Best Places to Live
St. Louis provides something for everybody — from foodies to families, equestrians to empty-nesters. You just need to know where to look.
Photograph by Dilip Vishwanat
Like most cities, the Lou offers more than the sum of its parts—though the sum alone is staggering. The figures boggle the mind: 79 city neighborhoods, 91 county municipalities, 21 cities in St. Charles County, and 80 towns in Metro East make a grand total of 271 places to live in the St. Louis region—and that’s not even counting unincorporated areas.
With so many options and so much fluctuation in the market as of late, how is anyone supposed to make heads or tails of it?
It boils down to priorities. With unlimited choices but limited time, lifestyle often dictates locale. Foodies—well, the ambitious ones—may want to look for places where they can burn off a heavy meal when walking home from favorite restaurants. Young professionals, sometimes wide-eyed and new to the city, may seek out peers and a place that’s close to the action. Families want the necessities: a good school, a safe street, and a steady home value. With this in mind, we scanned the local landscape to find the best neighborhoods for all types.
In each case, for both predictable and under-the-radar ’hoods, we talked to residents and realtors to find out exactly what—whether the corner coffee shop or 3-acre lots—makes these places ideal. We also compiled a rundown of other notable neighborhoods, laid out the new rules of real estate, got the skinny on condo living, and created a handy chart of communities. The result? A package we hope hits home.
Usual Suspects: The Hill, Clayton, Central West End, Downtown
And Don’t Forget: The Grove, Lafayette Square, Maplewood
Some neighborhoods pack in the provisions, laying out a menu of options within walking distance. Nowhere is this more the case than The Hill, dubbed one of the country’s top Italian neighborhoods by celeb chef Mario Batali. The tight-knit neighborhood—with historic single-family homes around $140,000—includes many authentic Italian eateries alongside progressive staples like Modesto. There are also Italian markets for the at-home cook, like DiGregorio Food Products, Inc., which are family-owned and operated like many of The Hill’s businesses. In Clayton, sample from more than 80 restaurants running the gamut from seafood at Oceano Bistro to Southern European at Araka. And in the Central West End, savor seared duck at Moxy Bistro, or relish natural ingredients on Terrene’s patio. Burgeoning neighborhoods like The Grove, Lafayette Square, and Maplewood also boast their share of mouth-watering fare, including Five, Eleven Eleven Mississippi, and Monarch, respectively.
Usual Suspects: Central West End, Clayton, Downtown
And Don’t Forget: Frontenac, Ladue
Certain areas stand at the vanguard of vogue. In recent years, empty-nesters and young professionals have flocked to these areas, where high-end condos rose before the recession. In the CWE, modern 4545 Lindell towers over turn-of-the-century mansions, and Maryland Plaza’s high-end shopping is down the street from the Chess Club and Scholastic Center. Farther east, history meets new housing in the Gaslight Square development and brand-new 3949 Lindell moves toward connecting the Central West End with midtown. Clayton’s also seen noticeable additions, including DeMun Pointe and The Crescent, with other large-scale projects like Trianon in the works. Washington Avenue in downtown, of course, has undergone a 180—though the recession looms large. “People are obviously being cautious, but interest in downtown living is still there,” says The Partnership for Downtown St. Louis’ Kevin Farrell. And homes in Frontenac and Ladue, where the average price hovers above $650,000, boast a string of high-end stores at nearby Plaza Frontenac.
THE INDIE SPIRIT
Usual Suspects: The Loop, South Grand
And Don’t Forget: Cherokee-Lemp
St. Louis offers its share of hipster havens. Inside the Loop, ponytailed developer Joe Edwards’ entertainment district stretches eastward with the addition of the Moonrise Hotel and Wash. U.’s green-friendly building at the corner of Delmar and Skinker (see pages 22 and 24). Besides the Tivoli and The Pageant, the Loop has plenty of other draws: punk and rockabilly fashion at Fifi’s, hookah and conversation at Layal Café, and affordable apartments nearby. Walk along South Grand, in Tower Grove South and East, and you can catch a rock band at CBGB or browse antique hardbacks at Dunaway Books. Along rehabbed Morgan Ford Road in Tower Grove South, eateries like Tin Can Tavern and Three Monkeys have made the once-abandoned street a destination again. Another advantage? Many of the Victorian homes are affordable. Along Cherokee, Boots Contemporary Art Space sits just down the street from the Firecracker Press and Apop Records. And the cooperatively run Black Bear Bakery, a self-described “anti-authoritarian, anti-ideological collective,” is a beacon for urban sustainability and organic food.
Usual Suspects: Eureka, Wildwood
And Don’t Forget: Ellisville, Town & Country
Living with nature typically equates to isolation, right? Not so in some westward areas. Ellisville—given the Arbor Day Foundation’s “Tree City USA” designation since 1981—has 11 parks and an extensive trail system and is only a short jaunt from August A. Busch Conservation Nature Center and Weldon Spring Wildlife Area, where you can go hiking, fly-fishing, or hunting. Farther south, Eureka and Wildwood are near some of the area’s best hiking and biking, with Castlewood State Park, Route 66 State Park, and Babler Memorial State Park next door. You can even see bison, wolves, and birds at nearby Lone Elk Park, the Wild Canid Survival & Research Center, and the World Bird Sanctuary. Nature sometimes finds the unsuspecting in Town & Country, where a 10-point buck strolled into a Home Depot last November. The city recently approved plans to shoot some deer while capturing and sterilizing others.
THE MELTING-POT SEEKER
Usual Suspects: South Grand, Soulard, The Loop
And Don’t Forget: Bevo, Benton Park West, Fox Park
With some of the most far-flung international cuisine around—Vietnamese, Ethiopian, Afghan, and Japanese, to name a few—it’s no surprise the blocks near South Grand are St. Louis’ most ethnically diverse. “I can say most of the new refugee populations we resettle live within 5 miles of our agency,” says Kate Howell at the International Institute St. Louis, located on South Grand. The largest Bosnian population outside Europe resides in Bevo, though many of its citizens are now moving to nearby neighborhoods and South County, says Howell, and being replaced by other immigrants. A sign outside Carniceria Latino Americana, a corner store in Benton Park West, reads “Mexico Vive Aquí”—fitting for a neighborhood full of authentic taquerías and a large Latino population. And you can always find a patchwork of ages, races, incomes—even building styles—in historic Soulard and Fox Park.
