Clifton Heights Neighborhood Overview
Information concerning the neighborhood history, characteristics, institutions and organizations, planning and development.
The Clifton Heights neighborhood is located in southwest St. Louis. It is bounded by Interstate Highway 44 (I-44) to the west and north, Hampton Avenue to the east, and Arsenal Street to the south.
Portions of Clifton Heights are among the earliest developed areas in southwest St. Louis. Moreover, there is a more varied topography throughout the neighborhood than in adjoining areas to the east and south. Relative to most of the City of St. Louis, there are noteworthy hills and prominent natural valleys. This combination of natural topography and history gives much of Clifton Heights a look and feel that distinguishes it from elsewxhere in St. Louis.
The entire area covers a large hill that naturally slopes north and west toward the ancient valley of the River Des Peres, long since channelized, and shared by the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway and I-44. On this hill is a natural "dimple" or mini-valley. This bowl is the setting for Clifton Park and its small lake. It is surrounded by substantial homes to form the area's focal point. There are also slopes east toward Hampton, as well as along Watson, on either side of Arsenal. Hampton itself dips around Watson.
This vicinity was included in the early colonial land grants. There was some agricultural use of the area both prior and subsequent to the extension of the then Pacific Railroad line along the River Des Peres during the 1850s. The old Frisco Railway added its tracks in the 1880s. Gradually, industrial uses gravitated to sites along the railroads and the River Des Peres during this period.
Residential development ensued above this curving valley. Portions of Clifton Heights were platted as early as the mid 1880s and there was considerable development between 1890 and World War I. The pace accelerated during the 1900s with most of the neighborhood being filled in by World War II, with the exception of the large Clifton Hills subdivision, north of Southwest Avenue and west of Tamm Avenue. This area slopes steeply down to the River Des Peres and was not platted until 1953-1955. Today, its relatively small mid 1950s homes represent the largest concentration of newer housing in the area.
It is significant that Clifton Heights has a much higher percentage, 75.6 percent, of single-family housing units than most St. Louis neighborhoods. Generally, older and larger homes are arranged around Clifton Park. The corridor along Hampton Avenue has evolved into a mix of commercial and institutional uses. Commercial nodes occur along Arsenal, Watson, and Southwest at and near key intersections.
Most of Clifton Heights was developed for middle-income people of the times-with the exception of the area around Clifton Park, which was skewed upward. Some older, more modest "working-class" housing did exist closer to the railroad tracks west of Hampton Avenue, but demolition and construction for I-44, which began service in 1972, destroyed or isolated most of these homes. In any case, I-44 now constitutes both a physical and psychological border for Clifton Heights.
Public land uses in Clifton Heights are comparatively few, comprising a single public school, some churches, and Clifton Park. This park, a small gem, began life as a private residential development. Its original 4.4 acres were dedicated to St. Louis in 1912 with an additional 1.25 acres being added during the early 1920s. The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) maintenance yard that abuts I-44 is another public land use.
There is practically no industrial land use in Clifton Heights inasmuch as I-44 separates the community from the local railroad and River Des Peres industrial corridor.
Historically, Clifton Heights has been a white middle-class community. Although its population is becoming more diverse, its 1990 population of 4,130 was 98.9 percent white. Younger families are moving to the area, with houses near the park in greatest demand.
Crime is relatively minimal. The primary local concerns are the preservation and improvement of local housing stock, as well as a pending hotel development proposed for the southwest quadrant of the I-44/Hampton interchange, which represents the far northeastern tip of Clifton Heights.