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My 15th Look at St. Louis’ Martin Luther King Drive

January 20, 2020 Featured, MLK Jr. Drive, North City No Comments

Today is the annual holiday to honor the civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated in Memphis in 1968.

Martin Luther King Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an American Christian minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the Civil Rights Movement from 1955 until his assassination in 1968. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, King is best known for advancing civil rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience, inspired by his Christian beliefs and the nonviolent activism of Mahatma Gandhi.

King led the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott and in 1957 became the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). With the SCLC, he led an unsuccessful 1962 struggle against segregation in Albany, Georgia, and helped organize the nonviolent 1963 protests in Birmingham, Alabama. He helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

On October 14, 1964, King won the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance. In 1965, he helped organize the Selma to Montgomery marches. The following year, he and the SCLC took the movement north to Chicago to work on segregated housing. In his final years, he expanded his focus to include opposition towards poverty and the Vietnam War. He alienated many of his liberal allies with a 1967 speech titled “Beyond Vietnam”. J. Edgar Hoover considered him a radical and made him an object of the FBI’s COINTELPRO from 1963 on. FBI agents investigated him for possible communist ties, recorded his extramarital liaisons and reported on them to government officials, and on one occasion mailed King a threatening anonymous letter, which he interpreted as an attempt to make him commit suicide.

In 1968, King was planning a national occupation of Washington, D.C., to be called the Poor People’s Campaign, when he was assassinated on April 4 in Memphis, Tennessee. His death was followed by riots in many U.S. cities. Allegations that James Earl Ray, the man convicted of killing King, had been framed or acted in concert with government agents persisted for decades after the shooting. (Wikipedia)

Following King’s death many cities began renaming streets in his honor. In 1968 the Veterans Bridge, opened in 1951 over the Mississippi River, was renamed to honor King.   Four years later, after much debate, St. Louis joined other cities by renaming two streets through the city after King — beginning at the Missouri end of the Martin Luther King Bridge.

Dr. Martin Luther King Drive starts down by the Mississippi River’s edge, and follows what was Franklin Avenue, making fits and starts in the convention center. King Drive continues westward, following old Franklin until just west of Jefferson Avenue. There, it abandons Franklin and gives King’s name to Easton, which, for generations, was an important shopping and socializing avenue for the blacks and whites in the northern part of the city and the inner ring suburbs of St. Louis County. (St. Louis Public Radio)

By 1972 the Wellston Loop shopping district, once second only to downtown, on Easton at the city/Wellston city limits, was already in decline. In 1965 Northwest Plaza had opened a short 15 minute drive further into St. Louis County.

In 1972 some wanted a more prominent street renamed after King — Lindell, for example. These days streets are not renamed, an honorary designation is added but addresses aren’t changed.

Let’s start today’s look at Martin Luther King Jr. Drive at the west end at the Wellston Loop.

For decades this was the point where streetcars turned around to head back downtown. The last few years a tarp had cover the roof, but it is no longer in place.
In this view you can see the lack of tarp protecting the building from water damage.
The street is increasingly sparse. I still miss the 4-story building that was on the other side of the Loop building. Click image for more information on that building.
As it looked in 2013
2017
The 2-story building on the NW corner of MLK Drive and Hamilton is now gone. It wasn’t remarkable, but it was part of a continuous group on that block — now a hole. This is part of the Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood which was getting a huge demolition focus in 2019. 
Just after demolition in August 2019.
Up close in July 2019
Last year
The group a year ago.
Just west of Union is the vacant site, I’d watched the home deteriorate for years.
In 2017
In 2013
East of Union is a still intact group of commercial buildings. One looks like it was hit by a car. Reviewing Google Streetview this happened after August 2017.
Just east of Kingshighway (4965 Dr. Martin Luther King Dr) a new building has been under construction since last summer, but the future occupant is unclear. City records list WM Grand Plaza LLC of Ballwin as the owner.
Recently palleted bricks site on the sidewalk where a building once stood.
Last year I said this was “Another building in need of stabilization.” It was actually two buildings, both from 1893. 4740-42 Dr. Martin Luther King Drive.
The former John Marshall School at Newstead is still vacant and deteriorating.
4208-4216 Dr. Martin Luther King Drive is in the final stages of demolition.
Last year bricks were starting to fall from it, I said then “It should be stabilized, but it’ll likely be allowed to crumble until neighbors demand it be razed.”
Another building I’ve been watching crumble is 3047 Dr. Martin Luther King, the back wing has now completely collapsed. Built in 1880 it is owned by the City’s Land Reutilization Authority (LRA)
In 2012 the rear wing was still intact…sorta.
At Tucker the former Post-Dispatch newspaper building is being converted to offices for Square.

In some of the years past long vacant buildings were getting renovated, new housing being built. Those positives remain, but otherwise the deterioration  continues.

— Steve Patterson

 

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