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

January 20, 2020 Featured, MLK Jr. Drive, North City Comments Off on My 15th Look at St. Louis’ Martin Luther King Drive

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

 

Options For The Wells Goodfellow Neighborhood

July 29, 2019 Featured, MLK Jr. Drive, Neighborhoods, North City, Planning & Design Comments Off on Options For The Wells Goodfellow Neighborhood

Looking at the Wells Goodfellow neighborhood last week was very depressing (see Readers Mixed On Latest Blight Removal Effort). On my visits seeing dilapidated houses being leveled I knew nobody was going to invest the money needed to have saved even one structure, let alone hundreds or the thousands throughout the city’s most sparsely populated neighborhoods.

!912 Clara Ave, left, and 1904 Clara Ave are occupied, the two houses in between were just razed.

Basically the city is partnering with a new non-profit, St. Louis Blight Authority, to clear four city blocks of vacant homes, overgrown trees, trash, etc. Occupied homes in the 4-block zone would remain.

The St. Louis Blight Authority is the organization behind a project to clear a four-block area in the Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood. The organizers believe the initiative could be just the beginning of a more far-reaching program. (St. Louis Public Radio)

Today I have a few critical observations, then I’ll offer some possible solutions.

Last week I searched the Missouri Secretary of State’s business listings to find out more about this new non-profit organization — I wanted to know structure, board members, etc. Guess what — no such organization exists!  I was also unable to find a website — not even a Twitter account. Transparency is important, If we’re told a non-profit is involved that non-profit should actually exist.

Another personal observation is “Wells Goodfellow” is an awful name for a neighborhood — The “Wells” refers to 19th century transit magnate Erastus Wells, “Goodfellow” is a major north-south street — more on that later.

Wells/Goodfellow is part of an historic section known as Arlington, which takes its name from John W. Burd’s Arlington Grove subdivision of 1868. A memorable disaster in the history of the Arlington area occurred in October 1916, when the Christian Brothers College building at North Kingshighway and Easton Avenue (now Martin Luther King Drive) was destroyed by fire, one of the worst in the City’s history, taking 10 lives.

The area received its name from John W. Burd’s Arlington Grove subdivision of 1868. More subdivisions were built in the mid-1880s, with residential construction continuing until 1910. By the mid-1920s, the last of the residential subdivisions were opened. (St. Louis)

The 2013 housing development in the neighborhood uses the name Arlington Grove, so that name probably shouldn’t be used for the entire neighborhood.

Former Arlington School in North St. Louis is now residential
The 22 new buildings have similar materials but unique designs.

Some other name with Arlington in it could be good though. Perhaps just the Arlington neighborhood?  Or something to do with land developer William Burd (1818-1885)?  Though Burd isn’t the most marketable name and I don’t know his politics.  Was he a slave owner?  His wife Eliza’s maiden name is interesting: Goodfellow.

A new name could help change perceptions for residents, property owners, workers, and outsiders. The Old North St. Louis neighborhood wouldn’t have had lots of redevelopment & new construction if it was still called Murphy-Blair.

Possible solutions for the neighborhood are varied, need to be discussed in public sessions to obtain a consensus on how to move forward. My initial brainstorming came up with the following:

  1. Do nothing
  2. Push for new infill housing
  3. Abandon the center

Let me explain each of these options.

1. Do nothing

This means nothing different, maintain the status quo. So tear down houses once they’ve become a major eyesore. Continue city services (water, sewer, trash, police, fire, etc) to those who remain.

2. Push for new infill housing

Try to get Habitat for Humanity or another entity to build new housing on vacant lots. It would probably make sense to concentrate new construction on one or two blocks at first. These lots are narrow so you’d need 2-3 lots per new single family house. Include some multi-family construction as well.  Existing infrastructure (streets, alleys, sidewalks, water, sewer, etc) may need to be upgraded on these blocks.

3. Abandon the center

This will likely be the most controversial option, here it goes. Blocks that front onto the major streets of Dr. Martin Luther King, Goodfellow, Natural Bridge, and Union would be supported. New development would occur in these blocks only — to reinforce existing corridors. Everything inside of those blocks would be, over time, cleared.  All interior streets, alleys, etc would be removed. The interior land could be used for urban agriculture or perhaps a large employer. This would create two cleared areas, one on each side of Goodfellow.

The small red area is the 4-block area where recent demolition was concentrated. Occupied residences remain in that area and on every city block. The two purple areas that could be completely cleared for urban agricultural use would be split by concentrated development fronting Goodfellow.

This solution is a drastic measure, but it or something similar might be the best hope for a neighborhood that has lost population to the point where it no longer functions. I don’t foresee anyone being forced to move or sell their home. Nature  and economics is taking a toll quickly enough.

Langston Middle School is within the big purple area, but it is no longer listed as a school on the St. Louis Public Schools website. The building might be usable for hydroponics.

There are likely other buildings within the purple clear zones that could be reused within the cleared area. This area would still need water/sewer but not miles of alleys/streets/sidewalks.

Conclusion

I’ve presented a range of options, I’m sure if we put our heads together we can come up with many more.

The question I have is who will lead the effort to determine what happens next? Will it be the elderly residents who’ve stayed despite their families begging them to leave? The church leaders/parishioners who live elsewhere but drive in for Sunday services? An elected official? The nonexistent St. Louis Blight Authority?

I’m afraid the leadership vacuum will mean the “do nothing” status quo option will be selected by default.

