By Linda Carter (FaceBook)
The row of houses at Menard and Marion Streets in LaSalle Park are among the oldest surviving houses in the city. The majority of these houses were built between 1840 and 1860, with two later examples that were built in the early 1890s being located on the street as well. The area where the houses are located was part of the original plots of land that were subdivided by Julia Soulard in the late 1830s and early 1850s, and these lots were quickly purchased and built upon by German immigrants. One of the first houses in the neighborhood to be constructed was the six bay row house at 1018-20 Marion Street, which was built between 1842 and 1847 by Bernhard Middledorf. By 1848, several more row houses had been constructed on Menard near the intersection with Carroll Street. In 1855, a grocer named Tobias Bloms built a corner store at Menard and Marion Street, and by 1860, the whole block had almost been completely filled in. At first, the majority of residents were German, but beginning in the late 1850s, Czech immigrants began to populate the neighborhood as well. Many of the residents were working class, and found work at the nearby cotton factory at Menard and Lafayette. The neighborhood continued to see new construction in the 1870s through 1890s with the introduction of Second Empire houses that filled in the empty spaces on the 1500 block of Menard. The area saw significant damage during the 1896 tornado, which required them to rebuild St. John Nepomuk Church. After the tornado, the neighborhood remained in good shape until the 1950s, when highway 55 severed this section of Soulard from the main portion of the neighborhood. As the neighborhood began to decline, large swaths were cleared at the western edges to make way for the Clinton-Peabody and Darst-Webbe housing projects. These new developments caused the rest of the neighborhood to decline, with many buildings being in poor shape in the 1980s. However, restoration efforts backed by Ralston Purina allowed for many of the buildings to be restored, and for infill housing to be built on vacant lots. Today, the neighborhood still retains much of its original housing, and is home to some of the oldest houses in the city.