Arrested Development

A look at north St. Louis from ground zero.

Habitat's project is one of several efforts to turn JeffVanderLou around. In 1999 the neighborhood received a $5 million grant from the Danforth Foundation to create a master plan that covered planning and development, as well as provide social services. Around the same time, various donors were raising $8 million for The Vashon Education Compact to support students bound for Vashon High School. Vashon's new building on 27 acres at Cass and Glasgow avenues opened in 2002.

The JeffVanderLou plan was like a marketing vehicle, says Sal Martinez, executive director of Community Renewal and Development, an organization formed to follow through on that master plan. From an office on Bacon Street, Martinez works closely with Fifth Ward Alderwoman April Ford-Griffin. He sets up events such as a back-to-school fair and talks to people who could invest in the neighborhood.

Martinez, who is also a member of the St. Louis Housing Authority Commission, lists a number of projects that have brought new housing and conveniences to the Fifth Ward, which includes a portion of JeffVanderLou: the $11 million, 186-apartment housing complex for the elderly called Sullivan Place; 85 new homes north of Cass Avenue by Choate Construction; nine new affordable houses on Hebert Street by Pyramid Construction; 220 former HUD-owned apartments, renovated and rented to low-income people; a Walgreens coming to Grand Avenue at Martin Luther King Boulevard.

Teresa Reynolds watched a crew of men take bricks from this house on city-owned land just one block west of her home on Howard Street. Brick-stealing is common in north-side neighborhoods that have an abundance of vacant property.
Jennifer Silverberg
Teresa Reynolds watched a crew of men take bricks from this house on city-owned land just one block west of her home on Howard Street. Brick-stealing is common in north-side neighborhoods that have an abundance of vacant property.
Three north St. Louis neighborhoods.
Three north St. Louis neighborhoods.

"The thought that nothing's happening, and we're just waiting for a white knight to come in on a horse is ridiculous," Martinez says.

Martinez has never met McKee. He says he doesn't understand why the developer doesn't try to reach out to the city's aldermen. Other developers, he says, will set up meetings before they even buy land. "It wouldn't make a whole lot of sense to buy land without the support of the community." Most development-related proposals require legislation, whether they involve tax abatement or converting an old warehouse to residences. Says Barb Geisman: "If the alderman does not want to sponsor the legislation, you're beating your head against the wall."

As a resident who drives out of the city to Brentwood to take her kids back-to-school shopping, Riddick's needs are simple: "More stores, less liquor stores." And she doesn't mind if those stores are the same national chains found in the suburbs. "They're getting ready to put a Walgreens in at MLK and Grand — and I think that's great," she says.

Teresa Reynolds tries to maintain 2224 Howard Street as her parents would, though she's not quite sure how to tend to her father's roses. "He'd be here all the time, cutting this and cutting that," she recalls. "When you're a kid, you ain't really paying attention," she says. The roses are a lot of work, but, she says, "I refuse to destroy them because he spent so much time on them. That was his pride."

Josepheus and Ann Marie Reynolds bought their house in 1962 after living in the Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex. Their daughter, Teresa, was four years old at the time. She remembers running up and down the stairs, into the house and back out to the street, amazed by its spaciousness. The Reynoldses eventually had six children, three boys and three girls, who occupied the two bedrooms upstairs. The dining room on the first floor became the master bedroom. Reynolds says her brothers turned the basement into a teenager's lair, with a black light and posters.

Josepheus Reynolds was a police officer and dedicated member of St. Bridget's Church on Jefferson Avenue. St. Bridget's pastor helped her parents and several others in the neighborhood buy their houses, Teresa Reynolds says. Reynolds moved in with her parents about eight years ago, when her younger daughter was a toddler. First her father, who suffers dementia, moved out to live with another sibling. Her mother followed when she could no longer negotiate the front steps. Ann Marie asked Teresa to stay in the house, but she does not share her daughter's nostalgia. "She said she got out of it what she wanted — which was some place to get out of the rain."

Though Howard Street looks nothing like it did in her childhood, Reynolds says, "I love this neighborhood." Reynolds' own house is 113 years old, but she doesn't have the money to maintain it herself. She's been unemployed for three years and is nearing the end of the five-year lifetime limit on federal welfare checks. She has been taking classes at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park, but that hasn't helped fix her car. Not having a car is really what has kept her from taking jobs that all seemed to be in the county, she says.

Reynolds' situation would be dire if it weren't for living in her parents' house. She wonders how long her mother can put off selling, especially when someone is mailing out offers to buy. That's why she wasn't very happy to receive the same postcard all her neighbors had been talking about. "I wanted to call the lady and tell her, 'Who told you to send this?'" Reynolds says. "But it's not my property."

Without her parents' home, Reynolds is not sure what she would do. "It makes me think about it a lot more, now that my neighbors are going."

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