Abandonment East St. Louis, Illinois

Elks Club / East St. Louis Public Library

by Michael R. Allen

In 2000, the East St. Louis Public Library left behind its cramped old building at 409 North Ninth Street for a spacious new building on the western end of State Street. Fifty years earlier, such a move could have been seen as a flight from the aging inner city and into the newer parts of town. Instead, the move was purely pragmatic — yet not without pathos of an unexpected sort.

The Public Library left at least 10,000 books behind, as well as magazines and record albums. Making matters worse, no one realized these items were left behind for almost four years.

During this time, the left-behind items endured the ongoing damage the old library building has sustained: broken windows, water infiltration and the carelessness of numerous squatters. A few thousand volumes are too moldy to save. Much of the neglected collection was already unusable when library director Cynthia Jones discovered their location. A patron’s request for a missing item led staff to the discovery that so many items were missing that they had to have been left behind when the library moved.

A citizen’s group organized by Reginald Petty recovered 3,000 volumes in summer 2004 before East St. Louis Mayor Carl Officer pledged to put city government resources to work to save the remainder of the abandoned collection. Unfortunately, his pledge has not been fulfilled; the continuous upheaval in city government has stymied any efforts on his part to save the volumes. Thus the abandoned books in the abandoned library were found and then lost again.

Photo taken on May 8, 2005.

The old library building was the second home for the East Saint Louis Public Library, purchased by the city government from the East St. Louis Elks Club in 1927 for $150,000. The Elks Club built the building around the turn of the century for their meeting house.