THE FINE-ARTS FANATIC
Usual Suspects: Grand Center, Clayton
And Don’t Forget: Skinker-DeBaliviere, Belleville, Ill.
Art is more than a hobby for many St. Louisans. This is especially clear at Grand Center. In only 10 blocks are more than 20 galleries, museums, and theaters. Much of the nearby housing stock has yet to fulfill its potential, but programs like Hometown SLU (featuring $5,000 forgivable home loans for Saint Louis University staff) and planned developments like the über-modern ArtHouse provide hope for the area. Skinker-DeBaliviere boasts a fine-art triple threat. Within biking distance are SLAM, The Muny, Wash. U., COCA, RAC, and the Loop’s Craft Alliance. The historic buildings there house a mix of renters and homeowners, families and singles. Clayton doesn’t have as many big-name venues, but it’s never short on art. Public works like Ernest Trova’s shiny FM/6 Walking Jackman provide a fitting backdrop for art galleries, as well as lively festivals like the Saint Louis Art Fair in September. One other artsy event not to be missed: Belleville’s summertime Art on the Square, ranked the No. 1 fine-arts show in the nation by The Art Fair SourceBook several years ago.
THE LAKE LOVER
Usual Suspects: Lake Saint Louis
And Don’t Forget: Maryland Heights, Collinsville, Ill.
Lake life isn’t the first thing that comes to mind in St. Louis. If you know where to look, though, you can still find a small piece of paradise. Lake Saint Louis is an obvious choice; its two lakes are open to residents and serve as the neighborhood’s hub, offering water sports and a place for the Lake Saint Louis Sailing Club and its annual Pirate Party. For those who can’t afford the city’s median home price of $200,000, Creve Coeur Lakehouse is St. Louis County’s answer to Forest Park’s Boathouse. Located in Maryland Heights, the facility hosts live music and serves up affordable food. Its 320-acre namesake is ideal for sailing, with a cove and beach on the northeast shore, but note that the state’s largest natural lake doesn’t allow powerboats or swimming. In Illinois, Collinsville—known for its giant ketchup bottle and Cahokia Mounds—is 5 miles from Horseshoe Lake (ideal for fishing and bird-watching) and an hour west of Carlyle Lake, Illinois’ largest man-made pond. Carlyle, in particular, provides some of the best sailing this side of Lake Michigan.
THE FIRST-TIME HOME BUYER
Usual Suspects: Lindenwood Park, Affton, Belleville, Ill.
And Don’t Forget: Southampton, Shrewsbury
So you’re looking to take advantage of low interest rates and stay fairly close to the city, but any talk of kids is on hold for at least a few years. In finding the right neighborhood, it’s important to look at three factors beyond the attached garage: 1) affordability, 2) location, and 3) stability. Many South City neighborhoods are chock-full of affordable one- and two-bedroom bungalows and midcentury homes. Areas like Lindenwood Park and Southampton, as well as nearby Shrewsbury in the county, have relatively low crime rates and affordable homes. Though farther from the city, unincorporated parts of South County like Affton are worth a look. In Illinois, historic homes in
Belleville boast reasonable prices, and revitalized Main Street is quite attractive. For more options, check out The Young Professional category.
Usual Suspects: Ladue, Ballwin, St. Charles, Town & Country
And Don’t Forget: Florissant, Shiloh, Ill.
Senior housing might not cause the same stir as downtown lofts. But luxury senior living has meant big business in recent years. Some of these developments offer “continuum-of-care” facilities—that is, a single complex with housing for seniors with a range of needs. This is the case in Ladue, where retirees can settle into The Gatesworth, a large senior-living center with personal assistants, a limo service, and a dog-walking service. Many places in the county also cater to seniors: Ballwin’s Meramec Bluffs, Creve Coeur’s Parc Provence, Town & Country’s Mari de Villa, and St. Charles’ Fairwinds-River’s Edge. To the north, Florissant offers Garden Villas North and Delmar Gardens North. And in Shiloh, Ill., an age-restricted apartment complex known as Wingate Manor inside The Villages at Wingate is in the works.
THE ECLECTIC SHOPPER
Usual Suspects: Cherokee-Lemp, The Loop
And Don’t Forget: St. Charles, Kirkwood
It’s often the unexpected find—the antique armoire or the R. Crumb comic—that turns a retail outing into an adventure. This is often the case along Cherokee. Duck into Retro 101/Cherry Bomb Vintage or The Antique Armory, and you find shelves of vintage treasures. As with the antiques, much of the nearby housing stock is just waiting for someone to come and see it anew (see The Rehabber). The Loop is also jam-packed with independent boutiques that supply something for everyone, whether toddlers at City Sprouts, cyclists at Big Shark, or fashion mavens at Ziezo. A stroll down Old Town St. Charles’ cobblestone Main Street reveals more than 125 quaint shops, from The Amish Peddler to Nick Strupp and Amanda Lauber’s The Tintypery, where you can get old-time prints of the entire family in period costumes. (Historic homes in St. Charles are quite affordable, with a small two-bedroom fixer-upper near Main Street recently priced at $108,900 on realtor.com.) And downtown Kirkwood is full of small shops like Checkered Cottage and Down by the Station.
