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St. Louis Businesses Ordered To Shut Down — 102 Years Ago Today

October 7, 2020 Featured, History/Preservation, Politics/Policy Comments Off on St. Louis Businesses Ordered To Shut Down — 102 Years Ago Today
I bought this book at Washington University on June 6, 1991 for $7.95.

The city’s health commissioner has just ordered many businesses to close, effective tomorrow. That was the order on October 7, 1918.

City Health Commissioner Max B. Starkloff announced that public gathering places would be closed immediately to prevent the spread of influenza, which was just then becoming an epidemic in the city. Some 115 new cases had been counted that day in St. Louis, and at Jefferson Barracks the total number was 900.

Closed under the commissioner’s order were theaters, movie houses, open air meetings, dance halls, conventions, and public funerals. Church leaders agreed to go along with the ban on public gatherings, and Archbishop John J. Glennon suspended the obligation of Catholics to hear Mass each Sunday. Downtown stores were enjoyed to hold no sales or special attractions. Throughout the fall, the epidemic raged, with a final official death count of 2,063 deaths — the worst disaster of its kind in the city’s history. (From ‘St. Louis Day by Day’, by Frances Hurd Stadler, Pages 191-192)

The above simplifies the back and forth that happened through December. Restrictions were eased, the flu roared back, restrictions were tightened. But it worked.

Thanks to the quarantine, St. Louis’ death rate was lowest among the 10 biggest cities at the time. In Philadelphia, where bodies piled up on sidewalks when the morgues overflowed, the death rate was nearly twice as high. (Post-Dispatch)

After their influenza pandemic was over life resumed. Ours will too, but first we must all do what’s necessary to prevent it from spreading.

— Steve Patterson

 

Four St. Louis High-Rise Public Housing Projects Replaced With Low-Rise Developments

September 30, 2020 Featured, History/Preservation, Neighborhoods, Planning & Design Comments Off on Four St. Louis High-Rise Public Housing Projects Replaced With Low-Rise Developments

Today’s post is about HOPE VI projects. You may have heard that term before, but if you’re unfamiliar here’s an introduction:

HOPE VI is a program of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. It is intended to revitalize the worst public housing projects in the United States into mixed-income developments. Its philosophy is largely based on New Urbanism and the concept of defensible space.

The program began in 1992, with formal recognition by law in 1998. As of 2005, the program had distributed $5.8 billion through 446 federal block grants to cities for the developments, with the highest individual grant being $67.7 million, awarded to Arverne/Edgemere Houses in New York City.

HOPE VI has included a variety of grant programs including: Revitalization, Demolition, Main Street, and Planning grant programs. As of June 1, 2010 there have been 254 HOPE VI Revitalization grants awarded to 132 housing authorities since 1993 – totaling more than $6.1 billion. (Wikipedia)

The short answer is HOPE VI was the program used to raze & replace distressed high-rise public housing with low-rise mixed-income private housing. With the notable exception of Pruitt-Igoe, all of St. Louis’ high-rise public housing was replaced with low-rise housing — three using the HOPE VI program. Pruitt-Igoe was famously imploded two decades before the start of the HOPE VI program.

From a May 2004 research report after a decade of HOPE VI:

Launched in 1992, the $5 billion HOPE VI program represents a dramatic turnaround in public housing policy and one of the most ambitious urban redevelopment efforts in the nation’s history. It replaces severely distressed public housing projects, occupied exclusively by poor families, with redesigned mixed-income housing and provides housing vouchers to enable some of the original residents to rent apartments in the private market. And it has helped transform the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) approach to housing assistance for the poor. This report provides a comprehensive summary of existing research on the HOPE VI program. Its central purpose is to help inform the ongoing debate about the program’s achievements and impacts, and to highlight the lessons it offers for continuing reforms in public housing policy.

HOPE VI grew out of the work of the National Commission on Severely Distressed Public Housing, which was established by Congress in 1989. Congress charged the Commission with identifying “severely distressed” public housing developments, assessing strategies to improve conditions at these developments, and preparing a national action plan for dealing with the problem. Based on its investigation, the Commission concluded that roughly 86,000 of the 1.3 million public housing units nationwide qualified as severely distressed and that a new and comprehensive approach would be required to address the range of problems existing at these developments.

