Penrose Neighborhood Overview

Information concerning the neighborhood history, characteristics, institutions and organizations, planning and development.


The Penrose neighborhood is located on the north side of the city just south of Interstate 70 and west of O’Fallon Park. It is bounded by Florissant Avenue and I-70 on the North, Natural Bridge on the South, North Newstead and Pope Avenue on the East, and Kingshighway Boulevard on the West.


The Missouri Historical Society summarizes the history of Penrose inWhere We Live: A Guide to St. Louis Communities,as follows:

In the early nineteenth century, the area that now makes up Penrose was characterized more by land speculation than by actual settlement. The land took its name from Clement B. Penrose, whom Thomas Jefferson appointed land commissioner in 1805. Penrose lived on a nearby estate and was one of the region’s prime land investors. Another early land owner was statesman Henry Clay, a shaper of the Missouri Compromise. In the late 1880s, Penrose began to take on the contours of a community, when farmers and dairymen, most of German heritage, moved their families into the area. By 1900, the community, though still rural, was sufficiently settled to boast two German churches, St. Engelbert’s Catholic Church and Salem German Evangelical Church. With the 1920s, commercial development and transit lines raised land values around the northern edges of the city. Most of the Penrose subdivisions date from that era, when single family brick homes sprang up along Euclid, Shreve and Lee Avenues.

The early 1960s were years of transition for Penrose. As older residents moved out, African-American families moved in. The well-constructed houses were ideal for moderate-size families, offering many their first opportunity for home ownership. Middle- and upper-income African-Americans, including teachers, nurses and city and government employees, made Penrose their home. A significant number came from the Ville, located to the southeast and long the city’s premier African-American neighborhood. As Penrose’s African-American population increased from 33 percent in 1960 to 95 percent in 1970, African-American institutions helped solidify the neighborhood. St. Peter’s AME Church relocated to the corner of Shreve and Margaretta in 1962. In 1974, the Julia Davis Branch Library, its name honoring the well-known St. Louis educator, opened on Natural Bridge Avenue.

Penrose developed into a stable African-American middle-class neighborhood, but was nevertheless still "redlined." Residents of the neighborhood were discriminated against by financial institutions because of the neighborhood’s location north of Delmar and were not able to get loans or insurance for their properties. In 1981, a chapter of Neighborhood Housing Services was started with the help of St. Engelbert’s Church. By 1989, this nonprofit partnership of residents, businesses, and government had made nearly $1 million in home improvement loans, much of it to senior citizens with modest incomes.

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