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Urban pioneers cross Delmar Divide, feel right at home

FOUNTAIN PARK – Frederick Koch and his wife, Marge Del Carlo, decided it was time to downsize from their 11-room, three-story house in the Tower Grove South neighborhood. So they recently moved into an 800-square-foot cottage in the Fountain Park neighborhood three blocks north of Delmar Boulevard.

The Kochs are white, and the couple’s personal assault on the Delmar Divide made some of their friends nervous. But they’re fine with it. They’re happy with the people they’ve met in the 1200 block of Aubert Avenue and say the crime isn’t that much worse on the north side.

“Landing in Fountain Park was a challenge to the bigotry of St. Louis,” Frederick Koch, 89, said as he relaxed in a seat at Hartford Coffee Co. in Tower Grove South. He has moved north, but he’s not about to leave a favorite early-morning gathering place. 

“Everybody on the south side basically has no knowledge of the north side,” Koch said. “They don’t go north. They don’t go.”

But Koch and Del Carlo did go north.

On the outside, their home looks like just one more really old, small St. Louis house. It’s a narrow brick, single-story cottage with a flat roof in the midst of similar homes of different sizes.

The difference is on the inside.

Fredrick Hoch with his wife, Marge DelCarlo, in their newly renovated north St. Louis home. (Photo by Robert C. Holt III / MetroSTL.com)
The improvements include a pale wooden floor, a new roof and a new ceiling. The couple replaced the rear floors.  

“I’ve been restoring homes for years as an avocation,” said Koch, who spent his career in corporate sales. “I have had property in north St. Louis for about 10 years.”

The house, not far from Sol’s Discount Meat Market on North Kingshighway Boulevard, offered special challenges. When the couple bought it from the St. Louis Land Reutilization Authority, it was basically wrecked. Koch estimates he spent about $50,000 on the building in materials and labor.

“It took three dumpsters to empty it out,” Koch said. “It was overwhelmingly full of junk.”

It didn’t help that the house was built in 1892.

“I don’t live in a house that’s younger than 100 years old,” Koch said.

The idea of moving was sparked by the realization that their 3,400-square-foot home in Tower Grove South was more than they could handle. 

Fredrick Koch (Photo by Robert C. Holt III / MetroSTL.com)
“We’ve enjoyed that, so it’s time to go,” Koch said. “At a certain age, you can look at downsizing from a very pragmatic viewpoint.”

Del Carlo, a retired ICU nurse, recalled how she had made the decision that the new location was right. She recalled that people had asked her, “Are you afraid? Are you nervous moving up there with those people?”

Although she has heard gunshots in her new neighborhood, she said she had also heard them in Tower Grove South.

She mentioned her current neighbors.

“They might wonder, ‘What are these crazy white folks doing?’”

In fact, Koch said, “There’s less property crime here because folks here have less stuff.” 

The move has made the couple more aware of how different the sides of the Delmar Divide are. 

It’s hardly the first time the couple has done things differently. Koch has lived in Memphis, New Orleans and San Francisco. He met and married Del Carlo in San Francisco.

Many people would choose to stay in San Francisco. Not this couple.

“I had enough of San Francisco. It was getting monotonous and tiresome,” Koch said.

 “We had plans to go to Cincinnati and live on a houseboat, but we stopped here,” Koch said. That was in 1999. They stopped in St. Louis, where they fell in love with the town, including its low cost of living and its architecture.

So they stayed in a place that may not have been the best for everyone, but certainly was the best for them. It’s a habit they continue to this day.

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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