What Should Replace the 1960s 7th Street Parking Garage?

 

  In 1961 the former Stix, Baer & Fuller department store began building a 900-car parking garage, attached to its downtown location via a skywalk over 7th Street. Six plus decades later the old Stix store contains apartments, hotel, a museum, and restaurants. The garage is now surrounded on 3 …

Recent Book — “Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It” by M. Nolan Gray

 

  Over a century ago a new idea called “zoning” began, intended to guide cities to grow in a less chaotic manner than they had until then. Reality, however, was very different. It’s time to let go, change. A recently published book explains the why & how. What if scrapping …

18th Anniversary of UrbanReviewSTL, Stage 4 Kidney Cancer Still “Stable”, Gathering Today Noon-2pm

 

  Eighteen years ago today I registered the domain UrbanReviewSTL.com and began blogging about urban planning in St. Louis. YouTube didn’t exist yet. Facebook was known as The Facebook, still limited to college students at many universities. My husband (m 2014) was barely a year out of high school. Some …

Former St. Liborius Church Complex Fits Beautifully in the Street Grid

 

  A major reason why I decided to make St. Louis my home back in August 1990 was the complex street grid and the buildings that neatly fit into it. One of the finest examples of fitting into our decidedly non-orthogonal street grid is the former St. Liborius Church complex, …

Recent Articles:

Is Gentrification Encroaching on the O’Fallon Neighborhood?

March 2, 2021 Featured, North City Comments Off on Is Gentrification Encroaching on the O’Fallon Neighborhood?
 

Today is Election Day in St. Louis, odd-numbered wards will vote aldermen, plus mayor and comptroller.  In the 21st ward six candidates are running for alderman. The top two in today’s nonpartisan primary will face each other in the April general election.

Different visions for the future of the O’Fallon Neighborhood will potentially play a role in the minds of voters in the 3rd & 21st wards. In the 21st ward there are six candidates — the highest number of any race today.

In early January I posted about a development proposal supported by the incumbent, see Initial Thoughts On Proposed ‘City District’ In North St. Louis. Since then I drove the area again to get better photographs. It was then I got to see actual results of another development effort in the same area.

Led by Ona Zené Yeshitela, President of the African People’s Education and Defense Fund (APEDF) and Black Star Industries (BSI), the Black Power Blueprint was launched in 2017 on the North Side of St. Louis, the most impoverished area of the city. 

The Black Power Blueprint is buying abandoned, dilapidated buildings, initiating a rapid process of restoration or demolition and re-allocation of land to create community-generated, self-reliance programs that uplift the residents and engage them socially, politically and economically in the future of our community. 

In three years APEDF and BSI have raised more than $300,000 in funds primarily from crowd-funding, webinars, Uhuru Pies and Uhuru Furniture sales, countless donors and in-kind services and contributions. 

This outpouring of support has enabled the Black Power Blueprint to transform a community—not just with land and buildings, but with a sense of pride and a vision for a prosperous future once again. (Black Power Blueprint)

Two buildings and the community space, the Uhuru House is at 4101 W Florissant Ave.

I missed a news story about this effort last November:

According to city property records, the groups have purchased half a dozen properties along West Florissant Avenue between Grand Boulevard and O’Fallon Park and applied for more than $269,000 in building and demolition permits. Home base is the 9,000-square-foot Uhuru House, an event space named after the word “freedom” in Swahili. There are two other houses like it, one in Oakland, California, and St. Petersburg, Florida, all part of the international Uhuru Movement, which strives to unite Africans from the diaspora caused by the global slave trade. (Post-Dispatch)

I very happy to see such an effort, so I went through their entire website. On one page the group lists the grim reality many blacks face in St. Louis, but one stood out to me as a good issue to explore:

Black residents of North St. Louis face rapidly encroaching gentrification, with higher rents and property taxes, that is forcing thousands further out into the county and beyond.

I don’t doubt rents are increasing, and we know blacks have been leaving north St. Louis for years. But “rapidly encroaching gentrification”?

First, we need to define gentrification. In 2017 one expert broke down gentrification into four types: expansive, concentrated, limited, and nascent.

