Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Central West End Parking Lot for 36 Years & Counting

The northwest corner of Kingshighway and West Pine is empty except for some trees and parked cars, contributing little to the urban environment fronting Forest Park. Starting at BJC's Queeny Tower at Barnes Hospital Plaza just north of Highway 40, substantial buildings march up Kingshighway culminating with the iconic Park Plaza at Maryland Avenue, giving that stretch of the boulevard a kind of Central Park West feel. The notable gap in this row lies between West Pine and Lindell with surface parking lots occupying two prime park front parcels.
The Buckingham Hotel - photo from Landmarks collection

This was not always so, at least at the northwest corner at West Pine. This site was once occupied by the Buckingham Hotel, also known as the Ambassador Hotel. The U-shaped hotel rose seven stories above Kingshighway with repeating bay windows around the wings to take advantage of great park views.
Thank you Lindsey Derrington for the Sanborn source and photos above.

I am unsure of the Buckingham's date of construction, but it shows up on a 1909 Sanborn map, along with the nearby St. Regis. Construction of the nine story Chase Hotel, Chase and Chester Apartments on Lindell was still 13 years in the future. The Buckingham was likely unable to compete against the opulent Chase Park Plaza to the north and was converted to small apartments. The Ambassador as it was known in later years was demolished sometime around 1973 after a fire.
The Buckingham in context with the Chase to the north and the taller
Parc Frontenac immediately south. Photo from "This is Our St. Louis".

I'm, not sure if the land was immediately turned over to surface parking, but 36 years later, that is all we are left with. The property is now owned by the Parc Frontenac apartment tower, which fronts Forest Park across West Pine. I know that in the 80's there was a proposal to develop this lot and the Koplar Properties lot on Lindell with a large mixed use complex, but this never came to fruition.
The rear of the Buckingham/Ambassador with the Park Plaza beyond. The modern
City Bank branch has also been demolished for surface parking for the St. Regis.

Both photos from the Globe Democrat Collection at the Mercantile Library

As the Archdiocese of St. Louis now contemplates demolishing the San Luis at Lindell and Taylor, creating a large gap in the urban streetscape of Lindell Boulevard we must ask ourselves as a City: Is this acceptable? Will we still be stuck with another surface parking lot 36 years from now?


Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, don't worry, a better development is just around the corner. It's going to be a "signature" building with retail, residential and will be a great landmark for the neighborhood. We just need to put this parking lot here in the meantime . . . POW!

STLgasm said...

Great post, Paul. It's so sad that our city is allowed to settle for this unsightly blight. Just think, every car that fits in every surface parking lot could represent a former resident who got fed up with anti-urban trajectory and went and left. That's a lot of cars, and a lot of people. How frustrating to live in a city that strives for mediocrity.

I have a rendering of the twin buildings proposed in the '80s-- it's featured in the book, "Days and Nights of the Central West End."

Mark D. Budka said...

Hi, During the 1930s the Schimmel Family of Nebraska owned or operated the Kings Way Hotel (Buckingham/Ambassador). The Blackstone in Omaha was the flagship of the Schimmel Chain. The Kings Way seldom appears in their advertising. Must have owned for a very short time. The Blackstone was an Ampartment/Hotel like the Kings Way. Mark D. Budka

Vanishing STL said...

Interesting. Thanks for the info. Mark.

Wayne Brasler said...

In 1963 I lived in an apartment in a building east of the Ambassador, sharing it with the front desk manager and a college friend. The apartment was enormous with a separate interior hallway which had been used by maids and cooks and a large second bedroom behind the bathroom also for the hired help. The living room was enormous with bays of windows overlooking the street. There also was a gorgeous dining room and a nice kitchen. The setting across from Forest Park was beautiful, chic and mucho reminiscent of living in New York City. The Ambassador was first-rate although it alas could not measure up to the Chase-Park Plaza, which today is very much what it was 50 years ago (I was just there for lunch) and in many ways better. The apartment buildings owned by the Ambassador are now gone; the name Buckingham is still preserved in nearby Buckingham Place. By the way the Ambassador was in both the 1927 and 1959 St. Louis tornadoes though the damage at that point was not nearly as bad as just east on Maryland Avenue in both cases. One thing about the Ambassador. I, at the age of 22, enjoyed talking with lovely ladies in the bar in the evening (though I did not drink liquor) but I always wondered who they were and what they were doing there. It was later explained to me that they were, um, working.

Vanishing STL said...

Thanks for the great stories Wayne!