The City Fights Back (1960)

     In the late 1950s, St. Louis Mayor Raymond Tucker continued in a long line of St. Louis mayors by clearing an area considered a blighted slum, Mill Creek Valley.  While there is little doubt that Mill Creek Valley would be considered blighted by anyone’s measure, St. Louis’ track record of renewing these areas is decades of cleared land before any redevelopment occurred.

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Side View of a Building in the 3800 block of Labadie Avenue

     The first large-scale land clearance was the late 1930s and early 1940s demolition of the tenements and warehouses, which once populated the St. Louis Riverfront.  Like the Mill Creek Valley and Chestnut Valley clearances, St. Louis took advantage of federal grants to clear the area.  With the exception of the Old Cathedral, the Riverfront sat vacant for twenty years until the Gateway Arch was built in the 1960s.

     KTVI Channel 2, St. Louis’ ABC affiliate in 1960, documented the cities efforts at urban renewal in the documentary, The City Fights Back (1960).  The documentary captured how badly the structures in the area had deteriorated.  The documentary is an interesting look at the problem.  However, the narrator uses an outdated term to refer to African-Americans, which can be offensive.  It also strongly argues for land clearance, which has been shown to be problematic.

     Unfortunately, you can find buildings in the same condition today.  The building below from the 3800 block of Labadie Avenue resembles the building in the background behind the narrator.

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Rear View of a Building in the 3800 block of Labadie Avenue in St. Louis, MO – Courtesy of Geo St. Louis

     While there are no easy answers for addressing deteriorating housing in a city of 300,000 residents, when it was built for 900,000 residents.  You have a recipe for a lot of vacant buildings and properties.  Hopefully, whole sale demolition will be rejected.  As we have seen in the past, the results are poor.

     The Mill Creek Valley area remained vacant for almost 50 years.  In St. Louis, it was called “Hiroshima Flats” because it looked like the area had been leveled by a bomb.  Due to the expansion of two universities and a brokerage firm, the area is finally started to build out again but it did not start until the 21st Century.  Not what Mayor Tucker and the urban planners thought would happen, when this documentary was made.

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