**Update 1/20/10-Just as I suspected, there are groups working in WPE to improve the neighborhood. One such group working for positive change in WPE has conatacted me and agreed to lead me on a tour of some of their work. I plan on updating my post on WPE following this new information and perspective.**
Walnut Park East (WPE) is a north St. Louis neighborhood bound by West Florissant Ave to the north I-70 to the south, Emerson Ave to the east and Riverview Blvd to the west.
Both Calvary and Bellefontaine Cemeteries confine the neighborhood to the north and a huge industrial area to the south of I-70. Both Walnut Park East and West combined to form a single link on the city's website. It's content is scant, but it does say this:
"The neighborhood proximity to major thoroughfares and interstate and the availability of public transportation provide easy access to shopping, services, and employment opportunities. The housing in this neighborhood is a combination of brick and frame single-family dwellings. Most were build between 1900 and 1930 by German immigrants. In addition, the neighborhood is supported by several churches and community groups. The area is home to many young families. Residents throughout this neighborhood are working together to strengthen and build their community. In response to the housing development needed by the neighborhood, Operation ConServ has established a community-based, not-for-profit housing corporation. Many residents have formed block units providing the opportunity to meet and to discuss ways to improve the area's surroundings."
As you may be able to grasp from the above entry, this place is struggling. Frankly, the housing stock that exists in WPE was probably never anything out of the ordinary or special in any way. Working class, small, mostly frame houses were built here. The brick bungalows that were built here are not in great enough numbers to be impactful or stand out. The housing in WPE is not really similar to any other neighborhood I've visited so far. Meaning, the structures just aren't that special. This is not as true for Walnut Park West, but I'll get to that in a separate post.
So, I don't like to kick a dog when it's down but I must be honest in saying this is the least intriguing neighborhood I've seen so far. Very little hope exists here. Dumping is rampant. I suspect crime is high here. Even if every home in the neighborhood were well maintained, and nicely cared for, it wouldn't be anything special. It doesn't seem to share any qualities that make other St. Louis neighborhoods unique and worth saving. To say the place has seen better days is honest. In fact, it looks like the people that choose to live here are willing to tolerate a lot of trash, filth, burned down homes, unkempt properties, etc. Some photos:
I couldn't find anything that spawns just too much hope, or signs of improvement or positivity. I couldn't find anything of any major historical significance, or any buildings that were really worth stopping and looking at with the exception of the Confluence Academy Walnut Park campus and the San Fran Christian Assembly Multiplex near Emerson between Thekla and Harney:
Confluence is a charter school. You can hear from the teachers about what this school brings to the neighborhood here. The school is on the former site of Cardinal Ritter Preparatory Academy.
I can't find any relevant info on the current use of the San Francisco Christian Assembly Multiplex building. It may have been the home of St. Mary's Female Orphan Asylum as early as 1909. If anyone has any info on this place, please comment or email me. I'd like to know more about it. Here's all I could find on the web:
This facility accepted Catholic girls ages 5 to 12 years. In 1859, it merged with St. Ann’s Infant Asylum.
1846 10th & Biddle Sts.
1853 11th & Marion Sts.
1900 15th & Clark Sts.
1909 Emerson & Harvey Aves. Source
I'm sorry if my description of WPE sounds too dire, but my opinion is that this is not a nice place; I can't see the area being invested in or gentrified anytime soon. Frankly, it wouldn't be a special place even if it was taken care of and pridefully cared for. It's depressing. Hamilton Heights and Visitation Park would be stunningly beautiful places if all the homes were saved/rehabbed and good infill was constructed. Not the case here in WPE.
I can't imagine who would choose to live here with so many affordable housing options available in nicer places within the city. And, I'm not off base in posing that question, as this neighborhood has bled residents from 1990 to 2000. A 27% decrease in residents occurred in that 10 year span. And in my observation of U.S. Census data from 1990 to 2000, it's unfair to use the term white flight when referring to St. Louis City population trends in the last 20 years. The white population seemed to have left in "white flight" numbers well before 1990. Whereas now, the mass exodus out of city neighborhoods, mainly on the north side, are from black flight. And who can blame you for leaving? In WPE, the population from 1990 to 2000 went from 210 white people down to 78; for blacks it went from 7133 down to 5197. In 2000, 97% of WPE residents were black. There claimed to be an 81% housing occupancy rate split 64/36% owned/rented. This is surprising to me based on my observations today, as most homes seem uninhabited, boarded up and/or burned. I would expect the numbers to look as bad or worse in the 2010 census data. Updated: my assumption was correct as another 21% packed it up.
Please correct me if you are familiar with the neighborhood and have opinions to the contrary. Or, if you have examples of positivity to share regarding WPE, please do. I'm sure there are church based organizations and such working hard to help those that choose to call WPE home, it's just these efforts were not immediately apparent to me on my tour today.