When the first Historic Shaw Art Fair was held in the Fall of 1993, the Shaw Neighborhood was a
very different place in many ways. Twenty-six years ago the urban neighborhood was struggling
to recover from roughly 25 years of many of the things that had plagued urban neighborhoods
around the country. Challenges were many, including migration of middle class families to the
suburbs, absentee building owners, and the deterioration of turn-of-the-century homes that
are expensive to maintain. But the Shaw Neighborhood has always had a unique set of
attributes that set it apart from many other neighborhoods in the area, most importantly our
patron and founder, Henry Shaw.
Shaw arrived from England as a teenager and made his fortune in hardware, supplying pioneers
on the move west as they made their mandatory stop in St. Louis to gather provisions. Did you
ever play Oregon Trail? The guy that sold you your wagon wheels and rifles was very likely Mr.
Shaw. A millionaire before the age of 40, Shaw spent his fortune building beautiful homes and
landscapes in St. Louis – his adopted home. He established what is now the Missouri Botanical
Garden and Tower Grove Park. He was very deliberate in his urban planning and design and left
a legacy of beauty in these world-class institutions that continue to thrive today.
Besides existing among a Victorian walking park and a world class botanical garden, the streets
of the Shaw Neighborhood are lined with a mix of homes that include 3-story Victorians, classic
Arts and Crafts from the 1910s-1920s, hundreds of multi-unit buildings, some of which have
been converted from rentals to privately owned condos and townhomes, and some mid-
century smaller homes, built in the 1940s and ‘50s. There are even a few new homes that have
been built on what were vacant lots until recently. The sheer density of the neighborhood has
meant that it lacked the feeling of other urban neighborhoods that seemed to become
abandoned over time. Yes, Shaw lost its share of both commercial and residential buildings,
mostly in the 1980s, but not to the extent of some other neighborhoods in St. Louis.
Then came the urban renewal movement. Because the housing stock of the neighborhood was so dense and included a mix of large homes and small apartments, there was something for everyone. Shaw’s residents, including homeowners and renters, began to push back against property owners who didn’t live in the neighborhood or who let their property deteriorate. The Shaw Neighborhood Improvement Association was incorporated in 1975 to facilitate programs to help residents with their home search… and find opportunities to redevelop their property, address crime issues, and find uses for abandoned properties. It wasn’t always easy – tensions can run high when dealing with complex socio-economic issues. And there were many big issues, such as crime, education, race, and economic equality, that cities and neighborhoods continue to struggle with today. But slowly home investment came back to Shaw, then commercial businesses, then more school choices, then more families. Today Shaw is considered a highly desirable neighborhood to live in with a median home price that is higher than many other areas of St. Louis.
Who knew this would happen? The men and women who decided that a world-class art fair
would be a good idea in 1993.
Well, it would be untrue to say that they “knew” that Shaw would be what it is today. But it is
an absolute tribute to the people who have lived here throughout the neighborhood’s ups and
downs, and always envisioned the beauty and culture that were the building blocks of the Shaw
Neighborhood from its inception over a century ago. Many of the people who worked on the
first Historic Shaw Art Fair are still involved in the event today, and it has become a year-round
endeavor. The HSAF receives support from the Regional Arts Council, the Missouri Arts Council,
and many local businesses that support the people of the neighborhood. And it only happens
because of the thousands of volunteers through the years who have rolled up their sleeves and
done the hard work of putting on the event itself.
The art and the artists that are featured each year are the stars of the Historic Shaw Art Fair.
But it’s really about the ensemble cast – the homes, the music, the food and the people. It’s one
of the best shows in town and we can’t wait to do again this year for the 27th time. See you in