Across the street from the Uhuru House the handsome building at 4102 W. Florissant Ave is getting attention. The ownership is different.

St. Louis is considered concentrated:

Concentrated Gentrification
Best examples: Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
Here, the cities share the same type of older layout as the cities above, but have had larger (relative) black populations. This is where you see that larger parts of such cities have been “written off” by many residents. In each case, gentrification sprouted usually from one area that was a last bastion of white affluent residents (Chicago’s North Side, Northwest D.C. or the area around the University of Pennsylvania in Philly) and spread outward from there. Although most large cities have vast inequality, it’s most evident in these cities because they tend to be racially, economically and socially divided. (
Huffington Post)

The argument is larger 1970 black populations meant whites had written off areas considered black. In St. Louis that generally means north of Delmar.  Concentrated gentrification occurs as affluent white areas get so expensive buyers look to adjacent areas.

In St. Louis we’ve seen this along the central corridor— that wide swath of the region westward from the central business district. McRee Town was razed for Botanical Heights. Forest Park Southeast has changed dramatically over the last 30 years with the The Grove district.

So yes, gentrification does happen in St. Louis. However, Delmar has remained a formidable barrier separating the central corridor from north St. Louis. The O’Fallon neighborhood is a long way from the central corridor. I can’t see it gentrifying unless the neighborhoods in between gentrify first.

When census numbers are released I think we’ll continue to see population declines in north St. Louis neighborhoods. Lots of problems to address, gentrification isn’t one of them.

— Steve Patterson

Where They Lived: Page, Hathaway, and Spinks

February 25, 2021 Featured, History/Preservation, North City Comments Off on Where They Lived: Page, Hathaway, and Spinks
 

February is Black History Month and two recent celebrity deaths prompted me to do this post.

I’ll begin with the opening lines to RuPaul’s 1992 dance hit Supermodel (You Better Work):

[Spoken Intro: LaWanda Page and RuPaul]
Once upon a time, there was a little black girl, in the Brewster Projects of Detroit, Michigan. At fifteen, she was spotted by an Ebony Fashion Fair talent scout and her modeling career took off
You better work.

These initial lines weren’t sung by RuPaul, they were spoken by the very recognizable voice of Lawanda Page (1920-2002). Though Page was born in Cleveland, Ohio she was raised in St. Louis. According to Wikipedia she attended Banneker Elementary School at 2840 Samuel Shepard Dr. This school closed in 2005. This is just north of what was the Mill Creek Valley neighborhood, where she likely lived.

LaWanda Page, born Alberta Peal, is best known for her roll as Aunt Esther on the sitcom Sanford and Son, starring her friend St. Louis-born Redd Foxx (1922-1991). Born John Elroy Sanford, his father was indeed named Fred Sanford.  While Foxx was born in St. Louis he was actually raised in Chicago.

Back to the song lyrics and that little black girl. None of the three male songwriters were from Detroit, much less the Brewster projects. However, three little black girls from the Brewster projects in Detroit Michigan founded the group that became Motown’s The Supremes. Supreme Mary Wilson (1944-2021) recently died.

Like so many housing projects, Brewster began as low rise buildings but later buildings were high rises.

The Brewster Project and Frederick Douglass Apartments were built between 1935 and 1955, and were designed by Harley, Ellington & Day of Detroit. The Brewster Project began construction in 1935, when First LadyEleanor Roosevelt broke ground for the 701-unit development; the first phase, consisting of low-rise apartment blocks, was completed in 1938. An expansion of the project completed in 1941 brought the total number of housing units to 941. The Frederick Douglass Apartments, built immediately to the south of the Brewster Project, began construction in 1942 with the completion of apartment rows, two 6-story low-rises, and finally six 14-story high rises completed between 1952 and 1955. The combined Brewster-Douglass Project was five city blocks long, and three city blocks wide, and housed anywhere between 8,000 and 10,000 residents, at its peak capacity.

St. Louis followed the same pattern of low rise initially, followed later by massive high rise projects. Today’s Carr Square neighborhood included numerous public housing projects, both low & high rise: Carr Square Village is low rise, followed by high rise Vaughn Housing & Pruitt-Igoe.

