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East Boogie: Reflecting on a Hometown

August 2, 2012 Featured, Guest, Metro East 4 Comments

Guest post by Chris Andoe:

I can’t really explain why I’m so drawn to the place, but even sitting two thousand miles away in Oakland (CA) my mind still wanders back to East St. Louis.

I’ve gravitated to abandoned places all my life. My Grandma Andoe lived in North Tulsa, a forgotten and emptying area not unlike East St. Louis. Her yard was skirted by railroad tracks that I would wander as a kid. I’d find forgotten salvage yards filled with rusting chrome and crumbling brick. I’d trample though old graffiti covered warehouses. I’d hear stories about the hobos riding the rails during the depression and how my granddad would visit with them and give them something to eat.

ABOVE: Children play in the shadow of the vacant Spivey Building in East St. Louis. Summer of 2009. Photo by Chris Andoe

As an adult I’ve been able to recapture that feeling of adventure in East St. Louis. I’ve climbed though most of the major abandoned structures, some with breathtaking views of the skyline. I’ve scaled the behemoth Armour Meat Packing Plant and descended into its dark labyrinth basement complete with watery pits. I’ve hiked to ruins only accessible by railroad tracks

I’ve visited the crime scene, complete with dried blood, and written about the gruesome murder in what the St. Louis Post Dispatch described as “a human slaughter chamber” along the riverfront.

East St. Louis has been home to legendary nightlife and I’ve hosted story telling events paying tribute to those good times. I’ve read about the mafia history, the built environment history, and have studied the East St. Louis Race Riot.

Despite all of my interest, research and writings, one thing I haven’t done is gathered the stories and viewpoints from the local’s perspective. This fact struck me recently when my friend Shaun Mexico, an East. Louis native, shared a touching update about his mother and hometown:

“I was driving through East St. Louis earlier, and all the memories of my mom were all that was on my mind. I really wish that I could call her, but I cannot, nevertheless, she holds a very special place in my heart, and she’s with me wherever I go in life. For those of you who still have your mom, you have no idea how much I admire you.”

I asked him right away if he would share his thoughts on East St. Louis and he was happy to do so.

C.A.: What was it like growing up in East St. Louis?

S. M.: Thinking back when I was growing up in East St. Louis, I had more good times than bad times. In the summertime in my neighborhood, we would always have a cook-out that would attract the neighbors, and everyone just had a good time with no problems whatsoever. East St. Louis is similar to other small towns in that it had things that were special, at least to me. For example, if I wanted some great ice cream, I’d go to Pirtle’s, where it was family-owned, and made fresh daily. Everyone would go to the East Side vs Lincoln games, and back then, the neighbors looked out for each other. For me, it was really a great place to grow up.

C.A.: Do you have many friends or family that live there today? If so how is it different than it was then?

S. M.: I don’t have any family that lives in East St. Louis anymore, but whenever I go to East St. Louis, I see a lot of people that I’m familiar with, and it just doesn’t seem as if there is a sense of community. Like I mentioned in the last answer, there would be entire neighborhoods having cook-outs, and they would look out for one another. It just doesn’t seem like they do that anymore.

C.A.: While East St. Louis has a sinister reputation I’ve heard locals describe it as a friendly small town. Is that your experience?

S.M.: I have to admit that it bothers me whenever people disparage East St. Louis, because I don’t know too many towns that don’t have any crime, and while it may be true that East St. Louis may have a little more than most, compared to North St. Louis, East St. Louis is like Mayberry. It really is true that if you’re from East St. Louis, it’s really difficult to not run into someone you know. A funny story is when I would be out with some of my friends, I would always run into someone I knew, and it blew them away, because they just thought that I was popular. Most of the people I would run into were people that I knew from East St. Louis.

When I was in college, one of my college roommates thought the worst of East St. Louis, but instantly changed his mind once I took him there. Close to the summer of ’99, we met with his sister and some friends of his family who were vacationing, and St. Louis was one of their stops. He had told them that I was from East St. Louis, but they didn’t believe it because they felt that I was too well-spoken to be from East St. Louis, and all they had known about East St. Louis is what they had seen on the news. I’m glad that I can help to change that image.

