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Two Events Today: St. Louis Streetcar Open House & Free Screening of ‘ENVISIONING HOME’

1) A public open house to look at the initial plans for a modern St. Louis streetcar line will be held today from 4pm-7pm at the Moto Museum 3441 Olive. This is an open house so you can come anytime to see the materials. More information here and the draft study is here.

2) A free screening of ENVISIONING HOME: The Jean King and Richard Baron Story is tonight:

Two wildly different individuals come together in St. Louis in the tumultuous 1960s and bravely transform the world of public housing–and in the process take on poverty and racism throughout the country.

ENVISIONING HOME is a feature length documentary film exploring the dramatic world of two imaginative leaders, Jean King and Richard Baron, two agents of change in public housing. A remarkable, homegrown leader, Jean King meets Richard Baron, a legal aide-turned-visionary planner and developer during the St. Louis tenant strike in 1968-69. From that moment to the present day, they have together changed the face of inner city life in St. Louis and beyond. By inspiring resident and family empowerment while creating more humane places to live, their work invigorates the lives of residents and builds vibrant neighborhoods and communities from distressed central cities.

Drawing on Richard and Jean’s personal memories along with spontaneous conversations between the two—both in studio and along the streets and inside the homes of these new communities–we see how a dangerous, volatile moment in St. Louis public housing drew these two together into a shared passion for improving the lives of people in distressed and neglected inner city neighborhoods. Along the way, Jean and Richard forcefully remind us that despite stubborn matters of race and poverty, individuals with conviction and vision can make a difference.

Combining Richard’s unique “mixed income” approach that ends the ‘warehousing” of the poor isolated from the rest of the city, with Jean’s powerful vision of “building people for housing”—fostering job creation and better schools, child care and elder care programs in new public housing developments—their vision focuses on building new affordable housing communities grounded in safe, sustainable neighborhoods. What were once volatile, dangerous, crime-ridden areas of distressed central cities, now become an environment for turning peoples’ lives around. ENVISIONING HOME takes us into this new world of safe and productive urban communities in cities across the country (from St. Louis to Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and San Francisco), where we meet some of the residents and their families who have transformed their lives thanks to more humane and livable neighborhoods and an affirming sense of resident empowerment. 

ENVISIONING HOME is a powerful and revealing exploration into what happens when two people—and all those who have joined forces with them—relentlessly follow their hearts in trying to make a difference.

You can watch the trailer on YouTube and Vimeo. I’ve not seen anything except the trailer so I don’t know if it is worth seeing.

ABOVE: Image from the film with tenement in front and a housing project behind
ABOVE: Image from the film with tenement in front and a housing project behind

The screening is at 7pm in the Lee Auditorium of the Missouri History Museum. “After the film, King and Baron are joined by filmmaker Daniel Smith, Will Jordan (Executive Director, Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing Opportunity Council) and moderator Casey Nolen, KSDK and host of Nine Network’s Stay Tuned” for a panel discussion. Additional information here.

— Steve Patterson


Four Decades Since First Demolition At Pruitt-Igoe

March 16, 2012 Featured, History/Preservation, North City, Planning & Design, Urban Renewal Comments Off on Four Decades Since First Demolition At Pruitt-Igoe

Forty years ago today the first of Pruitt-Igoe’s 33 high rise towers was leveled by implosion. Today most of the site remains vacant and overgrown.

ABOVE: The steeples of St. Stanislaus Kostka are visible through the overgrowth on the former Pruitt-Igoe site.

I first walked the site over 20 years ago, it was easier to traverse in 1991. Amazing the site can sit vacant for a longer period than the buildings did.

Here are a couple of short videos you might find interesting:



 Hopefully in the next four decades we will see the site be redeveloped and occupied again.

– Steve Patterson


The Last Public Housing Complex Tower in St. Louis

Decades ago many high rise public housing towers existed in numerous large scale public housing projects in St. Louis. The most infamous were the Wendell Oliver Pruitt and William L. Igoe Homes, better known simply as Pruitt-Igoe. Friday marks the 40th anniversary of the demolition of the first of its 33 buildings.

