Home » MLK Jr. Drive » Recent Articles:

Post Offices Named After Two Prominent St. Louis African Americans on Closure List

Financial trouble at the Postal Service will soon hit the St. Louis area:

A number of St. Louis-area post offices have landed on a list of 3,700 retail offices the U.S. Postal Service is studying for possible closure to help cut its budget deficit.

The Postal Service, which has 32,000 retail offices nationwide, lost $8.5 billion last year and has already cut its payroll and closed retail locations. (Source)

Two of the St. Louis area post offices are located in depressed neighborhoods in north St. Louis. I had seen one before, but not the other.  I decided to see both up close.

ABOVE: Jordan W. Chambers, 63106 post office

My first question was, who are the people these locations are named after? I had seen the Jordan W. Chambers Post Office (above) in the last few years, although I didn’t know the name at the time.  Here is the answer for this one:

Chambers, Jordan W. — of St. Louis, Mo. Democrat. Delegate to Democratic National Convention from Missouri, 1944, 1952 (alternate), 1956, 1960. Presumed deceased. Burial location unknown. (Political Graveyard)

I checked Find-A-Grave and found more information, Jordan W. Chambers (1896-1962) is buried at Saint Peters Cemetary in Normandy:

Chambers was active in politics for many years. He worked in Ward 19 to organize precinct captains to ensure that all in his ward got out to vote. He organized the Young Democratic Club. Chambers owned the Peoples Undertaking Company in St. Louis–his political headquarters were next door. He was elected Constable and Democratic Committeeman of the 19th Ward in 1963, making the first Black Committeeman in St. Louis. He worked to get the Black vote for Harry S. Truman. Chambers worked tirelessly for better jobs for Blacks & was instrumental in the integration of the Circuit Court & the St. Louis Housing Authority. He owned Club Riviera–a meeting place for many big name stars and prominent politicians. He never retired from politics or civil rights work and when he died, Governor John Dalton gave the eulogy. President Kennedy and Vice-President Johnson sent telegrams of condolence.

Impressive! The 4,000sf post office bearing his name, at 901 N. Garrison Ave, was built in 1959, three years before his death. Was it named for him while still living?  This post office is located in the 19th ward where he was politically active. Chambers Park is located to the west.

ABOVE: The Gwen B. Giles (63112) post office is on the closure list

One of the first things I noticed when I visited the Gwen B. Giles post office located at 1409 Hamilton Ave was the nameplate attached to the building, likely covering the original name. City records online do not indicate the year the building was built, I’d guess sometime in the late 1930s based upon the detailing.

ABOVE: Gwen B. Giles from Missouri State Archives

Gwen B. Giles was born in Georgia in 1932, so the post office was named for at least one person before her:

Gwen B. Giles was the first African American woman to serve in the Missouri Senate. She lived in St. Louis, Missouri, and was elected senator in 1977. Giles was also the first woman and the first African American to be appointed St. Louis city assessor, a position she held from 1981 until her death. Gwen Giles devoted her life to public service. She worked steadfastly to secure civil rights and improve living conditions for the citizens of St. Louis. (Source)

Giles died in 1986:

During her distinguished career in politics served as Missouri’s first African American female senator, representing the Fourth District, where she chaired the Interstate Cooperation Committee and was a member of several other legislative committees. She was also the first woman and the first African American to be appointed St. Louis city assessor, a position she held from 1981 until her death. She devoted her life to public service working steadfastly to secure civil rights and improve living conditions for the citizens of St. Louis. She came to St. Louis in 1935, later graduated from Saint Louis University. Beginning in the 1960s, she promoted involvement of St. Louis religious leaders in the civil rights movement. She was a member of the Archdiocesan Commission on Human Rights. In 1973, St. Louis Mayor John Poelker appointed her commissioner of human relations. In this position, she updated a city ordinance to protect women, the elderly and people with disabilities, and promoted passage of the 1976 Comprehensive Civil Rights Ordinance. Among her accomplishments was the appointment by President Jimmy Carter to a task force to assist in selecting talented women for positions in the federal government. She died in her St. Louis home in 1986 from lung cancer. A park and a U.S. Post office have been named after her to honor her achievements and involvement in the community. She will continue to be a pioneer as well as a role model for women in generations to come. (Find-A-Grave)

Also very impressive! Senator Giles was part of the fight to keep the Homer G. Phillips Hospital open:

On August 17, in a massive display of force, city officials sent 120 policemen in riot gear to Phillips Hospital to deal with approximately one hundred protesters during the final transfer of the remaining forty-seven Phillips acute-care patients to City Hospital. Police arrested seventeen pro- testers under charges of failure to obey a police officer when at least fifty people sat down in the main hospital driveway to prevent transfer vans from leaving. Pearlie Evans, aide to U.S. Repre- sentative William Clay, was present at the protest; her sentiments, quoted in the Post-Dispatch, captured the feeling of that day: “the squad was brought in to overpower poor, helpless people whose only concern was that they have some place to go near their homes when they get sick.” Missouri State Senator Gwen B. Giles, also quoted in the Post-Dispatch, took note: “Conway declared war on black St. Louis today.” (Source: ‘‘To Serve the Community Best”: Reconsidering Black Politics in the Struggle to Save Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis, 1976-1984)

“[Virvus] Jones was appointed assessor in April 1986, after the death of Gwen B. Giles” per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch November 23, 1988.

