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Since I moved to the Old North St. Louis neighborhood in 2005, the row of buildings at the corner of 14th and Wright Streets has always been quiet. Dead quiet. Years ago, a fire ended the last occupancy of the three-building row, leaving an elegant shell - and a big question mark.
I can see this row from the back windows of my house. Every time I look out the window at the kitchen sink or from my bedroom, my view of the smokestacks and spires of the north city skyline is framed by the lonely row, with its boarded windows and collapsed rear additions. Some neighbors would push to demolish abandoned buildings outside their back door. Not me.
I've always seen an inherent beauty in these brick buildings. Under red paint and plywood was robust vernacular architecture - buildings two stories with hipped roofs sporting dormers. These buildings date to the 1870s, and were never more than working class flats and stores. They didn't need to be more, because such basic uses were expressed elegantly in the 19th century.
Life has come full circle for this north side row. Just this past weekend, major rehabilitation was finished. New residents moved in, carting boxes and furniture. The three buildings in this row are among 27 historic buildings in Old North that are being rehabilitated as part of the $35 million Crown Square Project that includes 78 new residential units.
The view out of a lot of windows here is changing for the better. The view isn't the only change, since the new residents don't start out with a lot in common with long-time residents and more recent rehabbers. In some ways, the question mark at the corner remains. But now we can start working on an answer.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Michael Allen is an architectural historian and historic preservation consultant working in private practice. Most recently he served as the Assistant Director of Landmarks Association of St. Louis, the region's historic preservation advocacy organization. He is also editor of Ecology of Absence, a website with accompanying blog that documents and analyzes changes in the built environments of St. Louis, Chicago and other Midwestern cities. His articles on architecture and policy have appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Louis Beacon, St. Louis American, Arch City Chronicle and Omnitectural Forum. In addition to his professional work, Allen has been rehabilitating a house in the city's Old North St. Louis neighborhood for the past two years.