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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

An embattled neighborhood: Yeatman, Yateman, Jeff-Vander-Lou?

Norbury Wayman's History of St. Louis Neighborhoods calls it Yeatman, though this interesting AP article from December 1979 entitled "City Faces: Bringing Spirit to St. Louis" calls it Yateman. Today, it's Jeff-Vander-Lou.

Yeatman's boundaries were defined as Grand on the west, Delmar on the south, Jefferson on the east, and St. Louis Avenue on the north.

Begins the article:

Twice in his life, Macler Shepard had been bulldozed out of his home in downtown St. Louis -- because city planners and the federal government saw nothing worth saving in his declining neigborhood.

But when the bulldozers threatened him a third time, he decided to fight back.

That was 1966, and the federal policy known as "urban renewal" was demolishing some troubled neighborhoods and replacing them with high rise low-income housing.

To suggest, as Shepard did, that people just might want to preserve and renovate the structurally sound rows of three-story brick housing in St. Louis's Yateman neighborhood -- one of the worst areas in the city -- was plain heresy.

Now, 13 years later, Shepard's efforts have helped rescue Yateman from the wrecking ball and have sparked at least a partial revival of this predominantly black neighborhood near downtown St. Louis.

His neighborhood work was honored in November when he won a Rockefeller Public Service Award. The annual award is sponsored by John D. Rockefeller 3rd and is administered by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

Since Shepard began 13 years ago, 639 units of housing have been built or renovated, with another 215 to be completed in 1980. A shoe factory is part of $22 million in recent private investments in the area.

Eighty percent of the residents are black, but about two-thirds make at least $9,000 a year. In 1966, two-thirds of Yateman's residents were under the poverty level.

The article references that Yeatman (or Yateman) had slid in population from 72,000 in 1966 to the then-current figure of 50,000. Today's J-V-L, a larger neighborhood than the original Yeatman, can claim only 6,459!

Shepard is responsible for forming the 1966 neighborhood organization, Jeff-Vander-Lou, Inc., which later gave way to the current nomenclature. I guess I had never realized the name's origin:

"The name stands for the three thoroughfares by which people come from the suburbs to downtown St. Louis, earn their money during the day, and disappear at 4:30. The name was a way of saying that this is part of the problem," [Shepard] said in a telephone interview.

The J-V-L (Jefferson-Vandeventer-St. Louis Ave.) of today is faced with some of St. Louis's most pressing issues. It is one of the neighborhoods that Paul McKee, Jr. has systematically assaulted with demolition by neglect. Its spiritual landmark, the St. Alphonsus "Rock" Church on North Grand, nearly burnt to the ground last year. The former home of the Cardinals, at Sportman's Park, also on North Grand, will no longer be home to the Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club of St. Louis once work on Grand Center's Woolworth building is completed. Day by day, due to Blairmont blight and urban decay, the neighborhood continues to lose its irreplaceable building stock along with most residents who can afford to leave.

I wonder what Shepard would think of the track record of preservation in his neighborhood as of late.

There is one potential bright spot of the neighborhood: a sub-neighborhood called Lindell Park, which features beautiful homes. Lindell Park is centered around the area just east of Grand and Dodier. These three were home listings on Coldwell Banker Gundaker's website that are but three examples of the extant architectural gems of the north side, even J-V-L.

2923 Dodier, 63107 (Yours For $74,900)

3219 Hebert, 63107 ($125,500)

3501 University, 63107 ($62,500)

Let's hope that the encroaching Blairmont presence won't compromise the lovely and mostly intact Lindell Park.

P.S. The doors on some of these homes are fodder for another post...

[EDIT (2/3/08): Thanks for the linkage, Random Talk on Urban Affairs! One of your astute commenters noted a major gaffe of mine. Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls is not moving from their facility on North Grand. In fact, I'm told, they're expanding! I had them confused with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri, which will be moving into the Woolworth Building. If you're not satisfied with my summation of evidence minus this error, then look to the disappearance of the corner of St. Louis and Glasgow, a once great intersection. But I guess that's McKee related. Ah well. I give up. McKee is bad enough. No need for a long list of ailments when you've got a secretive speculator in your midst!]


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