Google Earth/Sanborn Layer Fever *Updated*

So lately I’ve been into creating sanborn layers in Google Earth. It allows me, and hopefully other researchers, to more easily navigate sanborn maps without having to use online databases. It also provides you the ability to enjoy the features of Google Earth, such as turning on 3D buildings and having those imposed upon the Sanborn layer. 

My first project was in Mill Creek Valley (Below). I did this by sort of duplicating ‘paint by number’ matching blocks to their footprint. Because Mill Creek Valley was wiped out during urban renewal and much of the neighborhood grid no longer exists, I used a land use map from a 1956 urban renewal feasibility study. Once I applied that map onto the Google Earth street grid I began filling in holes with the sanborn maps.

Here’s the land use map, as you can see–if you’re familiar with the St. Louis street grid, very little has changed about the main thoroughfares. Market/Jefferson still follow most of this trajectory and Olive/Grand/20th street + the railroad tracks on the south end still form the framing of the neighborhood to this day. So really, it was as I said, paint by numbers. I started out by figuring out the block numbers of each piece, then going from page to page, using Gimp and Microsoft Paint to perfect the pieces. 

An example of one completed quarter of the neighborhood. Because the maps were downloaded in hi-res in order to allow researchers to use this as a practical model (addresses/sanborn details are 100% visible zoomed in), the map as a whole takes about 5-10 minutes to completely load. I never really could run it all when I was piecing it together–until I hooked up my ethernet cord. I do not recommend using this map layer over wifi!

Here’s what it looks like when you’re looking at it top down. 


An example of the map with 3D buildings turned on, thus we get a glimpse of scenes we see in the present, set atop the neighborhood of old. I pass through this area a lot, even I’m amazed sometimes that as much as I think I know this neighborhood, I always lose sight at how huge it was.

So this is a neat thing I thought of last night, in order to show how one might be able to use this–creating an exhibit. The first image is in Google Earth, looking west on Lawton towards Beaumont. The building on the end of the block, the Polar Wave factory is a glaring zoning error–surrounded by stately townhouses. The building on the end of Lawton facing the factory is titled Douglass Hall, here many a jazz musician and politician (Including Marcus Garvey) were seen, as it was a popular venue for out of town visitors. Below, you’ll see this same view, but in a Missouri History Museum photograph. 

When I’m more comfortable with the quality of this map, I’ll upload the download link here, but I’m still not sure it’s up to my quality standards yet. It’s pretty crazy that my first attempt at applying sanborns to Google Earth was a massive neighborhood like Mill Creek, but what are you gonna do? 


A video of a flyover this map with 3d Buildings enabled in Google Earth:



So a couple days have passed and I’ve gotten ambitious. Last night I did most of the NGA site in St. Louis Place. I left a bit of it open in order to show the contrast to the empty footprint many are familiar with in this part of the city. 

But, perhaps even more exciting is what I completed tonight, in the span of about 5 hours. While I’ve gotten the mechanics of the process down (downloading maps, editing them and importing them), this map was trickier because there was no street grid at all to work with. Well, there was one, but I didn’t think of it till I was done. I rebuilt as a challenge from someone on social media, the riverfront–predating the construction of the stainless steel genocide eyesore, commonly known as the Gateway Arch. The streets are a tad off, I’m sorry. Not sorry. It’s really cool and for the first time I’m providing a public download link.

Download Link.

Please make sure you have Google Earth downloaded before you click here, because I can’t do tech support. 

*Link updated with a cleaner, less chaotic riverfront street grid and an expanded downtown layer that stretches to 6th street*

*Link updated again, people were having problems getting the KMZ to download, this should be fixed now. If it isn’t, contact me on Twitter/Facebook or Instagram and bug me.*