This Day in St. Louis History, February 17, 1972: Martin Luther King Boulevard is dedicated
A Board of Aldermen bill was passed that changed the name of Easton Avenue and portions of Franklin Avenue to Martin Luther King Boulevard. Alderman C.B. Broussard was a primary sponsor, and he announced that the change was part of a nationwide organized drive to rename street[s[ in honor of the murdered civil rights figure. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed by James Earl Ray on April 4, 1968 while standing on a hotel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. Just days after his murder, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
By 1972 St. Louis was aware the 1960s was its second decade in a row with major losses in population. In the two decades since the St. Louis population peaked in the 1950 census, the city lost more than a quarter of its residents. The biggest reduction, however, happened during the 1970s. By the 1980 census St. Louis had again lost more than a quarter of the population — in a single decade.
As the white middle class fled North St. Louis for North St. Louis County, commercial streets like Easton & Franklin Avenues were already in decline before 1972.
One building symbolizes this change better than any other. Demolition of existing 2-story buildings began on February 29, 1948 — the new JC Penny store opened the following year. By 1967 the store was so crowded a warehouse was added to the West (since demolished). Less than a decade later, the store closed on September 11, 1976.
As residents fled to North County retailers followed them. New shopping areas like Northland (1955), River Roads (1962), Northwest Plaza (1965), and Jamestown Mall (1973) opened to serve the new suburban middle class. Franklin & Easton Avenues would have declined even it not renamed.
Can this corridor be revived? To the point of being the honor it was intended? I have my doubts. Perhaps we should do something different to causally honor Dr. King’s legacy and return the street name to Easton & Franklin Avenues?
Today’s post was originally supposed to be about how a historic water tower, one of our three, was saved 55 years ago. In researching, however, I found the truth was a little differing.
A few years ago the STL250 group posted a daily tidbit — I saved those which thought might be of interest here.
This Day in St. Louis History, January 27, 1962: Salvation for the Bissell Street Water Tower
When news was released that the city had decided to tear down the dilapidated Bissell Street Water Tower at Blair and Bissell Street in North St. Louis, protests came from every direction. The tower had been losing bricks from its face due to water infiltration and freezing, but people demanded the structure be saved. Thanks to a matching grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior and the realization that tearing it down would be just as expensive, the tower was saved and restored. The Bissell Street Water Tower was constructed in 1885 to control surges of water pressure along with its older adjacent neighbor, the Grand Avenue Water Tower, shaped like a giant Corinthian column. Less than ten Victorian-era water towers remain in the United States, and three are in St. Louis.
Their post has been deleted from Facebook. So it was saved on a Saturday in 1962 — great
Built in 1885, the Bissell Street Water Tower, also called the “Red” Water Tower, was designed by William S. Eames in the form of a Moorish Minaret. The tower stands 206 feet high and is located at the intersection of Blair Avenue and Bissell Street in the Hyde Park City Historic District.
There are nine doorways leading into a space containing an iron standpipe and spiral staircase. At the top is a look-out platform. The tower was renovated in 1913. There was an attempt to raze the tower in 1958, but luckily it was halted by Donald Gunn, the President of the Board of Aldermen. The Red Tower was restored once again in the 1960s and designated a City Landmark in 1966.. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.
So it was saved from demolition in 1962, restored and listed on the National Register. Not quite.
From the nomination to the register completed on April 8, 1970:
No material alterations have been made on the structure since its construction and its appearance remains essentially the same as when it was completed. The tower was taken out of use June 8, 1913 when new pumping engines rendered both it and its companion, the Grand Avenue Water Tower, obsolete. It has received no substantive maintenance since that date and has fallen into such a state of disrepair that it has been barricaded since 1965 to protect people from falling bricks. Because it has been deemed a danger to public safety, it is now threatened with imminent demolition.
This description of the physical appearance of the building is based on the data included in a field report by Edward A. Ruesing written, on February 26, 1970. The report is filed at the central office of the Missouri State Park Board, P.O. Box 1?6, Jefferson Building, Jefferson City, Misoouri 65101.
No doubt something happened 55 years ago today, but it was just part of many steps taken to save it from demolition. I haven’t been up there since December 2011 — not sure of the current condition. Would be nice to see the Compton Hill Water Tower & Park Preservation Society expand to cover all three of our water towers or help form an organization to help the two north side towers.
Initially my reaction was negative, I imagined cheap materials and poor detailing. However, I decided not to share my fears. I’m glad I didn’t.
Yesterday I visited the site, still under construction, to see what I thought in person. First, we must know what used to be.
In 1936 the other row houses were razed — leaving one out of context. The Eugene Field House & Toy Museum needed to create an accessible entrance. Given enough money, they could have recreated the block. But it wouldn’t have been authentic or met their needs.