C.A.: What are your thoughts on the abandoned buildings?

S.M.: My thoughts on the abandoned buildings is that they could be restored and put to good use, whether it’s office space or residential space. The saddest abandoned buildings that I’ve seen recently were the old George Rogers Clark Jr. High building, my junior high alma matter, & the old Lincoln Senior High building, my high school alma matter, both of which were suspiciously set on fire recently. The only building that they have restored in recent years and put to use was the old Assumption High School building, which is now a prison.

C.A.: Of everything that’s now gone, what hurts the most?

S.M.: I think what hurts the most is that my high school, Lincoln Senior High, is no longer around, and recently the building was set on fire twice. I had so many great times with great friends at that school.

C.A.: Growing up were you taught about the 1917 race riot? If so what did you hear? Did you know of anyone who was there or had firsthand knowledge???

S.M.: To be honest, I don’t know too much about the race riot of 1917, and seeing that it is part of the city’s history, it should have been taught to us, but it wasn’t. I would talk to some older people that knew something about the origins of East St. Louis, but I don’t know anyone who was there or had first-hand knowledge.??

C.A.: Where do you live now?

S.M.: I live in downtown St. Louis, and what’s cool about living downtown is that I’m so close to East St. Louis, so I can visit whenever I wish.

C.A.: If there was a renaissance in East St. Louis would you be interested in moving back?

S.M.: I would definitely move back, because I think that it would be an exciting and great time for the city.

C.A.: How often do you visit?

S.M.: I go about once a week, and usually I just drive around and look at how the landscape has changed. On some occasions, I may grab something to eat. A fact to only those who know is that East St. Louis has some of the best barbecue that you will ever taste. There are also a few good Chinese food places there.

C.A: Who would you say has the best BBQ and the best Chinese?

S.M.: Young’s on 23rd & State for Chinese, The Red Door on 23rd & St. Clair for BBQ.

C.A.: I’ve heard East. St. Louis referred to as “East Boogie”. What do you think of that nickname? Do you know where it came from?

S.M.: I’ve actually used it. A long time ago, East St. Louis had a strong music scene, so the nickname “East Boogie” pays homage to that. I think that nickname for East St. Louis was around before I was born.

C.A.: What do you think the future holds for East St. Louis?

S.M.: I think that the future of East St. Louis is ultimately up to the people who still live there. I was just discussing this very subject with a friend, and we both came to the conclusion that for any real change to take place in East St. Louis, it must rid itself of all of the corrupt politicians who govern it. There are too many politicians in East St. Louis that aren’t doing anything that’s in the best interests of the people who live there, and until those politicians are excused, the future of the city will be on standby.

The East St. Louis that Shaun knew is rapidly vanishing as most everyone he knew has moved away, mostly to Belleville, Fairview Heights, or the city. The ruins that I’ve studied, explored, and loved are also vanishing. The new Mississippi River Bridge is opening up and scooping out one of the most mysterious and secretive places in the region: Route 3 between Brooklyn and East. St. Louis.

As the landscape changes I’m finding it harder to go over there. I asked Shaun if he could imagine a time when he’d discontinue his pilgrimage because there was nothing left to see.

S.M.: Because I have so many great memories, there will never be a time when I will stop visiting East St. Louis. I look forward to the day when I have children so that I can show them where their dad grew up. Also, there are always people that I have befriended in St. Louis that have a misconception of East St. Louis that’s based on rumors, so on many occasions, I would drive those friends around East St. Louis to dispel those rumors.

Chris Andoe is a writer, storyteller and activist who wanders the West, from St. Louis to San Francisco. Known as “The Emperor” the crown wearing Andoe has been interviewed by NPR, CBS, and has been quoted everywhere from CNN to The St. Louis Post Dispatch. Andoe writes for numerous blogs and covers the West Coast for the Vital Voice.  Andoe lives in Oakland, California.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Park With A View

One of the best views of St. Louis fireworks isn’t in St. Louis at all, but in East St. Louis across the Mississippi River.