In response to these findings, Congress enacted the HOPE VI program, which combined grants for physical revitalization with funding for management improvements and supportive services to promote resident self-sufficiency. Initially, housing authorities were allowed to propose plans covering up to 500 units with grant awards of up to $50 million. (Introduction to an Urban Institute report)

I should clarify the HOPE VI program isn’t limited to only remaking high-rise public housing, but that is the type of distressed public housing we had in St. Louis. Other cities, like Chicago, also used it to replace high-rise projects. Cabrini-Green, for example.

Let’s take a look at the four St. Louis high-rise public housing projects that were replaced with low-rise housing built on a more traditional street grid.

Darst-Webbe

The Darst-Webbe towers on the near south side circa 1990-91, razed

This was officially known as the J.M. Darst Apartments and the A.M. Webbe Apartments. The Darst apts., opened in October 1956, occupied 14.75 acres bounded by Lafayette, Hickory, Tucker (12th) & 14th.  The four 9-story buildings contained 645 units.  The Webbe apts. opened in May 1961 between the Darst apts. and Chouteau.  It had a mix of buildings on 12.27 acres: two 9-story, one 12-story, and one 8-story. These four buildings had 580 units.  The combined Darst-Webbe then had 1225 apartment units on 27.02 acres.

This was the first high-rise public housing project in St. Louis to be razed and rebuilt under the HOPE VI program. In its place is a mix of apartments and privately-owned single-family homes. On the south is King Louie Square apartments, with 152 1-4 bedroom units. In the middle of the redevelopment site is the single-family homes, called La Saison. Habitat for Humanity is building new homes here on the few vacant lots remaining. The north part of the original site contains more apartments, called Les Chateaux — with 40 1-2 bedroom units.

House at La Saison on Tucker near Park Ave, the north edge of King Louie Square can be seen on the left. Photo December 27, 2013.
Looking north on 14th street toward LaSalle. The buildings on the left are rental townhouses in the redevelopment area, just not sure if they have a name. Photo: November 7, 2018.

In 1995 HUD gave the St. Louis Housing Authority a grant of $46.7 million to redevelop Darst-Webbe. Defunct developer Pyramid Construction is responsible for the pretentious names.

Vaughn

This was two projects, both called G.L. Vaughn Apartments. The first, opened in June 1957, was bounded by Cass, O’Fallon, 18th, and 20th. It had four 9-story towers on 16.67 acres — with 647 units. The second opened at the NE corner of 20th & O’Fallon in September 1963. Basically this was just an expansion of the project that opened six years earlier, it had one 8-story building on 2.05 acres, 112 units.

The last Vaughn tower being razed in October 2006.
New housing, called Murphy Park, had already been built where the other four towers had been razed.
The Murphy Park senior building and management offices.
Looking south on Vinson Street from a new park on Biddle Street.

Vaughn was completed, to the best of my knowledge without the use of a HUD HOPE VI grant, but like others it got state low income tax credits.

 The partnership event highlighted Phase III of Murphy Park. Its 126 units will bring to 413 the total number of rental dwellings built in the neighborhood that once was the site of the notorious George L. Vaughn public housing high-rises. One third of the completed project will be market rate apartments, with the balance constructed as tax credit units – with just more than half available for public housing-eligible families as part of the replacement of the former public housing complex. Units range from two to six bedrooms and include disability-accessible garden apartments. Each apartment features full size appliances including washer and dryer, refrigerator, stove and dishwasher. McCormack Baron Management Services, the management agent, reports that Phases I and II (completed in 1997 and 2000) have high-90 percent occupancy. Phase III units will be available in March 2003. (HUD)

As the above indicates, this was a McCormack Baron development.

Blumeyer

This was officially the A.A. Blumeyer Apartments. It opened in October 1968, bounded by Compton, Delmar, Grand & Page. It had two 14-story buildings for “elderly”, three 15-story buildings, and forty-two 2-story buildings. There was a total of 1,152 units on 33.90 acres.

