Saint Louis, MO

Historic Biddle Street Market building: from a marketplace to a homeless shelter

CJ Coombs
Biddle Street Market, St. Louis City, Missouri.Photo byPaul Sableman, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Biddle Street runs east and west from the Near North Riverfront neighborhood not far from the Mississippi River to 20th Street that's in the Carr Square neighborhood on the west side.

Biddle Street was named after the area landowners, Major Thomas Biddle and Mrs. Anne Biddle, whose brother, Bryan Mullanphy, was a St. Louis mayor. The street used to be called Willow Street.

The Biddle Street Market is located at 1211-19 North Tucker Boulevard in St. Louis City, Missouri. On June 1, 2015, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. This building also goes by New Biddle Market.

The architectural style of the building is Late 19th and Early 20th Century Revivals/Italian Renaissance. The architect was Albert A. Osburg. The foundation is concrete and the walls are brick and steel. This historic building is significant for its role in commerce.

Biddle Street Market

The Biddle Street Market was constructed in 1932. This one-story rectangular building is a historic public market. In each elevation is Italian Renaissance detailing. Above the north entrance, there's a rose window and inset stained glass. Ornamental terra cotta at the roofline is attractive.

The Biddle Street Market was built during a time of city reform. It served as a public marketplace for farmers' produce. Shopping routines would change once larger supermarkets and private grocery stores came along.

Under a public improvements bond issue of 1923, the Biddle Street Market was the last of three city markets to be built. It was used as a market from 1932 to 1946. From 1947 to the 1960s, it became a modern supermarket. At the time the building was nominated for the National Register, it was owned by the city and housed a division of the St. Louis Health Department.

The land for a public market was donated to the city in accordance with the Will of Mrs. Ann Mullanphy Biddle dated January 2, 1845. One of the conditions, however, was that the property would always be a marketplace. In 1849, the construction of the original Biddle Market at Thirteenth and Fourteenth Streets between Biddle and O’Fallon was approved.

In the mid-1850s, the building was originally made of wood. In the 1860s, it was replaced with a brick building. When it opened, it served social and commercial needs. The Biddle Market was the last privately owned market in business in St. Louis in 1910.

With overcrowding conditions in the neighborhood, the market was lacking hygienic practices. There were only street gutters and no sanitary or drainage provisions. From 1902 to 1909, the maintenance and operating expenses of the three St. Louis markets increased. The Biddle Market was fully rented but made little profit, so the maintenance staff couldn't be kept.

By September 25, 1914, the city took ownership of the building, and by 1920, regulations were imposed on it as part of the approved Public Markets Bill. the funding of a new Biddle Market was put into play. It was a long wait, however. Plans for a third market weren't approved until 1931. The New Biddle Market was going to be located on the site of the earlier one. Once the old one was demolished, construction began in November 1931 on the new one.

Once the building was complete, it was clean and products were fresh. The design of the building would attract customers. Inside, there were individual stores and a small restaurant. There were sheltered and open-air markets.

Of course, it was questioned whether the city even needed a third public market. Then, with grocery stores popping up, there was better food at the markets. Similar to today, sometimes you can go to a city market and find better produce than your local grocery store, although that would change with the arrival of refrigeration.

The Biddle Market served a purpose. When it opened, many of the residents walked there because it was the only way they could get there. The New Biddle Market had also become a chief source for items meeting the needs of the Jewish culture. By 1940, this market was one of four left.

The Union Market was partially converted into a bus terminal during the mid-1930s. The Soulard Market housed a gymnasium and community center. Change was bound to happen. The Biddle Market continued to operate through the 1940s. Sanitary conditions continued to be a concern. A report was issued indicating markets were going to be cleaned up and that if they weren't, people would be replaced with people who would keep it clean.

Residents began to go to the neighborhood stores more and less to the Biddle Market. By September 1946, with the Biddle Market being half occupied, the city council decided to cease its operations. It would reopen, however as a supermarket that was privately operated.

The building was remodeled and leased by the Food Center of St. Louis, Inc. In the spring of 1957, operations as a supermarket ended. The building was abandoned by Food Center and it was vacant for much of that year.

In 1969, there were plans to make the Biddle Street Market building an extension of the University of Missouri. The city, however, started using it as a health division section for rat and mosquito control, which sounds like a bad idea compared to the usefulness this building once had.

On August 8, 2016, use of the Biddle Street Market building became the Biddle Housing Opportunities Center's daytime service center and overnight emergency shelter for the homeless. The Biddle House is operated by Peter & Paul Community Services.

Thanks for reading.

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Multi-genre writer and author/publisher with a BA in Eng Journalism/Creative Writing. I worked in law firms for 30+ years and retired early to pursue writing. I was born into the Air Force, so you could say I'm from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri. I love family, research, history, true crime, reading, art, and travel.

Kansas City, MO

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