough to water horses."
"The water fountain in Carondelet's Ivory Triangle." Image courtesy of Emma Prince.
This Used to Be: a trough to water horses
Now It's: a water fountain

Location: the Ivory Triangle

"The streets meet at angles forming Wedge-shaped blocks in the Ivory Triangle, the historic German area of South City's Carondelet Neighborhood. The focal point is a triangular block framed by Ivory Avenue, Virginia Avenue, and Schirmer Street that serves as a commemorative park. It includes a flagpole and a bust of neighborhood leader Albert 'Red' Villa. The son of Italian immigrants, Villa served as alderman for the Carondelet neighborhood from 1953 to 1990. During the late nineteenth century, this iron pool served as a trough to water horses."

"The water fountain in Carondelet's Ivory Triangle." Image courtesy of Emma Prince.
This Used to Be: Pierce-Arrow car dealership
Now It's: Evangeline's Bistro
Location: Central West End
Did you know that Evangeline's used to be a car dealership? Crazy, right? "The restaurant and cafe building at the busy corner of Euclid and Washington Avenue, with it stuccoed walls and red-tile roofs, looks like a bit of old Hollywood during the era of the silent movies. Evangeline's Bistro occupies this corner building that features an interior with dark-stained wood piers and beams. The luxurious environment was originally designed as a showroom for the glamorous Pierce-Arrow automobiles. The building's expansive windows showcased the cars to passerby... The successful Pierce-Arrow dealer, ambitions Sam Breadon, went on to own the St. Louis Cardinals."
"The sidewalk cafe of Evangeline's Bistro." Image courtesy of Brian Kolde.
This Used to Be: Pierce-Arrow car dealership
Now It's: Evangeline's Bistro

Location: Central West End

Did you know that Evangeline's used to be a car dealership? Crazy, right? "The restaurant and cafe building at the busy corner of Euclid and Washington Avenue, with it stuccoed walls and red-tile roofs, looks like a bit of old Hollywood during the era of the silent movies. Evangeline's Bistro occupies this corner building that features an interior with dark-stained wood piers and beams. The luxurious environment was originally designed as a showroom for the glamorous Pierce-Arrow automobiles. The building's expansive windows showcased the cars to passerby... The successful Pierce-Arrow dealer, ambitions Sam Breadon, went on to own the St. Louis Cardinals."

"The sidewalk cafe of Evangeline's Bistro." Image courtesy of Brian Kolde.
This Used to Be: a municipal bathhouse
Now It's: a storage space for the city
Location: Old North St. Louis
"The words 'Municipal Bathhouse No. 6' are written in the terra cotta over the entrance of the one-story building on St. Louis Avenue at 11th Street that has been used for storage and workshops in recent decades. The scattering of renovated neneteenth-century homes, new homes, and extensive rain gardens disguise the fact the surrounding Old North St. Louis neighborhood was once densely populated and that the bathhouse was built to improve health and sanitation in the then overcrowded neighborhood." Shower with your friends, we say!
"Municpal Bath House No. 6 was designed by St. Louis building commissioner Albert Osburg, the architect of Homer G. Phillips Hospital." Image courtesy of Emma Price.
This Used to Be: a municipal bathhouse
Now It's: a storage space for the city

Location: Old North St. Louis

"The words 'Municipal Bathhouse No. 6' are written in the terra cotta over the entrance of the one-story building on St. Louis Avenue at 11th Street that has been used for storage and workshops in recent decades. The scattering of renovated neneteenth-century homes, new homes, and extensive rain gardens disguise the fact the surrounding Old North St. Louis neighborhood was once densely populated and that the bathhouse was built to improve health and sanitation in the then overcrowded neighborhood." Shower with your friends, we say!

"Municpal Bath House No. 6 was designed by St. Louis building commissioner Albert Osburg, the architect of Homer G. Phillips Hospital." Image courtesy of Emma Price.
This Used to Be: The Meeting of the Waters
Now It's: the Milles Fountain
Location: Downtown
Why is the female body always such an issue for people? "Expansive Aloe Plaza, the park facing Union Station, is the stage of the stunning Milles Fountain. Officially named The Meeting of the Waters, it depicts the confluence of the Missouri and the Mississippi Rivers. The great Swedish sculptor Carl Milles created the fountain with fourteen bronze figures in a giant rectangular pool of black and salmon marble. When it was unveiled in 1940, the fountain's male and female figures were so provocative that they stirred a short-lived controversy."
"This used to be: Death Valley. Now it's: Aloe Plaza." Image courtesy of Don Korte.
This Used to Be: The Meeting of the Waters
Now It's: the Milles Fountain

Location: Downtown

Why is the female body always such an issue for people? "Expansive Aloe Plaza, the park facing Union Station, is the stage of the stunning Milles Fountain. Officially named The Meeting of the Waters, it depicts the confluence of the Missouri and the Mississippi Rivers. The great Swedish sculptor Carl Milles created the fountain with fourteen bronze figures in a giant rectangular pool of black and salmon marble. When it was unveiled in 1940, the fountain's male and female figures were so provocative that they stirred a short-lived controversy."

"This used to be: Death Valley. Now it's: Aloe Plaza." Image courtesy of Don Korte.