“That’s angel trumpet,” Carole Gates says, pointing to one of the plants in a backyard as elaborately landscaped, in its own way, as Versailles. “Some people call it moonglow.” She started gardening 31 years ago, when she and her husband moved into their redbrick house on Palm. “I took a shovel and took up every bit of grass,” she recalls, her hand curving to include what are now herringboned brick walkways, rose bushes, daylilies, vines looping down the old porcelain sinks that became her quirky theme.
Gates landscaped the front yard, too, and then planted flowers on the tree lawn. “When the children go back and forth to school, they need to see something other than dirt,” she says firmly. The Old North Restoration Group gave her some leftover paint for the planters, and she didn’t want to waste it, so she painted the fire hydrants, too—an elegant terra cotta with black trim. “I ordered the trees from the city about five years ago; we needed trees for Palm, Hebert, 19th, and 21st.” She pauses. “You can see and think about the goodness of the Lord, and you see his magnificence in the trees.”
She looks down the street at empty, weedy four-family buildings. “Those were all occupied when we moved in,” she says. “We have seen a lot of changes take place, many by design, moving folk out, shifting them from the city to the county, abandoning North St. Louis. The schools deteriorated, the buildings—the gorgeous buildings! To see the city purposely allowing buildings with such historic character to be demolished is sickening. Those European craftsmen came here and built homes to last 400 years!”
What does she think of Paul McKee’s plan for regeneration? “I think it could work. But it’s going to take input from the community. Before he finally came forth to publicly make a statement, everyone was in the dark as to what he desired, except me and a few other individuals. I watched what was transpiring on this street. I saw several developers purchasing property, holding it for several years, and doing nothing with it. When you check the records, you see certain names that keep showing up—and they were allowing the property to deteriorate.
“The first solar home in North St. Louis was across the street. Well, he owns that home now. The people moved out gladly, because he gave them top dollar. Three across the street are McKees, and a couple of lots—one on Palm, a couple on 20th, a building farther down, two lots at 19th and Palm, and I haven’t checked records in a while, but I think one on Branch is a McKee, as well. We have to call Forestry, we have to call his company. We call them and call them. At the solar home this summer, the grass would be four and five feet high. The weeds get thick, and there are rodents. You have vagrants wanting to occupy the homes, you have crime in some of the buildings. It’s very disheartening. You say ‘live, pray, work, play,’ but you have come into a community and literally destroyed it.
“Mr. McKee seems to be a very nice man, but his project is so large,” she adds. “I don’t even know that he knows all that’s going on. I’ve been in a private meeting with him and invited to a couple others, but I didn’t go, ’cause I know what he’s going to say. Commercial first, then schools and housing—and I don’t want to hear it. The promises that he made a year ago—the man’s a millionaire. They operate on a different level. I’d like to hold him to his word. He said no one would have to be removed from their home. But let’s face it, when there’s a lot of money involved, it’s just kind of hard to trust word-of-mouth.”