Compton Heights


Locale and Topography

A pleasant enclave occupying a high location on the near south side is Compton Hill, an area of quiet and tranquillity not far from the geographical center of St. Louis. As defined here, the area is bounded by Grand Boulevard, Park Avenue, Jefferson Avenue and Arsenal Street. The topography is inclined in a westerly direction from Jefferson Avenue reaching a ridge line east of Grand Boulevard in the vicinity of Compton Hill Reservoir. There is a slight slope to the south from Russell Boulevard toward Arsenal Street.


Land Divisions and Parks

Occupying the northwestern corner of the vast St. Louis Commons, the Compton Hill area had received its initial partition by 1860. The eastern portion began to be developed westwardly from Jefferson Avenue in the 1880's while the portion west of Nebraska Avenue was built up between 1890 and 1910.

The large subdivision of Compton Heights dates from 1884, although most of the large houses within it, along Hawthorne, and Longfellow Boulevards were erected after 1890, some as late as the 1950's. Compton Heights subdivision operates under a restrictive, but non-racial, covenant which controls the type of occupancy permitted and is used in the event of threatening intrusions.

Compton Hill Reservoir Park, which is a facility of the City Water Division, was created primarily as the site for the reservoir completed in 1871. Its location was chosen because of its high elevation; permitting gravity distribution of water to a wide area of St. Louis east of Grand Boulevard. The reservoir was built as part of the water system that was designed for the Bissell Point waterworks, including the old Corinthian water tower on East Grand Avenue. The standpipe water tower at Compton Hill was completed in 1896. Its Romanesque design was the work of architect George Mann.

A controversial statue called "The Naked Truth" was unveiled in the park in 1914 as a memorial to Preetorius Schurz and Daenzer, who were German American newspaper men. It was a gift to St. Louis by the German-American Alliance executed by sculptor Wilhelm Wandschneider and was considered to be quite daring for its day. The statue was relocated when Interstate Highway 44 was built through the north portion of the park, considerably reducing the park's original area of 35 acres. The 56,000,000 gallon capacity reservoir is surrounded by a decorative wall and steps designed by Guy Study.

Other recreational facilities in the area are the Robert Terry Park at Compton and Eads Avenues, purchased in 1945 this was originally the James B. Eads estate) and Fox Playground at Ohio and Shenandoah Avenues, purchased by the City in 1917.


Churches

The parish of St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church was organized in 1867 as an offshoot from Saints Peter and Paul Church. Dedication of the church, at the northwest corner of Gravois and Ohio Avenues, occurred on May 24, 1868. The parochial school was organized in 1871 and occupies a three story building to the north of the church. During the early 1880's, a spire and slate roof were added to the church at a cost of $7,000. In 1888 Archbishop Kenrick laid the cornerstone of a new parochial school and work began on a new church building in 1895.

After the old church was destroyed by the tornado of 1896, it was decided to complete only the basement of the new structure. Work on the superstructure was resumed in 1907 under the direction of Rev. F.G. Holweck. The present church was completed in 1908 at a cost of $300,000.

The nave is 65 feet in height and the church's steeple is said to be the loftiest in the City. St. Francis de Sales Church is notable for its fine altar, artistic windows and the beautiful mosaic chapel. A new parochial school building at 263145 Ohio Avenue was completed in 1939. This school is now known as Notre Dame Elementary and is a consolidated school serving three parishes.

The church of the Immaculate Conception began as St. Kevin's Church at Compton Avenue and Rutger Street in 1876. The original church was 40 by 80 feet in size and could seat 320 persons. There was an adjoining parochial school occupying a two story structure with a capacity of 350 students. After an initial struggle, the parish grew rapidly under the pastorate of Rev. E.J. Shea. A new church became necessary and was dedicated in 1889 at Park and Cardinal Avenues. By 1904, continued growth made still larger quarters necessary and the site of the present church was purchased. The fine Gothic stone building at Lafayette Avenue and Longfellow Boulevard was dedicated in December 1908 by Archbishop Glennon. At that time the parish adopted the name of Immaculate Conception, which had been used by a defunct parish church at Jefferson and Locust until 1901.

The new church is a clerestory style building with rose windows in the facade and transepts and a truncated tower.

A consolidated school, shared with several parishes, is known as the Compton Heights Catholic School and is located at 2912 Lafayette Avenue.

