1816: Before the city of St. Louis was incorporated in 1822, William Christy and others founded the Village of North St. Louis, bounded by present-day Monroe, Hadley, and Montgomery Streets, as well as the Mississippi River. The village consisted of three circular public areas—Clinton Place (a school), Jackson Place (for recreation), and Marion Place (with a church and cemetery). Because the founders insisted that the river serve as the village’s eastern boundary, many of the streets and subdivisions became a maze of parallelograms and dead ends.
1840–1880: European immigrants poured into the city; St. Louis’ population grew from less than 20,000 in 1840 to more than 160,000 by 1860. Near Carr Square, Germans built brick Greek-revival style houses. To the north, Irish immigrants filled Kerry Patch with one-room shacks; by the 1930s, brick houses came to replace the Patch. One of the trendier neighborhoods was St. Louis Place, where impressive Victorian-style homes sprouted up around a park in the 1880s. European-inspired mills dotted the landscape.
1841: The city of St. Louis absorbed the Village of North St. Louis when its city limits expanded to the foot of Dock Street. Around the same time, German immigrants incorporated Bremen—today known as Hyde Park—about 2.5 miles north of Market Street.
1855: The Agriculture and Mechanical Fair was established in what’s today Fairground Park; the fair grew in size and notoriety each year, eventually drawing American presidents and European royalty. Several years later, the Missouri Railway Company opened the first streetcar track route.
1865: During Reconstruction, more African-Americans began moving to St. Louis from the South. The city grew exponentially following the Civil War, so that its population had reached 310,869 by 1870. In the decades to come, African-Americans came to settle in areas like Elleardsville (later shortened to The Ville), where German and Irish immigrants also resided. In 1873, Elleardsville Colored School No. 8 became the neighborhood’s first black institution, and other black schools and churches followed.
1871: Grand Avenue Ball Grounds—which came to be Sportsman’s Park—opened at Grand and Dodier. For nearly a century, the site housed professional sports teams like the Browns and Cardinals. In the same year, the water tower on North Grand—today considered the largest perfect Corinthian column in existence—was built just north of Hyde Park. With another tower at Bissell and Blair, St. Louis today boasts two of the nation’s seven remaining standpipe water towers.
1876: Modern city boundaries were divided from St. Louis County, effectively sealing the city at 61 square miles. Over time, the impact of this decision would drain financial resources from the city and its residents as affluent citizens moved farther west.
1904: By the time of the World’s Fair, more businesses and homes were sprouting up farther west. Many of those visitors who were black found themselves being directed to The Ville because it had African-American hotels during a time of segregation.
1916: City voters overwhelmingly passed a zoning ordinance barring blacks from buying homes in blocks that are more than 75 percent white. The ordinance was struck down the following year, when the Supreme Court ruled against a similar law in Louisville. Nonetheless, race-restrictive agreements and deed covenants led to residential segregation during the next 30-plus years, effectively restricting many African-Americans to certain areas of the city.
1917: Engineer Harland Bartholomew penned Problems of St. Louis. The book outlined concerns about older sections of St. Louis: “districts wherein values and occupancy are at a low ebb,” poorly planned transportation systems, the need to extend the city limits, and a desire to plan infrastructure further in advance to avoid unnecessary delay and expense. Despite Bartholomew’s warnings, these same problems persist in much of near North St. Louis today.
1920–1930: African-Americans went from constituting only 8 percent of The Ville to 86 percent. Notable philanthropist and entrepreneur Annie Malone opened the Poro Building around this time. Another notable, lawyer Homer Phillips, was instrumental in passing a bond for an African-American hospital, which came to be named for him after he was assassinated in 1931.
1937: The Housing Act of 1937 established federal assistance for low-income housing. Reframed in 1949 and 1954, the act’s implementation was limited to certain areas of the city because of preemptive zoning laws.
1940: The first black family to move into the 1800 block of Cass Avenue had their car destroyed. Other forms of harassment followed for black families trying to move into primarily white areas in some parts of the near North Side.
1943: Missouri’s Chapter 1943 Urban Redevelopment Corporation Law passed “to encourage the redevelopment of blighted areas by providing real property tax abatement.” The law was amended several times in the years to come.