Donny Hathaway (1945-1979) was born in Chicago but raised in the Carr Square neighborhood. My favorite Donny Hathaway song is his 1972 duet with Roberta Flack, Where Is The Love? He lived with his grandmother and attended Franklin Elementary & Vashon high school. I wasn’t able to find a specific address so I’m not sure where they lived. I do know another song he’s known for is The Ghetto.

Franklin school is now senior housing, October 2007

The Spinks family, including boxer Leon Spinks Jr. (1953-2021), also lived in the Carr Square neighborhood. Early on it would’ve been called Kerry Patch, and later DeSoto-Carr. Unlike Donny Hathaway, I do know exactly where the Spinks family lived.

 

Leon Spinks Sr was born in 1937. In the 1940 census he was the youngest of 8 kids living with Lewis & Ava Spinks at 1409 N 14th Street.  The house they lived in was on the 1909 Sanborn map, but was torn down prior to the 1980s construction of the existing apartments at that addresses. The 53 year old Lewis Spinks Sr. listed the 14th Street address on a war registration card but marked it out, writing in 1024 N 21st. As a reference he listed Lewis Spinks Jr, now living separately at 1423 Biddle.

Leon Spinks Jr was born in 1953. In 1965 his father was living in the 2800 block of Biddle, in or near Pruitt-Igoe. By 1969 the senior Leon Spinks was living at 2210 Cass — definitely Pruitt-Igoe.

Not sure why I enjoy looking up where people lived, but I do.

— Steve Patterson

New Book — ‘Candy Men: The Story of Switzer’s Licorice’ by Patrick Murphy

February 18, 2021 Big Box, Books, Featured Comments Off on New Book — ‘Candy Men: The Story of Switzer’s Licorice’ by Patrick Murphy
 

I received a package of Switzer Licorice with the book.

Prior to this new book my only knowledge of Switzer Licorice was the 19th century building in Laclede’s Landing that collapsed during a wind storm in July 2006.

The sweet smell of licorice and the giant candy bar painted on the factory wall at the Eads Bridge remain locked into the collective memory of generations of St. Louisans. Candy Men: The Story of Switzer’s Licorice tells the story of how two Irish-American families began a candy company in the kitchen of a tenement in St. Louis’s Irish slum and showed the world how the American Dream can be built upon a foundation of candy.

In a story that passes through three generations, two World Wars, economic depressions, and labor unrest, the Murphys and the Switzers dedicated their lives to keeping the dream alive until it was put to an end by forces beyond their control. And yet, in an unlikely turn of events, the story continues today with a fresh twist and a renewed life of its own. (Island Press)

Like other recent books, this is largely a family memoir. Within the pages of family stories are insights into St. Louis life for Irish Catholics.

The chapter on Kerry Patch was of particular interest to me as we currently live where the immigrant tenement neighborhood existed. St. Patrick’s church was on the NW corner of 6th & Biddle, St. Lawrence O’Toole church was on the SW corner of 14th & O’Fallon. Not sure if Irish went to St. Joseph’s, but it’s in between at 11th & Biddle. Over the years the Irish of Kerry Patch moved west of 14th, toward Jefferson. St. Bridget of Erin church was on the NE corner of Jefferson & Carr.

I’m still going through the book, I like the stories about the many immigrants making candy in St. Louis.

— Steve Patterson

Newish Book: ‘Growing Up In Old North St. Louis’, 2nd Edition by Patrick J. Kleaver

February 4, 2021 Books, Featured, North City Comments Off on Newish Book: ‘Growing Up In Old North St. Louis’, 2nd Edition by Patrick J. Kleaver
 

I receive quite a few new books from publishers throughout each year, but late last year I received an email from a self-published author. Patrick Kleaver invited me to check out the 2nd edition of his book from the library. I’m interested in the perspectives of people who grew up in St. Louis, especially in a neighborhood where I’ve lived so I reserved it and picked it up.

Like a book I posted about last year, ‘The Last Children of Mill Creek’ by Vivian Gibson, Kleaver’s book is a personal memoir about where the author grew up. Each tells the reader about their family while also describing their neighborhood & experiences. There are many similarities between these two book — especially growing up in a multigenerational home.

