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‘Spanish Lake’ Documentary Overly Simplifies North St. Louis County In/Out Migration

Last week I finally saw the documentary ‘Spanish Lake’. Director Phillip Andrew Morton grew up in Spanish Lake, an unincorporated area of northeast St. Louis County. I suggest you see the film, showing at the Tivoli through July 3rd, but do so with a few grain of salt.

First, what the film got right:

  • St. Louis County leadership guided federal low-income housing to the area
  • St. Louis County has many municipalities
  • Nearby Blackjack was incorporated in an attempt to keep out low-income public housing
  • Real estate interests actively engaged in “blockbusting” and “steering”

If you take the film at face value you’ll walk away falsely thinking:

  • All residents from Pruitt-Igoe moved to brand new apartments in Spanish Lake
  • Spanish Lake would be perfect today if not for poor blacks moving in and quickly ruining things

The Spanish Lake area has a very long history, famed explorers Lewis & Clark camped here at the start and end of their trip (1804-1806), residents have lived in the area since. This was a rural farming community for many years, but in the 1920s new housing subdivisions were platted. Northdale, the subdivision where filmmaker Morton first lived, was among the first tract housing planned for Spanish Lake, it was platted in March 1929. The depression and World War II meant the subdivision were nothing more than a drawing on file with St. Louis County. . Northdale was platted for a parcel on the east side of a freight railroad line, Northdale 2 was platted just two weeks later, in March 1929, for the west side of the railroad line.

Before farmers began platting home sites on their property, in the City of St. Louis property owners were busy placing deed restrictions to keep non-whites from buying. One example from 1911 went all the way to the Supreme Court in the 1940s:

On February 16, 1911, thirty out of a total of thirty-nine owners of property fronting both sides of Labadie Avenue between Taylor Avenue and Cora Avenue in the city of St. Louis, signed an agreement, which was subsequently recorded, providing in part:
“. . . the said property is hereby restricted to the use and occupancy for the term of Fifty (50) years from this date, so that it shall be a condition all the time and whether recited and referred to as [sic] not in subsequent conveyances and shall attach to the land as a condition precedent to the sale of the same, that hereafter no part of said property or any
Page 334 U. S. 5
portion thereof shall be, for said term of Fifty-years, occupied by any person not of the Caucasian race, it being intended hereby to restrict the use of said property for said period of time against the occupancy as owners or tenants of any portion of said property for resident or other purpose by people of the Negro or Mongolian Race.”
The entire district described in the agreement included fifty-seven parcels of land. The thirty owners who signed the agreement held title to forty-seven parcels, including the particular parcel involved in this case. At the time the agreement was signed, five of the parcels in the district were owned by Negroes. One of those had been occupied by Negro families since 1882, nearly thirty years before the restrictive agreement was executed. The trial court found that owners of seven out of nine homes on the south side of Labadie Avenue, within the restricted district and “in the immediate vicinity” of the premises in question, had failed to sign the restrictive agreement in 1911. At the time this action was brought, four of the premises were occupied by Negroes, and had been so occupied for periods ranging from twenty-three to sixty-three years. A fifth parcel had been occupied by Negroes until a year before this suit was instituted. (Shelly v. Kraemer, 1948)

The 1948 decision meant the government courts couldn’t be used to enforce private restrictive covenants.  Real estate interests pounced on neighborhoods, playing up fears of whites that they’d better sell while they could. Go back up and reread the quote — black families had lived on that block for years. The big fear was going over a “tipping point” where all white neighborhoods would gain just enough non-whites to make the remaining whites leave; roughly 10%.  This has been the case for more than a century now.

1951
This is the house ‘Spanish Lake’ filmmaker Philip Andrew Morton lived in during the 80s, it was built in 1951

Presumably because of the Great Depression and WWII, the homes in Northdale weren’t built until 1951; each virtually identical 864 square foot slab on grade boxes (no basement). A decade later Northdale 2 homes were built on the lots platted the other side of the tracks. These homes were built in brick, with a full basement, and 3 bedrooms instead of just 2. Those early Northdale homes were the very cheapest new housing available, and with government loans cheaper than renting in the then-overcrowded city.

