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Friday, May 7, 2010

Erkers opens for Business in the Golden Age of St. Louis 131 years ago!!


With such a backlog, it was obvious that the end of hostilities would see the City's progress resume at an accelerated pace. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the downtown district, where the decrease in steamboat traffic following the War caused the levee to decline in importance.

As a result, there was a westward thrust of the principal axis of the business area. This reached Fourth Street about 1870, and during the period immediately preceding and following the War, this street contained the City's principal hotels, office buildings, banks, and stores. The chief hotels of this period were: the Southern at Fourth and Walnut Streets, which opened in 1865; the Planter's House at Fourth and Chestnut; the Everett House on Fourth near Locust; and the Lindell at Sixth and Washington. The office buildings were concentrated near the old Courthouse, which was the focal point of the City's life at that time. The shopping center was at the upper end of Fourth Street near Washington Avenue, where such stores as Scruggs and and the Barr Drygoods Company were located. The banking houses of the period were on Olive and Locust Streets near Fourth. During the 1870's a large area on the western fringe of the present downtown district was still residential in character. The Mississippi was finally spanned at St. Louis in 1874 when Eads Bridge was dedicated. Its completion achieved unification of rail facilities on both sides of the river, thereby eliminating dependence on ferries.

The period of prosperity following the Civil War saw the City rapidly extended in all directions, but along already established lines. New additions and subdivisions were platted and sold, but new streets were naturally adapted to the existing highways. The number of subdivisions platted reached a new high of 58 in 1870, exceeding the pre-war peak of 46 recorded in 1860. At this time, the area west of Grand Avenue began to develop, and Vandeventer Place became the most fashionable address in the City.

In 1870 another expansion of the City occurred, which brought the City of Carondelet and the intervening area between its northern limits and Keokuk Street within the limits of St. Louis. The City's population then reached 310,869 with an area of 17.98 square miles, making it the nation's fourth largest city. This annexation was following a trend in growth to the south, for the City spread in that direction before it began its later expansion to the west in the seventies.

During the 1870's a major expansion occurred in the City's public park system. Tower Grove Park was first proposed in 1868 by Henry Shaw, who agreed to donate it to the City on the condition that St. Louis would expend $360,000 for its improvement and reserve a 200 foot wide strip around it for leasing, the proceeds of which were to be used for the maintenance of Shaw's Garden. This proposal was accepted with some modifications, and the park was finally opened in 1870. It was named for Shaw's nearby country estate and is administered by a special Board of Commissioners who expend an annual City appropriation for its maintenance. In 1871 Lyon Park was transferred to the City by the War Department, and in 1874-75 the three larger parks, Forest, O'Fallon, and Carondelet, were purchased under acts of the State Legislature. O'Fallon Park was formerly the estate of Col. John O'Fallon covering 159 acres; its cost was $259,000. The 180 acre Carondelet Park cost $165,000 plus $35,000 for its improvement.

The history of Forest Park had its beginning in 1872 when Hiram W. Leffingwell and others secured passage of a legislative act authorizing the purchase of 1,000 acres or more for a public park. It aroused much opposition and was declared invalid by the State Supreme Court. Two years later the idea was revived and another act was passed which was later sustained by the court. At the direction of the County Court, an appraiser was appointed, and 1,372 acres west of Kingshighway were purchased for about $800,000. It contained over 1,100 acres of virgin forest and was appropriately named Forest Park. Its formal opening occurred in 1876 after extensive landscaping work in its eastern portion. Forest Park was considered as an outer park at this time because the City was not built up much beyond Grand Avenue. It was reached by local transit facilities during the 1880's and gradually became the City's principal recreational area.

The last extension of the boundaries of St. Louis occurred in 1876, when the City was separated from St. Louis County. (See page 37) The first home rule city charter in the nation was adopted by St. Louis at the same time under the State Constitution of 1875. The new city limits on the west were 600 feet west of Skinker Road and on the south and southwest they paralleled the general direction of the River Des Peres. The total area covered was 61.37 square miles, and most of the new portion of the City west of Grand Avenue was open farm land with few buildings except for country homes of the landed gentry. It was apparently assumed that this vast area would suffice for the City's physical growth for an indefinite period. However, as is well known, the City has occupied all of it and development has expanded into the county. Already established thoroughfares were projected westward into the unbuilt district, but the time had passed when a well-directed plan of street arrangement could be adopted.

