On high ground south of the River des Peres and Interstate 44 is "The Hill", an area whose population is predominantly of Italian descent. It is bounded on the east by Kingshighway, on the west by Hampton and on the south by Fyler Avenue. Because of the difficulty of identifying smaller neighborhood areas, we have chosen this broader section of the City as the subject for this history. However, the Italian "Hill" area itself is bounded by Kingshighway, Northrup, Hampton, Columbia and Southwest Avenues. Within the boundaries of the broader area is the highest point in the City, at the intersection of Arsenal and Sublette. This is the crest of a general rise in the topography southwestward from Kingshighway and Shaw. In its western section, the land slopes somewhat downward toward Hampton Avenue.
Like the Oakland and Clifton areas, the Hill was originally a part of Charles Gratiot's League Square, granted to him by the Spanish territorial government in 1798. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the League Square had been subdivided into large tracts and sold off by Gratiot's heirs. Within the limits of the Hill area, the owners of the larger tracts were Peter Lindell, Henry Shaw, J.F. Cooper, David W. Graham, Dr. J.W. Hall and Mrs. Frances L. Sublette. A long strip on the south side of Arsenal Road, reaching westward from kingshighway to the present 59th Street, was sold by Lindell and Shaw to St. Louis County about 1853, for county institutions. At that time, the principal east-west thourough-fares in the area were the Old Manchester (later Southwest Avenue) and Arsenal Street Roads. In the other direction, Sublette Avenue and Blue Ridge Road were the chief avenues of access.
Earliest platting for a residential subdivision was in Garden Place, in a portion of the Cooper tract west of Kingshighway, shortly before the Civil War. However, this area was considered rather remote at that time and remained largely rural until about 1880. An exception was Mount St. Louis, bounded by the present day Sublette, Macklind, Wilson Avenues and the Missouri Pacific Railroad. It was the construction of the railroad that led to the platting of Mount St. Louis in 1857. Following a lull caused by the Civil War, platting was resumed in the late 1860's when the large Fairmount subdivision was recorded. It was bounded by Kingshighway and Northrup, Bischoff and Macklind Avenues. This had been a portion of the Sublette estate. Another important addition in the are was St. Louis Heights, platted in 1871 and bounded by Brannon, Columbia, Sublette and Arsenal. West of this, another portion of the Cooper tract had been subdivided in 1868 by the John Dalton estate. In the northeastern corner of the area was a portion of the Cheltenham addition in David W. Graham's Sulphur Spring tract.
A major factor in the subsequent upbuilding of the Hill area was the discovery of valuable clay deposits in the late 1830's. The first clay products plant was opened by some English Quakers who came to the area in 1844. However, it was not until after the completion of the Pacific Railroad to Cheltenham in 1852, that the clay was used industrially on a wide scale. The establishment of clay works, coal mines and the St. louis Smelting and Refining Company attracted many German and Irish immigrants to work in the plants and to reside in Fairmont nad Mount St. Louis. Later plant expansion brought the nucleus of the Italian population to the Hill area during the 1890's.
An early settlement in the Hill area was made in 1853 by Etienne Cabet, a French utopian socialist, who led a group of 200 followers called Icarians. Their communistic doctrine advocated state control of all economic and social life. They purchased a 28-acre site on Wilson Avenue, east of Sulphur, and built a commune center and some small cabins, where they followed cultural pursuits such as drama, music and literature. Their experimental settlement was abandoned in 1864 because of dissension and financial difficulties.
During the 1890's, the continuing arrival of the Italian immigrants, and their need to live within walking distance of their jobs in the clay produsts plants, resulted in a rapid buildup in the Fairmount section. That area was considered to be rather remote from the City at that time and public utilities there were proctically non-existent. Housing conditions were also very poor and many lived in frame shanties or tenements. After the turn of the century, one-story, four-room brick houses made their appearance. At the time of the World's Fair in 1904, the area from Pattison south to Bischoff and from Boardman west to Macklind was well built-up. West of Macklind, the area was generally rural in character. Further south, there was a well populated district in the vicinity of St. Aloysius German Catholic Church, extending westward from the Oak Hill branch of the Missouri Pacific Railroad and southward to Arsenal Street. Eastward from the Blackmer and Post plant on the railroad north of Arsenal Street, to Kingshighway, the Reber Place subdivision area was also well built by 1904. Southward from Arsenal the only structures were the Insane Asylum and the Infirmary. For many years after the opening of West Tower Grove subdivision in 1897, the area north of Columbia and west of Macklind remained relatively undeveloped.
