Hustle City and the St Louis Ghetto Story
In a city known to the locals as Hustle City with a reputation that may make some people afraid, the city of St. Louis, as well the urban areas of St. Louis County, is iconic for many reasons.
Downtown North St Louis
Just north of the Arch, Busch Stadium, and other downtown St. Louis attractions is the heart of the streets of Downtown St. Louis, a small section along Cass Avenue on the city’s North Side.
In Downtown St. Louis, the community was centered around public housing complexes that were first constructed during the 1940s and 1950s as a replacement to the former communities of Mill Creek Valley and Desoto Carr.
Mill Creek Valley and DeSoto Carr were some of the city’s first black communities until urban renewal construction and slum clearance destroyed the neighborhoods and relocated the residents into housing complexes and other neighborhoods of St. Louis.
With the city labeling DeSoto Carr as the worst St Louis ghetto neighborhood, multiple housing projects were built in the area like Carr Square, Cochran, Blumeyer, Pruitt-Igoe, George Vaughn, and Laclede Town, which was a mile away in the former Mill Creek Valley community.
Pruitt Igoe, which was one of the country’s largest housing complexes with 33 high rise buildings, was segregated with one half for white families and the other half for black families. Eventually, the large complex was demolished during the late 1970s due to the large amount of vacancies, which led to massive poverty and crime.
Before popular culture and individuals from Los Angeles introduced Bloods and Crips into the urban neighborhoods of St. Louis, the city was divided with homegrown cliques and neighborhoods, especially in the Downtown area with JVL Posse, VTO (Vaughn Takin’ Over), and the Thunderkats of Laclede Town.
After Pruitt Igoe’s demolishing, the focus of the community would be in the George Vaughn complex, home to VTO, Laclede Town, the Blumeyer, known as 33Blu for its location around the 3300 block of Delmar, and the Cochran Mob (or DTACC) around 8th Street.
Today, the Downtown community mostly consists of the Ofallon Place apartments (OPz), as well the small rebuilt section of Cochran. The vast majority of the area, from the old housing projects like Blumeyer and George Vaughn to the old blocks like Helen Street have been completely transformed by either being rebuilt or demolished.
St. Louis Kingpins of Downtown
The gateway city has had a long history with activity in the streets, which included violence, drugs and local corruption. What some may not realize, at least outside of the city, that history dates back to the 1970s, the era of the St Louis housing projects, drug wars and kingpins, like R. Scott or N. Sledge, mainly through heroin.
A notorious public housing high rise complex that was centered along Cass Avenue, known as Pruitt Igoe was also the center of St Louis’ heroin trade during the 1970s. This complex became one of the country’s most notorious neighborhoods as the housing project was infamous for neglect, poverty and crime until its demolishing during the late 1970s.
While Pruitt Igoe was the most known, the entire Cass Avenue area, which was filled with low income housing complexes like the George Vaughn, Blumeyer, and Cochran, was the heart of the streets, as well blocks around Delmar Boulevard, like an area known as the Stroll (formerly around Sarah and Olive).
Top 4 St Louis Kingpins
- J. Lewis Bey. Leader of the Moorish Science Temple, authorities claim that he was alleged to control the vast majority of drugs being sold in St. Louis, at least for over a decade. Some may say a government conspiracy took him down, but everyone familiar with the Lewis Bey name gives their respect for the control he had in the streets.
- Petty Boys/Brothers. The Petty Brothers street activity dates back to the 1960s, but their rise was through the 1970s in the JVL area, off Cass Avenue. The Petty Brothers were often feared and were major in the streets of St. Louis during the 1970s.
- D. Haymon. A rival of the Petty Brothers was also well respected and ran an organization highly profitable during the 1970s as he was known to frequent the Carr Square and Vaughn housing project area before turning his life around after serving 25 years.
- Fat Woods. Maybe the king of one of the country’s most infamous neighborhoods, Pruitt Igoe, at least before its demolishing during the late 1970s, ran with the likes of Killer Earl and made thousands daily.
