Visiting The Hill in St. Louis
Although it doesn't seem particularly hilly to the casual observer, the district south of Forest Park known as "The Hill" generally marks the highest point of the surrounding topography in St. Louis, Missouri.
Getting to the "The Hill"
From busy I-44 by car, a visitor may take the Kingshighway exit to Shaw Avenue and enter a quaint village noticeably distinct from the rest of the city. Vintage buildings house the many shops, restaurants, bakeries, and groceries, which buzz with activity.
Rows of tidy older cottages and detached townhouses dot the landscape. On any given day, the somewhat narrow streets are lined with cars, which can make parking a challenge, but persistence pays off.
"The Hill" neighborhood is bounded by Manchester Avenue and Columbia/Southwest Avenues on the north and south, South Kingshighway Boulevard and Hampton Avenue on the east and west, and is intersected by I-44.
Saint Ambrose Catholic Church and "The Italian Immigrants" Statue
"The Italian Immigrants" by sculptor Rudolph Torrini was commissioned in 1972 and is fittingly located next to St. Ambrose Church as a focal point of The Hill. The bronze statue depicts an Italian immigrant family typical of those who came to St. Louis to build new lives during a wave of immigration beginning in the late 1800s and continuing into the early 20th century.
The Piazza Imo
The opening of the newly constructed Piazza Imo in August 2019 was a long-awaited event. Located across Marconi Avenue from Saint Ambrose Church, the privately developed piazza features a large fountain in a park-like setting and was intended as a community gathering place reminiscent of those found in Italy.
Famous Past Residents
Probably the best-known sons of The Hill were the pro baseball legends Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola. Close in age, the two were friends and neighbors growing up on Elizabeth Avenue. Yogi and Joe participated in neighborhood sports clubs on The Hill in the 1940s, ultimately leading to their successful careers. In 2003, the block where they once lived was designated "Hall of Fame Place" in honor of Berra and Garagiola as well as Jack Buck, longtime broadcaster for the Cardinals, who was also a past resident of The Hill.
Yogi Berra (1925–2015)
A catcher for the New York Yankees baseball team from 1946 to 1963, Lawrence "Yogi" Berra also played for the Mets during the 1965 season before retiring as a player. He went on to serve as manager and coach for the Yankees, the Mets, and the Houston Astros.
Besides his numerous career achievements, he became well-known for his humorous way with words. Yogi Berra was named to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972. He died in New Jersey in 2015.
Joe Garagiola (1926–2016)
A catcher for the Cardinals, Pirates, Cubs, and Giants (1946–1954), Joseph "Joe" Garagiola also earned honors as a sports broadcaster and retired in 2013.
He received the Baseball Hall of Fame's Ford C. Frick Award for outstanding broadcasting in 1991 and the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014. Joe Garagiola died in 2016, and his funeral was held at the St. Ambrose Church on The Hill, where he had been baptized.
Jack Buck (1924–2002)
"The Voice of St. Louis," John "Jack" Buck was a famed sportscaster well-known as the announcer for St. Louis Cardinals games. He was awarded the Baseball Hall of Fame's Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting in 1987. Jack Buck died in St. Louis in 2002.
The well-kept older residences in the heart of "The Hill" are typically one- or two-story brick or frame "shotgun" style houses, situated on narrow lots, an economical trend of the times. Following World War II, residential expansion brought additional home construction to the neighborhood west of Sublette Avenue, many featuring the region's signature red brick.
Legacy of "The Hill"
From its humble origins as a settlement for European and African immigrants who flocked to the area seeking employment in the clay mining, brickmaking, and steel industries beginning in the late 19th century, "The Hill" has become one of the most enduring ethnic communities in the nation.
By the 1920s, with continued growth and the establishment of St. Ambrose Catholic Church, the population was largely comprised of Italian immigrant families from the regions of Sicily and Lombardy.
"The Hill" consists of 52 square blocks tucked within the city limits of St. Louis. With an active neighborhood and business association, the community continues to thrive. Traditions live on through local events such as concerts, walking tours, festivals, seasonal celebrations, and sporting events such as bocce tournaments.
Much has been written about the history of "The Hill" and its evolution over the decades. A well-researched summary, complete with a number of oral histories, is available in the video documentary entitled America's Last Little Italy: The Hill, directed by Joseph Puleo.
Allure of "The Hill"
The numerous local restaurants are a major draw, attracting a continual stream of visitors to "The Hill." Everything from fine dining to coffee shops can be found. Various other types of businesses, organizations, clubs, and parks round out the neighborhood.
Unquestionably, "The Hill" has undergone its share of change over the years, yet an air of timelessness persists here. The well-preserved business district is home to many Italian restaurants and cafes. Groceries, bakeries, and other specialty shops in the neighborhood help maintain the spirit of its Italian heritage.
The local spirit of dedication to the community is obvious, and it generates unique energy. Friendly merchants, well-tended peaceful streets, and casual pedestrian traffic help to make "The Hill" a comfortable, welcoming, and highly sought-after destination.
4. Mormino, Gary Ross. (2002). Immigrants on the Hill. University of Missouri Press.
Map of "The Hill"
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 KT Dunn