Resurrecting St. Louis’ Old North
Few parts of St. Louis City have seen as much devastation as North St. Louis. Once a thriving industrial hub, North St. Louis lost much of its wealth — and much of its vitality — in the mid-20th century, as St. Louis suffered a breathtakingly sharp population decline. In the early 21st century, ruthless developers bought up huge swaths of land in North St. Louis, only to let the buildings rot with blight.
Fortunately, many St. Louisans are unwilling to sit by while a beautiful historic neighborhood falls victim to neglect and the wrecking ball. Civic leaders in this predominantly African American area are mobilizing residents to take back Old North, as the area just north of downtown is called, and bring it back to life.
Quite a few visionary young city dwellers have joined the cause, leaving comfy middle-class neighborhoods to join the fight for Old North’s survival. But make no mistake: The residents of Old North won’t just stop at seeing their neighborhood survive; they’re ready to see it flourish. Below are some can’t-miss stops that provide a great introduction to Old North and its ongoing resurrection.
Crown Candy Kitchen
There’s no better first stop in Old North St. Louis than Old North (1401 St. Louis Ave.). Every day, this old- fashioned diner teems with life. Business people, tourists, foodies, and cops all crowd into this legendary space. Open since 1913, Crown Candy has remained a constant in Old North St. Louis’s rise and fall and rise. Maybe that’s because there’s always a need for great comfort food at super-low prices.
Try the excellent BLT, the egg salad sandwich, or the giant gourmet hot dog (when’s the last time you had lunch for $3.85?). Crown Candy also boasts an amazing ice-cream-sundae menu, plus old-time favorites like malteds and phosphates. Homemade candy is available by the pound. And when you eat at Crown Candy, you’ll have a great view of Crown Square, the $32 million revitalization project that’s bringing life back to this historic area.
Mullanphy Emigrant Home
After lunch at Crown Candy Kitchen, take a stroll or a quick drive up to the Mullanphy Emigrant Home (1609 14th St.). This building, once a triumph of late- 19th-century masonry, is in dire need of saving. Owing to blight and natural disaster, Mullanphy has lost many of its extraordinary original details (including a round-topped cornice), but its beauty is still evident. Mullanphy Emigrant Home, as its name suggests, housed dozens of European immigrants in the waning days of the 19th century.
In its 140-year existence, it has also served as everything from a schoolhouse to a motorcycle repair shop. But although St. Louis’s alt-weekly gave Mullanphy the dubious “Best Lost Cause” award in 2007, its hope for survival is far from dim. The Old North Restoration Group, a hard-working neighborhood organization, purchased Mullanphy and plans to restore it to its former elegance.
New Roots Urban Farm
New Roots is a force for good in Old North St. Louis. While its ideals would no doubt be embraced by proponents of the Slow Food movement (and with all due respect to Slow Food), New Roots is not an organization devoted to making middle- and upper-class folks feel good about eating local. Rather, New Roots helps an impoverished area survive by sharing food — and food production methods — with its neighbors. New Roots describes its model as not just nonprofit but “antiprofit.”
Following the Catholic Worker ethos, New Roots’ goals are to nourish the community and to teach others how to nourish themselves. Throw in a healthy dose of environmentalism and pacifism, and you have a group that’s doing some pretty revolutionary things in this Midwestern city. Stop by the farm (1830 Hogan St.) or see New Roots’ wares at the North City Farmers’ Market (right across from Crown Candy Kitchen, 9 a.m.–1 p.m. Sat.).
© Brooke S. Foster from Moon St. Louis, 1st Edition