Low-rise & high-rise buildings at Blumeyer before being razed. Photo October 2006
Blumeyer Elderly Apartments on Page, January 2007

This was replaced by the Renaissance Place at Grand apartments and the offices of the St. Louis Housing Authority.  To the north, across Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd, Senior Living at Renaissance Place was built on land not part of Blumeyer.  Additionally, the North Sarah Apartments were built on…North Sarah… to provide additional units.

New apartment within a grid of new streets in February 2013, the last Blumeyer tower in the background — demolition on it began in the fall of 2014

The $35 million dollar HUD grant was issued in 2001. Like Vaughn, this was a McCormack Baron project.

Cochran

Officially the J.J. Cochran Garden Apartments.   Completed in April 1953, it was St. Louis’ first high-rise public housing project — more than two years before Pruitt Homes and three years before Igoe Apartments. The 18.03 acre site contained four 12-story, two 7-story, and six 6-story towers — containing 703 units. It was built to clear out old tenemts businesses on the north edge of the business district didn’t like. Then Cochran became a problem, but tenants pushed for the ability to self manage — and won!

Cochran Gardens was a public housing complex on the near north side of downtown St. Louis, Missouri. Construction was completed in 1953. The complex was occupied until 2006, it was famous for its residents’ innovative form of tenant-led management. In 1976, Cochran Gardens became one of the first U.S. housing projects to have tenant management. Built by the same firm, Leinweber, Yamasaki & Hellmuth, as the infamous Pruitt–Igoe complex, Cochran Gardens was more successful than its ill-fated sister project. In the mid 1970s, Bertha Gilkey and a group of friends successfully led a community driven rehabilitation effort; in 1976 she won a property management contract from the city. Independent management improved Cochran Gardens and created small business jobs in the neighborhood. President George H. W. Bush visited the site in 1991, commending tenant management and Bertha Gilkey. However, in 1998 city authorities took over Cochran Gardens, citing tax mismanagement by the tenant association. The buildings rapidly deteriorated, by 1999 vacancy rate increased from under 10% to one-third. (Wikipedia)

I photographed the area in May 2007 as towers still existed and as new construction was going up, streets going in.

The last high-rise tower from the Cochran Gardens project was razed in 2011. This is 9th & O’Fallon on May 29, 2007.
At 7th & O’Fallon you can just see the historic Neighborhood Gardens project on the left, new Cambridge Heights apartments on the right. In the background is an old Cochran tower about to be demolished. Note traffic signals were still in place along 7th street.
From 9th street we can see the other side of the Cochran tower before demolition, and new townhouses facing 8th street. The building on the horizon is on 7th, was part of McGuire Moving & Storage.
Project sign
Looking to the left we see more new townhouses between 8th & 9th
Looking south on 8th Street from Dickson Street. Dickson Street didn’t exist between 7th and 9th prior to Cochran, but the street name was used east of 7th. Eighth street was removed for Cochran, it was mostly rebuilt.

This project was completed by an LLC that includes architect Michael Kennedy of KAI (previously known as Kennedy Associates, Inc). McCormack Baron was management from the very beginning, until February of this year. In a future post I’ll go into more detail on Cochran Gardens & Cambridge Heights.

Summary

These four areas are all significantly better because of each redevelopment. The New Urbanist influence has been a key factor in their success. The buildings in all four orient toward the public street. HOPE VI projects have valid criticism, largely the reduction in the number of public housing units for the very low income. The other is the charge of gentrification, a valid claim in other cities but not in St. Louis. More on that in the future.

— Steve Patterson

 

A Look at 207 North Sixth Street, Charlie Gitto’s Pasta House Since 1978

July 15, 2020 Downtown, Featured, History/Preservation Comments Off on A Look at 207 North Sixth Street, Charlie Gitto’s Pasta House Since 1978

When I first saw Charlie Gitto’s restaurant at 207 North 6th Street many years ago I imagined a small business owner fighting Famous-Barr department store parent company, The May Department Stores Company, to keep its small downtown restaurant open.

