Lafayette Square

In the shadow of Downtown sits one St. Louis’ grandest neighborhoods.  Lafayette Square is a relic of St. Louis’ greatest era.  We were the 4th largest city in the country and growing at a rapid pace.  St. Louis was a beacon of manufacturing and industry some of United State’s most influential and wealthy businessmen lived here.  Downtown and the surrounding blocks were becoming crowded, polluted, and loud.  The rough city was converging around the private residences downtown and even the stately “Lucas Place” where so many of St. Louis’ elite had called home in the mid and late 19th century.  These wealthy residents decided they needed to retreat to a development outside of the urban jungle of Downtown St. Louis.  What they conceived eventually became the community of Lafayette Square.

The building stock in Lafayette Square consists primarily of large single family dwellings, a few 2-4 family flats and apartment buildings, and infill new construction townhomes and condos (on the northwest side of the neighborhood).   Infill townhomes and condos range in price from $120,000 up to $350,000 or more for a new construction free standing single family home.  Property that faces the park generally commands much greater value.  Historic homes range from just under $200,000 up to $1,000,000 or more for a mansion facing the park.  Homes are primarily brick masonry while some have limestone and other decorative facades and cornices that add to the beauty and architectural significance of these residences.

Lafayette Square was originally intended to be a purely residential community far from the urban grittiness of Downtown.  There were even legal covenants in place against commercial and industrial uses in the neighborhood.  However by the 1920’s St. Louis had grown and again surrounded the peaceful and beautiful residences.  Many residents again moved west to neighborhoods such as the Central West and gated communities such as Vandeventer Place.  The neighborhood began a 25 year decline that was complete by the end of World War II.  Their anti business covenenants had long been ruled illegal in court and businesses had taken root in the neighborhood.  The neighborhood became a ghetto or slum full of rooming houses and undesirables while suburbia began to grow and take root in America during the 1950’s and 1960’s.

The 1970’s brought renewed awareness to Lafayette Square and urban minded individuals began to move back to the neighborhood.  Many of the homes had been abandoned and came into the possession of the city.  At this time it was possible for an individual to buy a building in Lafayette Square from the city for as little a $1 with the promise that they would improve the property and pay taxes on it.  The 1980’s and 1990’s saw steady investment and rehabbing.  During the this time the neighborhood began to stabilize and improve.  The 2000’s were a time of incredible investment and rehab in Lafayette Square.  Prices and the reputation of Lafayette Square as a neighborhood skyrocketed during the real estate boom of the mid 2000’s.

Today Lafayette Square is arguably the most gentrified neighborhood in the city.  Barely a shred of the abandonment that took place in the mid 20th century is evident now.   The park is as beautiful and lively as the historic homes that overlook it.  The park hosts concerts and a movie series each summer.  Residents and visitors are out and about all months of the year enjoying the park, the many neighborhood eating and drinking establishments, and the art galleries that neighborhood has become known for.

Benton Place, St. Louis’ first private street, was dedicated along with first concert bandstand in the park in 1867.  Benton Place’s entrance sits on Lafayette Ave. facing the north side of the park.

Also of note is the tornado that ripped through South St. Louis in 1896.  By many accounts it completely destroyed Lafayette Square causing millions of dollars worth of damage.  Many residents decided not to rebuild and moved on at this point.  Those who stayed and rebuilt did a masterful job and many visitors during the 1904 World’s Fair commented on Lafayette Square’s beauty.

Lafayette Square has several active neighborhood organizations and committees dedicated to representing residents and improving both the neighborhood and park.  These organizations carry quite a bit of clout and serve to address resident’s concerns, improve the park, and oversee development and historic codes.

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If you have any questions about the Lafayette Square Neighborhood please feel free to contact me through the website or call Jim Willen at 314-753-8540



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