Natural expansion created the need for new residential areas after World War I, and Columbia-Macklind Heights was developed in 1922. In the next year, Submoor was platted on the west side of Sublette Avenue, reaching west to January. To the southwest of that, Hampton Terrace opened in 1923, followed by Arsenal-Watson Park in 1925. Int he are south of Arsenal Street, Regal Place and jasper Park were paltted in 1888-89 and were the only developments along Fyler Avenue until the Voester and Veterans Home Gardens Apartment project was developed in the early 1950's. About the same time, the last subdivisions in the Hill are were opened in 1949-55. These were the Porta, Rancilio Zona and Berra Court subdivisions, the latter being known officially as Fairmont Terrace.
Probably due to the proximity of Tower Grove Park, this are did not acquire much park acreage until relatively recent times. Sublette Park, which had been the site of the old Female Hospital since the early 1870's, was created after that old institution was razed. This roughly triangular park is bounded by Sublette, Southwest, January and Arsenal, covers 13-1/2 acres and was acquired by the City through donation in 1915, Its name was changed from Manchester Park to Sublette Park in 1925.
A park containing nearly five acres, in the block bounded by Shaw, Lilly, Daggett aand Macklind Avenues, was named Virgo Park when its site was purchased by the City in 1945. It was renamed in honor of the late Louis G. (Midge) Berra in November, 1965.
The earliest Roman Catholic parish in the area was St. Aloysius Gonzaga, a German congregation, which was organized by Vicar-General Muehlsiepen in January, 1892. Its first services were held in a house at Magnolia and Sublette. Rev. F.G. Holweck was appointed as its first pastor and construction of a temporary church was begun in August, 1892. The parochial school was opened in early September, with 24 pupils, at which time there were sixty families in the parish. Ten acres were purchased in the vicinity of Magnolia and January Avenues and three blocks were laid out on the property, with the center one reserved for the church. Lots on the other blocks were quickly sold and the parish soon contained 130 families.
The cornerstone for a large brick chrch was laid on May 7, 1898, but only the basement was completed and used for chrch services for some years. By 1900, a small colony of Italians was among the worshippers at St. Aloysius Church. Rev. Francis G. Brand, who became pastor in 1903, paid off the church debt and erected a convent and a parochial residence.
On May 2, 1925, the cornerstone of the present brick Romanesque church was laid, and the structure was dedicated by Archbishop Glennon on April 25, 1926. Total cost was $145,000. the church hall is located at 5629 South magnolia Avenue and the parochial school, erected in 1964, is at 5632 North Magnolia, adjoining the church. An important factor in the development of the Italian Community known as the "hill", was the influence of the Roman Catholic Church. In the first years of the twentieth century there was no Italian Catholic church to serve the newly populated district there.
In 1903, Rev. Ceasor Spigardi of St. Charles Borromeo Cchurch, established a mission for the Italians in the basement of St. Aloysius German Catholic Church. This was followed by a drive to obtain funds to build an Italian church in the district. A site at Cooper (now Marconi) Street and Wilson Avenue was purchased and a frame church was dedicated there on August 3, 1903. It was named for St. Ambrose and was attended from St. Charles Borromeo Church for four years with Spigardi as pastor. On June 1, 1907, it was placed in the charge of Rev. Luciano Carotti.
