The 2000 census counted 8,189 residents (27% decline from 1990) of whom 99% were black. There were 4,221 housing units that were 76% occupied, split 49%/51% owner/renter. Another whopping 24% packed it up and moved as the 2010 census counted only 6,189 residents. Brutal flight by any measure. You know what though, the scene was pretty active on my ~3 hour visit. There are a lot of people still living here, just lot and lots of fallow ground...many gaps of missing teeth in what was once a beautiful smile. I can only imagine what the Greater Ville must have been like when this was a bustling, successful neighborhood.
This seems to be another neighborhood with an identity crisis, it could simply be called the Ville, no? In fact, the neighborhood link on the city website does link to the Ville's site for information.
This has got to be one of the most neglected and struggling parts of town. I love it here and hate it here all at the same time. I can't sum it up in writing how I feel when I read about the great history of places like the Ville and then go visit them and see the overwhelming decay and negativity.
Here are some words from 4th Ward Alderman Samuel Moore on the subject of the Greater Ville as a once thriving black neighborhood:
“We had black educators at the Sumner campus and Turner schools. We had the Tandy Community Center, a hotel, dentists and doctors, hamburger places, shoe repair shops, a store on every corner and several movie theaters,” Moore recalled. “It was a pretty vibrant community. We never had to leave the area to be serviced.”I will show examples of the aforementioned "eminent decline" and delinquency as well as try to highlight some of the positive developments. And for the record, most of the institutions he's talking about are not in the Greater Ville, rather the Ville. Hey don't blame me, I didn't draw the boundaries of the current 79 neighborhoods...I'm just following the city's designations.
During the years of restrictive segregated housing and education, the Ville was a solid black community. Thriving institutions like Sumner High School, Antioch Baptist Church, the Annie Malone Children’s Home, and Homer G. Phillips Hospital provided the neighborhood with robust economic activity and senses of safety, pride and stability.
Homer G. Phillips Hospital, Moore said, was the economic engine of the neighborhood. “That’s where most of the jobs were.” The closing of the hospital in the late 1970s signified the neighborhood’s eminent decline. (source)
Anyhow, let's start with the positives to help illustrate the point that no matter how bad the recent history and current state of affairs...preservation and dignity are possible with a lot of gumption, workmanship and money.
You've got to start with Dick Gregory Place as the prime positive in the Greater Ville.
There is an excellent write up from a 2008 VanishingSTL article with the title "Dick Gregory Place on the Brink of Devastation" and then an updated story from April, 2011 titled "Resurrection on Dick Gregory Place". The differences are a testament to the fact that no matter how bad things get, there can be a saving grace with the dedication, time, money and ambition. The Greater Ville and many other neighborhoods in St. Louis need this kind of investment and fast if we're ever to turn the tides of massive population losses seen here (4,211 people lost in 20 years). Many old homes are being tastefully rehabbed and new side walks and other infrastructure being added.
Northsider, again with quotes from 4th Ward Alderman Samuel Moore:
Other projects coming soon will further fuel the momentum of revitalization, Moore said. Plans are underway for a new minimall, a Barber and Beauty College, an apple orchard, the construction of new Masonic Temple and a Homer G. Phillips College of Osteopathic Medicine. More said he’s also working to bring a major grocer and bank to the 4th Ward.A major grocer would be HUGE for this area as the options are limited to mostly junk food snack shops and liquor stores. One of the obvious and unfortunate by-products of run down neighborhoods is the lack of access to affordable, healthy foods. The Greater Ville is a good example of a food desert; so talk of a "major grocer" would be great for the area. An apple orchard? Very interesting. I could not find this orchard and the 3 people I spoke to on the street had no idea where this was going in or is if it even exists. This is my best guess, but don't hold me to it:
Yet, clearly new construction is not the silver bullet as some of these said places are already abandoned and boarded up:
But damn it, there are nice stretches of homes, as nice as anywhere in the city. Especially Sullivan Avenue right across from Farragut School and parts of St. Louis Avenue. Here's what I mean:
Episcopal Bishop. He founded the Lively Stone Church of God in 1934. His radio ministry program, "Voice in the Wilderness" was heard in Missouri and Kentucky. His ministry spanned over 53 years. He became Diocesan of the 12th Episcopal District of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World during that time. Warne Avenue in St. Louis (a location for two of his churches that were joined by a pedestrian crosswalk known at the "Chapel of the Sky") was renamed in his honor. (bio by: Connie Nisinger) (Source)Anyhow, the homes along Natural Bridge are true beauties. They are in varied states of repair, but man the potential is huge. Some of these stately homes overlook Fairground(s) Park which I have to say was bustling with positive activity including joggers, dog walkers and people meeting for early morning tennis before it heats up.
Check out the parapets on these storefronts and how the residencies are set back...classic:wikipedia:
The J.D. Shelley family had moved from Starkville, Mississippi in 1930, fleeing from racially-motivated violence. After renting for a time, the Shelleys sought to buy the house at 4600 Labadie in 1945. The house was under a 1911 covenant that prohibited the sale of the house to anyone of the "Negro or Mongolian race" for a fifty year period, of which the Shelleys were unaware. The Shelleys were sued by the Louis D. Kraemer family, owners of other property on the street, to restrain the Shelleys from taking title to the property. While the trial court held for the Shelleys, the decision was reversed by the Missouri Supreme Court in 1946. The Shelleys appealed to the United States Supreme Court in 1947. The U.S. Office of the Solicitor General filed, for the first time in a civil rights case, an amicus curiae ("friend of the court") brief in support of the Shelleys. The May 3, 1948 decision rendered all racially restrictive covenants unenforceable on the grounds that enforcing them would violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.Amazing history in our fair city! Here's what the home looks like today (the one to the left):
Another institution in black culture, the St. Louis Argus calls the Greater Ville home. It's an African-American oriented weekly newspaper founded in 1912 by brothers J. E. and William Mitchell. The Argus is the oldest continuous black business in St. Louis. (source).