Usual Suspects: St. Peters, Central West End
And Don’t Forget: O’Fallon, Mo., Ballwin, Dardenne Prairie
For athletes who like options, some neighborhoods offer as many places to work up a sweat as there are dumbbell choices. St. Peters has 20 parks, but that’s just a warm-up compared to its gem of all gyms: the Rec-Plex. The 236,000-square-foot rec center draws athletes from miles away—sometimes from as far as Edwardsville, Ill. Among its features: a world-class natatorium and diving tank, three NHL-sized hockey rinks, a day-care center, and the HIT Center—a training facility with cutting-edge equipment for athletes who want to take their game to the next level. In O’Fallon, you can lift at the Renaud Spirit Center, swim at Alligator’s Creek Aquatic Center, or skate at Westhoff Park. (As of press time, there was reportedly talk of yet another O’Fallon park to spring up near Highways 40 and DD.) Also not to be forgotten: the Ozzie Smith Sports Complex and T.R. Hughes Ballpark, home to the River City Rascals and the St. Charles County Amateur Sports Hall of Fame. At nearby Dardenne Prairie’s Youth Activity Park, teens can ollie at the state’s largest skate park, go rock climbing inside or outside, and play sand volleyball. Ballwin boasts its share of workout facilities as well, with The Pointe at Ballwin Commons and North Pointe Family Aquatic Center. Vlasis Park, the municipality’s largest park, is where citizens gather for ballgames, horseshoes, and Ballwin Days. Among the area’s most lively contests, the city’s annual Conquer Castlewood competition challenges teams of two to race across the nearby state park via bike, by boat, and on foot. For those who prefer to stay closer to the city, the CWE is ideal for a jog in Forest Park or a round at The Boxing Gym.
THE LUXE LIFE
Usual Suspects: Ladue, Clayton, Central West End
And Don’t Forget: Huntleigh, Country Life Acres
In Ladue, luxury comes in the form of beautiful homes with a French country feel—and an average price approaching $700,000. Four golf courses, Tilles Park, and a convenient location between Frontenac and Clayton solidify it among St. Louis’ most desirable upscale neighborhoods. If you want even more room to roam, Huntleigh’s 750 acres might be the place for you—especially considering that scarcely more than 100 families live here, many going back generations. “It’s like living in the country in the middle of the city,” says longtime resident and attorney Peter von Gontard, adding that the neighborhood is exclusively 2- and 3-acre residential zoning. If it’s exclusivity you’re looking for, the 29 homes in Country Life Acres are nestled at the heart of Town & Country and pack plenty of extravagance into their median price of $1.17 million, according to Yahoo! Real Estate.
Usual Suspects: Bridgeton, Downtown
And Don’t Forget: Town & Country, Belleville, Ill.
Metro has seen its share of hurdles—with a significant deficit, county voters nixing Prop. M, and recent fare increases—but we’re still licking our wounds from $4-per-gallon gas prices. If you’re looking to bridge the gap from county to city, Bridgeton lives up to its name. It takes the transit title, with 35 bus stops and the county’s two westernmost MetroLink stations (as of press time; see p. 54)—not to mention Lambert–St. Louis International Airport. Gone is the former Amshack downtown; in its place is the $28 million Gateway Transportation Center, just south of Scottrade Center. The 24-hour hub is the nexus of all things mass transit (well, maybe not boats or blimps): Amtrak, Greyhound, MetroLink, and MetroBus. Town & Country is another perfect area for those who like options in all directions. It’s bisected by Highway 141 and has one of the biggest intersections in St. Louis County: Highways 270 and 40.
THE PARK LOVER
Usual Suspects: Forest Park Southeast, St. Peters, St. Charles
And Don’t Forget: Sunset Hills, Webster Groves, Hazelwood
Forest Park Southeast is the ideal spot for city dwellers seeking a central spot close to lots of greenery. With access to Forest Park and Tower Grove Park, as well as the Missouri Botanical Garden, the essential trifecta is all within a five- to 10-minute walk. St. Charles and St. Peters alone have a combined 41 parks. “As you move throughout these communities in St. Charles County, you can find these little pockets of green space all over,” says Charlene Waggoner, president of Greenway Network, Inc., a grass-roots group dedicated to preserving natural resources. Webster Groves boasts 17 parks packed into 5.9 square miles; most every one has a playground, but some include trails, pools, and even an ice arena. Sunset Hills has eight parks with every basic amenity, plus sand volleyball, hiking trails, a public pool, and a nine-hole Frisbee-golf course, as well as Laumeier Sculpture Park. On the other side of the county, Hazelwood has 16 parks that include outdoor swimming, fishing, and an 18-hole Frisbee-golf course.
Usual Suspects: The Grove, Benton Park, The Loft District
And Don’t Forget: Tower Grove, St. Peters, Wentzville, O’Fallon, Mo.
St. Louis is no exception to real estate’s cardinal rule: location, location, location. Our usual suspects fit the bill, being no more than 10 minutes from downtown or Forest Park. The Grove and Benton Park have sprouted upscale eateries like Mia Rosa and Niche, respectively, and downtown’s Loft District is home to some of the region’s most desirable loft living. Lesser-known areas are also spurring a return to the city. Tower Grove is attracting new faces beside popular favorites like Vietnamese restaurant Pho Grand and MoKaBe’s Coffee House. Locavores will enjoy Local Harvest and Tower Grove Farmers’ Market. Of course, no up-and-coming area would be complete without a burgeoning arts scene; enter The Luminary, which showcases local art in various media. And for all-out rapid growth, St. Peters, O’Fallon, and Wentzville are among some of Missouri’s fastest-growing cities.
Usual Suspects: Downtown, Tower Grove, Downtown West
And Don’t Forget: Shaw, JeffVanderLou, The Gate District
Ten years have done a lot for the blogger. Previously labeled “geeky,” bloggers are now “informed”—and in St. Louis, the wired play watchdog to the city’s developers. Dana Loesch, founder of the St. Louis Bloggers Guild, says Shaw and Tower Grove have the highest concentration of bloggers in the city. “Urban Review STL and blogs of that ilk, they really watch a lot of the community development,” Loesch says, adding that there’s a lot of focus on the downtown area: “[They] keep people on the straight and narrow with regard to how they’re building up certain neighborhoods and making sure it’s not just cheap gentrification.” Mark Josephson, CEO of news and blog aggregation site Outside.in, says STL bloggers—often writing on areas such as JeffVanderLou (site of many historic homes) and the Gate District (another time-tested area)—are a forward-thinking bunch with an eye for culture, development, and history. “There is an overwhelming sense of positivity and hope in the blogs in St. Louis,” he says.