St. Ambrose Parochial School was opened at 2110 Cooper Street in 1906. Itr was frame structure of two rooms and was also the home of Father Carotti. The church soon became an important force in the Italian community and several religious societies were organized in the parish. The original frame church was destroyed by fire in 1921. A temporary chapel was established in the former German Evangelical church on Shaw Avenue. It had been purchased by the Catholic church in 1919. Rev. Julius Giovannini was appointed as pastor of St Ambrose in 1923 and within a year had paid off the parish debt. Plans were soon underway for a new church and on May 30, 1925, the cornerstone was laid. The new $250,000 structure was dedicated on June 27, 1926. It is in the Lombard Romanesque style, similar to the ancient San Ambrogio Church in Milan. The exterior walls are of brick and terra cotta, with a campanile to the rear of the structure. The interior has a high barrel vault ceiling consisting of three naves. These are separated by arches resting on six columns. Five new bells for the church were purchased through donations from parishners. A change in St. Ambrose parish occurred in 1955, when it was redefined froma national parish to a territorial one and basically the parish encompasses the Hill. The present parochial school building at 5120 Wilson Avenue was completed in 1949-50. The Sacred Heart Villa and Day Nursery at Wilson and Macklind was built in 1940, with an addition in 1969. Holy innocents parish was founded in 1893 by Rev. John White. A frame church was erected at Reber Place and Brannon Avenue and was still in use in 1928. The parochial school was established by Rev. Timothy O'Sullivan in 1922. The present church at the northwest corner of South Kingshighway and Odell Street was completed in 1957. and the parochial school at 4926 Reber Place was opened in 1942. The hall and convent at kingshighway and Reber was built in 1953.
The Italian Evangelical (Protestant) Church was founded in 1921 by Rev. Peter Ottolini. Its first location was at 2109 Edwards Street and in 1929 it relocated at 5343 Botanical Avenue.
The Bethelehem German Evangilical Church was established at Shaw and Hereford Avenues in 1889 and remained there until 1910, when it relocated at 5801 Southwest Avenue. In 1928, it meged with the Messiah Evangilical Church (founded in 1924), and the combined congregations adopted the name of Mount Tabor Church aat 6520 Arsenal Street.
Pattison Avenue Negro Baptist Church was organized in 1897 and was located at 5232 Pattison. It remained in existence there until 1970, when its site became a part of the right-of-way for interstate Highway 44.
Kemper College was the earliest educational institution to be located in the area. It was organized in 1836 by the Protestantant Episcopal Church and was named for Bishop Jackson Kemper. A site of 125 acres about four miles southwest of St. Louis was purchased and buildings were erected at a cost of $20,000. It was located to the west of and south of Kingshighway and Arsenal Road and opened aon October 15, 1838. In 1840, a medical department was organized by Dr. J.N. McDowell, as the Missouri Medical College. The school's literary department was discontinued in 1845 because of financial difficulties and the property was sold. Subsequently, the buildings were used as the old County Poor House, and later the Insane Asylum occupied a portion of the old college grounds.
A Negro public school was said to have been established in the area in 1855. By 1904, it was located at 5326 Northrup and was named after educator George B. Vashon. The school was discontinued about 1910.
The Henry Shaw public School was first opened in 1870 in a two-story frame building at Kingshighway and Vandeventer Avenue. It contained foru rooms and a seating capacity for 240 pupils. The present Shaw School at 5329 Columbia Avenue was designed by William B. Ittner and was opened in 1907.
In 1936, the original portion of Southwest High School was completed from plans by architect George W. Sanger. An addition on its north side wa made in 1957 and in 1964, the three-sided section on Kingshighway, enclosing and outdoor court, was completed.
At 5400 Arsenal Street is the huge structure housing the Missouri State Hospital, formerly known ats the City Sanitarium. No provision was made for local care for the kindigent insane until 1864, when it was considered by the County Court. A site on elevated ground on Arsenal Road, west of Kingshighway, was chosen and plans for the building were prepared by architect William Rumbold. It was first occupied on April 23, 1869, with a capacity of 250 patients. A five-story central structure was flanked on each side by four -story wings which were terminated by five-story end pavilions. A cast iron dome, 194 feet in height, surmounted the central section. At the rear was an open portico for the full height of the main building, affording an outdoo promenade for the patients. At that time, the boiler room, laundry, kitchen and officers' quarters were in a brick building about one hundred feet distant from the main structure, and connected to it by a tunnel. An artesian well, 3845 feet deep, was drilled on the grounds. Total construction cost was about $700.000.