On my way there I was prepared for the worst.
I couldn’t believe that I was liking what I was prepared to dislike. Once I saw the construction sign and the architect, my disbelief immediately vanished — I’ve known architect Dennis Tacchi for 25 years.
Let me be clear:
Razing the other non-significant row houses decades ago was a huge mistake.
Recreating the row house facades is something best left to Disney.
Broadway is a horrific pedestrian experience today.
An accessible entrance was needed.
I’m looking forward to the opening and seeing the interior. Now for some more history.
Located at 634 South Broadway, the three-story Greek Revival home was constructed in 1845. Originally it was one of twelve attached houses called “Walsh’s Row”. The other eleven buildings were demolished in 1936. The Eugene Field House became a City Landmark in 1971. It is known as the childhood home of the “Children’s poet” Eugene Field.
The Field House was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2007. (St. Louis)
In March of 1857, the United States Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, declared that all blacks — slaves as well as free — were not and could never become citizens of the United States. The court also declared the 1820 Missouri Compromise unconstitutional, thus permiting slavery in all of the country’s territories. (PBS)
The row house at 634 S. Broadway had two significant occupants, but it’s the entire block that should have been saved. Eighty years ago a bad decision was made, we must make the best of it today. This is a tiny step in the right direction.
Citizens Trust Bank — anchored in metro Atlanta, Columbus, Ga., Birmingham, Ala., and Eutaw, Ala. — said it has received about 8,000 new applications for depositors in recent days.
One of the catalysts: Rapper Killer Mike called in to a town hall meeting on MTV and BET on July 8 to implore the black community to deploy “a portion” of its financial resources to make a difference.
He wants 1 million people to deposit $100 apiece in small black-owned banks or credit unions, believing that those financial institutions will be more likely than other banks to make loans to black citizens and businesses — and more likely to treat them fairly in general. (USA Today: Black-owned banks get rush of new depositors)
The above linked to a VH1 story:
During the event, radio personality Charlamagne spoke with rapper Killer Mike on economic solutions for the Black community. “We can’t go out in the street and start bombing, shooting, and killing, Mike preaches. “I encourage none of us to engage in acts of violence. I encourage to take our warfare to financial institutions.”
The rapper proposes that we all should take a portion of our money and “put it into a small black bank or credit union” and watch it accumulate over the next few years. His proposal: for 1 million people to start a $100 account with any Black-owned bank. The result: it gives these small banks the ability to give out small home and business loans for areas that are being gentrified, so Black families don’t get pushed out and their businesses can thrive. (VH1: This Major Star Agrees with Killer Mike’s Economic Solution)
This made perfect sense to me, so I thought I’d see about opening an account at a black-owned bank in St. Louis. The VH1 article provide a link to make it easy to support such a bank, which led me to:
Their criteria is based on 51% ownership, here are their key findings:
“AAOBs are in 17 states and territories. Key states absent are Florida, Mississippi, New York, and Ohio.
Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Tennessee, and Wisconsin each have two AAOBs.2016 Median AAOBs Aseets: $107 551 000 ($113 470 000)*
Average AAOBs Assets: $210 292 000 ($233 583 000)*
African American bank assets saw a 1.2 percent decrease or net loss of approximately $57 million in assets in 2015.
AAOBs control 0.03 percent of America’s $15.7 trillion Bank Owned Assets.
AAOBs control 2.3 percent of FDIC designated Minority-Owned Bank Assets, which is down from 2.6 percent in 2015.
There has not been an AAOB started in 16 years.
Only 8 of 2016’s 22 AAOBs saw increases in assets.
For comparison, Asian American Owned Banks have approximately $46.1 billion in assets spread over 68 institutions. They control 6.0 percent of Asian America’s buying power.
*Previous year in parentheses”
Total number of institutions 156 Total assets (thousands $) $131,324,491 Total deposits (thousands $) $107,712,933
Number of institutions by minority code (Min Cd) 1 Black or African American 23 5 Caucasian Women 6 10 Hispanic American 29 20 Asian or Pacific Islander American 61 30 Native American or Alaskan Native American 18 31 Multi-Racial American 1 32 Min Board & Serving African American Community 1 33 Min Board & Serving Hispanic Community 4 34 Min Board & Serving Asian or Pacific Islander Community 9 35 Min Board & Serving Native Am or Alaskan Native Am Community 0 36 Min Board & Serving Multi-Racial Community 2 39 Low Income Credit Union 2 Total 156
With 156 institutions one must be located in St. Louis, right? Nope.
