Everyone knows the old tenement by I-70. Its wide facade, marked with fire escape balconies and a regular grid of windows, is one of the highway's most distinctive sights. Local graffiti artist Ed Boxx made it his canvas for a time. And every time I passed it, I thought to myself, I have got to photograph that place some time.
Image courtesy of Chris Naffziger
That thought eventually combined with an exploratory adventure in the summer of 2006, when I was first introduced to the idea that, among all the heavy and light industry east of the highway, there were actually houses. Whole or fragmentary neighborhoods once stood on this land. Michael Allen once observed that today's "Old North" neighborhood doesn't even include the original North St. Louis town boundaries to the east. Today, abandoned and recycled houses could be found left and right, in a long thin swath from Old North to Baden... but they were disappearing fast, like this batch from that 2006 trip.
This was a fascinating notion. Did people still live there? (Yes, but not many.) What kind of environment are they in? (Isolated.) What would happen to the surviving houses? (Abandonment, followed by demolition.) Here was a conundrum - not many people would be willing to move into such environments, totally surrounded by industrial uses, which means that as each current occupant gives up the ghost and moves on, the houses tend to fall into abandonment. And yet, people do still live in a few of these places. Others have been converted to businesses, or even assimilated by the industrial concerns that devoured their neighborhood.
I still have some areas left to document fully, but the Forgotten Houses of North Broadway shows the bulk of these isolated survivors, fragments of an earlier era for the St. Louis riverfront.