Where They Lived: Page, Hathaway, and Spinks

 

 February is Black History Month and two recent celebrity deaths prompted me to do this post. I’ll begin with the opening lines to RuPaul’s 1992 dance hit Supermodel (You Better Work): [Spoken Intro: LaWanda Page and RuPaul] Once upon a time, there was a little black girl, in the Brewster …

New Book — ‘Candy Men: The Story of Switzer’s Licorice’ by Patrick Murphy

 

 Prior to this new book my only knowledge of Switzer Licorice was the 19th century building in Laclede’s Landing that collapsed during a wind storm in July 2006. The sweet smell of licorice and the giant candy bar painted on the factory wall at the Eads Bridge remain locked into …

Newish Book: ‘Growing Up In Old North St. Louis’, 2nd Edition by Patrick J. Kleaver

 

 I receive quite a few new books from publishers throughout each year, but late last year I received an email from a self-published author. Patrick Kleaver invited me to check out the 2nd edition of his book from the library. I’m interested in the perspectives of people who grew up …

I Was Partially Wrong About How Our Non-Partisan Elections Will Work

 

 I try to avoid making mistakes, but it does happen. I like to verify information before publishing these posts, but when I didn’t get an answer from the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners I should’ve looked harder to find the answer. My apologies if my mistake caused any confusion. …

Recent Articles:

Where They Lived: Page, Hathaway, and Spinks

February 25, 2021 Featured, History/Preservation, North City Comments Off on Where They Lived: Page, Hathaway, and Spinks
 

February is Black History Month and two recent celebrity deaths prompted me to do this post.

I’ll begin with the opening lines to RuPaul’s 1992 dance hit Supermodel (You Better Work):

[Spoken Intro: LaWanda Page and RuPaul]
Once upon a time, there was a little black girl, in the Brewster Projects of Detroit, Michigan. At fifteen, she was spotted by an Ebony Fashion Fair talent scout and her modeling career took off
You better work.

These initial lines weren’t sung by RuPaul, they were spoken by the very recognizable voice of Lawanda Page (1920-2002). Though Page was born in Cleveland, Ohio she was raised in St. Louis. According to Wikipedia she attended Banneker Elementary School at 2840 Samuel Shepard Dr. This school closed in 2005. This is just north of what was the Mill Creek Valley neighborhood, where she likely lived.

LaWanda Page, born Alberta Peal, is best known for her roll as Aunt Esther on the sitcom Sanford and Son, starring her friend St. Louis-born Redd Foxx (1922-1991). Born John Elroy Sanford, his father was indeed named Fred Sanford.  While Foxx was born in St. Louis he was actually raised in Chicago.

Back to the song lyrics and that little black girl. None of the three male songwriters were from Detroit, much less the Brewster projects. However, three little black girls from the Brewster projects in Detroit Michigan founded the group that became Motown’s The Supremes. Supreme Mary Wilson (1944-2021) recently died.

Like so many housing projects, Brewster began as low rise buildings but later buildings were high rises.

The Brewster Project and Frederick Douglass Apartments were built between 1935 and 1955, and were designed by Harley, Ellington & Day of Detroit. The Brewster Project began construction in 1935, when First LadyEleanor Roosevelt broke ground for the 701-unit development; the first phase, consisting of low-rise apartment blocks, was completed in 1938. An expansion of the project completed in 1941 brought the total number of housing units to 941. The Frederick Douglass Apartments, built immediately to the south of the Brewster Project, began construction in 1942 with the completion of apartment rows, two 6-story low-rises, and finally six 14-story high rises completed between 1952 and 1955. The combined Brewster-Douglass Project was five city blocks long, and three city blocks wide, and housed anywhere between 8,000 and 10,000 residents, at its peak capacity.

St. Louis followed the same pattern of low rise initially, followed later by massive high rise projects. Today’s Carr Square neighborhood included numerous public housing projects, both low & high rise: Carr Square Village is low rise, followed by high rise Vaughn Housing & Pruitt-Igoe.

Donny Hathaway (1945-1979) was born in Chicago but raised in the Carr Square neighborhood. My favorite Donny Hathaway song is his 1972 duet with Roberta Flack, Where Is The Love? He lived with his grandmother and attended Franklin Elementary & Vashon high school. I wasn’t able to find a specific address so I’m not sure where they lived. I do know another song he’s known for is The Ghetto.