ABOVE: The Darst-Webbe towers on the near south side circa 1990-91, razed
ABOVE: The last Vaughn tower being razed in October 2006
ABOVE: The last tower from Cochran Gardens was razed in 2011

In the Fall it was announced the last of four towers at the former Blumeyer complex would be razed after new low-rise housing is built:

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded the city of St. Louis $7.8 million to help redevelop the area around the city’s last public housing tower for families. (St. Louis Public Radio)

The last tower was part of the Blumeyer complex.

ABOVE: Blumeyer Elderly Apartments being prepped for demolition, October 2006
ABOVE: Low-rise & high-rise buildings at Blumeyer before being razed, October 2006

By the time Blumeyer was built in 1967 problems were becoming clear at older public housing complexes such as Cochran Gardens and Pruitt-Igoe. The latter only had high rise towers but the former had  a mix of low-rise and high rise buildings. Blumeyer had just four towers, not grouped together.

ABOVE: Blumeyer Elderly Apartments, January 2007

Growing up in a largely white middle-class area of suburban Oklahoma City the closest I’d come to a high-rise public housing tower was watching Good Times (1974-79).I knew I had to see this last complex tower — completed the year I was born. The last tower is located at 3501 Franklin.

ABOVE: Looking east across Grand at the last Blumeyer tower
ABOVE: 3501 Franklin approached from Franklin & Theresa
ABOVE: Looking north on Theresa from Franklin
ABOVE: The NE corner of the tower
ABOVE: Looking north at the west side of the tower
ABOVE: Walled courtyard, unfurnished, on the south end of the tower
ABOVE: The building is full but the directory is empty
ABOVE: Looking north from the lobby toward the management office
ABOVE: The only community space is the laundry room
ABOVE: Hallway on an upper floor

Management was unable to show me an apartment, they don’t have a display. I was able to talk a young man to show me the 2-bedroom apartment where he lives with his family. The apartment was small but clean, nothing fancy. Good storage. I wish I had written down his name to thank him for allowing me in his place.

A few other high rise public housing towers remain in the city but those weren’t part of larger complexes that have been rebuilt under the federal Hope VI program.

– Steve Patterson


Agree or Disagree: Biondi has destroyed the formerly urban midtown area around the Saint Louis University campus

In July 1978 the Midtown Historic District (large PDF) became part of the National Register of Historic Places. The entire area was very rundown at the time, numerous buildings were vacant or nearly vacant. The St Louis Symphony Orchestra moved into the former Powell Theater in the late 60s but that didn’t spur redevelopment of the area.

ABOVE: Fox Theater July 1977; Source: National Register nomination linked above

The Fox Theater was a mess at the time:

On a cold January morning in 1981 Leon and Mary Strauss first saw the Fox Theatre. With the aid of flashlights and one working light bulb, the Strausses discovered the hidden magic of the splendid theatre beneath the dirt and grime of 52 years. It was love at first sight and the rest is St. Louis history. Banding together as Fox Associates, Leon Strauss, Robert Baudendistel, Dennis McDaniel and Harvey Harris privately purchased the movie palace from the Arthur family. With Mary Strauss as director of restoration, there began a one year, $2 million plus restoration program under the aegis of Pantheon Construction Company. (Fox Theater)

ABOVE: Fox Theater June 2007

Some saw the great potential of midtown but others saw vacant buildings instead of the expansive grass so common in the suburbs. Saint Louis University President Lawrence Biondi was one of those who didn’t get it then and still doesn’t today.

Since his inauguration in 1987, Father Biondi has led Saint Louis University through a remarkable era of transformation and achievement. In addition to modernizing the campus and helping revitalize the surrounding Midtown neighborhood, Father Biondi has committed vast University resources to academics, student scholarships and financial aid, faculty research and state-of-the-art technology. (Saint Louis University)

ABOVE: Map from National Register nomination, the Fox is the large black rectangle

North of Olive St thankfully was beyond Biondi’s grasp but south of Olive St didn’t stand a chance. Six buildings listed in 1977 as having “neighborhood significance” where “demolition would be a major cultural loss” are gone. A seventh had “architectural merit — demolition would diminish the integrity of the neighborhood.”

