Carondelet: A Mash-up of History and Quirkiness

Monday July 10, 2017

Two hundred and fifty years ago French explorers settled on the bluffs of the Mississippi river and called their town Carondelet after the governor of a Spanish colony in Louisiana. A melting pot of Spanish, Italian, Irish and Hungarian immigrants, Carondelet was annexed by the city of St. Louis 103 years later in 1870. Since then, the city has managed to blend its historical significance with a new found independence, along with an added touch of quirkiness.

Located just a five minute drive from downtown St. Louis on South Broadway, a visitor will come to the neighborhood’s first welcome marker — Peat’s Eyez, a large four-color mural of two blinking eyes painted on the façade of a concrete building. Metal girders that run perpendicular to the street and that are part of the mural contribute to the blinking mirage as a car passes. Seven additional murals appear within the next two miles between Bellerive Park and South St. Louis Square Park. One of them features legendary trumpeter Clark Terry, a Carondelet native and original member of the Doc Severinsen band from “The Tonight Show.”  The city’s newest mural will be painted by the community (July 8) from an outline done by artist Ellie Balk, on a building located at 5800 South Broadway.

The street itself, which traverses along the riverbank, was part of the city’s original 18th century street grid and served as the main conduit for streetcars and passenger vehicles between downtown St. Louis and the newly developed Carondelet suburbs. In 1961, the construction of Highway 55 divided the neighborhood in two. Most of the businesses and landmarks that survived continue to serve as the anchor of the community today. On the east side of the highway, the eclectic Ivory Triangle anchors yet another commercial district, while the city’s crown jewel, Carondelet Park, sits west of the highway.

Historical boasts:

  • The Carondelet Shipyard helped supply munitions and manufactured 32 ironclad gunships for the Union Army during the Civil War;
  • Predominantly an agricultural community filled with saloons and gambling dens, the city was home to Dred and Harriett Scott before their freedom lawsuit;
  • The stone houses from the early- to mid-19th century showcase the earliest forms of architecture in the region;
  • The South Public Market in the Patch section of the neighborhood is the oldest operating convenience store in St. Louis; nearby Rathbone Hardware, in business for more than a century, remains a vital hub on South Broadway;
  • The Sisters of St. Joseph continue to offer daily tours of their 250-year-old Motherhouse convent and grounds;
  • The Carondelet Historical Society is housed in the old Des Peres School building where in 1873 Susan Blow established the first public kindergarten in the United States. The CHS also houses permanent exhibits, furnishings and artifacts from territorial and colonial times and offers events throughout the year. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • The Carondelet Branch Library, an original Carnegie Fund library, is now part of the St. Louis Public Library system. Reopened after extensive renovations in 2012, it was built in 1908 and features a mural titled “The Founding of St. Louis” by artist Robert Rigsby.
  • South Broadway has long been known as the place to come to recycle, and get paid for, scrap metal.

As for quirky, take your pick — in addition to the Murals on Broadway Public Art Program, the city is proud of its garlic farm; the Garlic Festival (Sept. 16) which features a garlic eating contest, garlic educational seminars and cooking demonstrations; a fall Tomato Festival at the infamous Iron Barley restaurant and bar (August); the River Des Peres Yacht Club Deli, adorned with buoys and fishing nets and not a boat in sight; Stacked Burger Bar, the burger joint that just clinched St. Louis’ number one ranking for best burgers; Perhat Lumber, an architectural artifacts salvage yard and warehouse that could make home repair dreams come true; the Ivory Theatre, housed in a beautifully renovated church; several bars that cater to motorcycle enthusiasts (Off Track Saloon, Fro’s Place Bar and Grill) and the LGBTQ community (Bar: PM, Hummel’s Pub). And of course, the Kitchen Incubator at Carondelet Bakery for baking entrepreneurs.

Music lovers can saunter among the trees and soaring fountains while listening to more than 25 concerts performed on any given Sunday evening June through August at Carondelet Park, and on select Monday and Tuesday evenings throughout the summer in South St. Louis Square Park, Fanetti Park and Bellevire Park. The latter of these sits atop a bluff offering the best vantage point of the Mississippi River in St. Louis. Country, swing, Irish/folk, vintage jazz, electronic funk and blues are just a sampling of types of bands scheduled throughout the summer. For a complete listing, please visit www.carondeletliving.com.

Craft beer aficionados can visit Perennial Artisan Ales, the microbrewery and tasting room that brews hand-crafted, small batches of beer using local, seasonal and organic ingredients as much as possible — think mint leaves, Cacao nibs, Ancho chiles, vanilla beans and cinnamon sticks, to name a few.

More creatively, in a tribute to its French heritage, the city will be hosting its inaugural Bastille Day Pub Crawl (July 14). Nine area bars will be participating in the event and patrons will have the chance to win prizes. Additional special events include the Mustache Dash Fun Run & Walk in Carondelet Park and the 12th Annual Carondelet Car Show and Parade in South St. Louis Square Park, both scheduled for Sept. 9.

Come for the history; come for the food, entertainment and song. But mostly, come to experience the vibrant life that reflects Carondelet’s immigrant heritage.

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