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Darst-Webbe Public Housing Project Long Gone

June 18, 2009 History/Preservation, South City, Urban Renewal 15 Comments

The old high-rise housing projects that used to ring downtown are gone now.   One such project that struck me upon my arrival was Darst-Webbe.  The J.M. Darst Apts., opened in October 1956,  consisted of four 9-story towers and the A.M. Webbe Apts., opened in May 1961, consisted of two 9-story, one 12-story and one 8-story towers.  Darst was bounded by Lafayette, 12th (now Tucker), Hickory and 14th.  Webbe was to the North bounded by Hickory, 14th, Chouteau, and 12th.  To the West, across 14th, was the Clinton Peabocy Terrace 2 & 3 story apartments which opened in July 1942.  Click here to see a map of 12th (Tucker) & Hickory.

Winter 1990-91
Winter 1990-91

I took the above picture a few months after my arrival in St. Louis.  I believe this is the Webbe Apts. located North of Hickory. The housing in the background still exists.

  • Darst/14.75 acres/645 units built/683 units razed
  • Webbe/12.27 acres/580 units/578 units razed
  • Clinton Peabody/27.49 acres/657 units/687 units razed

All of the above information is from an early 1970s St. Louis technical report titled, History of Urban Renewal.

Thanksgiving of 1990 I had visitors from my home state of Oklahoma visiting St. Louis for the first time.  Driving them around my newly adopted city I took them past Darst-Webbe.  I said, jokingly, “maybe we’ll see a fire.”  Guess what?  There was a large fire in a dumpster near one of these towers.  In the years that followed I’d drive by and see lights on in a few of the apartments.  I was shocked that people lived in what appeared to be ruins.

The reasons high rise public housing failed are numerous and complicated.  But very simply we would have been better off had they left the old slums in place rather than razing them for the new slums.  Hindsight is a wonderful teacher.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "15 comments" on this Article:

  1. Chris says:

    Those slums often times didn’t have running water or inside toilets; at least Darst-Webbe had those amenities most of the time. I think we romanticize the slums cleared in the 1950-60’s way too much. Yes, what was built in their place was awful, but let’s be honest here.

    • NUK-L says:

      i skated right there everyday when i was like 12. i love the hood born and raised there.

  2. samizdat says:

    I would suspect that those “slums” were composed of the same type and variety of housing and commercial stock which now compose the neighborhoods of Soulard and Lafayette Square, amongst others. In other words, there could have been the same sort of rehabilitation and rebirth in those neighborhoods as has happened all around the City since then. But for the hubristic and shortsighted designation of “functionally obsolete”, these could have been saved. Better yet, the neighborhood and the cohesiveness therein wouldn’t have been destroyed by the diaspora of residents and businesses who were forced to leave their homes and shops. I’m can’t be certain of this, but I’ll bet that forced movement left a foul and bitter taste in the mouths of former residents. Enough to motivate many of them to leave the City.

  3. Realist says:

    Yes, some of those “slums” WERE of the same quality as Lafayette Square, but let’s be honest, some were absolutely horrible and poorly built from the start. As I said, let’s not romanticize real slums and make sure we differentiate between neighborhoods that were labeled obsolete and ones that really did contain unhealthy living conditions. Heck, even my wonderful house in TGE was labeled “blighted” at one point, and it’s the best built house I’ve ever lived in.

  4. CHRIS says:

    I grew up in Soulard. My parents were part of the initial rehabbers that turned Soulard around. I attended Stix Investigative Learning Center school in the Central West End, a STL magnet school. I rode a school bus that often picked up students who lived in those high rise public housing units. STL schools had started deseg at the time, so I had both white and african american friends at school. Many of the african american friends that were good friends and close to me came from homes in North St. Louis or the very near Southside. A very high percentage of kids that I knew who lived in those high rise projects had major behavior problems. At the time I, of course, did not understand this.

    Now that I have a better understanding of urban issues, in particular the concentrating of poor people in public housing (especially high rise) my opinion is that this policy was a crime. Looking back now I can see that the kids that came from the high rise public housing did not do well at school and had a lot of anger in them. Those kids with the behavior problems caused a lot of disruption in class and on the school bus. It is unfortunate that this policy (public housing) was allowed to occur in the first place. This is just my perspective, others will have theirs.

    I still know one of my friends whom lived in North Saint Louis, he is very successful and still live in the north side.

    [slp — yes, urban renewal was a crime. It is not romantic to think we should have upgraded the electrical, provided indoor plumbing, and addressed lacking maintenance. It would have been cheaper and less destructive to the lives of so many. But the planners, led by Harland Bartholomew, wanted to erase parts of town rather than invest in upgrading the older areas.]

  5. Chris says:

    Isn’t this whole discussion a little academic? We’ll never know for certain if the costs of rehabbing cold water flats would have been greater than demolition. We do know their replacements were failures, however.

    I think the social problems that were so omnipresent at Darst-Webbe were not caused solely be the horrible architecture, but I definitely think they were exacerbated by it.

  6. maurice says:

    20/20 vision is wonderful but the truth is that back then leaders of all types did not know then what we know now in terms of psychology, urban planning, architecture, social, educational, etc.