In the entire state of Missouri here are the Minority institutions:
Liberty Bank & Trust: 2 locations in Kansas City
Central Bank of Kansas City: 2 locations in Kansas City
Peoples Bank: Seneca & Joplin, MO
St. Louis did have a local black-owned bank for 44 years, from 1965-2009:
Gateway Bank was established in 1965 on Union Blvd., near Natural Bridge, as the first black-owned and -operated bank in Missouri. In response to the 1963 civil-rights protests of Jefferson Bank & Trust Co.’s refusal to hire blacks, co-founder C. W. Gates and his family committed to providing banking services and loans indiscriminately to the community of North St. Louis.
“Over the years, Gateway took local deposits and made loans in a neighborhood where few other banks focused,” said Adolphus Pruitt, president of the NAACP St. Louis City.
In 2009, the bank failed under the recession, was taken over by the FDIC, and was sold to Central Bank of Kansas City. For the past three years, Central Bank was managing the bank’s $12 million in deposits and about $13 million in assets. Yet earlier this year, Central Bank received permission from the FDIC to permanently close the location in October 2012, arguing that they couldn’t find a buyer to keep the bank open. (St. Louis American: Gateway Bank Saved)
Gateway Bank was formed after the 1963 Jefferson Bank Protest. I used to pass Gateway Bank while riding my bike to work further North on Union Blvd in the late 90s — I was unaware of its history.
However, this isn’t the end of the story.
In 2012, St. Louis Community Credit Union announced plans to save Gateway Bank by purchasing the existing land. The building was demolished in 2015. With the help of additional funding from a Community Development Block Grant, as well as support from the City of St. Louis, Stifel Bank & Trust, the St. Louis City NAACP, TIAA Direct and others, St. Louis Community Credit Union built a new state-of-the art facility on the original site, while still preserving the great heritage of Gateway Bank. Many of Gateway’s traditions continue in the new financial institution. It opened in March 2016. (gatewayslccu.com)
Will I be going here to open a new account? No, because I’ve already been a member of St. Louis Community Credit Union since 2010. We got our car loan there in 2014 and will get another in late 2017/early 2018.
Last week I took the #04 MetroBus to see the new Gateway branch.
The following hour plus video was produced in 2015 to look back at the history of Gateway, here is a list of the people interviewed:
Russel Little, Sr., former Gateway shareholder
Barbara Harness, Gateway SVP of operations
Mike McMillan. Urban League
Thomas L. Mines, Gateway employee 1968-1975
Dr. John A Wright, Educator/Historian/Author
Delores Jones, former Gateway employee, now a St. Louis Community Credit Union employee
Letrissa Bennet, former Gateway employee, now a St. Louis Community Credit Union employee
Lisa Gates, daughter of Gateway xo-founder CW Gates and former employee
I listened to the entire video, very interesting. If your among the many who are unbanked in St. Louis or your money is elsewhere, please talk to St. Louis Community Credit Union.
Last month I posted about how the employee line for the main Post Office parking garage was two blocks long — costing workers time & money — and polluting. My point was to find a way to reduce/eliminate this shift-change queue. However, a few comments were classic strawman fallacy — saying I wanted this post office to close — moving the sorting & processing jobs to a suburban. Uh…no. Again, my point was to collectively find a way to get people to their jobs without having to queue up just to park. That said, the USPS might decide to move mail process out of downtown to more modern facilities. If they do — it won’t be because I don’t like the daily queue for the parking garage.
The possibility of the processing moving got me thinking about the history of the Main Post Office on this site. I knew online city records didn’t have the year built, so I’d need to investigate beyond a quick online search. Buildings from this era usually had cornerstones — people weren’t embarrassed to have their names displayed on them for eternity. Though I’d never seen a cornerstone here before, I knew one had to exist.
Back home I found online that an article from October 1935 talks about the design. So off to the 3rd floor genealogy department at the Central Library to find it on microfilm. Note: searching Post-Dispatch articles 1874-1922 can be done online through a free database, using your library card account for access.
So we know the Main Post Office in October 1935 was at 18th & Walnut, from the article:
The excavation and foundation work have been completed for some time. It is estimated that it will take 900 calendar days, approximately two and a half years, to complete the superstructure. The architects are Klipstein & Rathmann of St. Louis, Engineers are W. J. Knight & Co, on structure. John D. Falvey on mechanical work and Joseph A. Osborn on electrical work.
An earlier post office, at 18th & Walnut, was razed to build the present one between 17th-18th. An older post office annex building still exists between the Union Station train shred and 18th Street.
Foundations done for some time? An earlier paragraph explains the delay:
Construction of the superstructure was delayed by the Supreme Court decision on the NRA which necessitated asking for new bids. Representative John J. Cochran of St. Louis has been in constant communication with the procurement division of the Treasury and with the Post Office Department in an effort to speed up the project.
NRA? A different one.