1947: In his 1947 Comprehensive City Plan, Bartholomew suggested large-scale clearance and reconstruction of “obsolete areas.” He believed the best methods were through land acquisition, eminent domain, public financing, and widening major thoroughfares. (More than 50 years later, McEagle V.P. Bill Laskowsky says of the NorthSide Regeneration plan, “It’s almost the antithesis of that [referring to the 1947 plan]. It’s putting our arms around and trying to embrace all the stuff that’s good—that’s step one.”)
1948: Shelley v. Kraemer ruled against state enforcement of racially based restrictive covenants. Practices that encouraged residential segregation continued, however, through other methods such as redlining, exclusionary zoning, and real-estate agents who encouraged black and white clients to settle in different areas.
1948: The City’s Anti-Slum Commission noted of the Daniel Boone Expressway, now known as Highway 40: “Seventeen thousand vehicles a day traverse these streets through this blighted area, transporting the public from the residential district to the downtown…This experience has a devastating effect upon the morale of the citizens.” This notion held true as other interstates, such as the Mark Twain (now Interstate 70), provided additional routes for residents of the suburbs.
1950: The City of St. Louis’ population reached its peak, at just over 850,000. During the next half century, the city lost around 10,000 people per year; at the same time, St. Louis County’s population skyrocketed to more than 1 million.
1951: Gov. Forrest Smith signed the Chapter 99 Land Clearance for Redevelopment Law, creating LCRA and bringing state funding to urban-renewal efforts. The legislation helped pave the way for large-scale redevelopment projects.
1955: Pruitt-Igoe opened as one in a string of public-housing developments erected between the late ’40s and early ’60s. By the late ’60s, the mayor’s office described Pruitt-Igoe as “reminiscent of the worst nineteenth century caricature of an insane asylum.” Less than 20 years after opening, in 1972, it was demolished.
1959: Large-scale redevelopment of Mill Creek Valley began. At the time, the area—from Union Station to Saint Louis University—contained nearly 20,000 residents, many with homes that lacked running water or interior bathrooms. Crews eventually cleared 2.5 square miles, which came to be known as “Hiroshima Flats.” While Wachovia Securities and Teamsters Plaza now stand there, and Saint Louis University and Harris Stowe have obtained large swaths of property, much of the land remains undeveloped.
1963: At a time when African-Americans made up approximately two-thirds of St. Louis’ unemployment rate, citizens began to boycott area businesses. For decades to come, unemployment remained twice as high for blacks as for whites.
1966: The Department of Housing and Urban Development created the Model Cities program to channel funds to “demonstration projects” in poor and underserved neighborhoods. Many of the funds, however, instead went toward clearing substandard housing for commercial development, following patterns of previous urban-renewal projects.
1971: The Land Reutilization Authority was “created to foster the public purpose of returning land which is in a nonrevenue generating nontax producing status, to effective utilization in order to provide housing, new industry, and jobs…” Over time, LRA assembled hundreds of tracts in near North St. Louis.
1974: The Housing and Community Development Act created a system of Community Development Block Grants. With these grants, St. Louis received federal funds to distribute to local projects. Rather than build in poor residential areas, however, the City concentrated on economic development elsewhere. In the program’s first decade, in fact, the four wards stretching from downtown to Forest Park received as much in “bricks and Mortar” CDBG funds as the North Side’s 12 wards combined.
1975: Team Four Inc. suggested that in “depletion” areas—which constituted much of the near North Side—“efforts must be made to adjust services and public investments so as to provide for those who are remaining in these areas. Yet these efforts should be pursued without encouraging new investment until the City determined that Redevelopment can and should begin.” The plan was never adopted into law, but some believe this idea became the city’s informal policy for decades to come.
1979: An AP article documented the story of Macler Shepard, recipient of the Rockefeller Public Service Award and a longtime resident of Yateman—now known as Jeff-Vander-Lou—who’d twice been “bulldozed out of his home.” During a time of large-scale urban renewal projects in the ’60s, Shepard had proposed instead renovating rows of historic three-story brick houses. “Since Shepard began 13 years ago,” the article noted, “639 units of housing have been built or renovated, with another 215 to be completed in 1980.”
1982: Missouri passed its Tax Increment Financing (TIF) law for “blighted” areas. With an elastic definition of “blight” and sales tax revenues feeding TIF legislation in Missouri—one of only 10 states to do so—many projects happened beyond the city, at county shopping centers. As with previous urban-renewal efforts, according to Gordon, most TIF projects came to focus on large-scale industrial and commercial developments rather than poor residential areas.
