The Purpose Of The Historical Project
Local Residents Lead the Charge to Preserve the History of St. Louis Place Neighborhood
In 2016, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) announced plans for construction of a new facility in north St. Louis City. This project impacted the area bounded by Cass Avenue (south), Jefferson Avenue/Parnell Street (west), Montgomery Street (north) and North 22nd Street (east). The project resulted in adverse impacts to properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places – St. Louis Place Historic District and Buster Brown Blue Ribbon Shoe Factory. As a result, Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 required that the neighborhood receive further study and documentation. A Programmatic Agreement between the NGA, City of St. Louis, Missouri State Historic Preservation Office, United States Army Corps of Engineers and other Consulting Parties was prepared, providing guidelines for meeting the requirements of Section 106. Per the Programmatic Agreement, a Neighborhood Consultant Committee (NCC) was created in 2016, consisting of displaced residents and their neighbors.
The NCC provided ideas for a public history project, hosted by this website. The public history project consisted of photographic documentation of the neighborhood, interviewing current and past residents about their memories of the project area, and creating content for memory markers surrounding the NGA complex. The NGA site is situated in the St. Louis Place neighborhood, which was partially developed as an upscale residential area during the late nineteenth century. Initially, the neighborhood supported wealthy residents who constructed grand dwellings, such as those on St. Louis Avenue. In later years, the area south of St. Louis Avenue was subdivided with more modest housing for middle- and working-class citizens. The neighborhood also supported businesses, schools, churches and industry. Much of St. Louis Place was inhabited by first- and second-generation immigrants – German, Irish, Italian and Polish. After World War II, the neighborhood’s residential composition began to change rapidly when postwar prosperity and automobiles spurred the development of modern housing, shopping centers and sprawling factories. Middle- and upper-class white residents exited the inner city in droves, replaced by African Americans – many of whom had been displaced by urban renewal in Mill Creek Valley. By the 1960s, St. Louis Place was primarily inhabited by African American families. The community thrived through the 1970s, supporting a dense fabric of single- and multi-family housing, schools, churches, businesses, community centers and light industry. Immediately south of St. Louis Place was the City’s largest public housing project, Pruitt-Igoe, completed in 1954. The high-rise complex was intended to house up to 15,000 residents – black and white.
Lack of funding and poor planning proved disastrous for Pruitt-Igoe, which became a haven for vacancy and crime. More successful were the public buildings constructed to support Pruitt-Igoe’s residents – Crunden Branch Library, Jefferson-Cass Health Clinic and Pruitt School. When businesses began to close in the 1970s, and neighbors moved away without being replaced, the neighborhood began to steadily decline. Despite the losses, some families continued to call the NGA site home until they were required to move in 2016. The NCC history project is dedicated to those who shared their stories, photographs and memories. The City is indebted to those who lived in the NGA footprint and the NCC, which brought the history project to fruition.