This particular building is in one of the most devastated parts of St Louis city. It is in the St Louis Place neighborhood just north of the infamous, former location of the Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex. This once dense neighborhood has some life in some areas but in the blocks just north of Cass, it is mostly vacant lots with a few houses scattered around. Some blocks are cornfields. Not much is left of sidewalks and when looking around it is easy to forget you are just blocks from downtown St. Louis. Few are occupied. At one time, these blocks were full and vibrant but obviously something changed.
I have inquired about what this area was like and what happened. A former resident who lived there between 1939 to 1955 told me that most of the housing looked like the ones in my drawings but more had flat roofs and the architecture was more plain. Not as many had the more ornate mansard roofs. Most had arch top windows with stone sills. Ornamental fences were common to the small front yards so most houses were very close to the street. Most corner structures were store fronts with cast iron facades.
It was a real walking neighborhood where taverns, bakeries, groceries, hardware stores, barbers, confectioneries, drug stores were all within walking distance. He doesn’t remember what stores were on Howard, he says there was a neighborhood shopping group was at 25th and North Market. There was a pool hall, a diner, a dime store, and others. The 18th streetcar ran west on 22nd and east on 23rd. There were entire blocks of two story, two family and four family “flats” that were connected or built touching each other.
He says many of the structures had a three foot “gangway” open from the front through to the back yard. Many houses had wooden back porches with stairs led to the second floor apartments. There were alleys to the rear of the property and most had a wooden “coal shed”. Occasional small cottages dotted the blocks (his home was a 16 foot wide four room “shotgun” brick home on a 25 foot wide lot.) Some houses in the area lacked indoor bathrooms in the late 1940s, with outhouses in the back yard.
He described the area as a mix of elder couples and families with lots of kids. It was also a segregated neighborhood with Cass as the rough dividing line. He remembers when Pruitt-Igoe was new, the people raved about how nice it was. Crime was low. Over time things deteriorated and I have a feeling the downfall of St Louis Place was somewhat connected with the downfall of Pruitt-Igoe. As crime spread through Pruitt-Igoe, it spread into areas surrounding the complex. People who could move, did move. Drug addicts, criminals and people desperate for money started stripping the old houses of it’s plumbing or of whatever could be sold. Within a matter of 20 years or so the neighborhood went from vibrant to gutted and destroyed. HUD tried to build new townhouses but most ended up abandoned. A few stand today along with a few houses from when the neighborhood was a bustling community.
I also talked to a current resident that lives near N Market and has lived there since he was a kid in the early 1960s. He said his family was one of the first black families. He said most of the people were of Polish heritage. I didn’t have too much time to really inquire about what happened in the neighborhood but he said when it was emptying out, in the 1970s he purchased some houses for almost nothing and fixed them up and rents them out now – all on the same block and he lives on that block. It is one of the few pretty intact blocks just north of the old Columbia/Falstaff brewery. He seems to sort of watch over the place and we talked for a few minutes as I drew. I’ll go more into that later when I share that drawing.
So now that you got some background on the neighborhood, I want to go more into this particular house on Howard Street. I think I was struck by this one in that it is all alone but so tall and imposing on the flat, deserted blocks. Standing and then sitting there and drawing it, I felt alone and it made it’s abandonment seem more palpable. I felt like I could feel it’s aloneness. At the same time it’s a rugged survivor – yet destroyed and on life-support. I felt like I was with someone who has had a rough life, survived hardships, seen so much, but is in their last days of life. When I felt that, I had to draw it.
Here’s some basic info. It was built in roughly 1892 and the architectural style seems consistent with that date, I think. The address is 2325 Howard St and is owned by the Northside Regeneration LLC and they are located in O’Fallon, Missouri. Is that a Paul McKee property? Maybe. It is on a 25 ft X 130 ft lot. It also was a reported building collapse on November 21st, 2013. That seems consistent with the google street views that are dated in 2011 and my pictures that are from the summer of 2014. You can go here for more information. I’m not sure when it became abandoned but I am curious to know.