Benton Park is one of those neighborhoods in St. Louis City that has more history than it knows what to do with – and that is not a bad thing!
Beyond the ample amount of beautiful city parks, Benton Park hosts one of the best antique shopping areas in the city and a slew of phenomenal establishments for food and drink.
The neighborhood itself is a melting pot of small businesses, artists, singles and families, making it a very desirable place for city living. It has also been one of the premier spots for rehabs in large part to the beautiful existing local architecture and local draws.
To understand the neighborhood today, let’s take alook at the history.
Since it’s named after the park, we’ll start there:
Before it was a park, it was the city cemetery (which makes for some great ghost stories). When it was initially converted into the park back in 1866, it was called “City Park” but later renamed after the senator (not the artist) Thomas Hart Benton (a rather fascinating person if you have time to look into his story; there is even a duel on the infamous Bloody island).
So how did an area surrounding a former cemetery become such a popular place to live? The answer to that is right beneath the surface.
BP is littered with underground caverns beneath it which attracted many beer makers to the area. Think about it – in an era without electric refrigeration, caverns were ideal for storage (especially since their temperature control was held at a steady 55 degrees by Mother Nature).
After the the beer manufacturers came, so did their German workers – and with a slew of masons, bricklayers, and other architectural artisans to build up the area. The phrase “they don’t build them like they used to” holds true as most buildings in this area (and much of South City) were built by these German immigrants who were highly skilled in masonry, carpentry, and overall craftsmanship. There could be (and should be) a whole webpage dedicated to all the different styles of architecture showcased in Benton Park.
There were two major disruptions to the rise of this area.
1. Prohibition – nothing screws up the vitality of an area more than the outlawing of its most produced commodity.
2. Highway 55 – While highways are great for everyone else, they are pretty much a neighborhood killer if it sets up a border (just like what it did for Old North StL).
Benton Park survived though, in large part to the architecture. While other portion of the city were being demolished due to structural decay, most properties in BP stood the test of time which is one of the reasons why BP is such a wonderful place today. The majority of BP still contains these remnants of classic 19th century architecture.
Examples of Architecture:
Most of the major changes in revitalizing Benton Park are the result of its residents, making BP a prime example for struggling neighborhoods of StL of what can be accomplished through hard work (and city, state, and Federal assistance programs). Serving as a mecca for local artists (and still is in many ways), BP became the first city neighborhood to create its own art council in 1980. A year earlier, the Senate Square Apartments were created from the rehabs of run down properties owned by absentee landlords. During the 1980’s, parts of Benton Park (the actual park) were renovated with assistance from Federal and City grant money. Through the efforts of its residents, the Benton Park neighborhood was placed on the National Register of Historic places as Missouri’s largest Federal Register District in 1985 – one of the reasons biggest reasons why developers and rehabbers come to BP since they can take advantage of historic tax credits in rehabilitating homes. StL City’s Land Reutilization Authority (LRA) has also played a significant role in rehabilitating BP by buying buildings in need of rehabilitation for fair market value (if the current owners are unwilling or unable to do so) and then selling them to rehabilitation developers for renovating.
Today Benton Park is thriving part of St. Louis City. A home to singles, growing families, artists, and small businesses. Drop by for some antique shopping on Cherokee or visit one of the many great coffee shops of restaurants that are located in the neighborhood.
Around the Neighborhood:
Now that we have explored the history and architecture, let’s take a look at what else the neighborhood has to offer. From Cherokee Street Antique Shops to Benton Park Lake, this neighborhood has so much more than just its history!
Food & Drink
There are quite a few great places in Benton Park to grab a bit to eat or sit back and enjoy a cup of coffee. Here are a few of my favorites:
Fill out the form to learn more about this neighborhood