The now-dated Belle Parke Plaza strip mall was built in 1963 to serve the new residents
The now-dated Belle Parke Plaza strip mall was built in 1963 to serve the new residents
The 336-unit Spanish Gardens Apts/Colonial Meadows condos on Parker Rd were built in 1964, a decade before Morton says the blacks were moved from Pruitt-Igoe.
The 336-unit Spanish Gardens Apts/Colonial Meadows condos on Parker Rd were built in 1964, a decade before Morton says the blacks were moved from Pruitt-Igoe.
The 40-unit Kathleen Apts, shown in the film, were built in 1966
The 40-unit Kathleen Apts, shown in the film, were built in 1966

At the same time as the strip mall and initial apartment buildings were going up so were nicer homes, such as those in the Hidden Lake Subdivision behind the Spanish Gardens Apts and the Belle Parke Plaza strip mall. These houses face a private lake, are 1,500-2,000 sq ft  with 2-car garages.

Meanwhile…

The county had adopted a master plan in 1965 which embraced the 1,700 acres which were later to become the City of Black Jack. That plan designated sixty-seven acres for multiple-family construction. In 1970, 15.2 of those acres were occupied by 321 apartments, 483.1 acres were occupied by single-family dwellings, and the rest of the land was undeveloped. (source)

Apartments were planned before Congress changed the Urban Renewal program into Model Cities (1966).   Many many factors play into people’s decisions about where to live, when to move, etc… Yes, race may be a part of the decision; humans like to self-select to be with like individuals. Economics is another. For years General Motors had a factory in north city (Natural Bridge & Union), the Corvette was assembled there until 1981 when “production shifted from St. Louis, Missouri to Bowling Green, Kentucky” (Wikipedia). The entire plant was closed in 1987, but in 1983 a new plant opened in the St. Charles County town of Wentzville. The movement of blue collar jobs meant blue collar workers would follow.

Why keep living in a 30+ year old 2-bedroom 1-bath house without a basement or garage when you can get a newer & nicer home closer to work?   I’ll have more on the Spanish Lake area in the coming weeks, but I do suggest you get to the Tivoli to see it.

— Steve Patterson

 

Chesterfield Valley May Add Shelters At Inaccessible MetroBus Stops

June 9, 2014 Accessibility, Featured, Planning & Design, Public Transit, Retail, St. Louis County, THF Realty Watch, Walkability Comments Off on Chesterfield Valley May Add Shelters At Inaccessible MetroBus Stops

I applaud Chesterfield’s continued support of pubic transportation. Last week I read about more potentially good news:

Chesterfield’s City Council on Monday night gave initial approval an cooperation agreement between the city, Metro, and the Chesterfield Valley Transportation Development District for of bus stop shelters in Chesterfield valley and in other areas of the city in which there are Metro bus routes. A final vote on the legislation is set for June 16. (stltoday)

Bus shelters are an improvement, but what about getting to/from the shelters?

One of five MetroBus stops along Chesterfield Airport Rd serving retail in the Chesterfield Valley, just a sign on the shoulder
One of five MetroBus stops along Chesterfield Airport Rd serving retail in the Chesterfield Valley, just a sign on the shoulder (below highway 40 sign). Click image for map.
The other side of the same stop shows the grass that must be crossed to/from the stop. A sidewalk exists at this spot but not all stops have a sidewalk nearby.
The other side of the same stop shows the grass that must be crossed to/from the stop. A sidewalk exists at this spot but not all stops have a sidewalk nearby.

I took these images in October when I checked out the area in a rental car. My conclusion was Chesterfield Valley is an ADA nightmare, taking MetroBus to shop wouldn’t be possible in a wheelchair. Given that everything was built since the big flood of 1993, it should be ADA-compliant.  I checked Chesterfield’s ADA Transition Plan, there’s no mention of their responsibility in the public right-of-way.

I’d love to meet former Chesterfield Mayor & Metro President John Nations and current mayor Bob Nation at one of these MetroBus stops to have them see the challenges the transit-using public, including the able-bodied, face in navigating this area on foot.

— Steve Patterson

 

Neighborhood Retail In Older Suburbs

Driving around the inner ring suburb of Overland recently I was struck at the number of corner retail buildings adjacent to the residential streets. Unlike more recent suburbs, where retail is miles away from housing, these were very close. End of street close. Today when we think of retailing in the suburbs it’s easy to assume it was always big boxes or enclosed mall, but like the inner city, it started off with stores within walking distance.

