For less than 20 years 33 towers stood on 57 acres on the city’s near-north side (map).Â Pruitt-Igoe was a failure of massive proportions. The reasons are numerous and complex.Â The towers were razed over a two-year period starting in 1972.Â Since then the site remained (mostly) vacant.
I continually hear people make the false claim the site has remained vacant because of the old foundations that were left in place.Â To debunk this often repeated myth I turned to the person that would know best: Martin Braeske.
Braeske, a planner formerly with St. Louis County, was working in the planning office for the St. Louis Public Schools in February 1994 when they broke ground on the Gateway Middle School for Science and Technology to be built on a portion of the former Pruitt-Igoe site.Â Braeske, now retired, is an Adjunct Professor at Saint Louis University.Â So I emailed my one-time instructor and asked him his thoughts on the foundations preventing site development:
Each tower had a partial basement for boiler and mechanical systems equipment. The ones we found were intact and simple filled in with dirt. We dug them out, punched holes in the bottom to equalize the water table and demolished the walls to about eight feet below the finished ground level. While this did cost a bit, it is not a major deterrent to redevelopment of the site.
The old foundations are not a big deal.Â If anything has prevented development of the Pruitt-Igoe site it has been the city’s fragmented politics over the decades.Â Late December 1992:
The federal judge overseeing the area’s school desegregation program is giving the St. Louis Housing Authority two weeks to hand over part of the old Pruitt-Igoe tract as the site for a $30 million magnet school.
U.S. District Judge George F. Gunn Jr. noted in his order that the federal court last year had approved the Pruitt-Igoe location as the site for the Gateway School.
In May, the St. Louis School Board filed an application with the Housing Authority to acquire 18 acres at Pruitt-Igoe, a public housing complex demolished in the 1970s.
The authority owns the property and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has a lien on the tract.
The Tenant Affairs Board, which represents public housing tenants, opposed the deal. It contended that under federal law it has the “first right of refusal” in land transactions that affect public housing tenants.
Gunn disagreed, at least regarding the Gateway case. In an order late Wednesday, he said the tenants’ board cannot block the Pruitt-Igoe deal. He pointed out that the site is a “vacant debris-strewn area” that has had no residents for more than 15 years.
He ordered the Housing Authority to disregard the tenant board’s intent to develop the site the School Board wants for Gateway School.
(Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch 12/25/1992)
The remaining 39 acres are still vacant 15 years after the school opened, becoming an urban forest.Â Interest in Pruitt-Igoe remains as strong as ever.Â Local filmmakers are hard at work on a documentary on the project.Â See their site at Pruitt-Igoe.com (under construction) or follow them on Twitter @PruittIgoe.
Pruitt-Igoe is known around the world.Â I recently received this email:
My name is Phil Bosch. I’m an artist based in Holland who is coming this Oktober and November to St. Louis to work on a special video documentary project.Â I would like to investigate the memories of former residents of the now defunct Pruitt-Igoe housing complex. For the citizens of St. Louis this place is still an open space in the city, like an inverted monument of a history that seems to be forgotten.
Slowly this housing complex seems to have taken on a mythological status.Â Â My film will be a study on its mythological status on the one side and the realm of experiences of the former residents on the other. The goal of my project is to enter, imaginatively, this huge building complex, even though its physical appearance is no longer there to be seen. While the Pruitt-Igoe no longer exists physically, it still exists in the memory of the former residents. It appears that despite the negative aura of the complex (the death of Modernism, the site’s history of crime and vandalism), there is still a coherent social group in the area who meet regularly. Thus, my goal would be to search for memories of a place where many lives were connected by this architecture that no longer exists.
I would like to document these memories. First of all, I would like to video the site of Pruitt-Igoe, which now has been taken back by nature. Next, I would like to contact people who had lived there or who otherwise have memories of the buildings.
If you can help Mr. Bosch email him.
- Steve Patterson