Charlie Gitto’s Pasta House stands in contrast to the spiral parking garage exit ramp. At right, the massive Railway Exchange building that housed the May Company headquarters and their Famous-Barr department store, later a Macy’s.
This view shows the East side of the garage which faces both 7th & Olive streets. I adore the green glazed “bakery brick” on the facade.

Sounds good, right? But it was way off.

My first clue was from the recent announcement that Charlie Gitto had died.

Gitto and his wife, Annie, at one point operated as many as six restaurants in the area along with their children.
The couple opened the well-known Charlie Gitto’s Pasta House on Sixth Street downtown in 1978. Their children owned the other restaurants. (Post-Dispatch)

Wait, 1978? The surrounding parking garage was older than that. Though I’d only eaten there once, it looked like it had been there for generations, memorabilia covered the walls. 1978.

So what restaurant was there when the building survived most of the block being razed for Famous-Barr’s parking garage. Was there a fight to keep the small building at 207 N 6th from becoming rubble?

When I decided to seek answers to these questions I had no idea the huge wormhole I was going down. But that’s often the case, especially when searching Post-Dispatch archives.

Before delving into the archives I did a quick Google search. There I found a May 2013 article about how Macy’s planned to close the downtown location in August. It began with this about opening a parking garage:

In September 1922, Famous-Barr proudly opened a new two-story parking garage on Seventh Street, near its bustling department store. It cost $200,000 to build and could hold 400 machines, as cars were known then. (Post-Dispatch).

Wait, 1922? Two-stories?

The spiral exit ramp of the Famous-Barr parking garage is clear in the background as the Kiener parking garages are under construction. The spiral is at 6th & Pine, the Charlie Gitto’s Building is visible next to it. The rest of the block to Olive still exists.

Instead of quickly finding answers I was finding more questions. I ended up using newspaper archives through the library, historicaerials.com, and Sanborn Fire Insurance maps. City records online weren’t helpful because they didn’t list an age for 207 North 6th Street.

Let’s look at what I found in chronological order, starting in 1909.

In 1909 207 N. 6th Street was a restaurant. It had a first floor masonry wall to separate it from the lobby of the Mona Hotel to the North. The 2nd floor over the restaurant was likely part of the hotel since the masonry wall didn’t continue up. Sanborn Co. Fire Insurance Map

So this confirms the site has always been a restaurant, right? Wrong. It was in 1909 and since 1978 but that doesn’t explain which its block got razed.

On January 31, 1922 came the following was on page 3 of the Post-Dispatch:

The Famous & Barr store has purchased, subject to title, the east half of the block on Seventh, between Walnut and Elm Streets, as the site for a four-story or six-story free parking garage for its customers, to be operated on a plan similar to the four-story parking garage that is to be erected by the Scruggs-Vandervort-Barney Dry Goods Co. on the south side of St. Charles, between Eleventh and Twelfths streets.  

So in the 1920s both downtown department stores built parking garages blocks from their stores. The site of this first Famous-Barr garage later became part of the 1966 Busch Stadium and is now surface parking at Ballpark Village.

In the final edition of the Post-Dispatch on November 1, 1960 came front page announcement of a new garage, which continued on page 6.

Famous-Barr Co. will raze most of the buildings in the block across Olive Street from its downtown store and will construct a parking garage for 800 automobiles there, Stanley J. Goodman, general manager, announced today. 

The 10-level garage will occupy the western half of the block bounded by Sixth, Seventh, Olive and Pine streets. Express exit ramps paralleling Pine street will occupy some of the eastern portion of the block.  

The only present stores that will remain in the block are Boyd’s at 600 Olive, Jarman shoe store at 622 Olive and Neels Drug at 207 North Sixth. 

So no battle to save the 207 N 6th St building, also that hasn’t always been a restaurant.

On October 11, 1950 Neels Drugs was located at 521 Pine Street. By October 22, 1959 Needs Drugs, an independent Rexall druggist was located at 207 North 6th Street.

On November 27, 1974 Post-Dispatch restaurant writer Joe Pollack indicated, on page 86, that Rich & Charlie’s was going to open another pasta house…on 6th. The very next month there’s a classified ad run December 27-30 seeking dishwashers & porters — apply at Pasta House Co. 207 N. 6th.