ABOVE: Hundreds watched gathered on the 4th in the Malcolm Martin Memorial Park in East St. Louis IL to watch the St. Louis fireworks.
ABOVE: Fireworks on the 4th with the Arch and St. Louis skyline in the background. Taken with an iPhone 4S.

For more information on Malcolm Martin Memorial Park click here.

— Steve Patterson

 

Readers Support Removal Of I-70 To PSB Ramp

In the poll last week most readers favor MoDOT’s plan to eliminate the ramp from southbound I-70 onto the Poplar Street Bridge (PSB) toward Illinois.

Q: Should the ramp from SB I-70 onto the Poplar Street Bridge be retained after the new bridge opens?

  1. Yes 24 27.59% 27.59%
  2. No 56 64.37% 64.37%
  3. Unsure/no opinion 6 6.9% 6.9%
  4. Other: 1 [1.15%] – “map with ramp identified would help”
The original post is here.
ABOVE: The red arrow shows the ramp onto the PSB from SB I-70 before it merges with the ramp from NB I-55

MoDOT wants to build a double lane ramp from northbound I-55 to the PSB but it says it can’t without the room gained by eliminating the other ramp. MoDOT wants eastbound I-70 traffic to use the new river bridge opening in 2014.

– Steve Patterson

 

Eads Bridge Rehabilitation To Begin

Last week local and federal officials gathered on the Arch grounds with the historic Eads Bridge in the background:

Deputy Federal Transit Administrator Therese McMillan today joined Missouri and Illinois officials to kick off the Eads Bridge Rehabilitation Project, which will repair and restore the historic, 138-year old bridge and ensure safe and efficient light rail service for thousands of people who use the bridge to cross the Mississippi River every day.

[snip]

The $36 million project is funded in part by more than $34 million in federal dollars, including $25 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and $9 million in additional federal transit funds directed to the Bi-State Development Agency of the Missouri-Illinois Metropolitan District. Local funds will cover the remaining cost to modernize and repair the bridge, which was built in 1874. (Source)

MetroLink light rail trains began using the lower level to cross the Mississippi River in 1993. The upper level was closed to vehicles and pedestrians for many years but was reopened within the last 10-12 years.

ABOVE: Metro Board Chair speaking at the Eads Bridge Rehabilitation Kick Off on May 22nd, 2012

This work won’t be visible but is necessary for continued use to the bridge. One speaker noted that before the Arch, the Eads Bridge was St. Louis’ most recognized structure.

ABOVE: Looking south towards the Eads Bridge & Arch, MLK Bridge in the foreground (top)

It’s nice to see investment in infrastructure but we have so much the needs so much work, how will we ever pay for it all?

“When you look into the future and you begin to look at what our investments will mean when we’re competing with China, India, emerging economic powers like Brazil, we better have our infrastructure ready to go, to be able to compete on a global basis,” said Victor Mendez, who runs the Federal Highway Administration. (CBS News)

Funding is largely based on state & federal fuel taxes but the income hasn’t kept pace  with costs.

– Steve Patterson

 

Poll: Should The Existing Ramp From I-70 Onto The Poplar Street Bridge Be Retained After The New Bridge Opens? (Updated)

MoDOT wants to remove the ramp from SB I-70 to the Poplar Street Bridge after the new Mississippi River Bridge opens in 2014, but not everyone likes the idea:

Plans to re-route Interstate 70 over the new Mississippi River Bridge are facing a roadblock from stakeholders in the Metro East. The $55 million project includes eliminating the east-bound ramp that connects Interstates 70 and 44 to the Poplar Street Bridge.

 St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern told the East-West Gateway Council of Governments Wednesday that cutting access to the bridge would strangle an already struggling economy. (St. Louis Public Radi0)

Many use this ramp daily.  .

ABOVE: Existing ramp onto the Poplar Street Bridge (PSB) heading eastbound to Illinois

Some say any change at all could jeopardize funding. The poll this week asks your thoughts on these ramp, vote in the right sidebar.

UPDATE  5/27/2012 11am

Post & oll was rephrased, the prior poll answers were reset to zero.

 

– Steve Patterson

 

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