Central West End: St. Louis, Missouri
Located west of downtown St. Louis, the Central West End or "The CWE," as locals often call it, comprises 112 city blocks nestled between St. Louis's crown jewel Forest Park (a 2013 APA Great Public Space) and the St. Louis University campus.
Bounded by Delmar Boulevard to the north, Vandeventer Avenue to the east, Interstate 64 to the south, and Kingshighway and Union Boulevard to the west.
The CWE is a neighborhood designed for the pedestrian with its array of sidewalk cafes, boutiques, historic streetscapes, and even the World Chess Hall of Fame. Locals and tourists alike flock to the neighborhood's mixed-use district along Euclid Avenue. Iconic griffin-adorned lamp posts, tree-lined sidewalks, and a dense clustering of statues and other public art add to the CWE's pedestrian-scaled amenities and attractions.
The Central West End is home to 14,000 residents, with twice that number employed at the neighborhood's medical campus. The Washington University School of Medicine and BJC Healthcare campus, combined with the St. Louis College of Pharmacy and the Cortex Innovation District, form one of the largest regional centers of employment and are national leaders in medical research and tech startups.
The historic neighborhood's housing stock primarily dates back to the early 20th century, built largely in response to the 1904 World's Fair in nearby Forest Park. World's Fair-era hotels, now restored and converted to high-rise apartments, overlook large single-family, architect-designed homes in ornate Classical Revival styles. Adding to the architectural mix will be no less than three new high rises, representing the largest residential building boom witnessed in the city in decades.
Engaged community leadership is pursuing alternative transportation options for the neighborhood, including a Bus Rapid Transit line, a streetcar line, and a new MetroLink light rail stop within Cortex (a recent recipient of a federal transportation grant) to further the Central West End's status as a car-optional neighborhood.
Active neighborhood groups work to preserve the local flavor and host annual events to showcase the Central West End including the sometimes risqué Central West End Halloween party (in its 31st year) and the always aromatic St. Nicholas Greek Festival (in its 97th year), drawing tens of thousands of visitors for cleverly costumed people-watching and mouth-watering baklava.
A Holiday Window Walk highlights CWE storefronts adorned with festive decorations and holiday lights, while Taste of Central West End highlights the diverse culinary offerings of the neighborhood, among many other annual neighborhood events.
Defining Characteristics, Features
- Development reached the Central West End as Private Places, or self-governing enclaves with common areas owned by residents, were platted near Forest Park (1890s)
- The neighborhood followed the City of St. Louis's pattern of urban decline; by the mid-20th century vacancies were frequent and larger homes were converted to boarding houses
- Known as "The Class of 1972," a small group of entrepreneurs clustered at one intersection leading the charge to reinvest in the CWE, ultimately spurring home rehabilitations, additional businesses on Euclid, while defying rapid suburbanization trends
- The CWE becomes known regionally as a "Rebound Neighborhood" for its economic revival since the 1970s, and is christened as such in an August 2014 report published by the Public Policy Research Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis
Planning and Preservation Accomplishments
- Neighborhood activists, in collaboration with the Landmarks Association of St. Louis, helped to establish the Central West End Local Historic District, the largest such district in the city at that time (1974)
- The neighborhood's first comprehensive plan was completed by the City's Community Development Agency in collaboration with the Central West End Neighborhood Planning Committee, and was considered a milestone in acknowledging the neighborhood's regeneration (1981)
- The 1988 Central West End North Master Plan (Phase I), developed by a citizen committee, focuses on improving Euclid Avenue through outdoor lighting upgrades and place-making initiatives in order to attract more retailers and restaurateurs to the growing Euclid corridor
- Transit options are plentiful; the Metrolink (1993) connects the Central West End stop to downtown and St. Louis International Airport, 11 bus lines serve the area, and St. Louis Regional Bike Plan designates several stretches of roadways in the neighborhood as official routes
- The 1996 Central West End North Master Plan (Phase II) focuses on the 4900 block of McPherson Avenue and the Olive/Washington Triangle, revitalizing two underutilized commercial areas in the neighborhood
- A $168 million Tax Increment Financing (TIF) was approved for the CORTEX West Redevelopment Plan, now one of St. Louis's fastest growing and most innovative employment centers — attracting many tech startup companies to the neighborhood (2006)
- The Central West End Business Community Improvement District was approved, providing the Euclid corridor north of Lindell Boulevard with funding for beautification efforts, marketing materials, event planning, and street cleaning (2010)
- The Central West End updated the Local Historic District ordinance and code in recognition of the importance of the neighborhood's mid-century building stock, previously unprotected by the 1974 ordinance
- The Central West End Form-Based District was established as a zoning overlay district to ensure a cohesive relationship between new development and the existing architectural character of the area (2013)
- The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis houses the largest collection of mosaics in the world; it was planned under the authority of Archbishop Peter Richard Kenrick in the 1870s and completed by 1914
- The world's largest chess piece adorns Maryland Avenue, promoting the World Chess Hall of Fame and St. Louis's designation as the Chess Capital of the United States
- Adjacent to Central West End is Forest Park, seventh largest urban park in the United States, with museums, outdoor theaters, the St. Louis Zoo, and plenty of walking and bike paths
- At the corner of Euclid and McPherson is "Writer's Corner," which features busts of literary greats who grew up in the Central West End, including Tennessee Williams, T.S. Eliot, Kate Chopin, and William S. Burroughs along; also home to one of the region's most beloved independent bookstores (Left Bank Books)