A new parish, dedicated to the Bohemian national saint, King Wendeslaus, was formed by Rev. Joseph Hessoun of St. John of Nepomuk Church in 1895. A church and school were blessed in that year. The present Gothic church of St. Wenceslaus at 3014 Oregon Avenue was completed in 1925 at a cost of $125,000.

Compton Heights Baptist Church has been located west of Grand Boulevard, at 3641 Russell, since 1915. Compton Heights Christian Church, the first of its denomination in South St. Louis, began as a mission with the congregation meeting in Anchor Hall At Jefferson and Lafayette Avenues in 1891. Three years later it was organized as a church and ultimately a chapel was built on a site at California and St. Vincent Avenues. The chapel was rebuilt after its destruction by the tornado of 1896 and was enlarged in 1902. It served until 1930 when the church moved to the former B'nai E1 Hebrew Temple at Spring and Flad Avenues. A movement for a permanent location with room for expansion began in 1924 and the old Nicolaus mansion at Grand Boulevard and Flora Place was purchased. Building restrictions prevented immediate erection of a church there until finally invalidated by favorable court decisions. The present church at 2149 South Grand was completed in 1948.

Establishment of the Compton Hill Congregational Church occurred in 1880 as the High (23rd) Street Mission, which was a colony from Pilgrim Church. In the next year it was organized as the Fifth Congregational Church in the former High Street Presbyterian Church at 23rd Street and Clark Avenue. Soon thereafter, a mission was established on Caroline Street west of Compton Avenue.

The present site at Compton and Lafayette Avenues was purchased in 1886 and following completion of a chapel there in 1888, the present church name was adopted. The church building was dedicated in 1894. During the ensuing years the church experienced periods of hardship one of which was caused by removal of families from the vicinity following the tornado of 1896. The building debt was substantially reduced during the pastorate Dr. W.W. Newell. Alterations to the building and subsequent rearrangement of its seating capacity were made by Rev. L.J. Sharp who became pastor in 1916. By 1935 the church membership was about 300.

The nucleus of St. Luke's or St. Lucas' German Evangelical Church was organized in 1870 at 2637 Chouteau Avenue. A lot on the northeast corner of Jefferson and Scott Avenues was purchased and a small brick church was erected on the rear portion. The congregation became a member of the Evangelical Synod of North America in 1874 and in 1878 a new church was dedicated on the church lot. It was a brick Gothic structure capable of seating 800 persons. At that time the chapel was converted into a school. The church was rebuilt after the tornado and its reopening on October 18, 1896 was the occasion of its first English service.

After liquidation of the church debt in 1903, the present church site at 2336 Tennessee Avenue was purchased in 1906. A Sunday school chapel was built there after which the old church was sold. The present church was dedicated in November, 1912. It is a brick edifice which was built at a cost of $50,000. The parochial school, as in the case of other Evangelical churches, was closed in favor of the public school system in 1896.

Emmaus Lutheran Church, which was an offshoot of Trinity Church, was established as a mission in 1889. The church was organized in 1894 by a group of Trinity Church members who petitioned for a church near Jefferson and Shenandoah Avenues. A small two story building was erected there, with the lower floor used as a school and the upper one for a chapel. The tornado in 1896 unroofed the church and demolished an addition.

The rebuilt structure was used until the present church was dedicated in 1902 at Jefferson Avenue and Armand Place. A large school and parish building at 2617 Shenandoah Avenue was completed in 1926. It contains rooms for an eight grade school and an auditorium-gymnasium seating 1000 persons. Soon after the dedication of this structure, the church was mysteriously damaged by fire and services were held in the school auditorium during reconstruction. The church estate; fished a cemetery called "Pilgrim's Rest" on Lemay Ferry Road in 1929. By 1934, the church membership had become one of the largest in the city. The church had then been under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Richard Kretschmar since 1891.

Messiah Lutheran Church at 2846 South Grand Boulevard (at Pestalozzi Street) was founded to fulfill the need for a church to serve Lutherans residing in its vicinity. After several meetings at Strassberger's Hall at Grand and Shenandoah, the congregation was organized on February 24, 1908. After the name was chosen, first services were held in Kleekamp's Hall on Grand near Arsenal Street. The church became self-supporting after its first year and the present site was finally purchased. A small brick chapel was dedicated in 1909.

