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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Laclede Town Remembered

Photograph from the Place and Memory Project.

Byron Kerman altered me to the fact that Laclede Town now has its own page in the Space and Memory Project database. The abandoned vestige of Laclede Town stood long enough to muddy the history of what was a noble and thriving community development experiment in Midtown.

The Laclede Town page includes an essay by Dominic Schaeffer that addresses the later perception and the early reality of Laclede Town. Here's an excerpt:

Unfortunately, the abandoned, boarded-up houses stood far too long, leaving the impression to those passing by that it must have been a failure, "the end of an error." But to those of us who were there, it was by no means a failure. Far from it.

Laclede Town's success came as much from its social architecture as its physical design. In fact, architecturally Laclede Town was fairly middling for the 1960s. What distinguished Laclede Town from other urban renewal projects was that its layout accommodated gathering places -- a coffee house, pub and small businesses. Laclede Town had a "town circle" that may not have mimicked the organically-occurring retail hubs of old city neighborhoods at least provided the sorts of uses found in them. Thus, Laclede Town mixed uses, and had a gathering place inside of its boundaries. On top of that, the legendary manager of the project, Jerome Berger, spent more time working with residents than on cutting ribbons.

The result of the arrangement was that Laclede Town's residents could actually create community -- not "community" epitomized by sterile award-winning housing towers, or community enshrined in a pretty rendering on a developer's wall, but community that was happening within the development itself. That's the type of social life that makes urban places livable. That's something that must be able to happen architecturally as well as socially. Clearly, the architecture was not the only factor, because after Berger departed Laclede Town hit its decline and eventually fell abandoned.

10 comments:

jeem said...

There's also a Wikipedia article about Laclede Town, but it's very short and could use a bit of attention:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LaClede_Town

Chris said...

What's the true story about what happened to Laclede Town? Why was it torn down?

STLgasm said...

I remember seeing the boarded up buildings when I was younger, and I've talked to former residents who have fond memories of Laclede Town. It's such a shame that Mill Creek Valley was cleared only to be replaced by another wasted development.

barbara_on_19th said...

I've met quite a few former residents of Laclede Town who moved north into JVL or St Louis Place. They remember it fondly. Some of the residents of this section of the city are on their third urban renewal-removal. We have to stop doing this, it is like some strange addiction or cycle of domestic abuse.

Chris said...

If it was so wonderful, why was it torn down? People may have fond memories of the place from the 1960's and 70's, but I doubt few people have fond memories from the 1980's when it wracked by violent crime.

The Place + Memory Project said...

This is a great blog. While our work tends to focus on the meaning created by individuals through the remembered space ... we have a special love of the spaces themselves. Thank you for including us in this post about Leclede Town. -shea

ike said...

SLU is why. Before Laclede Town was torn down. You could not find a caucasian american north of Lafayette. SLU and Cardinal Glennon really changed the mid-south area. The area was allowed to be run down and gentrified. Giving SLU about 75% +/- and Harris Stowe the rest to keep them pacified. Great business!

john w. said...

Laclede Town's history can be written in three acts, with the first being the progressive promise of the 1960s, early signs of trouble in the 1970s, and the rapid decline into a ruin in the 1980s. There is only scant information available about Laclede Town, with some of the best coming from Benjamin Looker's book and Ramin Bavar's master thesis at Washinton University, and this is unfortunate considering how widely known the project is, and the lessons that can be learned from it. With NorthSide potentially looming, there are some parallels that could be drawn from the physical form, and this is why Laclede Town should remain current in today's discussion about what a neighborhood is, and what communities are.

Mark Reid said...

My family and I lived in LaClede town from 1970 to 1972, when I was 13 to 15. I have nothing but great memories and it was a period of my life when I was impressionable and flexible. It shaped who I am today and I believe my experiences are a core part of who I am. I'm proud to have lived in LaClede Town.

john w. said...

Though it was gone by the time I moved to St. Louis, I wish it were still here and as what it was in the early days of its existence.