New Digital Tour Records South Grand's History, 'From Prairie to Destination'


South Grand has been named a "Great Street," a six-block area that boasts greater dining diversity than Epcot Center and serves as the walkable heart of Tower Grove South and Tower Grove East. Now anyone curious about the history of the street and its buildings can access all sorts of fascinating details — without ever leaving their couch.

That's thanks to a joint initiative by the South Grand Community Improvement District and the Landmarks Association of St. Louis, which collaborated on an online "walking tour" highlighting the neighborhood's roots. The tour is went up online Friday as part of the community improvement district's website.

Rachel Witt, the organization's executive director, says that the initiative has been underway for two years.

"The South Grand Community Improvement District reached out to Landmarks Association of Saint Louis, who was hired to provide the history of South Grand and the buildings within our district," she says. "The district formed a committee to select the buildings with the most interesting history to receive a historic plaque." More than twenty plaques have now been installed throughout the district.

The histories written by the landmarks association are both concise and laden with detail, which makes for interesting reading. You get a clear sense of just how much turnover the street has had in its roughly 110 years as a commercial district — with national chains like Kroger and Piggly Wiggly coming and going even as niche stores opened up alongside them.

Consider, for example, the building at 3127 S. Grand, which was commissioned by Louis Ominus, the owner of an umbrella shop with its original location on South Broadway. He'd noticed large numbers of customers moving west and decided to open a second shop.

Notes the online summary, "He contracted Henry Brocker to construct the building based on designs by the architectural firm of Matthews & Clarke, although the Post Dispatch reported that the design was inspired by buildings Mr. Onimus had seen while traveling in Europe. Onimus opened his new shop on the ground floor, and lived with his family above. A local booster publication noted, “There is no one better known, better liked, or more highly respected in South St. Louis. ... For over thirty years Mr. Onimus has been supplying the citizens of St. Louis with the useful ‘rain stick,’ and his advertisement, in which appears the old time ‘Gamp’ and the slender umbrella of modern days, must be familiar to the most casual reader of the daily newspaper.”

For more — much more — check out South Grand's new walking tour online. Or maybe even try it on foot.

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