Need for expansion eventually led to plans for the present church which was dedicated in December, 1928. After razing of the chapel, services were again held in Strassberger's Hall until completion of the new church. The Gothic design church was built of brick with limestone trim and is located on an elevated terrace. It was the work of the architectural firm of LaBeaume and Klein. Its interior has soft toned walls, dark woodwork and lofty arches with a beautiful chancel lighted by antique stained glass windows.

A new Messiah Lutheran school and youth center was completed in 1957 at 2900 South Grand Boulevard.

Peters Memorial Presbyterian Church at Sidney Street and Minnesota Avenue traces its origin to 1847 when a small group of immigrant Hollanders held services in a frame building at 13th Street and Park Avenue. After the death of the first pastor in 1855, many of the Dutch families moved to Iowa. A group of German and Swiss immigrants remained to carry on the work. Services were held in homes until 1863, when a request for organization was brought before the Presbytery.

The congregation was established in May 1863 under the name of First German Church with services in the old Second Church at Fifth and Walnut Streets. In 1864, the German church congregation moved to the South Mission School at Ninth and Marion Streets and later to a store at Tenth and Rutger Streets.

In 1867, a chapel was dedicated at this site and a larger church was built adjacent to it in 1871. After partial destruction in the 1896 tornado, the church was rebuilt and served the congregation for many years. As the neighborhood around the church declined, a move to a new location was considered.

Finally, the present site at Sidney Street and Minnesota Avenue was acquired in 1914 and a church was dedicated there two years later, with the name changed to Sidney Street Presbyterian Church. The old church became a mission. The present church was dedicated in 1931 and the name was again changed in honor of Frank H. Peters a distinguished benefactor of the church until his death in 1924.

The Gothic edifice was designed by Louis LaBeaume with an interior which has a heavy trussed beam ceiling and graceful arches. The older Sidney Street church was converted into a gymnasium to further its popular young peoples' work and athletic program.

Among other Protestant churches in the area are the Berea Temple at 3224 Russell Boulevard built in 1954 r the Memorial Methodist at 2157 South Jefferson Avenue and the Third Church of Christ Scientist at 3524 Russell, which was completed in 1912.


Schools

Several public schools are located in this area, the earliest being the Hodgen School at 2748 Henrietta Street which was built in 1884, with additions in 1888 and 1895. Architect for the original building was Otto J. Wilhelmi. The Grant School at 3009 Pennsylvania Avenue was opened in 1893 and was one of the first public schools here designed by William B. Ittner. An addition was built in 1902. Ittner was also the architect of the Wyman School built in 1901 at 1547 South Theresa Avenue and the adjacent building for Harris Teachers College at 1517 South Theresa, which was finished in 1905. The teachers college remained there until 1950 and the building is now used as the Board of Education Curriculum Service Center.

Another school in this educational complex is the Gallaudet School for the Deaf at 1616 South Grand Boulevard designed by R.M. Milligan in 1924. The Shenandoah School at 3412 Shenandoah Avenue, also designed by Milligan, was opened in 1926.

St. Elizabeth's Academy at Arsenal Street and Louisiana Avenue was opened in 1882 by the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood. The buildings had previously been used as a convent and asylum of the Sisters of St. Mary. The academy presently consists of several buildings built at various times from 1894 to 1957 with the most recent being the high school and auditorium. The convent was built in 1914 and a classroom building was opened in 1922.


Housing

The Compton Heights subdivision, embracing Hawthorne and Longfellow Boulevards and adjacent blocks between Grand and Nebraska was laid out in 1888 by Julius Pitzman to correct errors he made in designing Vandeventer Place. Several unique features were incorporated into his design. These include gracefully curved streets to create a pleasant vista and reduce traffic flow. The residential deed restrictions, the first in Missouri, insure private family use of each residence and establish a common setback for each home. This zoning principle, which is now widely accepted, was a new concept at the time and was not upheld by the Missouri Supreme Court for almost three decades. Although well established by the turn of the century, the largest flurry of construction in Compton Heights centered around the St. Louis World's Fair. Many of St. Louis' first families settled in this area corporate leaders of Anheuser-Busch, Falstaff, Magic Chef, Monsanto Corporation, and Pet Incorporated were among early founders. A number of the homes still remain in the families of the original builders some 75-90 years later.

Homes in Reservoir Square, an area near Compton Hill Reservoir which developed geographic identity with I-44 construction, dates from the 1860's. Although many structures had become rooming houses, there has been vigorous restoration efforts recently with the majority of structures now returning to attractive single family use.

