Friday, July 20, 2007

Intro, Part Deux

Okay, so I'm falling down on the job already. I warned you, I'm not good at posting every day. Or, apparently, every month for that matter.

Anyways, what to write about today? It's a glorious summer-in-St.-Louis day, which means that the sun is blazing hot, (although to be fair it's not as hot as it's been in the past few weeks,) the skies are clear but slightly hazy with humidity, and the trees are lush and green with yesterday's rain. I'm sweating as I'm writing this outside, but it's a pleasant change from the stagnant air-conditioned chill inside the house. Makes me feel alive. I know people hate "hot and humid", but there really is something to be said for St. Louis in the summer. Or St. Louis at any time of the year, for that matter, but we'll address fall and winter as they come.

I promised to make this blog about our neighborhood and experiences living in STL, so I guess I'll start describing Benton Park in more detail, finally. Benton Park (BP as we call it) is the neighborhood just west of Soulard, which itself is famous for hosting the nation's second largest Mardi Gras celebrations every year. Both Soulard and BP are full of beautiful red-brick houses. All brick, no cheap siding or what not, at least not on the historic homes. The oldest structures still standing date back to the 1870's, I believe, although this reminds me that I'll have to check on that later.

In 1900, St. Louis was the fourth most populous city in the country. The population reached its peak in 1950 and then sharply declined as people fled to the suburbs, leaving many of the inner-city neighborhoods such as Benton Park, Soulard and Lafayette Square largely uninhabited, (or at least in a state of urban decay and blight). In the 1970's and 80's, people started venturing back into these areas, buying the abandoned houses for ridiculously low sums of money. (One developer I know bought about 15 houses around BP for approximately $7,000 apiece back then. He now lives by rehabbing and selling one per year, for about $250,000 each.) It helps that the city has wisely elected to offer to abate property taxes for ten years on rehabs, provided they follow loose preservation guidelines. You pay taxes as if you lived in that shell of a house that it was rather than the rehabbed beauty it is now.

The great thing about St. Louis that I guess I'm trying to get across is that there is a great sense of historical preservation in this city. If you walk around in our area, or even downtown, 19th century buildings line the streets. Everywhere you look, you see beautiful Victorian and Art Nouveau architecture. And like I said, the price of property is incredibly reasonable, relative to Chicago.

That was supposed to be a brief intro that wound up anything but, sorry. Next time I hope to write about the three major breweries in the BP/Soulard area, two of which are abandoned and one of which is the largest brewer in the world.... Guess who?

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