(Above, Satellite imagery of Mill Creek Valley, 1958)
Block 1017- 1940 vs. 1950
In his piece, “Black Archipelago: Politics and Civic Life in the Jim Crow City” Joseph Heathcott, Associate Professor of Urban Studies at the New School in New York City, wrote that despite tremendous growth in black population of St. Louis before and especially during the Second World War, the fledgling black population was hemmed in. The neighborhood that saw the largest increase in residents during the first half of the 20th century was Mill Creek, bounded by Grand on the west, 21st on the east, Olive at the northernmost edge and Atlantic or for many, the railroad tracks, on the south.
Using census data from 1940 and 1950, we can analyze how block one block, 1017 was impacted by the war. First, the block saw a nearly a 32% increase in dwelling units, a reduction in vacancy and an increase of nearly 40% in the number of persons per room over the decade. According to data gathered from both 1940 and 1950 block 1017 was majority non-white, a pattern consistent with much of the Mill Creek neighborhood. Further, data gathered illustrates that of the units for which data was available, a substantial number lacked indoor plumbing, this statistic held firm as the number of dwelling units increased from 1940 to 1950!
Below you can see what block 1017 looked like in 1909 according a Sanborn fire insurance map. While we don’t have block statistics for this decade (the Census started publishing block statistics in 1940) by counting the number of buildings on the map used to house people and comparing it to the data we do have from 1940 we can see how little changed in housing choices despite increasing numbers of people moving into the neighborhood. Specifically, using the first map we can count about forty six individual buildings marked as for use as homes or apartments (“D” for “dwelling”), the same exact number of structures noted by the census workers in 1940 for block 1017!
Between 1910 and 1940, the black population in St. Louis ballooned–according to the numbers in Heathcott’s chart, the percent increase over three decades was 147%. If block 1017 is indicative of nearby blocks in the Mill Creek neighborhood, rather than build new flats to accommodate the growing population, landlords simply subdivided their existing buildings. Worse, as landlords continued to subdivide in order to keep up with the pace of demand, it would appear according to the chart above that few landlords chose to install indoor plumbing. By 1950 despite a 30% increase in units over the previous decade, of the ninety-two units census workers analyzed, nearly 75% had no indoor plumbing.
The second image in the gallery below is that of a Sanborn fire insurance map for block 1017 from 1964. Cleared of all structures, the block sat vacant, one of a number of blocks in Mill Creek cleared as part of urban renewal between 1959-1960.
By 1966 the quasi social experimental development, Laclede Town, which brought together a community of young, integrated middle class families had been awarded a grant to expand east of Garrison and onto block 1017 (see image three, four and five). Still, despite a brief decade of success, garnering national awards for diversity and creativity in urban redevelopment, Laclede Town began to slip. The late 1970s saw fights between residents and management over rent, the 1980s brought crime and high vacancy. By the early 1990s the writing was on the wall. After being cleared of Laclede Town, block 1017 would eventually be redeveloped as part of the corporate expansion of Sigma-Aldrich.
(Above, Satellite imagery of Mill Creek Valley- 1968, USGS)
Note: Quality of the images below can be greatly improved by right clicking and opening in a new tab + zooming in.