An important event of the late seventies was the introduction of the telephone in St. Louis. This occurred in 1878 with twelve subscribers, and by 1880 over 600 telephones were in use here.

The City's population growth rate slumped during the seventies, so that the 1880 census showed 350, 318 inhabitants, an increase of only about 40,000 in ten years compared with 150,000 in the wartime decade.

An ordinance enacted in 1884 authorized the use of the streets for the sale of electricity on payment of a five percent gross receipts tax to the City. Before the end of the decade, electric lights became commonplace in St. Louis.

A new type of power for transit appeared locally in 1886, when the St. Louis Cable and Western cable car line began operations. It ran from Sixth and Locust Streets to Vandeventer Avenue via Franklin Avenue and during the next year a cable line was placed in operation to the Fairgrounds. Cable cars enjoyed a short but profitable period of operation. They were soon supplanted by the faster electric trolley car in the nineties, In 1887, the several street railways were authorized by the City to use electricity as power for the operation of cars. The principal operating companies of this time were the Lindell Railway Company which ran to the west end, the Union Depot Railway Company which operated in south St. Louis and the Mound City line which covered most of the north side. Most of these transit firms were consolidated in 1899 into the St. Louis Transit Company, which initiated a universal transfer system.

Railroad connections in St. Louis were coordinated in 1889 with the of the Terminal Railroad Association by all railroads entering the City from the east and west. It took over operation of Eads Bridge and Merchants Bridge in 1893, and the railway yards. During the early 1890's it began construction of the new Union Station, which was the largest in the world when it opened in 1894.

St. Louis grew at a more leisurely pace in the last two decades of the 19th Century, although subdivision activity continued at a healthy rate during the 1890's. In the 1890 census St. Louis regained its fourth place among American cities with a population of 451,770, and the number of telephone subscribers climbed to 2,885.

An aid to the establishment of a major street system occurred in 1891 when the State Legislature passed an enabling act authorizing St. Louis to establish boulevards by ordinance. Among those later designated were Lindell, Delmar, Washington, Page, Forest Park and Union Boulevards. This legal definition aided the westward growth of the City by providing these streets with the importance necessary for their development as major thoroughfares.

The north-south axis of the downtown district during the 1880's and 1890's was Broadway. It was during this period that the first so called "skyscrapers" were erected along Broadway and Sixth Street. The relocation of Barr's store to Sixth and Olive in 1880 and of Scruggs-Vandervoort and Barney to the corner of Broadway and Locust in 1888 were indications of continued westward movement. A wave of multi-level building construction began about 1890 and continued into the 20th Century. With the widespread use of the elevator, structures of ten or more stories became common in downtown St. Louis. One of the tall buildings built during this period was the Wainwright building, designed by Louis Sullivan in 1891 as one of the first steel frame structures built in the nation. Two other large buildings erected about that time were the 15 story building at 705 Olive Street in 1893 and the 16 story Chemical building in 1896. The old Federal building at Eighth and Olive Streets, which was completed in 1884, was one of the first large buildings erected in what is now the center of the business district. During the late 1890's the wholesale district on Washington Avenue began to take form. In 1893 the new Planter's Hotel was opened on the same site as the old Planter's House, which had been a leading hostelry since 1841.

One of the most devastating disasters in the City's history occurred on May 27, 1896 when a destructive tornado swept over the near south side around Lafayette Park and northeastward towards the river at Eads Bridge.

During the late nineties the first automobiles made their appearance on St. Louis streets.

By the turn of the century, St. Louis began to demonstrate the civic consciousness and leadership which led to the creation of the World's Fair of 1904.

The population in 1900 reached 575,238 and the year previous had seen the consolidation of most of the transit lines here into one company. By that time, practically every line in the City used electric trolley cars. As a prelude to the World's Fair, the City Water Department achieved success in the clarification of drinking water during the administration of Mayor Rolla Wells.

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