By 1881, the institution was woefully overcrowded, as it then had 343 patients. In 1910, the name was changed from insane Asylum to City Sanitarium. Extensive additional wings were added in 1912, increasing the institution's capacity to 2,000.
By 1914, the grounds covered 57 acres, total floor space was nine acres and the overall building cost was $1,539,000.
The employees' building at Arsenal and Brannon was completed in 1926 and in the 1950's new laundry and industrial buildings were ercted. A receiving warehouse was added in 1968 and in 1975, the juvenile treatment center on Fyler Avenue was opened. Originally a county facility, the sanitarium came under City control in 1876 and became a state institution in 1948.
Another old institution in this area is the Harry S. Truman Restorative Center at 5700 Arsenal Street, which adopted its present name in in 1974. Its lineage can be traced back to the old County Poor Farm and Hospital, which occupied the former Kemper College buildings in 1845. This was located near the present site of Southwest High School. About 1870, a larger building was completed at what is now 5800 Arsenal Street and this building came to be known later as the City Infirmary. Several additional buildings were added to it between 1900 and 1920, two of these are presently occupied by Cemrel. In 1953, the institution was renamed as the St. Louis Chronic Hospital. Another part of the hospital group was the former Isolation Hospital at 5600 Arsenal Street, which was built in 1926. A new building at 5700 Arsenal was added in 1965. The old 1870 structure is now partially used as a center for senior citizens. Cemrel, Inc. purchased the two old hospital buildings at 5900 Arsenal and has renovated them for use as an educational laboratory. They represent an outstanding example of successful recycling of older structures.
Present Sublette Park was formerly the grounds of the old Female Hospital. This institution was built in 1873 as the Social Evil Hospital, for the treatment of social outcasts. By 1875, it was used exclusively for female patients. It was a four-story mansard roof building, that was built at a cost of $100,000. About 1914, the structure was razed and its grounds became the park.
The Missouri State School for Retarded Children at 5701 Wilson Avenue was opened in 1970.
At 3211 Sublette Avenue is the Hillcrest Abbey, or Missouri Crematory and Columbarium. It was established in 1897 and a new mausoleum was added in 1959.
In 1936, the Hampton District police station was completed.
Very little residential buildup occurred in this area before 1890. Crude habitations for workers in the clay mines were located in the northern part of the Fairmont district between Northrup and Shaw Avenues. These were single family "shot gun" fram shanties of about three rooms each and two story, four family frame tenements. Later, after 1900, some one story brick houses were erected. Many of the houses were built directly on the ground and some were later raised and basements were excavated beneath them.
Elsewhere in the area, a substantial German colony existed around St. Aloysius Church in the 1890'2 and by 1904 there was a considerable buildup on Magnolia, Reber, Odell and Arsenal, both east and west of the Missouri Pacific's Oak Hill branch. By the time of the World's Fair, the Italian character of the Fairmont area was well established. In the 1920's, that area was quite well developed residentially, spreading southwardly between Hereford and Macklind, and westwardly north of Bischoff.
In the residential sections of this area, single family dwellings generally predominate on the Hill itself. There is a mixture of two and four family flats, also with one family units, in the adjoining sections of the broader area.
One of the oldest commercial landmarks in the area was the Fasterling Building at the norteast corner of Macklind and Southwest Avenues. It was built in 1883 and was used, at various times, as a road house, grocery, saloon and general store. Behind it was Fasterling's Grove, a favorite spot for school picnics, which also served as a beer garden. The building was occupied by a furniture store when it was razed in 1953.
In the entertainment field, the Family Theater was opened on Marconi near Daggett before 1920 and also operated an open air theataer in a nearby field. In 1925, the opening of the Columbia Theater, at Southwet and Edwards, brought Hollywood glamor to the Hill and eventually resulted in the closing of the Family Theater in 1930. Repeal of prohibition in1933 brought a spate of new taverns and night clubs into the area. Italian restaurants such as Ruggeri's continue to enjoy a widespread clientele.