    If you truly want to compare today to back then, then you must erase all the knowledge gained since then.

  7. Becker says:

    The point is we now know what we don’t want to do. Assigning blame for the past or trying to remake past decisions is a energy wasting exercise.

    Lets spend more time deciding what we need to do in the future and less on what we “should” have done in the past.

    [slp — It is important to remember that they had the best of intentions but they overlooked qualities the slums offered that were lost. Same mistake can happen today — good intentions that make things worse. ]

  8. Owen Eden says:

    These projects that replaced the slum neighborhoods in the 1950s were never intended to be permanent housing for anybody. Please remember that blacks had to pay large rents for these slums in the 1940s and 50s. Twice as much as whites for places that were hardly suitable.
    The projects were intended as clean, warm, affordable places to live until people could could get on their feet and a lot did. Once they did, they never looked back. They moved on into the suburbs just as their white counterparts had two decades earlier.
    As for those that got left behind; they never had it in them to survive. It had little to do with their environment because not everybody got stuck their. As was pointed out, most of the apartments were empty in the 1980s. The ones who got stuck were underachievers from birth.

  9. john w. says:

    Owen, you’re kidding yourself.

  10. i will do anything 2 have des buildings back i miss des des where my home

    • thaddeusbuttmunch says:

      Many shwartzas bought into the “urban renewal is urban removal” line back in the sixties. Sooo…urban renewal largely stopped. I know in my native Detroit they did knock down “Black Bottom” and “Hastings Street” the Harlem of Black Detroit in the fifties before I was born. They cut Detroit up with freeways instead of mass transit. But some houses in that city ARE eighty to one hundred years old and in bad shape. What to do?? Who knows?

    • Paul Monroe says:

      so do i

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  12. ken says:

    I’m 33 year old i, was born in city#1 hospital, my father side of the family, pluse my moms side, plus one of my uncle’s, wife side of the family, lived n the darst weebies…  i grew up and raised in the peebody,  ”low rise” apartments, of the 1400block, my apartment building, sat right behind the chouteau, side apartmens”, my building is the only apartments in the peebody’s to be demolised. i, still remember my, old address 1447 Castle Lane. i was raised there from the time i, was born till 1990 after my grandmother, died. she died n there wich sucks because. my grandpa, re married lived there n the projects wit they lady, from downstairs hoom he, bought a house  for. only to die missing his wife, my grandma. i think he felt bad she, past away n them projects n the bathroom. where he, found her..  i could remember  he, sat n front of his wifes, casket front row he never cried. a hole year passed..and one day we, where sharing a cake that he made. n he just bust out crying saying i miss my wife,we bolth held eachother n cried,  togather… i, missed her too.. i was a lil boy,consoling this grown man hoom i, look up too i, didnt know what to fill are how to help. sad but great day he, finally.cried n releast
    after all. i also think he was hurt.. because she allways told him she didnt want to die n the prjects they came fom PRUITT IGO TOO. my hole family, well at least 4 otta 5 of my grandparents,children lived in thies projects; , my grandparents, had two adult children, that raised thier own families… in the darst webbie highrise apartments, 1 of my ucle’s lived wit us, n the peebody’s  on and off.  n 1 of my, aintie’s ”never” lived like us, n the projects, she allways had a house n a nice naborhood” i guess Pruitt Igo, made up her, mind for her… that she, refused to ever live that way again i, heard all the older folks, talk about all the ”crime” n bad things that went on back n them days. but still i, allso her pepole, say they fill the same way most of us last ”project community survivor’s” fill they, where forced from their, homes… if it wasn’t for the life of the peebody’s, many families from that hole sqare block  row of african tribes, who larned  how to atleast try to love live n care n protect eachother. i, never woul’ve seen the day or a time. when those buildings came down it just made one BIG ASS TRIBE. I NEVER THOUHT ID SEE THE DAY ALL 5 BUILDINGS WOULD HAVE TO COMBINE TOGATHER LIKE IT HAS FROM CHOUTEAU,12TH,13TH,14TH, NEW HOUSING PROJECTS, PEEBODY’S N ALL GET ALONG TOGATHER THANK GOD!!! I MISS THOSE BUILDINGS EVEN THO I LIVE N CALIFORNIA. NOW N HAVE FOR OVER 13 YEARS ITS HOME ITS WHERE I FIRST GOT MY START AT LIFE.  l still to this day i, can go n chill n hang n visit wit pepole” i, grew up wit still. n still get same love evreybody remembers who’s who after all this time  they tride to do to break us up or clash like throwing 100 savege pittbulls n a cage wit 100 savege rottweilers but to thier demise it never happend. lol!! n ask anybody about scoops ice cream parlor, or sns liquor store just that alone brings smiles. n good thoughts u coould bump into everyone there thats our old naborhood hangout scoops was they had arcade game n the owner’s was one of use the city took that away from use too that was just fckn evil we miss u KEN. THAT WAS THE OWNERS NAME IF U FROM ANY OF THOSE BUILDINGS U MISS IT N WISH U HAD IT BACK TOO.


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