Franklin school is now senior housing, October 2007

The Spinks family, including boxer Leon Spinks Jr. (1953-2021), also lived in the Carr Square neighborhood. Early on it would’ve been called Kerry Patch, and later DeSoto-Carr. Unlike Donny Hathaway, I do know exactly where the Spinks family lived.

 

Leon Spinks Sr was born in 1937. In the 1940 census he was the youngest of 8 kids living with Lewis & Ava Spinks at 1409 N 14th Street.  The house they lived in was on the 1909 Sanborn map, but was torn down prior to the 1980s construction of the existing apartments at that addresses. The 53 year old Lewis Spinks Sr. listed the 14th Street address on a war registration card but marked it out, writing in 1024 N 21st. As a reference he listed Lewis Spinks Jr, now living separately at 1423 Biddle.

Leon Spinks Jr was born in 1953. In 1965 his father was living in the 2800 block of Biddle, in or near Pruitt-Igoe. By 1969 the senior Leon Spinks was living at 2210 Cass — definitely Pruitt-Igoe.

Not sure why I enjoy looking up where people lived, but I do.

— Steve Patterson

New Book — ‘Candy Men: The Story of Switzer’s Licorice’ by Patrick Murphy

February 18, 2021 Big Box, Books, Featured Comments Off on New Book — ‘Candy Men: The Story of Switzer’s Licorice’ by Patrick Murphy
 
I received a package of Switzer Licorice with the book.

Prior to this new book my only knowledge of Switzer Licorice was the 19th century building in Laclede’s Landing that collapsed during a wind storm in July 2006.

The sweet smell of licorice and the giant candy bar painted on the factory wall at the Eads Bridge remain locked into the collective memory of generations of St. Louisans. Candy Men: The Story of Switzer’s Licorice tells the story of how two Irish-American families began a candy company in the kitchen of a tenement in St. Louis’s Irish slum and showed the world how the American Dream can be built upon a foundation of candy.

In a story that passes through three generations, two World Wars, economic depressions, and labor unrest, the Murphys and the Switzers dedicated their lives to keeping the dream alive until it was put to an end by forces beyond their control. And yet, in an unlikely turn of events, the story continues today with a fresh twist and a renewed life of its own. (Island Press)

Like other recent books, this is largely a family memoir. Within the pages of family stories are insights into St. Louis life for Irish Catholics.

The chapter on Kerry Patch was of particular interest to me as we currently live where the immigrant tenement neighborhood existed. St. Patrick’s church was on the NW corner of 6th & Biddle, St. Lawrence O’Toole church was on the SW corner of 14th & O’Fallon. Not sure if Irish went to St. Joseph’s, but it’s in between at 11th & Biddle. Over the years the Irish of Kerry Patch moved west of 14th, toward Jefferson. St. Bridget of Erin church was on the NE corner of Jefferson & Carr.

I’m still going through the book, I like the stories about the many immigrants making candy in St. Louis.

— Steve Patterson

Newish Book: ‘Growing Up In Old North St. Louis’, 2nd Edition by Patrick J. Kleaver

February 4, 2021 Books, Featured, North City Comments Off on Newish Book: ‘Growing Up In Old North St. Louis’, 2nd Edition by Patrick J. Kleaver
 

I receive quite a few new books from publishers throughout each year, but late last year I received an email from a self-published author. Patrick Kleaver invited me to check out the 2nd edition of his book from the library. I’m interested in the perspectives of people who grew up in St. Louis, especially in a neighborhood where I’ve lived so I reserved it and picked it up.

Like a book I posted about last year, ‘The Last Children of Mill Creek’ by Vivian Gibson, Kleaver’s book is a personal memoir about where the author grew up. Each tells the reader about their family while also describing their neighborhood & experiences. There are many similarities between these two book — especially growing up in a multigenerational home.