At present the commercial areas are concentrated along the principal streets. One center is at Kingshighway and Southwest Avenue, with considerable commercial activity along the later street westwardly to Sublette Avenue. Stores to serve the Italian "Hill" district are grouped along a Marconi Avenue in the heart of that area. There is a minor amount of commercial on Arsenal Street and along Hampton, north of Columbia, is a row of business structures erected during the mid-1950's.
Industrial activity in this area began in the mid-neneteenth century when blacks, Irish and Italians began working in the many clay mines and brick making plants along the Pacific Railroad. Later, other clay mines and clay products plants were developed to the south and west of Kingshighway. One of the largest of these was the Blackmer and Post Fire Clay Products Company on Hereford Street north of Arsenal. Along with a great amny other industries which were established here, it can attribute its location to the construction of the Oak Hill branch of the Missouri Pacific about 1887. These included the McQuay-Norris Piston Ring, Carondelet Foundry and Quick Meal Stove Company plants. Among the Italian oriented businesses in the area are Ravarino-Freschi Spaghetti and Blue Ridge Bottling companies, both of which were founded in 1914.
The only railroad traversing the area is the Oak Hill and Carondelet branch of the Missouri Pacific Lines. It was built in the late 1880's to connect the railroad's mainline with the Iron Mountain tracks in Carondelet.
For many years the only transit service tot he area was provided by two streetcar lines. One was the Tower Grove line on Arsenal Street and Southwest Avenue. It began as a horse car line of the Gravois Railway Company running out Arsenal as far as Grand. In the early 1890's it became a branch of the Union Depot Railway and was electrified and extended on Arsenal to Kingshighway, serving Koerner's Garden and amusement park, which was located on the present site of Southwest High School. By the time of the 1904 World's Fair, the line reached westward to its loop at Tamm and Columbia Avenues. The other route serving the area was the Southhampton car line on Kingshighway, south from vandeventer. It was originally a branch of the Missouri Street Railroad Company and was extended out Vandeventer from Tower Grove Avenue and thence south on Kingshighway about 1897. In 1924, the Peoples Motor Bus Company began operating its Lindenwood bus line on Vandeventer and Southwest Avenues, to provide direct service downtown. This company, which was later absorbed by the Public Service Street Railways, also established a bus line terminating on the "Hill" at Shaw and Edwards, and running eastward on Shaw and Lafayette, began operations.
With an original ethnic mix in this area of Germans, Italians, minor numbers of other nationalities and blacks, the major national groups became diluted through intermarriages and changed because of decentralization of the population. The Italian -American character of the "Hill" has retained its entity despite these changes, largely through its close religious affiliation with St. Ambrose Church. A neighborhood improvement association was begun as a part of the City's bicentenial activity. A civic organization known as Hill 2000 was incorporated in 1970, and has drawn considerable attention to the area through their "Hill Days", proceeds from which are used to promote housing for new residents and for neighborhood improvements.
Compton and Dry - "Pictorial History of St. Louis" - 1875
Scharf, J. Thomas - "History of St. Louis City and County" - 1883
Hyde and Conard - "Encyclopedia of the History of St. Louis" - 1899
Social Science Institute, Washington University - "The Hill" - 1976
City Plan Commission - "Community Development Report" - 1973
Community Development Agency - "Staff Analysis" - 1976
Donald L. Spaid, Director
Harold M. Brewster, Deputy Director
Charles P. Kindleberger, Director of Planning & Programming
Alvin Karetski, Deputy Director of Planning & Programming
James Praprotnik, Section Head ofUrban Design & Evaluation
Myles Pomeroy, Section Head of Neighborhood Planning
Norbury L. Wayman, Author
Ray C. Baechle, Editor
Anthony C. Meyers, Project Director of Design
Just R. Sabe, Layout and Cover Design and Graphic Production
Nancy Ferrell, Clerical
Mary M. Fitzpatrick, Clerical