The Homes Jack Destroyed

In the 'hood from hell, they're not urban pioneers -- they're survivors

A mapmaker might look at the concrete patch that marks the end of the 4400 block of Vista Avenue and think cul-de-sac. But from street level, taking in the crime rate, property values and recent exodus of residents, it's nothing but a literal and figurative dead end.

The "Street Not Thru" sign at the eastern entrance of the block might be more accurately be rephrased "Street Definitely Through," as in finished. A drive-by windshield survey of the houses on and around Vista, west of Newstead Avenue and south of Manchester Avenue in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood, reveal the usual markers of urban abandonment -- the letters "L R A" stenciled across board-ups, "No Loitering" signs posted on front porches and the occasional attempt at grim humor, such as the window on Norfolk Avenue with the warning "Never Mind the Dog, Beware of Owner," complete with the image of a gun pointed outward.

In a one-year period, from June 1999 through July of this year, police received 108 calls for help from the 4400 block of Vista. The calls included 21 assaults, 20 burglaries, two shootings, seven reports of shots being fired and various instances of domestic disturbance and drug activity. The vast majority of those calls involved 18 properties on that one block owned by one man, Jack Krause.

A view to a kill: 4485 Vista Ave.
Jennifer Silveerberg
A view to a kill: 4485 Vista Ave.
Residents of the beleaguered Forest Park Southeast neighborhood trace many of the neighborhood's problems to one property owner. "They feel overwhelmed," says Brian Wilson, a city neighborhood-stabilization officer.
Residents of the beleaguered Forest Park Southeast neighborhood trace many of the neighborhood's problems to one property owner. "They feel overwhelmed," says Brian Wilson, a city neighborhood-stabilization officer.

People who have moved away from the block in despair and people who continue to live nearby in disgust believe Krause's real-estate dominance and the block's troubles are more than mere coincidence. Krause is not the classic absentee landlord, however. As co-owner of Jenkin-Guerin Inc., a lubricant business located at 4480 Hunt Ave., Krause can see most of the 36 properties he owns by looking out the front door of his business. He bought those, including the 18 on Vista, over the past decade.

Current and former residents of the troubled neighborhood blame Krause for not screening his tenants, not properly maintaining his properties and being unresponsive to the neighbors' complaints. "The tenants he puts in those houses are like human wrecking balls -- they destroy the neighborhood," says Tom Blackwell, who lives one block south of Vista. Blackwell and other residents are in the midst of dealing with another Krause property at 4364 Hunt. Because that residence is part of the Section 8 housing program, which provides subsidies to low-income renters, Ald. Joe Roddy (D-17th) sent a letter of complaint to the state Housing Development Commission, which oversees Section 8. Many of Krause's properties are not Section 8. In Roddy's Jan. 24 letter, he stated, "Krause has several problem properties in the neighborhood; two of which have been found in violation of St. Louis City's Nuisance Ordinance."

Blackwell has stayed to fight the good fight, as has Kim Jayne, a high-school social-studies teacher at Roosevelt High School who lives two blocks north of Vista on Swan Avenue. Others have decided the battle is too costly and have left.

"The problem right now is, you've got small little islands of responsible land owners and tenants, and they feel overwhelmed," says Brian Wilson, who is assigned by City Hall to Forest Park Southeast as its neighborhood-stabilization officer.

Those islands appear to be getting smaller and less populated because, in this urban version of Survivor, it's not clear who survives -- those who stay on the island or those who get away. Unlike Blackwell and Jayne, 59-year-old Gloria Panchot is one who got away; she moved downtown.

Panchot, born and raised in the neighborhood, 27 years ago moved back into her parents' house in the 4400 block of Vista. She was living in that house in December 1999 when the city's nuisance ordinance was used to evict one group of tenants from a Krause property at 4459 Vista, only to have them move across the street to a different Krause property. Several burglaries, car break-ins and bullet holes in her roof pushed her to the point where what made her leave her home may seem ludicrous: "When they stole my back gate, I said, "That's it.' Just a plain fence gate; it's been up there for 40 years," says Panchot. "Nothing fancy, just a regular fence gate. That was it."

When an 82-year-old neighbor heard Panchot was leaving, she was upset. "When we told her I was moving, she said "What about me?' because we always kept an eye on her and watched over her," says Panchot. "She raised her family in that house. Just like me -- I was 10 years old when I moved into that house on Vista. I had to give up my house because of Jack Krause's tenants. That's terrible."

One couple, after numerous hassles, moved off the block this year, with plans to renovate their house and sell it, but after they moved, a fire of suspicious origin gutted the house.

Some of those who've elected to tough it out may be holding out for redevelopment to head their way. The section of Forest Park Southeast north of Manchester is beginning to see the signs of an overall neighborhood redevelopment plan being driven by Washington University Medical Center, Firstar Bank and McCormack-Baron. But even big players like Wash. U. and McCormack-Baron can raise suspicions among survivors in the 'hood, who fear their properties may be snatched from them against their will when redevelopment spreads south of Manchester.

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