Sadly this concentration of urban buildings was razed, the land is now parking and grass.

ABOVE: SLU razed the urban building on the NE corner of Grand & Lindell. Image saved from internet in 2007, source unknown

The Marina building stood on the NE corner of Grand & Lindell (aerial) for decades, from the National Register nomination:

The 1907 red brick and terra cotta Marina building at the northeast corner of Grand and Lindell has been subjected to similar alterations. The oldest commercial structure in the district, the pattern of arched window openings at second floor level draw the eye and define one corner of the major intersection of the district. 

This building would have been a great anchor for that corner had it been rehabbed. Sure it was an eyesore with the bad storefronts that had been built over the years.

ABOVE: Marina building in August 1977 with a Jesuit hall and Continental buildings in the background
ABOVE: The once vibrant urban street corner is now a passive hole in the city

The southeast corner was also urban but not included in the historic district because of unfortunate  alterations to the corner structure:

On the southwest [sic] corner of the same intersection, SLU bought a bank building (that was a historic structure hidden under a layer of plain stucco) and demolished it for a lifeless plaza and fountain. (VanishingSTL)

I remember that bank — I opened my first checking account there in 1990. Midtown was great — was.

ABOVE: SE corner of Grand & Lindell now

In an urban setting grass, trees & water can’t substitute for the massing a building gives by defining the urban space.

Some act like demolition is the only answer to a tired urban area. A few blocks north was just as seedy but there buildings were saved and renovated. The now celebrated Washington Ave loft district was a ghost town of old warehouses — Biondi’s solution would have been parking lots & grass. Demolition was the failed 1950s “urban renewal” solution.

Biondi is a current day Robert Moses, the sooner he retires the sooner we can begin to reurbanize midtown and undo the damage he’s inflicted on this section of St. Louis.  The poll is in the right sidebar (not visible on the mobile layout).

– Steve Patterson


Readers OK With Cardinals 1966 Move Away From Sportsman’s Park

ABOVE: massive parking garages and a walkway are all that remain from the 60s era Busch II.

Last week readers weighed in on their thoughts on the 1966 relocation of the former Sportsman’s Park.  The single answer with the most responses goes along with my thought the Cardinals should have rebuilt rather than move downtown, but looking at all the answers it is clear readers support the move:

  1. A great neighborhood ballpark, the Cardinals should have rebuilt at Dodier & Grand 23 [25%]
  2. No opinion 15 [16.3%]
  3. No choice but to move: the area was changing fast. 15 [16.3%]
  4. Like people would have continued going to North St. Louis for a Cards game 14 [15.22%]
  5. No choice but to move: too little parking and the streetcar line was replaced with buses in 1960. 10 [10.87%]
  6. Other answer… 9 [9.78%]
  7. A good neighborhood ballpark but it was no Wrigley Field 6 [6.52%]

It is the nine other answers provided by readers I find interesting:

  1. How is this relevant to anyone?
  2. A great ballpark that would’ve helped a great neighborhood evolve.
  3. Cards set a popular trend moving downtown, too bad about Hop Alley though.
  4. moving was part of a larger plan to destroy the northside
  5. Looks like a great ballpark!
  6. Best move ever, Busch II was a great stadium.
  7. Why not look to the future? Use the space for something great for the city.
  8. By buliding the new stadium downtown, really revitalized the downtown area.
  9. Gave some definition to downtown – robbing NSTL to make the investment downtown.

Not sure where to start.  Relevant because the decision to relocate removed a source of revenue & jobs from one part of the city and placed it in another part that was bought and cleared via urban renewal.  We can’t undo the past but we can learn from our mistakes.

I don’t believe their was a plan to destroy the north side, that was just a casualty of the times. Busch Stadium II did not “revitalize” downtown, far from it.  A huge area was razed for the stadium, garages and other buildings.  The stadium did not create new development in that part of downtown.  MetroLink and renovations of nearby historic warehouses in Cupples Station a quarter center later helped offset the dead zone created in 1966.

– Steve Patterson