Usual Suspects: Clayton, Frontenac/Ladue, Richmond Heights, Central West End
And Don’t Forget: Lake Saint Louis, Hazelwood, Maryland Heights
Inside Clayton’s The Crescent, you can shop a number of high-end boutiques: Valerie Mills and Elements of Denim for yourself, Lusso for your home, and Baby Petunia for the kids. The same goes for Frontenac and Ladue, where you’ll find shopping beyond Saks and Neiman Marcus; boutiques like The Little Black Dress, Wish Shoes & Accessories, and Mister Guy in Ladue Marketplace are top stops for the fashion-savvy. The CWE’s Maryland Plaza offers trendy shops, and independent boutiques are just down Euclid. Lake Saint Louis’ open-air shopping district, The Meadows at Lake Saint Louis, has stores like CJ Banks, men’s clothier Bachrach, Banana Republic, and Ann Taylor Loft. Next up? Von Maur is slated to open within the next two years. And there’s no shortage of mall madness at Hazelwood’s St. Louis Mills, Richmond Heights’
Galleria and The Boulevard–St. Louis, and Maryland Heights’ Westport Plaza.
Usual Suspects: Cherokee-Lemp, The Grove
And Don’t Forget: Old North, Gravois Park, Shaw
After years of neglect, the city has seen an upswing in rehabbing efforts, rising from 1,807 rehab permits in 2002 to 2,591 five years later, according to the Home Builders Association. One particularly bright spot is Old North, where the long-abandoned 14th Street Mall is experiencing new life through the transformation of 27 buildings. “We haven’t been hit [by the recession] as hard as other areas,” says Sean Thomas, executive director of Old North St. Louis Restoration Group. Other parts of the city are also seeing gradual transformation, including neighborhoods near Cherokee; many of these buildings qualify for historic tax credits. At the same time, buildings in and around The Grove are undergoing renovation. Newstead Tower Public House and The Gramophone are just two budding businesses inside renovated buildings. Shaw’s rows of brick Victorian homes have seen encouraging development of late, too, causing the neighborhood to be dubbed one of the “Best Places in the Midwest to Buy an Old House” by This Old House Online. While the commercial element is a bit behind, newly opened Sasha’s on Shaw brings hope. “It’s a tough time to be developing, but there are a lot of opportunities out there,” says Saint Louis Rehabbers Club president Claralyn Bollinger.
Usual Suspects: St. Charles, Downtown, Soulard
And Don’t Forget: Skinker-DeBaliviere, Lafayette Square, St. Louis Place
Skinker-DeBaliviere is an area rife with history, dating back to the 18th century. Besides the nearby Missouri History Museum and Grace Methodist Church, it was the original survey site for Forest Park. Another Missouri original, Old Town St. Charles was, as the highway exit signs recall, Missouri’s First Capital, albeit temporarily. Its riverfront area is the largest historic district in the state, with many shops and buildings dating back to the early 1800s. St. Louis Place also has its place in the city’s history; while many of its buildings were neglected over the years, some of its former glory remains at locations like Zion Lutheran Church. It’s also home to the Griot Museum of Black History and Culture.
Usual Suspects: Soulard, University City
And Don’t Forget: Skinker-DeBaliviere, Brentwood
Renters make up no small part of St. Louis’ real estate. According to realtor.com, 37 percent of St. Louisans living in the city are renters—that’s just above the national average. It’s no surprise, considering the affordability in many places. (Of course, not having to replace a furnace is nice, too.) Soulard is a popular destination for a motley group of renters. Young and old alike are drawn to the area’s culture and nightlife, as well as the aged-and-regal Victorian buildings. If you’re looking farther west, University City has plenty of apartment and home-rental options—and because the area is so large, you can choose between properties with rent in the hundreds to several thousands without leaving the neighborhood. Nearby Skinker-DeBaliviere also offers a mix of historic homes and apartments along tree-lined streets. And Brentwood is a gem for rentals, mostly because of one extremely large complex: Brentwood Forest, the largest condo complex in the Midwest, with 1,425 spaces. Its central location near Highways 40 and 170 doesn’t hurt either.
THE KNOWLEDGE SEEKER
Usual Suspects: University City, Midtown
And Don’t Forget: Kings Oak, Webster Groves, Edwardsville, Ill.
St. Louis might top the charts in a couple of unsavory categories (e.g., STDs, crime), but it was also ranked America’s ninth most-literate city in a 2008 study by Central Connecticut State University. U. City leads the pack with 14 libraries, mostly thanks to its namesake, Washington University. It also has nine public and seven private schools. Midtown, of course, is the site of SLU—recently recognized by U.S. News & World Report for having the nation’s top health-law program. Webster Groves has plenty of brainy activities surrounding Webster University, with events like the Webster Film Series open to the public. Unlike U. City or Webster, Kings Oak has only 84 residents, but the tiny neighborhood encompasses the Science Center and St. Louis University High School. Across the river, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s senior capstone program is a model for other colleges; it’s received accolades from U.S. News & World Report four years in a row.
THE SCENIC-VIEW SEEKER
Usual Suspects: Central West End, Downtown, Wydown Skinker
And Don’t Forget: Carondelet, Grafton, Ill.
Some of the city’s best vistas are from high-rises in the CWE along the eastern border of Forest Park, including the 26-story Park East Tower’s condos. Across the park, Wydown Skinker’s string of high-rise condos and apartments like The Dorchester offer equally breathtaking views of treetops and the Arch in the distance. At the edge of Carondelet, Mississippi Bluffs—an aptly named town-home development—hugs a bluff overlooking the river. And because a wetland sanctuary lies on the opposite shore, residents aren’t investing in a view of a future industrial site. Across the state line, a half-hour up the River Road from Alton, is Grafton—a village of 715 at the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. For $8, a ferry will take cars and trucks across the water to St. Charles County, just 10 miles from downtown St. Chuck.