1996: Mayor Freeman Bosley, Jr. revealed plans for Gateway Village, a 180-acre golf course and subdivision in the former Pruitt-Igoe site and part of St. Louis Place. At the time, the Greater Pruitt-Igoe Neighborhood Association fought the plan, which proposed the redevelopment 200-plus houses and six businesses by Detroit-based Waycor Corporation.
1997: Newly elected Mayor Clarence Harmon opposed the Gateway Village plan because he feared it could lead to city residents’ dislocation. The same year, April Ford-Griffin—a supporter of the Gateway Village project at the time—was elected to the Fifth Ward.
2000: Seventy percent of the area’s white population lived in tracts that were at least 95 percent white. The city accounted for just 13 percent of the region’s population.
2001: The Vashon-JeffVanderLou Initiative—led by Richard Baron and the Danforth Foundation—sought reinvestment in the near North Side and looked to improve St. Louis Public Schools through the Vashon Education Compact. While newly built Vashon High School was one of the initiative’s successes, disputes between business and school leaders eventually caused efforts to fizzle out.
2002: After more than two years of public feedback and surveys by local aldermen like Ford-Griffin, the St. Louis Planning Commission adopted the Fifth Ward Comprehensive Neighborhood Plan. At the time, however, no regulatory changes were implemented.
2003: Paul McKee began buying up land under different holding company names. Over time, many of the buildings fell into disrepair, leading citizens and bloggers to complain.
2005: The city adopted its new Strategic Land Use Plan, suggesting some tracts in near North St. Louis should be preserved while others should be developed. The plan failed to include an implementation strategy, however, reasoning that “development in the City is market-driven, as it is everywhere.” Late that year, blogger Michael Allen identified McKee as the mysterious buyer.
2007: Missouri adopted the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act—a bill that allowed reimbursement for up to 50 percent of acquisition costs for a developer who plans to redevelop at least 75 acres of “distressed areas,” of which the applicant owns at least 50 of those acres. Critics, including Ford-Griffin and other aldermen, adamantly fought the legislation because they argued it was created specifically for McKee.
2009: In late May, McKee registered NorthSide Regeneration LLC and applied for more than $400 million in TIF money. As his $8.1 billion plans for near North St. Louis were unveiled to the public, some citizens—including the North Side Community Benefits Alliance—resisted. As of press time, the plan was still moving forward as city officials reviewed the TIF application and redevelopment proposal. If approved, Phase I will begin in 2010.
Community Information Network, “History of St. Louis Neighborhoods,” http://stlouis.missouri.org/neighborhoods/history/, Accessed 1 October 2009.
Community Information Network, “Physical Growth of the City of St. Louis,” http://stlouis.missouri.org/heritage/History69/, Accessed 1 October 2009.
Dotage, “An Embattled Neighborhood,” http://stldotage.blogspot.com/2008/04/forgotten-neighborhood-yeatman-yateman.html, Accessed 1 October 2009.
Ecology of Absence, “Looking Back at Gateway Village,” http://ecoabsence.blogspot.com/2009/05/looking-back-at-gateway-village.html, Accessed 1 October 2009.
Gordon, Colin. Mapping Decline. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.
Janecke, Ron. “Shaping St. Louis.” St. Louis Business Journal. 2 May 2003.
O’Neil, Tim. “Clearing of Mill Creek Valley changed the face of St. Louis.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 9 August 2009.
Primm, James Neal. Lion of the Valley: St. Louis, Missouri. Missouri History Museum Press, 1981.
PubDef, “Clay: North Side Neglect is Real, Team 4 is Real.” http://www.pubdef.org/2008/03/09/clay-northside-neglect-is-real-team-4-is-real/, Accessed 1 October 2009.
PubDef, “Quiet Conspiracy.” http://www.pubdef.net/2002/quiet_conspiracy.html, Accessed 1 October 2009.
Tranel, Mark. St. Louis Plans: The Ideal and the Real St. Louis. Missouri Historical Society Press, 2007.
UrbanReviewSTL, “The History of Problems in North St. Louis,” http://www.urbanreviewstl.com/?p=6199, Accessed 1 October 2009.