Join life-time St. Louisan Patrick J. Kleaver in this UPDATED AND EXPANDED version of his book GROWING UP IN OLD NORTH ST. LOUIS. He reminisces about the good and the bad in the first nineteen years of his life when he lived in that historic St. Louis neighborhood from its heyday in the mid-1950s to its decline in the 1970s. From a detailed description of his house to the neighborhood shopping district originally known as the “Great White Way” (with stops at various neighbors and churches along the way), you’ll feel like you’re entering his life and walking with him on a personally guided tour! In this SECOND EDITION, he includes MORE anecdotes, a MORE detailed history of Old North St. Louis and its historic Catholic churches, MORE photographs (including rarely seen historic ones of streetscapes and church interiors), a MORE DETAILED quick side trip to two other neighborhoods bordering his, and UP-TO-DATE INFORMATION about the status of the various people and buildings mentioned. (Google Books)

As Kleaver points out the city’s 1947 Comprehensive Plan considered the neighborhood obsolete, largely due to how few residences had modern plumbing. Thus, it’s “heyday” was well before the 1950s. Still, he lived in the neighborhood while it went from being highly populated to significantly reduced population either through those who moved, or those forced out by the demolition for the Mark Twain Expressway (aka I-70).

I moved to the neighborhood in the spring of 1991, some of my neighbors had moved their in the late 1970s. It’s very interesting reading the accounts of a person that lived in the neighborhood in the 50s & 60s.  One side of his family lived in Hyde Park, just to the north of Old North, while the other side is from where I live now, Columbus Square.

The Kleaver family lived on Tyler, which is near the southern edge of today’s boundaries for Old North. The house of one of his childhood friends was also one of my favorites. Was — past tense as so much has been lost.

This book is available from the St. Louis Library and online retailers.

— Steve Patterson

I Was Partially Wrong About How Our Non-Partisan Elections Will Work

January 26, 2021 Featured, Politics/Policy Comments Off on I Was Partially Wrong About How Our Non-Partisan Elections Will Work
 

I try to avoid making mistakes, but it does happen. I like to verify information before publishing these posts, but when I didn’t get an answer from the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners I should’ve looked harder to find the answer. My apologies if my mistake caused any confusion.

Vintage photo of the former offices of the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners. From my collection

First, what I got right:

  • Candidates for local office are no longer listed on the ballot by political party, all are independent. Thus, non-partisan.
  • As independent candidates they can’t just pay a fee to their party of choice to get on the ballot — they must submit a petition signed by registered voters.
  • Voters can vote for as many candidates as they like. Example: Three candidates for a race means a voter could select 0-3 of them.

What I got wrong:

  • I knew that in a race with three or more candidates the top two in March would face each other in April. I incorrectly thought if one got 50% of the votes in March the race was over — WRONG.

The full petition behind Proposition D passed in November 2020 says:

“Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, in the primary election for the offices of Mayor, Comptroller, President of the Board of Aldermen, and Alderman, voters shall select as many candidates as they approve of for each office. The two candidates receiving the most votes for each office shall advance to the general election. The candidate for each office receiving the most votes in the general election shall be declared the winner.” [Emphasis added]

So what does this mean? In races with only one or two candidates on the ballot the March & April ballots for that race will look the same. In races with two candidates one might win in March but the other win in April.  Most likely the March result will be similar to April.

The big difference will be seen in races with three or more candidates, like the 4-way mayoral race or 6-way aldermanic race in the 21st ward. In these races we know the election won’t be over in March with April only a formality. The month between the March primary and April general will determine the winner.

The candidate that comes in a close second place in March can win in April if they keep pushing and trying to win over voters who selected candidates that got eliminated by placing third or later.

Though I wish the language had been like I thought it was, I understand that would’ve been a lot more complicated of a change. I’m still glad Prop D passed.

I hope the next change is a thorough overhaul: Eliminate the March primary and have ranked-choice voting in April with ballot measures and school board races.

Again, my apologies for my mistake.

— Steve Patterson

17th Annual Post on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive in St. Louis

January 18, 2021 Featured, MLK Jr. Drive, North City Comments Off on 17th Annual Post on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive in St. Louis
 

Since 2005 I’ve looked at Dr. Martin Luther King Drive every year on the national holiday to honor the civil rights leader killed in 1968. This is my 17th such post.