THE ARCHITECTURE BUFF
Usual Suspects: Central West End, Downtown, Soulard
And Don’t Forget: Parkview, Lafayette Square, Compton Heights
During St. Louis’ heyday, the city produced some of the nation’s most striking architecture. Today, with urban revitalization growing, many of the city’s historic districts are as desirable as when they were first built. Bruce Lindsey, dean of Wash. U.’s School of Architecture, recommends Lafayette Square in terms of a cohesive neighborhood layout. “The Victorian housing stock there is terrific and very consistent,” says Lindsey. The Central West End—always an architect’s dream, with the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis containing the largest mosaic collection in the world—is nearly as desirable now as it was around the time of the 1904 World’s Fair, when blocks like Westminster Place and Washington Terrace first sprang up. And of course, no guide to St. Louis architecture is complete without downtown—and no, we’re not just talking about the Arch, Old Courthouse, and Union Station; organic detailing and the signature terra-cotta hue of the Wainwright Building are unmistakable, and the Old Post Office—now 125 years old—is an incredibly ornate, well-preserved example of post–Civil War architecture. To see other architectural gems, visit builtstlouis.net.
Usual Suspects: Chesterfield, Wildwood
And Don’t Forget: Pacific, Huntleigh
Wildwood’s open spaces aren’t the only things that make it ideal for horse enthusiasts; Nottoway Farm and Baskin Farm offer training and boarding, and
Saint Louis Equestrian Center sells and shows horses. In the far reaches of St. Louis County, horse fanatics can retreat to Pacific’s Greensfelder Park, with stables that offer lessons for beginners. Chesterfield boasts Kennedy Farms Equestrian Center, which sells horses and offers summer camps. The far reaches of St. Louis County and St. Charles County also have a number of equine-assisted therapy programs. If you don’t want to travel that far west, however, Huntleigh is home to a tight-knit equestrian community; many residents own horses and keep private stables. The St. Louis Polo Association is based there, and members play on a private practice field. Founded in Huntleigh in 1927 by August A. Busch Jr. and friends, the Bridlespur Hunt Club is a fox-hunting league now operating in rural Lincoln County.
Usual Suspects: Soulard, Tower Grove, Clayton
And Don’t Forget: Ferguson, Maplewood, Old North, Overland
Tower Grove boasts one of the city’s biggest farmers’ markets on Saturdays from May through October, and the grub and handmade crafts come from a 150-mile radius of St. Louis. Market organizer Patrick Horine says many visitors come for the goods but stay for the free concerts and yoga lessons. “It’s more than just getting your food and leaving,” Horine says. “It’s become more of a community gathering place.” North City Farmers’ Market in Old North’s Crown Square offers organic food from New Roots Urban Farm (based in nearby St. Louis Place), cooking classes, and even medical screenings. At Ferguson’s Citywalk on Saturdays, you can find Amish baked goods, pecans, pasta, and more. And while cutting through Maplewood during the Highway 40 construction, swing by Schlafly Bottleworks; it might be too early to down a No. 15, but you can buy produce, meats, and cheeses—OK, and perhaps a locally brewed beverage to wash it down later. As of press time, Overland plans to host a farmers’ market on Saturdays at Overland Market Center.
THE PUB CRAWLER
Usual Suspects: Soulard, Downtown, Laclede’s Landing
And Don’t Forget: The Grove, Dogtown, Maplewood, Midtown
Soulard is a no-brainer for any pubgoer: It’s home to St. Louis classics such as John D. McGurk’s, named one of the top 10 Irish pubs in America by Esquire, and newer hotspots like Old Rock House. Maplewood is ideal if you’re actually looking to crawl from one pub to another: A 1-mile strip includes dueling pianos at The Jive & Wail, Boogaloo’s swinging jungle theme, and same-day brews at Schlafly Bottleworks. Keep going east on Manchester, and you’ll hit The Grove. Got a taste for tequila? Agave has 65 varieties. Feeling sinful? Wet your whistle amid The Church Key’s church-themed furnishings. Dogtown has laid-back faves on a first-name basis: Felix’s, Seamus’, and Nick’s. In midtown, SLU is reportedly converting a strip along Laclede Street once known as “Bar Row” into student apartments, but you can still drink at Humphrey’s (the inspiration for One Night at McCool’s) and Buffalo Brewing Company. And of course, many fine establishments in the aforementioned Foodie category also whip up killer drinks.
THE YOUNG PROFESSIONAL
Usual Suspects: The Loft District, Clayton, Central West End
And Don’t Forget: Dogtown, Tower Grove, Clifton Heights
Last year, Forbes ranked St. Louis No. 14 on its list of the nation’s 40 best places for young professionals. It’s no surprise that a biz hub like Clayton is a draw for this bunch. Residents between 25 and 44 make up the area’s largest demo—making the central-corridor area perfect for work and play. Chris LeBeau, president of Metropolis St. Louis, a group dedicated to retaining young people in the city, says Dogtown and Tower Grove are especially popular because of the tight-knit atmosphere and attractive home prices. “A lot of the houses there are nice but are more starter homes,” says LeBeau. “A lot of young people are still looking for the best deal for their dollar.” And while it doesn’t offer the same level of retail, Clifton Heights—west of The Hill—is also seeing a swell of activity. “There’s been a wave of young professionals moving in and purchasing homes because it’s affordable and safe,” says Becky Hughes, president of the Clifton Heights Neighborhood Association and a young professional herself.