The Ville, another famous historic black community of St Louis, was home to some of the country’s first all-black public institutions while once being home for Tina Turner, activist and comedian Dick Gregory, the creator of Rock music Chuck Berry, and many other famous and historic black residents.
After desegregation, with Taylor Blvd. being the once racial dividing line, many decided to leave the community, at least the ones who had the finances. This would later lead to the decline of the Ville, a large neighborhood that expands from the North Side to the West Side.
Expanding from Natural Bridge to Martin Luther King, or from Lexington to Aldine, and sitting between Marcus and Vandeventer, the Ville neighborhood is at times unnoticeable compared to its glory days.
The vacancy of homes and empty lots, especially south of S. Louis Avenue, almost plagues the entire community, despite the efforts to rebuild a few blocks in the community, which could be a sign of gentrification.
Starting in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and increasing during the 1970s and 1980s, black families began to move into the city’s North Side as white flight led white families into the North St. Louis County. Beginning in neighborhoods like O’Fallon Park and College Hill, and later expanding into Walnut Park and Baden by the 1970s and 1980s.
The reputation of St. Louis’ North Side began soon after, with each block adopting their own set, from along Broadway to around Grand Blvd. ‘Hoods like the OPAC (O’fallon Park Associate) home to Adelaide and 44Bud, Walnut Park’s BAD blocks (Beacon Alcott Davidson), College Hill’s DUB DST (20th & Desoto) and DUB JMV (20th & John), and many more.
Currently, with the vast majority of properties in North St Louis being vacant the bulk of the North Side’s population have either relocated into North County or South City St. Louis.
Gentrification is affecting many neighborhoods, especially along Cass Avenue and areas east of Grand Boulevard, as downtown St Louis has been completely transformed and neighborhoods less than miles of famous attractions in areas of Old North St Louis, Central West End, and Grand Center are the most sought after.
As very little rebuilding has been occurring in the many areas of North City that have been plagued vacant properties, leading many people to relocate from their former neighborhoods, the future of the North St Louis ghetto seems to be out of the urban community.
South St. Louis
With the process of gentrification taken over community after community, St Louis has many old ‘hoods that have become or becoming a memory to the streets of St Louis as many areas seem unrecognizable.
While North St. Louis is widely known, the streets and urban communities within the South St Louis ghetto have an untold story that is as interesting and like any other section of St Louis.
The South Side has traditionally always been predominantly white, especially west of Kingshighway Boulevard around Hampton Avenue, but there have been certain sections like Park Avenue that have been within St Louis’ urban and black community for generations.
Park Avenue was one the first black communities of South St Louis until much of the neighborhood was demolished decades ago only leaving the 3400 block of Park Avenue, even though the neighborhood was rebuilt during the 1990s and 2000s.
Further along Park Avenue, on the other side of Lafayette Park, is the most known section of the South Side ‘hood, an area by the name of the Peabody housing complex, or The Projects, along with the former Darst Webbe housing project.
The South Side community near downtown, from Grand Boulevard to Tucker Boulevard (12th Street), was once considered as a slum or the South St Louis ghetto, which led to the destruction of the Park Avenue neighborhood and the slum clearance of the area that led the way for the Darst Webbe projects.
The Darst Webbe projects was a small number of high-rise housing projects based around Tucker Boulevard from Chouteau Avenue to Lafayette Avenue that was built during the 1950s and 1960s and demolished by the 2000s.
Today, what is left of the Darst Webbe projects are single family homes and rebuilt public housing around S. 13th Street, the Lasalle Park Village apartments and the old low rises of the Clinton Peabody housing projects.
Another historic all-black South St. Louis neighborhood, according to John Wright’s St Louis Disappearing Black Communities, was once known as Rock Springs that was around Boyle Avenue and Papin Street, on the other side of S. Grand from Park Avenue.
The neighborhood did not last long as the community was destroyed and demolished, probably forcing the community’s black population to move and relocate further down Tower Grove Avenue into two areas, McRee Town and along Manchester Avenue.
