December 23, 2005 -- the corner of Picker and 14th Street. This beautiful vernacular house, with its corner entrance and fine brickwork, speaks to the time when this was a walkable neighborhood. In the center of the city, there is no reason it should not be so again.

November 24, 2006. The houses in the background are all gone. The one survivor was torn down in February 2007.

Citizens Fighting Emminent Domain Abuse

Bohemian Hill History
The first Czech residents began to settle in St. Louis in the late 1840s, centering on this area. In 1854 they established nearby St. John Nepomuk church; it was the first religious establishment of a community that would eventually spawn Holy Trinity Slovak and St. Wenceslaus as well. The neighborhood continued as a Bohemian stronghold well into the twentieth century. It lost land, houses, streets and connections when the highways slashed their destructive way through in the 1960s.

By the 1980s, the looming presence of the long-abandoned City Hospital across the street, along with the menacing high rises of the Darste-Webbe housing projects (demolished in the late 1990s), were helping to drag the neighborhood downward, even as neighboring Soulard's grassroots restoration got underway. Most of the houses suffered the same fate as the City Hospital across the street: abandonment and decay. Many are gone already.

In 1999, an innovative project by a coalition of local preservationists and Washington University faculty constructed three model urban infill houses on vacant lots. The three houses, designed by South African architect Jo Noero, are easily the best examples in St. Louis of how to sympathetically react to a historic context without ineptly aping it. They were intended to be the first of 67 new houses, concurrent with numerous historic rehabilitation projects -- an ideal project for the neighorhood. The news spurred other renovations in the area. However, while a number of renovations have been carried out by YouthBuild St. Louis, the full project fell apart after a couple of years.

Now the idealistic visions of a true urban neighborhood are being subsumed beneath the likelihood of a suburban landmine being dropped in the middle of the city.

With City Hospital renovated and occupied, Soulard ever on the rise, and Darste-Webbe replaced by the far more friendly small-unit housing of King Louis Square, the time is right for the wounded Bohemian Hill to finally heal. Instead, the process of decay has been artifically accelerated, and the proposed development threatens to place yet another gash in the city's fabric instead of mending it.

Hopefully, with enough citizen input, some thoughtful changes will be made to the proposal. The near south side can certainly use the proposed services -- but not at the cost of the very architecture that makes it such an appealing place to live.

Looking west on Lafayette, December 2002. Every house shown here is now gone.

What's Been Lost Already
In 1997, a row of buildings stood across Lafayette Street from City Hospital. Some were vacant; others occupied. In the intervening ten years, every one was vacated, left to deteriorate, then finally demolished, some as recently as 2006. The land across from City Hall now stands empty.

A block south, a charming row of ramshackle houses stood at Picker Street; several were occupied. All but one were demolished by November of 2006. The sole holdout, the lovely corner building seen above, had long been a solitary voice angrily condeming threat of eminent domain that is allowing his neighborhood to be demolished. The house was bought out and demolished in February 2007.

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Gallery: Lost Houses
1   2   3   4  
1 - Circa 1997. Note the small house on the right.
2 - December 2002. The small house now stands alone.
3 - Circa 1997.
4 - The mansard-roofed house now stands alone, its companions demolished.