Oak Hill

Residential and Commercial Development

Housing construction began in the Russell tract in the 1890's and by 1904, it was concentrated along east-west streets south of Arsenal to Utah, and west from Grand to Morganford.

A well developed residential area, known as Beckville, in the vicinity of Morganford and Chippewa, dated back to the late 1870's. The Bevo Mill area began to build up after 1905, when considerable subdivision activity occurred following the extension of the Cherokee streetcar line on Gravois. Areas west of South Grand Boulevard, south of Chippewa Street, began to build up after 1910, with most of the activity in the 1920's.

The section immediately south of Tower Grove Park is mostly a single family neighborhood with a mixture of flats in some areas. Nearer to Gravois, flats are more numerous with some apartments scattered-through the district. South of Meramec and west of Grand, single family dwellings predominate, as is generally the case throughout the balance of the Oak Hill area.

In the same familiar pattern that is attributable to streetcar lines, the principal commercial concentrations in the Oak Hill area follow along the major streets carrying transit routes. Oldest and best established of these is along South Grand Boulevard from Arsenal to Meramec Street. Commercial strips through the area along Gravois and Kingshighway are more intermittent in character than on Grand. Minor commercial groups can be found along Morganford and on Chippewa, with the usual spots of local business at some interior intersections. The area also contains modern shopping centers such as Zayre Plaza, Southtown and Kingshighway and Delor.

Historically, the dominant business centers were located in the vicinity of major transit transfer points such as Grand and Gravois, Gravois and Morganford and Grand and Arsenal. Probably the most important of these was Grand and Gravois, convergence point for the two principal streets in South St. Louis. This intersection attracted commercial attention at an early date. During the late 1860's, this crossing was the location of a blacksmith shop and across the street, on the southwest corner was Henry Eschrich's saloon and grocery store. After the construction of electric trolley car lines on the two streets in the early 1890's, the district began a period of rapid growth. A prime indicator of the importance of the business community at Grand and Gravois was the establishment of a bank, the Farmers and Merchants Trust Company, on the northwest corner in 1907.

Prosperous growth required the bank to build a larger building on the southeast corner in 1914. In the late 1920's, this bank merged with the South Side Trust Company to form the South Side National Bank. South Side Trust dated back to 1891, when it was founded by Adolphus Busch at Broadway and Pestalozzi Street. The present ten-story home of South Side National Bank was opened for business on January 2, 1929. Almost contemporary with the new bank, was the opening of Sears-Roebuck's new store at Grand and Winnebago, spreading the business section southward to Chippewa Street. Another commercial institution there was the Melba Theater and building, opened in 1925. Further north on Grand at Arsenal, a business center grew up around the Tower Grove Bank at Grand and Hartford. This center at one time boasted of the Arsenal and Ritz theaters, dime and variety stores, restaurants and a wide range of commercial activities.

Tower Grove Bank was founded by a group of businessmen in 1911, at the corner of Grand and Juniata. It occupied a building at its present location in 1920 and has since been rebuilt and enlarged several times. This section of South Grand is still well-known for its variety of restaurants.

A neighborhood shopping district of considerable size began to develop around Gravois and Morganford after the opening of Bevo Mill in 1916. It contained the Grant State Bank, the Woodland Theater, dime stores and furniture companies. Its decline can be charged to changes in the public riding habits from transit to automobiles. Like other such areas, it suffered from a lack of parking spaces, while in competition with drive-in shopping centers. Presently its commercial activity is anchored by Bevo Mill and the Granada Theater, a deluxe second-run movie house that opened in 1927. Kingshighway and Chippewa became a business center of importance when Famous-Barr opened their Southtown store in 1951. A similar role was played later by the Venture store in the shopping center at Kingshighway, Christy and Delor.