Old North St. Louis

Architecture and Early Slums

The earliest surviving residential architecture in the area is in the old Village of North St. Louis section where their New England architectural antecedents may be seen in some houses dating back to the 1830's. They are built at or near the sidewalk line, are generally two and a half stories and feature iron tracery balconies and cast iron ornamenta- tion. These houses, with their shuttered windows and the brick sidewalks across their fronts, give an appearance which echoes the Colonial and Federal style neighborhoods of old Boston and Philadelphia. Some of the best examples of these structures may be found on Chambers, Madison, Benton, and Warren Streets west of Hadley Street. The original New England residents of this area were supplanted by Germans and Poles after 1850 and they, in turn, since the depression of the 1930's, have been succeeded by rural families from Southeast Missouri and Arkansas.

After 1840, the area north of the present downtown district, from the river west to Twelfth Street, was built up with rowhouses of two and three stories on both the streets and alleys. These provided high density tenement quarters for the immigrant laborers who arrived here in the 1840's and 1850's. Many of these structures later fell before the wave of commercial and industrial construction which began after the Civil War.

Those that remained deteriorated into slums which became noxious as early as 1870. Their residents, according to contemporary accounts, descended to the depths of depravity and crime in alley tenements which had nicknames such as "Castle Thunder", "Crabber Alley" and "Wild Cat Chute." People of all ages and races lived in conditions of indescribable filth, promiscuity and disease. Fortunately, these conditions disappeared later in the march of progress as the slum homes were replaced by truck terminals and industries. Housing staged a comeback in the area with the erection of Neighborhood Gardens apartments in 1936 and the Cochran Gardens public housing in 1952.

Image - Example of housing at 13th and Warren Streets
Image - Example of some of the wrought iron balconies found in the area