Established in 1816 as the Village of North St. Louis, the area now known as Old North St. Louis has seen many changes since its founding. After annexation by the City of St. Louis in 1841 and growing into a very densely populated and vibrant neighborhood, the community experienced tremendous deterioration and depopulation during the last half of the twentieth century.
In 1981, a group of residents, small business owners, and community leaders in the Old North St. Louis neighborhood established the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group (ONSLRG) as a not-for-profit corporation with a mission to revitalize the physical and social dimensions of the community in a manner that respects its historical, cultural and urban character. Faced with a neighborhood marked by massive population losses and widespread abandonment, ONSLRG has facilitated thousands of hours of volunteer service for neighborhood clean-ups and vacant building board-ups, hosted street festivals, sponsored annual house tours, coordinated crime prevention initiatives, and built the group’s office into a “neighborhood marketing center.” By 2004, the neighborhood was recognize by St. Louis Magazine as one of the city’s best places to live in its “up-and-coming” category.
The Restoration Group, in partnership with the Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance (RHCDA, now Rise), created a residential development plan for 100 new homes and rehabilitation of 25 historic buildings along North Market Street in the heart of the neighborhood. Twenty single-family for-sale homes have been completed and sold, and nine historic buildings were transformed from vacant, collapsing shells to produce 32 affordable apartments.
In 2006 ONSLRG and RHCDA launched the largest redevelopment effort in the neighborhood, a $35 million renovation of 27 vacant historic buildings along the former 14th Street Pedestrian Mall and adjacent blocks in to 80 mixed-income apartments and over 34,000 square feet of commercial and retail space. Re-branded as Crown Square, the redevelopment of the former 14th Street Pedestrian Mall also included re-opening the street and significant public improvements, such as new street trees, benches, bike racks, and street lights. The Crown Square project received the National Trust for Historic Preservation?HUD Secretary’s 2010 Award for Overall Excellence in Historic Preservation.Historic architecture in Crown SquareThe physical development (or re-construction) of the neighborhood’s buildings stock has been matched by similar efforts to address other community needs, as defined and prioritized by neighborhood residents.
In recent years ONSLRG has taken responsibility for seven community gardens, hosted six seasons of a Saturday morning farmers’ market, and established a community-owned grocery co-op. Because of the progress achieved to date (including a 28% growth in population over the past decade) and the comprehensive approach to neighborhood revitalization, Old North was selected by the EPA for its 2011 Overall Excellence Award for Smart Growth Achievement.
Now, 198 years after the establishment of the village of North St. Louis, 171 years after the annexation of that village into the City of St. Louis, and 31 years after the creation of the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, the neighborhood has earned a national reputation as a model for effective community-based revitalization.