Join life-time St. Louisan Patrick J. Kleaver in this UPDATED AND EXPANDED version of his book GROWING UP IN OLD NORTH ST. LOUIS. He reminisces about the good and the bad in the first nineteen years of his life when he lived in that historic St. Louis neighborhood from its heyday in the mid-1950s to its decline in the 1970s. From a detailed description of his house to the neighborhood shopping district originally known as the “Great White Way” (with stops at various neighbors and churches along the way), you’ll feel like you’re entering his life and walking with him on a personally guided tour! In this SECOND EDITION, he includes MORE anecdotes, a MORE detailed history of Old North St. Louis and its historic Catholic churches, MORE photographs (including rarely seen historic ones of streetscapes and church interiors), a MORE DETAILED quick side trip to two other neighborhoods bordering his, and UP-TO-DATE INFORMATION about the status of the various people and buildings mentioned. (Google Books)

As Kleaver points out the city’s 1947 Comprehensive Plan considered the neighborhood obsolete, largely due to how few residences had modern plumbing. Thus, it’s “heyday” was well before the 1950s. Still, he lived in the neighborhood while it went from being highly populated to significantly reduced population either through those who moved, or those forced out by the demolition for the Mark Twain Expressway (aka I-70).

I moved to the neighborhood in the spring of 1991, some of my neighbors had moved their in the late 1970s. It’s very interesting reading the accounts of a person that lived in the neighborhood in the 50s & 60s.  One side of his family lived in Hyde Park, just to the north of Old North, while the other side is from where I live now, Columbus Square.

The Kleaver family lived on Tyler, which is near the southern edge of today’s boundaries for Old North. The house of one of his childhood friends was also one of my favorites. Was — past tense as so much has been lost.

This book is available from the St. Louis Library and online retailers.

— Steve Patterson

I Was Partially Wrong About How Our Non-Partisan Elections Will Work

January 26, 2021 Featured, Politics/Policy Comments Off on I Was Partially Wrong About How Our Non-Partisan Elections Will Work
 

I try to avoid making mistakes, but it does happen. I like to verify information before publishing these posts, but when I didn’t get an answer from the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners I should’ve looked harder to find the answer. My apologies if my mistake caused any confusion.

Vintage photo of the former offices of the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners. From my collection

First, what I got right:

  • Candidates for local office are no longer listed on the ballot by political party, all are independent. Thus, non-partisan.
  • As independent candidates they can’t just pay a fee to their party of choice to get on the ballot — they must submit a petition signed by registered voters.
  • Voters can vote for as many candidates as they like. Example: Three candidates for a race means a voter could select 0-3 of them.

What I got wrong:

  • I knew that in a race with three or more candidates the top two in March would face each other in April. I incorrectly thought if one got 50% of the votes in March the race was over — WRONG.

The full petition behind Proposition D passed in November 2020 says:

“Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, in the primary election for the offices of Mayor, Comptroller, President of the Board of Aldermen, and Alderman, voters shall select as many candidates as they approve of for each office. The two candidates receiving the most votes for each office shall advance to the general election. The candidate for each office receiving the most votes in the general election shall be declared the winner.” [Emphasis added]

So what does this mean? In races with only one or two candidates on the ballot the March & April ballots for that race will look the same. In races with two candidates one might win in March but the other win in April.  Most likely the March result will be similar to April.

The big difference will be seen in races with three or more candidates, like the 4-way mayoral race or 6-way aldermanic race in the 21st ward. In these races we know the election won’t be over in March with April only a formality. The month between the March primary and April general will determine the winner.

The candidate that comes in a close second place in March can win in April if they keep pushing and trying to win over voters who selected candidates that got eliminated by placing third or later.

Though I wish the language had been like I thought it was, I understand that would’ve been a lot more complicated of a change. I’m still glad Prop D passed.

I hope the next change is a thorough overhaul: Eliminate the March primary and have ranked-choice voting in April with ballot measures and school board races.

Again, my apologies for my mistake.

— Steve Patterson

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