It was Marine Villa resident and young rehabber James McKee who caught my attention with his tireless advocacy of the neighborhood, which is often overshadowed by better known Benton Park.  I tease James that Marine Villa is Jan Brady to Benton Park’s Marcia Brady.  It’s a source of frustration to residents that at best they are a side note in stories about Benton  Park, and in the numerous stories about the resurgence of hip Cherokee Street their neighborhood is rarely mentioned by name.

The neighborhood borders are Cherokee Street (north) to Meramec Street (south) and from Jefferson Street (west) to the Mississippi River (east).

In addition to McKee, Marine Villa is home to many LGBTers, including John Oberkramer, owner of the popular bar Just Johns. People are drawn to the neighborhood by the affordable historic housing stock, including homes dating back to the 1860’s; views of the Mississippi River, close proximity to Downtown and by the friendly neighbors.

“People may not realize it, but they probably know someone in the community that lives in Marine Villa. I have a gay neighbor two doors south from me, a lesbian neighbor two doors north of me and a lesbian couple lives right across the alley from me,” McKee said. “The community is very well represented here. There are many folks like myself that are working hard to make it the neighborhood people specifically seek to reside in.”

Cyclists take advantage of the Mississippi River Trail and Bike Saint Louis trails that run through the heart of the neighborhood, and looking forward the Metrolink expansion study calls for a south line to run down Jefferson/South Broadway, right through Marine Villa.

Owner Susan Sheppard explained her long history in the area and spoke of the diversity of the neighborhood.

“And yeah, it’s out of the closet, I’m not gay! But I like the gay-friendly nature of our neighborhood,” offered Sheppard. “If it wasn’t gay-friendly I wouldn’t stay here. I like to think my house has a long history of lesbians—the original owner’s (from the 1860s)—two “single” daughters lived here into the 1940s. A lesbian couple lived here for 15-years and rehabbed our house, and that’s who we bought it from. And the late Marti Frumhoff was the real estate agent.”

Realtor Leigh Maibes touched on the lower housing prices compared to Soulard and Benton Park.

“The architecture and housing stock is just as rich as any brick city neighborhood, said Maibes.”[Marine Villa] has classic bungalows, 3 story traditionals and the classic Flounder style. The rich Circa details like pine floors, pocket doors and 12 inch trim remain virtually intact. In my opinion, the super low purchase prices, walk-ability (Cherokee and Lemp) and scenic view along the Mississippi River make Marine Villa an untouched City gem.”

Indeed, this often overlooked neighborhood has a lot going for it; welcoming residents, affordable homes, and the youth and energy of vibrant Cherokee Street.

BY: CHRIS ANDOE