Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Too Many Bars in Soulard? When Did That Happen?

A friend of mine moved to St. Louis from California almost two years ago. She purchased a home in the Lafayette Square Historic District. One day I asked her if she had considered the Soulard neighborhood while shopping for a home to buy. She had, but when she questioned her real estate agent about Soulard, the agent said that there were too many bars there.

Madame Chouteau wishes to thank that real estate agent for doing his job. Soulard has many charms. The Soulard Farmers’ Market, the European flavor of the architecture, the convenience of the neighborhood, and other elements are tremendous assets for an area that was dismissed as a slum and slated for demolition as recently as the early 1970's. However, the neighborhood recognizes that it does not benefit from people moving in and then discovering an aversion to bars and bar byproducts: noise, litter, vandalism, drunkenness and other quality of life issues. People should make decisions based on understanding the positives and negatives.

The need to confront reality is not concealed by Soulard residents. In the Sunday, August 29, 2004 issue ("News Watch: Issues and Analysis," Section B, page 1) of the "St. Louis Post-Dispatch" there was a very apt quote: "Anyone who lives in Soulard isn’t going to be anti-bar. You wouldn’t move here if you were." This excellent quip (or slap in the face, if you will) for Soulard residents (and potential residents) is attributed to "Gary Siddens of the Soulard Restoration Group." The context of the quote was a debate resulting from an "effort to limit the proliferation of nightspots in the neighborhood," according to the newspaper.

Madame Chouteau remembers talking with somebody who thought Mardi Gras was too declasse. This lady had gone door-to-door with a petition, trying to enlist support for controlling (or limiting) the main event, the Grand Parade, as it is known. At one rental unit, a woman answered the door. After learning the purpose of the petition, the woman replied: "I can’t sign that, I’m a drinker." And we know another family who bought a house in Soulard. Their proud explanation was: "We were down here partying all the time, so we thought we might just as well move to Soulard."

In the early 1970's, Soulard was a slum, the result of lack of insight and of attention during the watch of Alderman Raymond Leisure. Then things started to look up, as so-called "urban pioneers" discovered the area and started turning it into a residential-oriented historic district. Just when things started to look their brightest, Soulard turned again. It was sidetracked, turned into an entertainment district whose foundation is a potemkin Mardi Gras.

This peculiar and ugly celebration - which symbolizes the difficulty of Soulard (and of St. Louis) to envision a future - and the growth in the number of bars and liquor outlets (and the designation of Soulard as an entertainment district) has occurred on the watch of Seventh Ward Alderperson Phyllis Young. The alteration in the personality of Soulard has been ignored by the clueless neighborhood organization, the Soulard Restoration Group, and it has been spurred by the venality of liquor purveyors who have been given a free reign.

This course change, which caters to the lowest common denominator of neighborhood interests, has just happened, like a rudderless ship foundering on the rocks. The metamorphosis harks back to the visionless leadership provided during the years of Raymond Leisure.

Madame Chouteau thanks Alderperson Young and her supporters and handlers for her governance, for looking out for the interests of the businesses in Soulard and for helping turn the neighborhood into the setting for an annual, mirthless bacchanal and for the year-around antics of people devoid of any respect for Soulard or themselves. And Madame Chouteau hopes that real estate agents will continue to inform their clients of the existing reality in Soulard. After all, if this is as good as it gets, then new arrivals and the unwary need to be informed.


GMichaud said...

You don't seem to understand, it was the entertainment that promoted Soulard and helped encourage people to move into the neighborhood.
If it was not for that aspect the neighborhood would be destroyed by now.
In addition, in the early years,the bars held the neighborhood together. They were meeting places after work for the rope factory workers for instance. If the early bars didn't help glue the neighborhood together, you wouldn't be talking about the neighborhood now.
The bars and entertainment are much different now than then, but even the people who moved into Soulard in early years realized there were bars around.
Finally to suggest Ray Leisure was responsible for the decline of Soulard is absurd. The conditions in the city arose for many reasons, not least are federal policies that encouraged flight to suburbs and policies of cheap oil. The true costs of those policies is only now coming to light.
Nor should the fact GM, Exxon and Firestone bought up the streetcar system in St. Louis and shut it down be ignored as contributing to the decline of Soulard and the city. Ray Leisure had no control over any of those factors.

Cari said...

I love Soulard. My great grandma owned a little store there when my mom was a lil girl which eventually became Lynch St Bistro then another nice resturant. I went to church at Tabernacle Baptist which was on the corner of 12th & Barton across from Cotton's market. The church is now condo's. My first year ever at school was at St. Joseph and they used to have carnivals in the street. If I could afford it I would live in Soulard now in a house loft or condo. I've always loved Soulard and it's historical character. It's a great neighborhood even during it's bad years.

Craig said...