I had the opportunity to visit Savage Mill, near Baltimore, recently. Savage Mill is an old textile mill dating to the 1820s that fell into disuse in the 1940s. Today, the complex houses a variety of businesses. While the place has vacancies–the economy is still struggling, after all–it’s crowded, and it’s a great reuse.
It makes me wonder why we can’t do the same thing in St. Louis.
It’s a mixed-use facility. There’s a pub/restaurant in there, which was my reason for going. But before dinner, we milled around in a large antique mall for about half an hour. After dinner, we walked around a few of the specialty shops. There’s a store that sells a large selection of gourmet dog foods, and another store that sells grandfather clocks. Upstairs there’s a used book store and an art gallery. Another building offers a number of professional services. It looked like there was an accountant and a doctor in there. There’s at least one banquet hall in there too.
And maybe that’s why it’s succeeded when some other re-uses in St. Louis have failed. It didn’t tie its fate just to retail and/or restaurants, so it can survive even when retail has its ebbs and flows. Someone always still needs a doctor or an accountant, and that keeps some rent money coming in.
St. Louis doesn’t have any old textile mills, but there’s lots of disused factory space in St. Louis. Some of it on the National Register of Historic Places. But those buildings are boarded up and empty, or worse yet, not boarded up, so it can be misused and burn down.
Repurposing these old buildings rather than letting them rot would be a good way for St. Louis to celebrate some of its history and architecture. St. Louis has beautiful architecture, and it has history too, far beyond just making mediocre beer. A century ago, it supplied the rest of the country with more wooden kitchen utensils than anywhere else. Nobody cares about that. Even fewer know it. Maybe nobody would care even if a lot of people knew it, but we’ll never know that, will we?
We should put something in those historic buildings and see if we can find out. Assuming, that is, that it isn’t too late.