MARRIED WITH CHILDREN
Usual Suspects: Kirkwood, Town & Country, Webster Groves, Chesterfield, St. Louis Hills
And Don’t Forget: Warson Woods, Glendale, Southampton, Des Peres
The region has no shortage of family-friendly neighborhoods. Whittling it down depends on what you’re looking for. Kirkwood—with its picturesque houses, good schools, quaint downtown, and significantly expanded Magic House—is a standout for families. Family Circle recently named Webster Groves to its list of “10 Best Towns for Families,” noting the historic housing, student-to-teacher ratio, and recycling programs. Warson Woods, Glendale, and Des Peres share many of the same perks as Kirkwood and Webster: safe blocks and top schools. In Town & Country, students can attend Parkway or Ladue schools, and there’s a low percentage of crime—plus Queeny Park has no shortage of trails, play areas, and the Museum of the Dog. If you don’t mind the suburban lifestyle, Chesterfield’s schools and safety factor are also attractive. In South City, some close-knit neighborhoods like St. Louis Hills and Southampton have low crime rates and holiday events.
MARRIED WITH TEENS
Usual Suspects: Creve Coeur, St. Charles, St. Peters, O’Fallon, Mo.
And Don’t Forget: Olivette, Manchester, Ballwin, Fenton, O’Fallon, Ill.
Living with teens offers enough drama—so finding a neighborhood with solid schools and safe hangouts is a must. Olivette shares Ladue’s top-notch public school district, but the median home price is significantly less: around $265,000, according to real-estate website Zillow.com. Creve Coeur residents can send their kids to Ladue or Parkway, as well as private schools like De Smet Jesuit High School and Chaminade College Prep. Manchester and Ballwin share the Parkway School District and low crime rates, and Fenton’s Rockwood Summit Senior High—part of Rockwood School District, St. Louis County’s largest school district—is a draw. Farther west,
St. Charles, St. Peters, and O’Fallon—all family-friendly suburbs—ranked among Money magazine’s list of the nation’s “Best Places to Live 2008.” And in Illinois, O’Fallon boasts a low crime rate and soon-to-expand O’Fallon Township High School, which consistently scores among the state’s best public schools.
OTHER NEIGHBORHOODS TO KNOW
Boulevard Heights: Near Carondelet Park, at the city’s southern edge, Boulevard Heights has recently seen affordable single-family homes, town homes, and condos rise at a development sharing the neighborhood’s name.
Carondelet: Although Carondelet has trailed its neighbors Soulard and Benton Park in development, Sister Mary Ann Nestel, executive director of the Carondelet Community Betterment Foundation, says plenty is in the works. The organization is developing a strategic long-term plan. With a community rec center being built, a new casino coming to nearby Lemay, and the opening of the Ivory Theatre, named “the prettiest theater in town” by the Post’s Judy Newmark, the historic neighborhood seems poised to catch up with its northern neighbors.
Columbus Square: Just north of the Edward Jones Dome and within walking distance of bustling Washington Avenue, tiny Columbus Square continues to wait for the much-hyped Bottle District to develop. But Matt Bernsen, the district’s marketing director, said there was no news as of mid-February. New Orleans–based Historic Restoration Inc., however, told the St. Louis Business Journal in February that it’s reviewing plans for redeveloping two buildings on the site. For now, the waiting game continues.
Fox Park: Positioned to reap the benefits of nearby thriving neighborhoods like Lafayette Square and Benton Park, Fox Park has a strong neighborhood association; in fact, it recently started a community kickball team. “It’s really established itself in recent years as a desirable and vastly improving neighborhood,” says Tom Pickel, executive director of DeSales Community Housing Corporation, an organization that promotes investment in Fox Park and Tower Grove East.
The Garden District: When six blocks of the Botanical Heights district were redeveloped several years ago, some locals protested the demolition of old McRee Town’s historic housing. Now its 143 new homes are sold and occupied, says Pickel. For the remaining blocks in the Garden District Commission’s plan, DeSales Community Housing Corporation—working on behalf of the GDC—is striving to preserve owner-occupied houses while adding new homes on vacant lots. In Shaw, Southwest Garden, Tiffany, and Botanical Heights, the affordability and central location are attracting many families. “Botanical Heights recently commissioned a market study by a respected new-home market consultant,” says Pickel. “He said that in times of recession, the market in the city tends to contract to the central corridor, from near south to near north, and we’re definitely seeing that.”
Hyde Park: Over the past several decades, groups like the Hyde Park Alliance and Hyde Park Business Association have worked to restore the neighborhood. While development is significantly behind Old North, some locals are tackling rehab projects, and ambitious citizens hope to beautify the park, attract businesses to Salisbury Street, and rehab historic Bremen Theater.
JeffVanderLou: Just north of Grand Center, JeffVanderLou is the former home of Sportsman’s Park. Blogs like Built St. Louis and Ecology of Absence document much of the neglected housing stock, where McEagle Properties’ Paul McKee has bought up many vacant areas.
Southampton: This tight-knit South City community, with its charming brick bungalows on tree-lined streets, rallies around locally owned businesses like green Home Eco and Murdoch Perk coffee shop. With a strong neighborhood association, Southampton maintains one of the city’s lowest crime rates.
The Ville and Greater Ville: While there are many long-neglected buildings in these neighborhoods, structures like 100-year-old Sumner High School and Homer G. Phillips Hospital (now a senior-living facility) still stand.
As the Loop stretches east along Delmar, look for new developments, both commercial and residential. Already, there are newer buildings and businesses, like the Delmar Place Townhomes and Nubia Café.
Bellefontaine Neighbors: Perhaps best known for historic Bellefontaine Cemetery, this North County neighborhood has a rich history and diverse community. Local writer Carol Ferring Shepley recently penned a book—Movers, Shakers, Scalawags, and Suffragettes: Tales From Bellefontaine Cemetery—that captures the city’s history through the lives of the cemetery’s inhabitants.
Crestwood: Just south of I-44, Crestwood’s most notable attraction is Sappington House, a history museum owned by the parks department.
Ferguson: Ferguson’s Citywalk district boasts the historic Savoy Theater building and Ferguson Depot, a train depot–turned-museum that also houses the Whistle Stop custard shop.
Florissant: Like other parts of North County, Florissant saw a rise in commercial and residential development before the recession, with the $55 million renovation of The Shoppes at Cross Keys. At the same time, groups like Florissant Old Town Partners are working to develop and preserve historic areas.