One neighborhood on the South Side that standouts is known to many as the Dark Side, due to its darkness at night as the neighborhood was almost pitch black, that sits between Tower Grove Avenue and Grand Boulevard and based around the 3900 blocks of Blaine Avenue and Mcree Avenue.
With its close location to downtown, St Louis University, the Botanical Gardens, and South Side’s middle-class neighborhoods, the entire neighborhood of the Dark Side has either been rebuilt, mainly between 39th and Thurman, or become filled with vacant apartment buildings and empty lots.
Much has changed as the streets of South St. Louis has grown out of the South City area that is near downtown and moved further into the South Side’s 3rd District, or the State Streets.
South of Interstate 44 is the other side of South St Louis, a side that has been constantly growing as people from North City, as well the older communities of South City, have been relocating into the South Side’s “State Streets”, which started during the 1980s and 1990s.
Currently, the urban community of South St Louis is constantly moving further south as the future may have the urban residents of South Side neighborhoods to move even further south. As year by year the community furthering towards the city and county boundary line into areas like Cardondelet, Lemay Ferry, or Mehlville.
West Side STL
From St. Louis City, between Natural Bridge and Delmar, to St. Louis County, communities south of Interstate 70 and west of Kienlen Avenue, the West Side has proven to be the heart of St. Louis.
The streets of West Side St Louis, before the arrival of the Los Angeles’ gangs of Bloods and Crips, were already well established with sets like the Stroll, around Sarah and Olive, or old school gangs like the Westside Rockers, Hardy Boys, and Boys of Destruction.
As the movie “Colors” brought the lifestyle of South Central into the spotlight, many people were fascinated by Los Angeles’ gang culture of Bloods and Crips, which in turn led to many neighborhoods to begin to identify with either of the two.
When gang members from a specific Blood or Crip set in Los Angeles made the trip to St. Louis for financial reasons they also brought their set into whatever community in St. Louis they were affiliated with.
This would help ‘hoods like 5-7 Cates, 5-9 Wabada, 13 BOD (1300 Boys of Destruction), 4-1 Del, or the 5-1 Skan to become Rollin’ 60 Crips, while every other section of the West Side within the city would adopt the Bloods moniker to their ‘hood, like the Horseshoe and 1100 Hodiamont.
In St. Louis County, Bloods and Crips expanded into the numerous of neighborhoods along Natural Bridge and Page Avenue. Neighborhoods like Pagedale, Hillsdale, Pine Lawn, which became known as the Pit and PLO (Pine Lawn Organization) with various sections, or the often called the Dead End or 6400 of the small city of Wellston, which has been known for conflicts with other neighborhoods like 5-9 Wabada, police corruption, and problems that have plagued the area for years.
History of the West Side
Before the vast majority of the West Side neighborhoods became predominantly African-American, Taylor Boulevard served as the racial dividing line with neighborhoods like the Ville and Finney Avenue being the only areas designated for black families.
By the 1960s, African-Americans were beginning to move into these once segregated communities starting in neighborhoods like the West End, along Goodfellow Boulevard, or into St. Louis County communities like Pagedale or Wellston.
By the 1980s, expanding all the way towards Interstate 170 the entire West Side became a key part to St. Louis’ black population and African-American community as the majority resided in a West Side neighborhood.
Currently, gentrification is affecting all communities and sections of the West Side, even the neighborhoods that are not experiencing any sort of rebuilding.
The effects in St. Louis city can be seen as neighborhoods have been seem purposely left to deteriorate as the lack of upkeep has provided the West Side of the city with hundreds of vacant lots and abandoned homes that will soon be demolished or renovated, but not in the near future, especially as the West Side neighbors the Central West End, Delmar Loop and other iconic areas.
With the lack of available properties many are relocating into either the far South Side or into North St. Louis County with the fate of the community seeming to bring a future of a change in the local demographics, racial and/or financial.