Advertisements for Rich & Charlie’s and The Pasta House Company with identical specials appeared in the October 12, 1975 Post-Dispatch, page 117.

In October 1975 Pasta House Company has a location at Plaza Frontenac, but 6 months earlier Rich & Charlie’s was advertising for cooks, dishwashers, etc at Plaza Frontenac. Rich & Charlie’s began in 1967 at 8213 Delmar, a longtime Pasta House Company address.  Another article described The Pasta House Company as a “affiliate” of Rich & Charlie’s.  Even now I don’t fully understand how these businesses were connected, neither mentions the other on their current websites.

At approximately age 40-41 Charlie Gitto was the manager of the Pasta House Co. chain’s location at 207 N. 6th Street. In 1978 he went from manager to owner of this location, now called Charlie Gitto’s Pasta House. Another pasta house was nearby, Tony’s Pasta House.

— Steve Patterson

 

East St. Louis & Tulsa’s Greenwood Neighborhood Rebuilt After White Mobs Rioted In 1917 & 1921, Respectively

July 1, 2020 Featured, History/Preservation, Metro East Comments Off on East St. Louis & Tulsa’s Greenwood Neighborhood Rebuilt After White Mobs Rioted In 1917 & 1921, Respectively

There are many similarities between race riots in East St. Louis IL and four years later, Tulsa OK (1917 & 1921, respectively).  Both involved angry white mobs killing blacks and destroying their homes & businesses.

A burned out building at Missouri & Division, East St. Louis, May 2011

Both were also rebuilt.

In 1910, 90 percent of African Americans lived in the South, the vast majority were sharecropping in rural areas. But hostilities in Europe had almost stopped the flow of white workers to northern factories, while increasing the demand for product from munitions and weapons manufactures. This gave unions more negotiating power, and wages were inching up. So employers started recruiting black workers from the south as strike breakers and replacement workers. About a half-million black workers moved to Chicago, Detroit, Ohio, Philadelphia and St. Louis between 1910 and 1920.

The worst recorded incident of labor-related racial violence occurred in St. Louis in 1917. When the Aluminum Ore Company brought in African American workers to break a strike, 3,000 white union members marched in protest. The marchers morphed into a mob, attacking random black residents on the street. The following day, shots were exchanged between whites and black in the black part of town; two plainclothes police officers were killed. When the news got out, roving white mobs rampaged through black East St. Louis, burning homes and businesses, and assaulting men, women and children. Between 100 and 200 black working people died and 6,000 were left homeless. It foreshadowed things to come.

A year later, four million soldiers returned from World War I. With no plan for absorbing them into the economy, unemployment rose rapidly. Both white and black veterans felt betrayed. In the “Red Summer” of 1919, 38 separate race riots occurred, all of them white mobs attacking blacks. The worst riot occurred in Chicago. After a black youth was stoned for swimming into the “white” part of the lake, Irish and black gangs battled each other for 13 days. When it was over, 23 blacks and 15 whites were dead, 537 were injured and 1,000 black families were homeless. Across the country, more than 100 people died that summer, while scores of black homes and businesses were destroyed. (AFLCIO)

St. Louis meanwhile, in 1914, agreed to allow the Daughters of the Confederacy install a pro-confederacy monument in Forest Park (removed in 2017). Two years later, in 1916, St. Louis voters overwhelmingly approved a pro-segregation zoning ordinance. A riot across the river in 1917 unfortunately was another in a series of whites being…racists.

In the summer of 1916, 2,500 white employees of the meatpacking industry near East St. Louis went on strike for higher wages, and the companies imported black workers to replace them. Ultimately the workers won a wage increase but the companies retained nearly 800 blacks, firing as many whites after the strike, according to the former president of the Central Trades and Labor Union of East St. Louis. This result only exacerbated the growing racial tension.

In the spring of 1917, the mostly white workers of the Aluminum Ore Company in East St. Louis voted to strike. The company recruited hundreds of black workers to replace them. Tensions between the groups escalated. At a labor meeting held in City Hall on May 28 and made up mostly of white workers, rumors circulated of black men fraternizing with white women. (Wikipedia)

On July 1, 1917 the worst of the East St. Louis rioting of 1917 took place — 103 years ago today.