National Recovery Administration (NRA), U.S. government agency established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to stimulate business recovery through fair-practice codes during the Great Depression. The NRA was an essential element in the National Industrial Recovery Act (June 1933), which authorized the president to institute industry-wide codes intended to eliminate unfair trade practices, reduce unemployment, establish minimum wages and maximum hours, and guarantee the right of labour to bargain collectively.
The agency ultimately established 557 basic codes and 208 supplementary codes that affected about 22 million workers. Companies that subscribed to the NRA codes were allowed to display a Blue Eagle emblem, symbolic of cooperation with the NRA. Although the codes were hastily drawn and overly complicated and reflected the interests of big business at the expense of the consumer and small businessman, they nevertheless did improve labour conditions in some industries and also aided the unionization movement. The NRA ended when it was invalidated by the Supreme Court in 1935, but many of its provisions were included in subsequent legislation. (Encyclopedia Britannica)
Besides serving the postal needs of St. Louis, the new building will be a distributing center for all postal supplies, machinery ns equipment for post offices throughout the Southwest.
The new post office opened in 1937. so that takes care of the history, right? Not quite. From the 1935 photo caption we know the previous Main Post Office was at 18th & Walnut, but because the current post office Walnut Street doesn’t exist between 16th-18th. So I turned to Sanborn Fire Insurance maps:
The Sanborn Fire Insurance Map Company, established in 1867, compiled and published maps of U.S. cities and towns for the fire insurance industry to assess the risk of insuring a particular property. The maps are large scale plans of a city or town drawn at a scale of 50 feet to an inch, offering detailed information on the use made of commercial and industrial buildings, their size, shape and construction material. Some residential areas are also mapped. The maps show location of water mains, fire alarms and fire hydrants. They are color-coded to identify the structure (adobe, frame, brick, stone, iron) of each building. Between 1955 and 1978, the Library of Congress withdrew duplicate sheets and atlases from their collection and offered them to selected libraries. Maps for Missouri towns and cities were given to the MU Libraries. Documenting the layout of 390 Missouri cities from 1883 to 1951, the University of Missouri-Columbia Ellis Library Special Collections Department has digitized 6,798 of the maps for Missouri cities from 1880 to 1922.
This Project is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act as Administered by the Missouri State Library, a division of the Office of the Secretary of State.
Most of the ones for St. Louis are from 1907-1911.
In the block bounded by Market, 17th, Walnut, and 18th is Excelsior Brewery. The only thing South of Walnut is a Union Electric building with vacant land. My unconfirmed assumption was a post office was built after December 1908 o the block South of Walnut. So the new post office replaced the brewery? That was my initial hunch, but it’s far more complicated.
An article from October 21, 1917 has the headline: “$1,000,000 HOTEL PLANNED TO FACE UNION STATION”. The “skyscraper type” hotel would have 450-500 rooms, to be built by someone from Oklahoma. From that article:
The site, which is owned by the St, Louis Brewing Association, will be acquired either under a 99-year lease or by purchase outright. Norman Jones, secretary and treasurer of the brewing association, stated the owners are not interested in the project, but are desirous of leasing the site for improvement with a building of the nature stated. He said the association would either lease or sell the plot, and for that reason it had declined to tie it up with short-term leases. He stated that the association had plans, several years ago, for a large hotel for this plot, but that they had been lost.
The Market street frontage is filled with a conglomeration of small stores, picture theaters and saloons. The rear, or Walnut street side of the block, was occupied by the Excelsior Brewery, the building of which was recently razed.
Several years ago a group of Chicago capitalists head this block under consideration for improvement with a large hotel structure, but the project collapsed when Europe was plunged into war.
This 1917 article says this hotel would be compatible with the St. Louis Real Estate Exchange’s plans for a plaza in the catty-corner block bounded by 18th, Market, 19th, and Chestnut. Side note: that plan eventually doubled in size to 20th, it was fined by a 1923 bond issue. The centerpiece Meeting of the Waters fountain & sculpture were completed in 1939 — two years after the new Post Office opened.
An article from November 11. 1917 says an $800,000 13-story hotel with 700 rooms was to be built on the Northeast corner of 18th & Market.
A brewery previously existed where Union Station was built, this was operated by the Uhrigs — who earlier had opened a beer garden at Jefferson & Washington.
A Julius Winkelmeyer and Frederich Stifel moved there small operations to 18th & Market in 1846, it was started the year before at Convent & 2nd.
Ok, so both 1917 hotel plans failed, the brewing association sold the Southeast corner years later for the post office? Yes and no, respectively.
Ever since the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis opened Union Station on September 1, 1894, there was an effort to “improve” the appearance of the blocks facing it. Prohibition lasted from 1920-1933. A week ago I found an article suggesting they had bought the Excelsior Brewery property, my assumption is they sold or donated it for the new post office.
At some point I may return to dig more into the history of this intersection, but I’ll stop for now.
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