Lackland at Ashby, click for map
This storefront building facing Lackland, just east of Ashby, was built in 1950. Click for map
This building was built in 1952, to the east of the previous.
This building was built in 1952, to the east of the previous.
The 1952 building even included a 2-story section
The 1952 building even included a 2-story section
Most of the housing in this area are modest one-story  homes from the 1920s-1960s, this house across the street was built in 1844
Most of the housing in this area are modest one-story homes from the 1920s-1960s, this house directly across Lackland was built in 1844
The commercial building a block east, at 10236 Lockland, was built in 1936. I don't know the prior uses, my guess was a market.
The commercial building a block east, at 10236 Lockland, was built in 1936. I don’t know the prior uses, my guess was a market.
The 21,000+ square foot commercial building at Lackland Rd & Bryant Ave was built in 1947
The 21,000+ square foot commercial building at Lackland Rd & Bryant Ave was built in 1947

This is far different than the 1960s subdivision in Oklahoma City where I grew up. The 1960s subdivisions I’ve seen here are very similar, by that time commercial development was further away  and with lots more parking than these examples. Suburbs & their subdivision development seemed to continue on this trajectory, except for New Urbanist developments like New Town St. Charles.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Readers: St. Louis County Needs To Act Like One, Not Compete Within

Nearly half the readers that voted in last week’s non-scietific poll picked the two answers that suggest creating a level playing field, a rising tide lifts all boats view.  By contrast, just under 16% took the ‘I got mine screw everyone else’ approach. Here are the results:

Q: Chesterfield is unhappy with the St. Louis County sales tax sharing system, what’s the solution? (pick 2)

  1. Consolidate all STL County municipalities into one 36 [25%]
  2. All sales tax into pool, distribute by population 32 [22.22%]
  3. Eliminate the sales tax pool, let municipalities sink or swim 23 [15.97%]
  4. Restrict municipal use of TIF financing 22 [15.28%]
  5. 3/4 cent earnings tax so county is less reliant on sales & property taxes 12 [8.33%]
  6. Leave it as is 8 [5.56%]
  7. Other: 7 [4.86%]
    1. Turn 64/40 to blvd
    2. f*ck stl county (edited)
    3. send them to st charles
    4. Simplify the system. The 1% countywide tax gets pooled, the rest doesn’t.
    5. relook at POS & pool cities – times change!
    6. Make it easier for munis to dissolve/merge, but not necessarily into one
    7. Let them go. Might be just the thing to encourage incorporating STL.
  8. Unsure/No Answer 4 [2.78%]

Less than 6% said to leave it as is, which suggests to me St. Louis County needs to have a productive dialog about taxation policy and acting together as a county, not just 90 separate municipalities plus unincorporated areas. Who in St. Louis County could lead such an effort to reach a consensus? Chesterfield Mayor Nation isn’t the right person, he’s already resorted to childish threats of taking his marbles across the river to St. Charles County.

A former elected official from an affluent suburb recently suggested to me that St. Louis County should institute a 0.75% earnings tax to reduce dependance on sales taxes. Get the city to reduce its earnings tax from 1% down to a matching 0.75%, then pool all the earnings tax revenue and distribute by population. This would put St. Louis City & County on a level playing field, where collectively we’d be stronger. Certainly worth examining.

— Steve Patterson

 

A Look at the Riverview Transit Center

I recently changed buses at the Riverview Transit Center (map) on my way to visit the Lewis & Clark Library and Tower, my first time at this MetroBus Transit Center. I took the #40 (Broadway) from downtown, then caught the #27 (North County Connector) to finish my journey. I’ve changed buses at several transit centers, this is the best I’ve experienced in St. Louis.

The double-loaded aisle is covered
The double-loaded aisle is covered
riverviewtc2
Bus bays are marked overhead
riverviewtc3
The Transit Center has a building with convenience store and public restrooms
Diagram of the Riverview Transit Center, click image to view original via Metro
Diagram of the Riverview Transit Center, click image to view original via Metro

With the notable exception of the restroom, bus riders still aren’t treated as well as light rail riders. The light rail platforms have heaters to keep passengers warm waiting for the next train and all platforms are non-smoking. It would be nice to use public transit without being assaulted by cigarette smoke. Next week I’ll take a look at the Civic Center Transit Center.

— Steve Patterson

 

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