North St. Louis County
Before the 1970s, African-Americans only lived in Kinloch and Robertson, but during the 1970s communities like Berkeley and Hathaway North in the Black Jack area began gaining a black population.
From the 1980s and well into the 2000s, apartment complexes helped changed the racial makeup of North County as most of apartment complexes that were designed for lower income and working class black families were in areas between Parker Road and Lucas-Hunt.
The apartment complexes led white families to move into different sections of the St. Louis Metropolitan, sections like West County or St. Charles County. For several reasons, whether it was a fear of crime, property values decreasing, or not wanting to be around black residents.
By the 2000s, North County, which was predominantly white before the 1980s, became predominantly African-American with exception to the cities of Florissant, Hazelwood, and certain specific parts of Ferguson.
Kinloch and Black History of St. Louis County
The city of Kinloch was once a thriving all-black community as this small city located in North St Louis County has been called the oldest black community west of the Mississippi.
Kinloch was once a bi-racial community with white and black families living together, before the 1930s. When Kinloch’s black residents pushed for a high school for the city’s black children, Kinloch’s white citizens became quite upset with the idea of building a new school as they have been trying to split the district among racial lines.**
This led to the creation of the city of Berkeley, Missouri during the late 1930s, even though the city of Berkeley would become predominantly African-American by the 1970s, while also around that time the city of Kinloch’s school district became part of the Ferguson-Florissant school district along with Berkeley.**
While Kinloch is the most known historic all-black community in St. Louis County, it was not the only one as there were all-black communities in Meacham Park of Kirkwood, Robertson, and a small section of Webster Groves.
The community of Robertson dated back to the 1800s, while being the home to former slaves and by the early 1900s many black families moved into an area that was originally a rural farm community.**
The community of Robertson, which was once near the current cities of Hazelwood and Bridgeton, has since been demolished with the airport expansion buying out the community Robertson, leaving the entire neighborhood vacant.
Meacham Park, a small community in West St. Louis County along Big Bend Road, has been part of St. Louis’ black community since the early 1900s. During the 1990s, the community of Meacham Park became annexed into the city of Kirkwood, which changed the area into what it is today.**
Many people felt misused by the city of Kirkwood as much of the community became overtaken by strip malls and shopping centers, while the main purpose of joining the city of Kirkwood was hoping they would receive benefits that could provide support to the community.
Meacham Park is currently the only original black community that is still around, even though Kinloch is officially still a running city its appearance presents the city as if it is not functioning.
After the airport expansion buyout, which begun during the 1980s, majority of the homes in Kinloch were demolished, only leaving low-income housing complexes within the area. While there were once around four or five housing complexes in Kinloch, only one is left, a small complex on Suburban as today’s Kinloch is wasteland and often used as a local dump site.
Kinloch’s transformation is slowly turning the city into an industrial park as large warehouses are taking over a large portion of this once historic community. Ultimately, the destruction of the community led to a displacement of residents as the people of Kinloch relocated to different communities throughout North County.
North County was once a place where all of St Louis’ white families moved to when they decided to leave the city of St. Louis for the suburban neighborhoods in the county, as much of the area was developed between the 1950s and 1970s.
Present Day North County St Louis
Currently, with the gentrification in the city of St. Louis, the older black communities of North St. Louis County are declining with a lack of upkeep and a vacant housing crisis as more people are moving and relocating into North County from the city.
The move further into St. Louis County is having middle-class black families to relocate into St. Charles County or parts of West St. Louis County, especially black families that were the first to move into St. Louis County during the 1980s and 1990s.
With the city of St. Louis changing, North St. Louis County is slowly declining as most of the shopping areas, restaurants, and other businesses have either gone elsewhere or went out of business.
Towns in St. Louis County, especially ones that are next to the city-county line, are becoming more and more dilapidated, apartment complexes along West Florissant and in Spanish Lake are becoming the modern-day housing projects, and the lack of businesses outside of liquor and convenient stores is needed.
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*Note: All information is provided through people of the community, outside sources, and research. Some information might not be current and/or 100% accurate.