Hazelwood: Since the Ford assembly plant closed in 2006, Hazelwood has worked to “diversify its industrial, retail, and service,” writes communications coordinator Tim Davidson. “Development programs under way in the community, both public and private, exceed $2 billion in value.” Among its most recent completed projects: White Birch Bay, a $5.7 million aquatic center.
Lemay: It might come as a surprise that CNN Money recently proclaimed Lemay, a census-designated place along the river in South County, No. 85 on its “100 Best Places to Live and Launch.” A significant consideration: Pinnacle Entertainment’s lofty plans for its $375 million River City casino and hotel. With new jobs and visitors should come a boost to the local economy.
Overland: Centrally located, with a mix of historic buildings and innovative businesses like Alberici and Clayco, Overland boasts some great Mexican food.
Pasadena Hills: Pasadena Hills is a community with abundant green space that includes its own lake-centered park area.
St. Albans: More than a golfing community, St. Albans has lovely views of historic sites…though the area’s golf courses are pretty phenomenal.
St. Ann: Established more than 60 years ago to house defense workers, St. Ann is slowly working on plans to redevelop Northwest Plaza and areas along St. Charles Rock Road.
ST. CHARLES COUNTY
Augusta: While some towns in St. Charles County have developed quickly over the past decade, Augusta is known for the opposite: peace and relaxation. Although home to only 200 people, the small town draws tourists to its fine drinking establishments—seven wineries, most notably Mount Pleasant, as well as Augusta Brewing Co. And if a drink isn’t enough to help you unwind, the serene Mid-America Buddhist Association is nearby.
Cottleville: With Woodlands Sports Park, Mid Rivers Golf Links, Persimmon Woods Golf Club, and Whitmoor Country Club a 7-iron away, Cottleville is in many ways like its neighbor O’Fallon: ideal for the sports fanatic.
Dardenne Prairie: Once-rural Dardenne Prairie is today anything but prairie. It now has sprawling suburbs, name-brand stores, and a new city hall under construction. Yet plenty of green spaces are nearby, including three golf courses and the August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Area just south of Highway 40.
Wentzville: BusinessWeek recently proclaimed the home of the Greater St. Louis Renaissance Faire to be Missouri’s biggest boomtown, saying the town “was a hub for new construction during the boom. But like much of the country, construction has slowed, stores are now selling less, and unemployment is rising.” The study, conducted by Arkansas-based research firm Gadberry Group, found the area’s households have grown
160 percent since 2000.
Alton: Known for the now-expanded Fast Eddie’s Bon Air, Alton is a river town with plenty of other things to see: eagles along the river, cable-stayed Clark Bridge, and the life-size statue of Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest man, at the SIU School of Dental Medicine.
Collinsville: Collinsville has a bizarre fixation on condiments: It’s known as the “Horseradish Capital of the World” and sports the world’s largest ketchup bottle as a water tower. But the city of 25,000 also offers affordable housing and a low crime rate. While there, grab a slice of cheesecake from Kruta’s.
Columbia: This tiny German town—the original home of now-defunct Strassenfest—made waves in recent years for political squabbles over city development. Gruchala’s is one place where the locals can make peace over breakfast.
Edwardsville: Edwardsville, the third-oldest city in Illinois and home to SIUE, grew by nearly 5,000 citizens between 2000 and 2007. Among notable eateries that opened there in recent years are Fond and Erato on Main. Trust us: Both are well worth the trip.
Highland: Home to the Madison County Fair, Highland is a quaint Swiss-German town that hosts the Peanut Butter and Jam Festival during the summer. Other quirky facts: Wicks Pipe Organ Co., maker of elaborate church organs, and Highland Supply Corporation, the world’s largest supplier of green Easter grass, call the town home.
O’Fallon: Not to be confused with Missouri’s own version, O’Fallon, Ill., saw a building boom in the ’90s with Highway 64’s expansion. Today, 50 percent of the city’s housing stock is less than 15 years old.
Shiloh and Swansea: Sandwiched between rapidly expanding Belleville and O’Fallon, Shiloh and Swansea are prime for development. In just five years, from 2000 to 2005, Shiloh grew by 3,500, and Swansea went from 10,500 in 2000 to an estimated 12,800 in 2007. “Swansea is holding its own in these down times with new subdivisions,” says village administrator John Openlander, noting Fulford Homes is building homes and a splash pad is coming to Schranz Park.
Valmeyer: Devastated by the Great Flood of 1993, Valmeyer rebuilt on higher ground 2 miles east. Today, the city of 1,200 continues to rebuild its population. One interesting destination: Rock City Admiral Parkway Development, an underground storage facility that houses frozen food and national archives. The former limestone quarry stays 58 degrees
Waterloo: The historically German town of Waterloo, at the southern edge of Metro East, shares a special bond with its sister city, Porta Westfalica in Germany. Each summer, the city hosts its Porta Westfalica Festival, drawing Germans to town and promising to visit in return.
THE LOCAL LINGO
More than one St. Louisan has recently noted Gov. Jay Nixon’s frequent linguistic acrobatics, often switching between “Missour-ee” and “Missour-ah.” Pronunciations are a funny thing in the Show-Me State. They aren’t always accurate—but they’re never dull. If you live in St. Louis, the lingo comes with the territory. Here’s a guide (newcomers, take note) to those not-so-obvious streets and neighborhoods:
Bellefontaine Neighbors: It’s pronounced BELL-fountain—though if you grew up in this area, BELL-fant-in is also acceptable.
Bevo: The E in BEE-vo is pronounced differently than the E in A-B InBev, which sold the neighborhood’s historic namesake—the towering, Dutch-inspired windmill/restaurant at Gravois and Morgan Ford—to the city in January.
Creve Coeur: French for “broken heart,” it’s pronounced, in this city, creev-CORE.
Des Peres: Despite the name, pronounced duh-PAIR, there is only one.
DeBaliviere: Said duh-BOL-ih-ver, this is a prime example of how St. Louisans did away with the highfalutin French of the city’s ancestors.
