Laclede Town Remembered

by Michael R. Allen

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.

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  • Anonymous

    I spent the summer of 1970 in LaClede Town.  It was indeed a fabulous place.  I will never forget the sense of community.  I was very sad to hear of its demise!

  • P. Jones

    I lived in Laclede Town in the 70′s and it was a wonderful place to live. I’m very sad that Laclede Town is no longer. Living in that community gave me a sense of belonging. It was made up of wonderful people, people of many different cultures, beautiful little buildings, and it was a safe all American place to live. I feel so lucky to have experienced living there. I’ve never found another Laclede Town and probably never will. So sad it’s gone.