— Steve Patterson

 

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

January 21, 2019 Featured, MLK Jr. Drive, North City Comments Off on 15th Annual Look at St. Louis’ Dr. Martin Luther King Drive

This is my 15th annual look at St. Louis’ Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, but my first as a resident living North of the street named for the civil rights leader.

After decades at Tucker & MLK, the Post-Dispatch will soon be moving to smaller offices nearby.
Dr. Martin Luther King Drive ends a block East of Tucker, at Hadley. Hopefully the new owners of the building will do something to improve the pedestrian experience along the West side of Hadley.
Last year this building at 14th was being prepped to reopen, which it did.
Been watching the back of this building fall away for many years now.
A message on the board covering the door of another vacant building, just to the West of the previous.
Next doors is a charming old service station. This is located on the corner where 3 streets come together: MLK, Webster, and James Cool Papa Bell. Bell was a baseball player in the negro leagues, click image to learn more about him.
Close up of the boards covering the door & windows.
The coffeehouse at MLK & Page, in the Housing Authority building, moved a year or so ago. The retail space remains vacant.
This suburban-style business incubator contains a number of businesses, but also a storefront church and the alderman’s office.
Bricks are starting to fall from this building. It should be stabilized, but it’ll likely be allowed to crumble until neighbors demand it be razed.
Across MLK this building is having some issues at the top center. It’ll likely be worse next year.
Would be nice to see a project that includes the rehab of the former John Marshall School. Click image to view the nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.
Another building in need of stabilization.
After a fire a few years ago I thought this building near Euclid would be gone soon — but it’s still here.
Saw some newer houses so I turned onto Clara Ave., one looks like it has been boarded for a while now. the others all look well maintained.
One of my favorite buildings in the entire city is still hanging on.
Despite lacking a roof…
The hole in the side of this building keeps getting larger every year. I’m thinking now the buildings from here to Hamilton have been razed. Welcome to the once-bustling Welston Loop area.
On the West side of Hamilton the first building is having major issues.
Here’s a close up.
Other buildings on the same block are in better condition. Across MLK is the old JC Penny.
On the South side of MLK another storefront was recently razed.
And finally we have the deteriorating Welston Loop streetcar building.

It’s hard not to get depressed by the lack of investment in this corridor.

— Steve Patterson

 

St. Louis’ Dr Martin Luther King Drive

January 15, 2018 Featured, MLK Jr. Drive Comments Off on St. Louis’ Dr Martin Luther King Drive

This is my 14th consecutive year looking at St. Louis’ Martin Luther King Drive — documenting physical changes since the prior year. Next year, my 15th, may well be my last. Each year it gets more and more depressing to do.

Each year there is at least one bright spot, but they pale in comparison to the profound disinvestment.

So here is a look at St.Louis’ Martin Luther King Drive, starting at 14th and heading West to the city limits. In some cases I’ve included previous photos to compare to this yesr. All photos for this year were taken a week ago.

2013: A former BarnesCare building at 14th & MLK built in 2001, was vacant.
2017: Someone was preparing to reuse the building
2018: became occupied again last year. It still lacks a pedestrian access route from the pub lic sidewalk
2016 — work underway on the Electrical Workers Historical Society — aka the Henry Miller Museum
2017
2018 — I still haven’t visited the museum….hours are by appointment only. Click image for info
2012
2018 — more of the back section has fallen away
The old configuration of MLK Dr & Page. Source Google
Driving WB it is largely unchanged
But driving EB on MLK traffic turns toward a signal with Page
This happened in 2016 or 2017…not sure which
Last year a sign was posted about Vandeventer Place, a senior community, to be built
MLK @ Pendleton
The entrance is off the less busy Pendleton, it includes an accessible route for pedestrians next ro the circle drive
Across Pendleton is a file and then an older strip shopping center
Like new gas station/convenience stores pn MLK, this older strip center lacks a pedestrian access route.
Before 2014. MLK @ Taylor. Source: Google Streetview.
2014 New storefront is vacant
2018 — storefromt now occupied by a 2nd location of MC Appliances. Click image to view their website
2014: The Family Dollar store #1562 at 4949 Dr. Martin Luther King closed
2018 reopened as a Dollar General
2013…just West of Union
2017
2018 — pile unchanged
Building across MLK had a recent fire. Hopefully it’ll get rehabbed this year.
2017 — for several years this burned building remained at Stewart Pl @ MLK
2018 — it was razed, not rehabbed
2017 Signs announcing a bank coming to MLK
2018 — the bank is now open…but it lacks a pedestrian access route
2018 auto drive-thru
Building a block East of the old JCPenny had a fire recently. Will it be stabilized, razed, or rehabbed a year from now?
Stabilization of the beloved Wellston loop trolley building removed eaves that were rotting & falling off

A few bright spots…but lots of overwhelming problems.

— Steve Patterson

 

St. Louis’ Easton & Franklin Avenues Became Dr. Martin Luther King Drive 45 Years Ago Today

February 17, 2017 Featured, History/Preservation, MLK Jr. Drive, North City Comments Off on St. Louis’ Easton & Franklin Avenues Became Dr. Martin Luther King Drive 45 Years Ago Today

Last month, on the Martin Luther King holiday, I posted my 13th look at the street named after the slain civil rights leader — see Annual Look At Changes Along St. Louis’ Dr Martin Luther King Drive. From a STL250 Facebook post that has since been deleted:

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.

 

The former JC Penny store (1949-1976) on MLK in the Wellston Loop in the modern style with an urban form, rather than style of its red brick neighbors that are 20-40 years older.
Click image to view the nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.

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?

— Steve Patterson

 

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