To the south of it is an area of smaller one and two family dwellings, which are generally owner occupied and well maintained. Large houses may be found on a few streets running eastward from Grand to the north of Arsenal Street. East of this district as far as Jefferson Avenue is an area of single family houses with a scattering of a few flats that were built between 1890 and 1910. There is a low percentage of owner occupancy in this section as is also the case in the area north of Lafayette Avenue to Park Avenue, west of Jefferson. In the latter mentioned area most of the housing was built before 1900, principally two and four family flats. They are generally of poor quality and maintenance, many lacking inside plumbing.

The black occupancy in the area increased from one-third in 1960 to two-thirds in 1970. There are many vacant vandalized buildings here with many demolition's particularly due to highway 44 construction.

A broad renovation effort in this area has been begun by the redevelopment project known as Lafayette Towne. Sponsored by the Home Builders Association of Greater St. Louis, it will ultimately contain a wide variety of new and rehabilitated residential structures ranging from single family dwellings to high density apartments in a harmonious style. The project site is bounded generally by Interstate 44, Compton Avenue, LaSalle Street and Jefferson Avenue, and will feature cul-de-sac streets and internal commercial areas, parks, schools and churches.


Commercial and Industrial Development

In the western portion of the Compton Hill area, most of the commercial development is along Grand Boulevard from Park to Magnolia. In recent years, drive-ins of various types have replaced the older retail store fronts. There is limited strip commercial along Arsenal and Shenandoah east of Grand. The eastern portion of the area features auto oriented commercial along Gravois, with older uses gradually being replaced in a manner common to major streets. There are poorly maintained commercial buildings along Jefferson with some converted to makeshift residential units. Corner location local businesses are scattered through the neighborhood. Former commercial locations along Park and Lafayette Avenues west of Jefferson have been vandalized and gutted, many have been demolished and with the remainder declining rapidly.

The principal industrial concentration is in the vicinity of Sidney Street west of Jefferson. Elsewhere industrial uses are intermixed with others along Gravois and Jefferson. Older manufacturing and storage facilities are scattered through the eastern portion of this area and also along Park Avenue, where marginal industrial uses are mixed with residential or commercial.


Institutions

Incarnate Word Hospital at 3545 Lafayette Avenue began as the Josephine Heitkamp Hospital in 1900. It was then located at Grand Boulevard and Henrietta Street. It continued as a privately operated hospital until 1933 when the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word took charge of its administration.

The present name was adopted in 1949 and in 1951 the first addition was made to the hospital increasing its bed capacity from 48 to 110. Other additions were made in 1958 and 1967. A later addition provided greatly enlarged intensive care facilities and increased the bed capacity to 300 when it was completed in 1976.

The old St. Vincent's Cemetery was located at the southwest corner of Park and Jefferson Avenues from 1845 to 1865.

The first branch of the St. Louis Public Library was the Barr Library at Jefferson and Lafayette Avenues, which was opened in 1906, from plans by T. C. Link.

This area is well churched and served by schools both public and parochial. The major educational complex is concentrated east of Grand from Park to Henrietta. Semi-public uses such as Y.M.C.A. and nursing homes can be found along Grand and Russell. There is also some high-rise residential on Russell near Grand and around Grand and Magnolia. The several small parks are widely scattered, however the location of Tower Grove Park at the southwestern corner of the neighborhood supplements these park facilities.


Transportation

A horse car line running out Gravois and Arsenal to Grand provided the first public transit to this area in the mid-1870's. Electric trolley lines on Grand, Jefferson, Lafayette, Park and Shenandoah, as well as Arsenal provided a transit network for the area by 1900. The same lines are now served by buses. The first bus line was operated by the Peoples Motorbus Company on South Grand in 1924.

East-west traffic mobility was greatly improved by the opening of Interstate Highway 44. The area is well supplied with major streets in all directions affording convenient traffic movements. Traffic on Grand Boulevard has been expedited by medians and turning lanes installed in recent years.


Bibliography

J. Thomas Scharf - History of St. Louis City and County 1883

Walter B. Stevens - St. Louis the Fourth City - 1909

Richard J. Compton and Camille N. Pry - Pictorial St. Louis 1875

City Plan Commission - St. Louis Development Program - 1973

Scot McConachie - "Public Problems and Private Places Missouri Historical Society Bulletin - January, 1978