The Downtown East St. Louis Historic District in East St. Louis, Illinois, was added to the National Register of Historic Places effective Sept. 17, according to an email a few days ago from the National Park Service.
The district comprises of two blocks of Collinsville Avenue, a block and a half of Missouri Avenue and the south side of one block of St. Louis Avenue. Missouri Avenue served as Route 66 in the city during the 1950s, when the highway was rerouted to the 1951 Veterans Bridge, now known as the Martin Luther King Bridge, that connects St. Louis. And Collinsville Avenue was part of old U.S. 40, aka the National Road.
According to the nomination papers, the district has 35 buildings, and 25 are “contributing resources,” or historic. Two properties — the Spivey Building and Majestic Theatre — already were on the National Register. Many buildings in particular on Collinsville Avenue date from 1900 to the mid-1930s.
St. Louis Public Radio earlier in the month posted a story about the district’s imminent inclusion to the National Register. It talked to Michael Allen, director of the Preservation Research Office, which the city hired to map out the historic district:
City leaders became interested in preserving the buildings when the Illinois legislature created a special historic tax credit for river edge cities of up to 25 percent of redevelopment costs, Allen said. That state tax credit could also be paired with a federal historic tax credit.
Allen said city leaders hoped the tax credits could be used to revitalize East St. Louis. Once the region’s second major downtown area, the city was eclipsed by development in other areas, including Clayton.
“Almost all of downtown has been torn down. … It’s surrounded sadly by nothing,” Allen said. “But this little area is cohesive, coherent and full of a great sense of history… It has all the bones needed for economic revitalization. It’s really remarkably intact.”
Because the tax credits expire in 2016, Allen and the city already are pitching the district to developers.
Allen hopes that effort comes in the form of a “building-by-building, slow and careful redevelopment” in the same vein as done in certain St. Louis neighborhoods, such as the Central West End and Grand Center.
“Neighborhoods started out with vacant buildings and one or two key developers taking on key projects, attracting another developer next door,” he said. “This approach while incremental is really what’s been missing in East St. Louis.”
East St. Louis has seen a flurry of activity in recent months with the National Register. The Melvin Price Federal Building and courthouse was added in August, and the Union Trust Bank Co. building in May.
(Image of downtown East St. Louis by Sean Marshall via Flickr)