GRAVOIS PARK – With drink and music, friends and neighbors on Friday celebrated the rebirth of a nearly 100-year old mix of stores and apartments at the northeast corner of California Avenue and Chippewa Street.
At the same time, they feted a potential revitalization of Chippewa from Jefferson Avenue to Grand Boulevard. The building at 2755 Chippewa, owned by Jason Deem’s South Side Spaces, is one of at least a half dozen in that section that have been renovated or where renovation is underway.
“This has been a vacant abandoned building for a long time coming,” 20th Ward Alderwoman Cara Spencer noted shortly after arriving at Friday’s party. “This is going to be a phenomenal cornerstone to what we’ve been doing along Chippewa, which is rehabbing those beautiful old buildings. There’s a lot going on.”
Spencer said it was an interesting question to ponder what Chippewa from Jefferson to Grand would look like five years from now.
“You’ll see a lot more work like this. You got some really great projects going in a little bit further down west,” Spencer said.
Among other things, Rise Community Development is working on a project on the southwest corner of California and Chippewa.
Deem also sees great possibilities.
“This building is architecturally significant. It was kind of in a state of disrepair, and it wasn’t going to last much longer before it just collapsed,” Deem said. “We were working on a few other projects in the area, and we didn’t want to see another vacant lot on a corner. Corners are really important for commercial districts.”
The structure has long been in disrepair from vandalism and neglect, with damage from rain going through the roof.
It has been renovated to have seven apartments and four storefronts. There is a waiting list of about 30, and leasing starts this week.
The building is on the north side of Chippewa, in the Gravois Park neighborhood. That neighborhood has a lot of potential, Deem said. And right across the street, on the south side of Chippewa, is the Dutchtown neighborhood.
Chippewa from Grand to Jefferson largely consists of brick houses, with a number of buildings on street corners with storefronts for mom-and-pop stores on the first floor and apartments on the second floor.
Michael Allen, a prominent local architectural historian, said he was impressed with what Deem had done.
“I’ve seen several parties trying to take on this same building, and everybody’s walked away from it,” Allen said. “This is one I honestly thought could get torn down. It’s a beautiful building.” It holds down the corner and gives it a sense of place, he said.
Bob Flier, who grew up in Carondelet, said he had memories of the building.
“When I was a kid, I used to ride the bus past this place to Cherokee Street,” Flier said. “It’s wonderful to see it coming back.”
He noted that an old trolley once traveled on California from Cherokee to Chippewa.
Will Liebermann, who renovates building around Cherokee, said the change had been amazing.
“It’s kind of a game changer for Chippewa, to take a building that has so much capacity and bring it back and actually have more capacity than it originally had,” Liebermann said.