In St. Louis two streets were renamed in 1972 — Franklin Ave east of Leffingwell Ave and Easton Ave west of Leffingwell Ave became Dr. Martin Luther King Drive. This travels through north St. Louis from the Mississippi River to city limits.

Though not bustling like new suburban malls, it still had lots of commercial activity. In the nearly half century since the streets were renamed the black middle class largely abandoned north St. Louis — moving to either other parts of the city, north county & beyond, even out of state. With some exceptions, retail activity on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive has collapsed — as have many buildings.

Today we’ll start at MLK & Tucker then head west. Why not start further east? Well, only one block of MLK remains east of Tucker (12th) — between 9th & 10th. On the south side of the street is the side of an anti-urban hotel and on the north side a surface parking lot enclosed by chain link fencing. The blocks between Broadway (5th) and 9th are part of the convention center and dome.

At Tucker & MLK you have the former Post-Dispatch building being renovated into office space for Square and others. All photos, except where noted otherwise, were taken on Saturday January 9, 2021.

The first block of MLK east of Tucker is closed during building renovations, left. The main entrances used to face Tucker & MLK, but that will change when it reopens.
The new main entrance will be on the opposite end, a previously windowless addition has been transformed into the new main entrance at Tucker & Cole.
In 2020 the few remaining old buildings on MLK between 13th & 14th were razed. This view from the NW corner of MLK & 14th we can see all the way to Tucker & Convention Plaza (aka Delmar).
In 2020 the city leased a former RV park that occupied an entire city block bounded by MLK, Jefferson, Cole, and 23rd.
Tiny houses began being set into place so unhoused individuals could have a safe place to live.
The storefront at 2706 Dr. Martin Luther King Drive was boarded up.
I’ve been watching the house at 3047 MLK slowly deteriorate. It has stood here since 1880.
In 2012 the rear wing was still intact.
The McKee-owned warehouse in the triangle where Page & MLK meet is another that has been slowly crumbling.
The MLK side is actually the back. At the top you can see a wall on the mechanical penthouse has collapsed.
Here’s a cropped view to show the wall collapse. This will allow more water & animals into the structure.
On the block west of Whittier Street stood large 3-story building. In the foreground the sign for the late Ald Sam Moore is still in place at the Ville Mall business incubator he helped build. It’s suburban-style front parking lot is in stark contrast to businesses in older buildings across MLK
A better view of the site where a large 3-story warehouse stood for decades.
From my 2019 post: Bricks are starting to fall from this building. It should be stabilized, but it’ll likely be allowed to crumble until neighbors demand it be razed.
The well-proportioned, but vacant, building at 4277 MLK has lost brick from the exterior row.
The closed Marshall School building that faces Aldine Ave is still awaiting a buyer.
A positive sign just west of Newstead, very glad to see this building getting some attention.

 

This handsome building at 4524 MLK needs attention to keep it from getting beyond the ability to save it.
The building at 4534 MLK is getting some tuck pointing to help it keep standing.
Something is happening at 4668 MLK.

In the last 16 years the building has been a dollar type store at least twice, it’s closed again. 4949 MLK
For a few years now a new building has been under construction at 4973 MLK, set back suburban-style. It looks finished, but has yet to be occupied.
The former Sears on Kingshighway near MLK is now the Urban League, the building is still named after Victor Roberts.
The auto & tire business at 5018 MLK is burnt out.
The facade at 5153 MLK has collapsed.
Last year I knew the facade wouldn’t last long so I included it for documentation purposes.
And sadly one of my favorite buildings in the entire city was finally razed.
5716 MLK in 2019.
The former National market at 5870 MLK has had other uses over the years, last as Ali Market. A medical marijuana dispensary license has been awarded to Growing Jobs Missouri. Hopefully this will still happen.
In late August 2020 the upper floor collapsed while the business at 5917 MLK was open. I doubt the building will be here next year. Click image to see Post-Dispatch story in a new tab.
Here is what it looked like in 2019.

As in prior years there are a few bright spots along an otherwise bleak street.

As long as there is extreme poverty in this world, no man can be totally rich even if he has a billion dollars.
— Dr. King, “The American Dream” speech, June 6, 1961 at Lincoln University. Listen here, quote at 14:23.

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