Washington Avenue is Named "Great Street" by American Planning Association

Historic Heritage, Architecture, Varied Uses, Vibrant Street Life Define Street

October 4, 2011 | 4 min reading time

This article is 13 years old. It was published on October 4, 2011.

The American Planning Association (APA) today announced the designation of Washington Avenue as one of 10 Great Streets for 2011 under the organization’s Great Places in America program. APA Great Places exemplify exceptional character and highlight the role planners and planning play in creating communities of lasting value.

APA singled out Washington Avenue for its outstanding assemblage of industrial architecture, mix of land uses, and lively atmosphere. Its warehouses left abandoned as garment-industry jobs moved elsewhere, Washington Avenue has reemerged as one of St. Louis’ favorite spots for walking the dog, meeting for lunch, or enjoying a night out with friends.

“Washington Avenue is what urban living is all about. It is a heavily populated, walkable neighborhood that mixes every sort of person conducting every sort of business at almost any time of the day or night against the backdrop of great buildings, monuments, parks and art, “said Mayor Francis G. Slay. “Once neglected and decaying, Washington Avenue is the urban corridor of St. Louis and its revitalization a core element of our Downtown Now Action Plan. Implementation of the plan has led to population and investment growth in our downtown and a sense of vibrancy and place that is now known throughout the region.”
Through Great Places in America, APA recognizes unique and exemplary streets, neighborhoods, and public spaces – three essential components of all communities. These authentic places have been shaped by forward thinking planning that showcases diverse architectural styles, promotes community involvement and accessibility, and fosters economic opportunity.
APA Great Places offer better choices for where and how people work and live every day. Since APA began Great Places in America in 2007, 50 neighborhoods, 50 streets and 40 public spaces have been designated in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
“Once again, Washington Avenue is abuzz. Like it was in its garment-district heyday – when sidewalks overflowed with window-shoppers and buyers – the street is brimming with new life,” said APA Chief Executive Officer Paul Farmer, FAICP. “Here, inside former warehouses are some of the city’s fashionable residential and office lofts, shops, restaurants and nightclubs. The district’s historic character remains even though its raison d’être has changed,” he added. 
A virtual museum of late-19th and early-20th century warehouse architecture, clad in brick, stone and terra cotta, this monumental corridor imparts one of St. Louis’ most cohesive vistas. The view west, from the foot of the Eads Bridge, is of an urban canyon lined with showcase buildings. The 2010 removal of a three-story skybridge between 6th and 7th Sts. restored this unobstructed view.

Washington Avenue evolved organically from east to west. While individual blocks have their own character, they are unified by attitude, size, scale and materials. The architecture, which delights and surprises, includes everything from brick heavy timber frame, turn-of-the-20th-century Revival-style buildings to steel-and-concrete structures expressive of Chicago School functionalist principles. Artistic considerations figured prominently into the exteriors as structures often served as both corporate headquarters and manufacturing facilities.

Washington Avenue gradually lost its vitality due to a decline in domestic garment production following World War II; its functionally obsolete buildings stood vacant or underused. In the 1980s, loft rehabbers arrived but, unable to create a sense of community or security, their attempts to spark an economic revival of the area fell short. However, efforts to list two segments of the street on the National Register did succeed in 1987.

It was the State of Missouri’s 1998 adoption of a historic rehabilitation tax credit that resuscitated Washington Avenue by making large-scale reuse projects financially feasible. Investment – more than $100 million – poured in soon after. Meanwhile, the city began implementing its 1999 Downtown Now! Development Action Plan, focusing first on Washington Avenue’s streetscape. Using $17 million in state and federal funds, it expanded public amenities, installed custom lighting, added and improved street furnishings, and enhanced landscaping and sidewalks. Innovative pavement types were varied to calm traffic.

Revitalization efforts pay tribute to the street’s garment district heritage, emphasized by a zipper-and-stitch-like paving pattern down the center of Washington Avenue, highlighted at night by LED-lit buttons. Many of the buildings retain fashion industry naming conventions. There’s Bee Hat, Knickerbocker, and Fashion Square, to name a few.

Pedestrian-friendly Washington Avenue is popular with bicyclists, dog walkers, and stroller pushers as well. The street maintains a shared-use bicycle lane and is part of the city’s bicycle network. Two subterranean light rail stations serve the street – one at the historic Eads Bridge and the other at 6th Street. A “curbless” stretch between Tucker Boulevard and 14th Street gives the appearance of an unimpeded civic space, lending itself to street festivals and celebrations. An increasing number of Washington Avenue’s buildings boast large, elaborate, colorfully lighted signs. The street is punctuated each night with neon, boldly declaring its reclaimed vitality.
The nine other APA 2011 Great Streets are: Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA; U Street N.W., Washington, DC; Front Street, Lahaina, HI; Main Street, Galena, IL;  Main Street, Nantucket, MA; Market Street and Market Square, Portsmouth, NH; Downtown Woodstock Streetscape, Woodstock, VT; King Street, Alexandria, VA; and Davis Street, Culpeper, VA.
For more information about these streets, as well as lists of the 2011 APA 10 Great Neighborhoods and 10 Great Public Spaces, and designations between 2007 and 2010, visit www.planning.org/greatplaces.
This year's Great Places in America will be celebrated as part of APA's National Community Planning Month in October 2011; for more about the special month, visit www.planning.org/ncpm.
The American Planning Association is an independent, not-for-profit educational organization that provides leadership in the development of vital communities. APA and its professional institute, the American Institute of Certified Planners, are dedicated to advancing the art, science and profession of good planning -- physical, economic and social -- so as to create communities that offer better choices for where and how people work and live. Members of APA help create communities of lasting value and encourage civic leaders, business interests and citizens to play a meaningful role in creating communities that enrich people's lives. APA has offices in Washington, D.C., and Chicago, Ill. For more information, visit www.planning.org.

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