Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Busch Stadium -- It Was Built!

(Since many people leave based on their first impression, the title of this post was changed from the original tongue in cheek version, "Busch Stadium Should Have Not Been Built")

No, not the new Busch Stadium, it should have been built...we're referring to Busch II, the first downtown stadium opened in 1966, about the same time as the Arch.

Busch Stadium should not have been built because it replaced a thriving Chinatown in downtown St. Louis referred to as "Hop Alley". People don't often think of St. Louis as a destination for Asian immigrants, but it did at one time have it's own Chinatown.

Hop Alley was tiny compared to the Chinatowns of New York and San Francisco. I wasn't around at the time, but from what I've read, it was real, and it was located at the site of the former Busch Stadium. When the stadium was built, a number of former uses were removed, to make way for the new ballpark.

Had Busch Stadium remained in North City at Grand and Dodier, Hop Alley in downtown St. Louis would have been preserved, and St. Louis today would be more urban and ethnically diverse. True fact? Maybe so? We really don't know and we can't say. That's not our history, so basing arguments on the premise really can't be proven either way.

As much as St. Louisans loath change, our history is one of steady changes. Today, we have a thriving Asian district along Olive Boulevard. It's much larger than the old Hop Alley, running nearly from the city limits on the east to west of 170 in Creve Coeur and Olivette.

Busch II, our first downtown baseball stadium, was part of a wave of downtown redevelopment which included the Arch and many of the office towers downtown. From an academic perspective, one might ask, what would have happened if instead of downtown, the Cardinals chose to move to the western suburbs? That didn't happen either, but it's fun to think of the possibile outcomes. Some might suggest the Cardinals leaving St. Louis proper would have been good for the city.

They might argue that city leaders would then have been forced to consider a future without major league sports. Older buildings would have been preserved, so there would have been more rehab opportunities. Remember though, this was the 1960s, and historic preservation had not reached the economic leveraging potential we see today. So perhaps, the buildings demolished for Busch Stadium and other new construction would have been lost anyway. We don't know.

Instead, we are what we are today. We continue to evolve and change. Our community has certain tools and values guiding our efforts, and we have different issues and challenges now than we had in 1966.

Will Anheuser Busch remain a St. Louis based company? Will the Arch grounds and downtown be better connected? Will the Rams remain in downtown St. Louis or the region at all? What will come of the St. Louis Centre Skybridge over Washington Avenue?


Anonymous said...

OMG, I agree with you! But hey that was St Louis looking to other cities for ideas --- all were destroying their downtowns and relocating things like stadiums in the new versions.

St Louis actually bucked the trend in the same period by renovating an old theatre on Grand for the symphony.

Rick Bonasch said...

Sorry Steve,

The headline must have worked because it was intended to work as a misdirection. Personally, I'm very happy Busch II was built, and Busch III.

Last night, I didn't have tickets to the ballgame, but stopped into one of the downtown restaurants (newly updated) for a beer after work. The place was packed with baseball fans.

The real point I was trying to make with the post was that as a community we need to move forward together rather than beat ourselves up over years' old decisions.

Imagine if you were sitting at a table in the restaurant I was in last night, surrounded by baseball fans, and someone proclaimed, "they never should have built Busch Stadium downtown." It would sound like crazy talk.

Think how the self-doubt discussions about St. Louis sound to newcomers. Not very good.

Chris said...

Neighborhoods definitely come and go; San Francisco's Chinatown was originally Italian, if I remember correctly.

In my experience, small Chinatowns tend to wither and die on their own. --witness Washington, DC's.

What would have come of Hop Alley? Who knows.

Rick Bonasch said...

Righto Chris. Some of my favorite old Chinese establishments are in the Gold Rush towns of Northern California.

Many of them are still open today. Travel along Highway 49 in the Sierra foothills, and you pass through many towns from the 1850s. Places like Angels Camp, Calaveras, Sonora, and Auburn.

In all of them there are ususally two or three, sometimes more, historic Chinese businesses.

The Chinese opening businesses were smart. They were some of the only ones to actually survive the Gold Rush!

Anonymous said...

Yeah we might have an interesting neighborhood there now rather than a mudhole surrounded by parking garages. Plus another part of town might have benefited from several decades of baseball fans. Had Busch stayed on North Grand that area would not have seen the disinvestment that it has. Razing so much of downtown in the 1960s was a very bad decision that we are just now starting to recover from. We must learn from past mistakes so we don't repeat them.

Anonymous said...

No, had the Cardinals written off the city like so many other citizens, we'd have a hole downtown alright, a whole lot of nothing!

As easy as it is to make the case that the Cardinals should have stayed in North St. Louis, the same case can be made that the team's move downtown was a signal to corporate St. Louis that downtown St. Louis mattered!