– Steve Patterson

 

Signs of Hope Along St. Louis’ Dr. Martin Luther King Drive

This is my seventh year writing on Dr. Martin Luther King Day.  Every year, except 2008 I have looked at the St. Louis road named Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, in 2008 I looked at the issue of race.

Here are links to each of the prior posts:

Today we will start at Tucker (12th) and work our way West.

img_2506
ABOVE: The infill of the old rail tunnel under Tucker has now reached MLK Dr.
img_2553
ABOVE: South of MLK Dr Interco Plaza has already been removed.
img_2550
ABOVE: this handsome glazed brick building is showing recent damage
img_2510
ABOVE: The fire likely happened in the last year.
img_2545
ABOVE: Site where a farmers' market was to be built
img_2512
ABOVE: So glad to see this building being renovated as part of a larger project
img_2513
ABOVE: This building & others were very close to being razed
img_2538
ABOVE: A few years ago it looked like one of my favorite buildings in the city might not survive.

The two buildings above are part of the Dick Gregory Place project.  This building is the NE corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Dr. and Marcus Ave.

img_2535
ABOVE: A former muffler shop at Kingshighway is being converted to a gas station. Progress?
img_2515
ABOVE: Only the front remains (barely) standing

The back of the above building. located just west of Union, is nearly gone.  I don’t expect to see this building next year, but I’ve thought that the last couple of years.

img_2521
ABOVE: The adaptive reuse of the Arlington School into housing is a huge step forward for the Wells/Goodfellow neighborhood

ABOVE: These buildings at Dr. Martin Luther King Dr. & Bud Ave were razed to make room for new housing to be built as part of the Arlington Grove project
ABOVE: These buildings at Dr. Martin Luther King Dr. & Bud Ave were razed to make room for new housing to be built as part of the Arlington Grove project. Image: Google Streetview
ABOVE: The Arlington Grove project will occupy the entire city block.  Image: Google Maps (click to view)
ABOVE: The Arlington Grove project will occupy the entire city block. Image: Google Maps (click to view)

From Multi-Family Housing News this past October:

Construction has started on the Arlington Grove residential redevelopment project in north St. Louis. When complete it will include 112 mixed-income rental units in garden apartments, townhouse and semi-detached housing, along with a new mixed-use building and rehabilitation of the historic Arlington Elementary School. All together, the redevelopment will total 162,000 square feet of residential space and 5,000 square feet of commercial space.

The school renovation will include 21 apartments. The rest of the Arlington Grove’s residential space will be 91 new-construction townhomes and garden apartments. All of the units are designed to meet mandatory Enterprise Green Communities (EGC) criteria as required by the Capital Fund Recovery Competition (CFRC) grant, a stimulus-related grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that helped pay for the $41 million development. (full story)

Foundation work on the new construction on the placement looks good from an urban perspective. I will report more on this later this year as well as on Martin Luther King Day 2012.

img_2526
ABOVE: near the west city limits storefronts in the once bustling Wellston Loop area remain largely vacant

I say it every year but it is going to take a major transportation infrastructure project (modern streetcar or even a BRT line) to make MLK Dr a desirable enough street to bring back the middle class.

Peace!

– Steve Patterson

 

History bulldozed on this day in 1963

ABOVE:
ABOVE: MLK & Leffingwell, Franklin no longer goes through, July 2010

One of my favorite books is St. Louis Day by Day by Frances Hurd Stadler (1989). The entry for July 24th takes us back to 1963, forty-seven years ago today:

Bulldozers moved in to demolish the large cast-iron watering trough at the triangle formed by the intersection of Franklin, Easton and Leffingwell avenues. Made of fourteen sections bolted together, the trough had long served as a refreshment spot for some of the city’s busiest draft horses. Franklin and Easton, now Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, had formed part of the first road to St. Charles. As the nation expanded west, this link became vital, joining with roads beyond St. Charles up the Missouri River, and eventually branching off onto the Santa Fe Trail.

Within the city, Easton was an important business thoroughfare, and the Y formed by the three streets was the logical place for trade wagons to halt and for horses to drink. The only remaining St. Louis example of this once-common feature of equine architecture can be found at Alabama, Virginia, and Ivory avenues, where neighborhood residents have built a small park and planted the old watering through with flowers.

Today the triangle of Franklin, Easton & Leffingwell isn’t a triangle. The Franklin side was removed when Dr. Martin Luther King Drive received new curbs and sidewalks, around 2004.

Since the book was published the flowers have been replaced by a fountain at the Ivory Triangle:

ABOVE:
ABOVE: Horse trough used as a fountain in the Ivory Triangle

I wonder if the trough that was removed in 1963 would be an interesting community spot had it remain?

– Steve Patterson

 

Advertisement



[custom-facebook-feed]

Archives

Categories

Advertisement


Subscribe