The architecture and construction of Southwest Garden are unique and tell a colorful history. Within the seventy blocks that comprise the neighborhood, you will find turn-of-the-century frame and brick homes and storybook bungalows. There are blocks of two- and four-family “flats” (apartments), while others are virtually all single-family homes.
The area west of Kingshighway was found to have clay deposits in the late 1830s. The industry did not flourish until an ordinance banned frame construction in response to St. Louis‘ own “Great Fire” destroyed fifteen city blocks in 1849. That event and the completion of the railroad in 1852 hastened development of the clay mines and brick industry. German, Irish and Italian immigrant factory workers and free Blacks working the railroad were all attracted to both The Hill (north of Columbia Ave.) and Southwest Garden as the mines expanded in the 1890s.
The settlement patterns of Germans in the area (once known as the “Blue Ridge”) and the Italians on The Hill were, in part, a result of the establishment of the St. Aloysius Gonzaga and St. Ambrose Churches. Fondly known as St. Al’s, the historically German parish was founded in 1892. The earliest Catholic parish in the area, S. Al’s was established with the purchase of ten acres near Magnolia and January Avenues. Three blocks laid out on the property, the center block was reserved for the church. The others were subdivided and sold, the parish quickly having its first 130 families. In 2006, St. Al’s was razed and 26 new homes are now being built in its place.
East of Kingshighway, the neighborhood occupies land originally purchased by Henry Shaw in the mid 1850s. “Shaw’s Garden” (renamed Missouri Botanical Garden) was adjacent to his home. Private developers built homes surrounding the Garden in the early twentieth century, with expansive multi-family construction surrounding the extension of street car lines. With an eye for beauty and aesthetics, landscaped architects designed the streets and plantings. Buildings have a consistency of scale and size, along with a wealth of architectural details.
Today, you will find a variety of homes throughout the neighborhood, including four-room “shotgun” houses, large frame houses and townhomes, brick and frame bungalows. A few two- and four-families are interspersed throughout. As in many city neighborhoods, Southwest Garden has seen renewed interest in its residences and businesses. New comers and former residents returned to rehab once neglected houses, rent owner-occupied flats, start a small business and revitalize the neighborhood.
You can see much of the neighborhood’s historically diverse housing stock by attending the annual Home and Garden Tour in May. Call the Southwest Garden Neighborhood office (314) 772-6082 for more information.
In 1977, residents formed the Southwest Garden Neighborhood Improvement Association, incorporating in 1978 and now doing business as the Southwest Garden Neighborhood Association (SWGNA). SWGNA receives Housing and Urban Development Block Grant Funds through the St. Louis Community Development Agency to maintain its office and support an executive director. The association conducts on-going beautification, safety, home improvement and community building projects.
Originally housed at Southwest Bank, the neighborhood association moved into its own building located at 4950 Southwest Avenue in 1993. The front part of the building was rehabilitated into an office and meeting room with the assistance of volunteers, generous donations from residents and facade improvement funds through the City of St. Louis. In 2003, SWGNA is currently embarked on the second phase of construction, completing a community center for neighborhood programs and meetings in the rear of the building.
SWGNA publishes a quarterly newsletter, the Communicator, keeping neighbors informed about upcoming programs and available services for residents.