A Short History of Old North
Established in 1816 as the Village of North St. Louis, the area now known as Old North St. Louis has seen many changes in the past couple of centuries. After annexation by the City of St. Louis in 1841 and growing into a very densely populated and vibrant neighborhood, the community experienced tremendous deterioration and depopulation over the past five decades.
In 1981, a group of residents, small business owners, and community leaders in the Old North St. Louis neighborhood established the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group as a not-for-profit corporation. With a mission to restore and develop the physical and social dimensions of the community in a manner that respects its historical, cultural, and urban character, the Restoration Group was faced with a neighborhood in a state of profound and painful decline. Massive population loss had resulted in the wholesale abandonment of entire blocks.
For much of the group's first ten years, they worked together to renovate each other's homes, much like the "barn raisings" of close-knit communities of the past. In 1994, the group received city funding to create a community development plan which allowed them to hire their first staff person. By the early nineties the group had grown strong enough to hire staff and begin to plan for the physical redevelopment of the neighborhood. After successfully achieving designation as a National Historic District, they received a substantial grant from the State of Missouri, which allowed ONSLRG to purchase and stabilize several strategic buildings. These buildings were then marketed to families and individuals who could either secure private financing or invest sufficient sweat equity to restore them to habitable condition.
Over the past decade, the organization has facilitated thousands of hours of volunteer service for neighborhood clean-ups and vacant building board-ups, hosted street festivals, sponsored annual house tours, coordinated crime prevention initiatives, and built the group’s office into a “neighborhood marketing center.” By early 2004, the neighborhood was recognized by St. Louis Magazine as one of the city’s best places to live in its “up-and-coming” category.
Because of the improving conditions and available land, the neighborhood began to attract the notice of outside developers. With a commitment to maintain the historic character and the economic and racial diversity that made the neighborhood special, the Restoration Group began to look at ways it could become the developer of vacant land within the neighborhood and at the same time preserve as many of the historically significant buildings as possible.
Many of the open tracts of land remaining after buildings have been demolished have been adopted and are being maintained by local residents and businesses. Meanwhile, the Restoration Group, in partnership with Rise Community Development (then known as Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance or RHCDA), created a residential development plan for 100 new homes and rehabilitation of 25 historic buildings along North Market Street in the heart of the neighborhood. This partnership produced twenty single-family, for-sale homes before the economic downturn forced the development into hibernation mode. In 2006, nine historic buildings along North Market and Monroe streets underwent major restoration work to produce 32 affordable apartments.
The old business district on North 14th Street was converted to a pedestrian mall in 1977, an urban planning experiment that failed miserably. After nearly three decades of deterioration and abandonment, the former mall experienced an exciting, 4-year transformation that was completed in July of 2010. In 2006 Old North St. Louis Restoration Group and Rise Community Development launched the largest redevelopment effort in the neighborhood, a $35 million renovation of 27 vacant historic buildings on the mall and adjacent blocks into 80 mixed-income apartments and over 34,000 square feet of commercial and retail space. See our page on the Crown Square project for more details.
Now, 198 years after the establishment of the village of North St. Louis, 173 years after the annexation of that village into the City of St. Louis, and 33 years after the creation of the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, the neighborhood is gaining a reputation as a model for effective community-based revitalization.
Come by our office at 2700 N. 14th Street to view our Old North St. Louis Community History Museum. It's a small display, but it includes a range of exhibits from artifacts uncovered in archaeological digs to old photos and antique furniture. Also available at our office is the book, From Village to Neighborhood, a History of Old North St. Louis.
To learn more about Old North St. Louis, please contact us.