Missouri between 12th & 13th, East St. Louis. August 2012

Today parts of East St. Louis are ruins.

Tulsa, like many cities and towns throughout the US, was hostilely segregated, with African Americans settling into the northern region of the city.  As we often saw before integration, Blacks in the area created entrepreneurial opportunities for themselves, which housed an impressive business center that included banks, hotels, cafes, clothiers, movie theaters, and contemporary homes.  Greenwood residents enjoyed many luxuries that their White neighbors did not, including indoor plumbing and a remarkable school system that superiorly educated Black children. (Ebony)

If there was a silver lining to segregation it was that it forced black money to be spent at black-owned businesses.

The massacre began over Memorial Day weekend after 19-year-old Dick Rowland, a black shoeshiner, was accused of assaulting Sarah Page, the 17-year-old white elevator operator of the nearby Drexel Building. He was taken into custody. After the arrest, rumors spread through the city that Dick Rowland was to be lynched. Upon hearing reports that a mob of hundreds of white men had gathered around the jail where Dick Rowland was being kept, a group of 75 black men, some of whom were armed, arrived at the jail with the intention of helping to ensure Dick Rowland would not be lynched. The sheriff persuaded the group of black men to leave the jail, assuring them that he had the situation under control. As the group of black men was leaving the premises, complying with the sheriff’s request, a member of the mob of white men attempted to disarm one of the black men. A shot was fired, and then according to the reports of the sheriff, “all hell broke loose”. At the end of the firefight, 12 people were killed: 10 white and 2 black. As news of these deaths spread throughout the city, mob violence exploded. White rioters rampaged through the black neighborhood that night and morning killing men and burning and looting stores and homes, and only around noon the next day did Oklahoma National Guard troops manage to get control of the situation by declaring martial law. About 10,000 black people were left homeless, and property damage amounted to more than $1.5 million in real estate and $750,000 in personal property (equivalent to $32.25 million in 2019). Their property was never recovered nor were they compensated for it. (Wikipedia)

Molotov cocktails were dropped from small planes onto roofs of buildings, a first on US soil.

Following the events known as the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, the area was rebuilt and thrived (with more than 100 MORE African-American businesses in place than there were before the riot itself) until the 1960s when desegregation allowed blacks to shop in areas from which they were previously restricted. (Greenwood Cultural Center)

East St. Louis, like Tulsa, quickly rebuilt. Today we see ruins, disinvestment, etc and fail to discuss the fact these communities did rebuild. Both East St. Louis and the Greenwood area were negatively impacted by demolition for highways, bank redlining, etc.

Riots didn’t destroy these communities, but systematic racist planning did. Of course, we new freedom to live, shop outside previously segregated areas it’s very possible these areas would’ve declined anyway.

— Steve Patterson

 

The Praxair Explosion Was 15 Years Years Ago Today

June 24, 2020 Featured, History/Preservation Comments Off on The Praxair Explosion Was 15 Years Years Ago Today

Fifteen years ago today the outside temperature was a lot hotter than today, nearly 100°.  A safety valve on a propane tank at Praxair, on Chouteau east of Jefferson Ave, opened to release pressure. Liquid droplets self ignited, setting off a chain reaction involving other tanks on the asphalt outside yard.

The burnt-out building in 2010, five years after the explosion.

I wasn’t in the city that day, I was with a client in Richmond Heights. This was pre-iPhone days so I’m not sure how we heard about it. But the fire was still going by the time I got home.

In the 15 years since there have been numerous proposals & announcements about developing the site. The latest may have actually started, though it hadn’t the last time I checked.

What’s good is nobody was killed that day, no longer having such an industrial use right across the street from homes. Yes, the site was probably industrial/commercial long before residents bought their homes — but those homes are older than the Praxair company and probably older than the business of propane & propane accessories.

Airgas’s yard (left)  abuts the East side of the Grand bridge, near the elevator & stairs transit passengers use transferring between bus & light rail. September 2012 photo.

Hopefully the city keeps a close eye on the Airgas yard, I’d hate to see a repeat of 2005.

— Steve Patterson

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