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Thursday, April 28, 2011

New Documentary Spotlights Short Life of Pruitt-Igoe

Posted By on Thu, Apr 28, 2011 at 11:15 AM

  • Missouri History Museum

Those of you interested in local urban development and socioeconomic history might know of the upcoming Pruitt-Igoe reunion party, which celebrates (for better or for worse) the once-heralded north-city housing development that opened in 1954 to meet the public housing needs of an overcrowded St. Louis -- and was razed over a four-year period beginning in 1972.

To coincide with the reunion, the Tivoli Theatre will hold two screenings of a new documentary, The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, directed by Chad Freidrichs. Those screenings will be held May 11 and May 14.

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth explores the short life of the Minoru Yamasaki-designed housing project, which became "a potent national symbol of failure -- a failure that has been used to critique Modernist architecture, attack public assistance programs and stigmatize public-housing residents," according to producer Brian Woodman. The compound has become associated with vacancy, vandalism and crime. Even Yamasaki admitted that it was a project he regretted.

Many former residents, though, look back on their former home with fond memories, despite the shoddy conditions of a 33-building compound that sociologist Lee Rainwater once called a "human disaster area." (See "It Was Just Like Beverly Hills," from RFT's 2005 archives, which provides an overarching history of the project through the prism of the residents' 28th reunion.)

The film, which spotlights five former residents, tries to expel the stereotypes and myths surrounding the project within the larger post-war perspective of segregation, poverty and urban population decline. "Pruitt-Igoe is a really important part of St. Louis history that over years has largely been swept under rug," producer Brian Woodman tells Daily RFT. "We wanted to bring attention to it again and put it in a larger context, especially for residents. We thought people should understand that it wasn't the residents who were problem. In a lot of ways they actually kept it going."

Woodman says the film took four and a half years to produce. It has already played at a handful of festivals, winning the Best Documentary award in this year's Oxford Film Festival in Mississippi.

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