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Neighborhood Gardens
1205 North Seventh Street
Architect: Hoener, Baum and Froese
Built: 1935

Located two blocks north of the Convention Center, these handsome garden apartments date from the early years of Modernism -- but they are hardly the sort of cold, impersonal buildings that one typically associates with the style.

The buildings are intimately scaled and strongly connected to the street. They rise only three stories, and offer residents walk-up access to their apartments. As a group, the buildings edge the block and create a series of pleasant, inviting interior courtyards.

Fine detailing marks the brickwork of the complex. The varied height and setback of the units gives the buildings a pleasing, rythmic quality; the balconies and frequent entryways lend them a humanistic quality.

Abandoned and empty since 1990, the apartments have deteriorated in the years since, accumulating trash and broken windows, but remained structurally sound.

In 2002, the precursors of renovation appeared on the site: massive dumpsters, clearance of the scrub and vegetation that had begun to overrun the courtyards, and fences along the western side of the complex. The site was static for almost two years, with the incomplete fencing still allowing unimpeded entry to the interior courts.

At last, a $10 million renovation began in 2005. Brickwork has been repaired, trash and debris cleared out, new interior partitions are going up, and windows are being replaced with double-paned glass (while retaining the original thin steel window frames -- an impressive attention to detail indeed!)

A less fortunate change is the conversion of the interior court spaces to parking. However, as others have reasoned, parking is far easier to undo than demolition.

The renovated buildings will house 144 apartments, which are fewer in number and larger than the original 200+ units; they will primarily be 2 bedrooms, with 75% at market rates. The prices are targetted more towards blue-collar income levels, a badly needed addition to downtown.

The revived buildings still stand in a barren stretch of cityscape -- vacant lots, once home to public housing towers, stand north and east, with the highway beyond them; two blocks south, the hulking, monolithic convention center and domed football stadium create a formidable barrier, a Great Wall of China between downtown and this southernmost slice of north St. Louis. It is an urbanistic wound that will be difficult to heal, but the renovation of Neighborhood Gardens is a commendable first step.

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Gallery 1: Abandonment, 1999-2003

Gallery 2: Renovation, December 2005

Gallery 3: Construction continues, 2007

Gallery 4: Cochran Gardens public housing demolition, 2007