Florissant: It’s FLOR-uh-sunt—not like fluorescent lighting.
Gravois: Pronounced GRA-voy, with an A as in “grab,” any mispronunciation is a dead giveaway of an outsider.
THE SEVEN NEW RULES OF REAL ESTATE
A post-boom guide to navigating the St. Louis housing market
1) Buyer, Beware
The days of generous loans and high risk are over—at least for now. Instead, potential buyers should proceed with caution. “I usually tell homebuyers, ‘We’ll get pre-qualified, but you may only want to look within a price range of what’s comfortable, not necessarily what you qualify for,’” says Carole Baras, president of the St. Louis Association of Realtors. Though many homebuyers at one time took out too-large loans,
Janet Horlacher, vice president of real-estate agency Janet McAfee, Inc., says, “In this environment, lenders won’t let you overextend.”
2) Looks Matter
For many young people—especially first-time homebuyers—looks are everything. “Younger people tend to buy what they see,” says Baras. “Many of them are looking for something they can just move into.” For sellers, that means a little work now can garner hundreds, or even thousands, later.
3) The Fear Factor
To hear all of the dire news, you might think it’s time to get out while you still can. Karen Vennard, president of the St. Charles County Association of Realtors, says not so fast. “Fear is never a good reason to sell,” she says, noting the exception of those in dire straits. “If you listen to some of the pundits, they compare it to stock, but home values actually appreciate compared to the stock market… I don’t think you should ever compare the two. Your home is a home for many reasons. It’s still your best investment.” Historically speaking, Vennard’s logic makes sense—but bear in mind that the recession’s outcome remains to be seen.
4) Signs of Hope
As the market levels out, so must expectations. Still, it’s not all bad news. Horlacher has seen signs of encouragement, especially in the central corridor. “Buyers are coming out of the woodwork,” she says, in
U. City, Brentwood, and Clayton. She notes that the ultra-luxury market is especially picking up. The same might be said for some areas farther west. “We’re not down as low as people think we are,” notes Vennard. In St. Charles County, sales were down about 20 percent, and homes were on the market longer, but home values generally fell very little. Compare the median sale price of $180,000 in 2008 to more than a decade ago in 1998, says Vennard, when the median sale price was $113,500, and you see dramatic gains. Still, buyers should always proceed with caution.
5) On Foreclosures
By now, you’ve probably heard commercials coaxing you to find a steal on a foreclosed home. While it’s true that you can bid for rock-bottom prices, you can also get more than you bargain for. Many of the foreclosed properties are in neighborhoods where the homes need considerable repairs, warns Baras, and banks most likely won’t cover the costs. “Even though people tend to think you get a better deal, there’s always something tied to that deal,” she says. Horlacher, however, says there are foreclosures in more upscale areas, too. “We’re seeing foreclosures in all segments of the market,” she says. “If you’re a buyer out there, the realtor may know that [a home was] foreclosed, but the person looking might not know until they get further down the road.” It’s always a good idea to ask early on to prevent surprises later.
6) The Condo Cycle
“It seems to me, and I’ve been selling over 25 years, that we go into deeper declines for a larger percentage of condos on the market than general real estate,” says Baras. “It seems like condos in St. Louis go into cycles more than housing real estate, too.” Some developers transform condos into apartments, such as in downtown, while others hope for the best (see “A Condo Home Companion,” page 75). In St. Charles County, many of these developments are clustered together as villas and row homes in places like The New Town at St. Charles—the ambitious, 726-acre development with canals, a lake, and a town center. Vennard attributes its success to location. Still, many developments are proving difficult for realtors to sell. “The days on market are a little longer,” says Horlacher, adding that there’s a long list of inventory for condos, villas, and planned-unit developments.
7) This Too Shall Pass
So maybe it’s their jobs to be optimistic, but these experts take a big-picture approach to the current housing market. “It’s a waiting game,” says Horlacher. “There comes a time when buyers recognize there are some great values out there, and it’s time to get off the fence.” She says that’s already starting to happen, especially in high-end neighborhoods. Elsewhere, Baras notes, “Sales are down, but pricing is good… We’re a good medium-range market; St. Louis has a lot to offer.” Vennard also looks at it with a glass-half-full approach. “There are two kinds of markets: a buyer’s and a seller’s. We just happen to be in a buyer’s market—it’s not a good or bad market.” —J.M.
A CONDO HOME COMPANION
Whether you’re a homeowner looking to ditch your lawn guy for a doorman or a condo owner thinking of selling your slice of St. Louis, you’re probably wondering how this economic aneurysm will affect the market (read: your pocketbook). We hear you loud and clear. That’s why we’ve talked to the movers and shakers of St. Louis’ condo world to find out what you need to know before making a move with your piece of the pie.
The Economic Factor
Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way first. Is the market here really as bad as headlines say? In brief, yes and no. Many realtors will tell you it’s a buyer’s market, which doesn’t traditionally bode well for current owners. Carole Baras, president of the St. Louis Association of Realtors, recognizes young people are having trouble getting credit and loans, and older condo seekers are having trouble selling their original homes, but she points out that other cities have it worse. “St. Louis has good stock—good average sale prices compared to other parts of the country,” says Baras. “And there is a large variety to choose from. So it’s a good area to purchase. It’s just a little bit more difficult right now.”
St. Louis’ loft boom started along Washington, and even today, trends that begin there reverberate throughout the city. So what’s happening downtown that we can expect to happen elsewhere?
The Partnership for Downtown St. Louis’ Kevin Farrell says development has slowed but not stopped, and some condo complexes have turned into apartments offering rental options—allowing consumers more affordable prices. Farrell says one thing unique to downtown is constant revitalization. “I think you’re going to continue to see not only retail and restaurants opening, but more services people really look for in a neighborhood,” he says. Besides a new Schnucks, slated large-scale developments include Chouteau’s Landing, Roberts Tower, and Ballpark Village, as well as gathering spots like
Old Post Office Plaza and City Garden. —D.M.
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