Abandonment Carondelet Industrial Buildings South St. Louis

Carondelet Coke Loader

The loader at Carondelet Coke, which dates to after 1950, stands to the east of the plan on the river. Its conveyor arm was a two-way device that could be lowered into a barge to unload coal and be raised to deposit coke into barges. The loader’s conveyor arm connects to a conveyor belt that runs underground in a tunnel connected to the coal and coke piles between the river and the railroad tracks.

Hospitals Peoria

Bartonville State Hospital

by Michael R. Allen

LOCATION: Bartonville, Illinois (directly south of Peoria)
OTHER NAMES: Peoria State Hospital for the Incurable Insane; Illinois General Hospital for the Insane; Peoria State Asylum/Hospital
DATE OF CONSTRUCTION: Existing buildings, 1902 – 1948

Aside from some well-told ghost stories, the history of the shuttered Bartonville State Hospital (BSH) near Peoria, Illinois has not attracted much research. This is a shame, because BSH has a significant role in the development of the Illinois state mental health system. The State of Illinois built the original mental hospital here, the Peoria State Hospital for the Incurable Insane, in 1887. The first building — which resembled a castle and was built on the Kirkbride model — ended up never being used. Built over a mine shaft, the building began sinking upon completion and eventually collapsed. The state cleared the land in 1897 and, under the direction of Superintendent George Zeller, began construction of a new hospital that opened in 1902. Zeller called for a radical re-dedication of the hospital plan: housing patients in 33 individual “cottage” buildings with administrative, medical and kitchen services centrally located. This “cottage plan” (also called the “segregate plan”) replaced the old ideal of the singular, self-contained asylum championed by Dr. Thomas Kirkbride in the nineteenth century with a campus that suggested free and open living for the patients.

Whether or not Bartonville lived up to Zeller’s ideal is uncertain. While Zeller refused to use restraints at Bartonville, there are numerous tales of abuse of patients. Yet the state was convinced of the success of the new form of mental hospital and later employed it in design of the Alton State Hospital, which opened in 1914 and the Manteno State Hospital (located south of Chicago in Manteno), which opened in 1929.

Bartonville’s own campus contains diverse architectural styles and sits on hilly ground, so it avoids the linearity of Manteno and other hospitals. The centerpiece of BSH is the severe Bowen Building, designed in a rare Italianate style that is executed in rusticated limestone. The Bowen Building housed the nursing staff quarters and administrative offices. Nearby stand the tile-roofed, Arts-and-Crafts kitchen and dining buildings. Farther behind these is a later powerhouse. Surrounding all of these large structures were the many Georgian Revival, one-story patient housing buildings and lots of open land. There was a farm and four cemeteries for patients, which are still extant on the grounds today.

The state of Illinois closed Bartonville in 1973 and auctioned its grounds to local developer Winsley Durand, Jr., who failed to do anything with the property. The city of Bartonville acquired the hospital land in 1986 and began redeveloping it as the “Bartonville Industrial Park.” While a few of the former cottage buildings saw reuse as warehouse and office space, most ended up demolished and replaced by new, bland one-story metal frame buildings. Fortunately, the city has never torn down the landmark Bowen Building or the nearby dilapidated dining and kitchen buildings. Thus the ground retain some invocation of mystery and historical dignity with the presence of these buildings, which were the most unique at BSH. Yet the kitchen and dining buildings are in various states of collapse and the Bowen Building has suffered decay recently and the loss of many dormers and cupolas as well as its three-story porch structure in an earlier remodeling.

More information (Note: While we don’t share the conclusions of the ghost sites on this list, they over invaluable anecdotal history of BSH.):
Historic Peoria: Bartonville State Hospital
Illinois Trails History and Genealogy: Bartonville State Hospital
Bartonville State Hospital
Illinois EPA: Former State Hospital Site Sealed, Secured
Prairie Ghosts: Bartonville (Peoria) State Asylum
The Shadowlands: Famous Hauntings

Images from May 2004:

Southampton Theaters

Avalon Theater

LOCATION: 4225 South Kingshighway Boulevard; Southampton; Saint Louis, Missouri
ARCHITECT: A.F. and Arthur Stauder
DATE OF ABANDONMENT: 1999 – present


Abandoned Buildings in St. Louis: Magic and Death

1. If one person looks another in the eye while sitting in the former cafeteria at the former Enright Middle School, the first person will begin shivering and the second person will go home angry but will not be able to explain why.

2. To ensure seven years of good luck, dance with your best friend in one of the two tallest buildings at Carondelet Coke. (If your best friend cannot make the date: you will be cursed with occasional acne for a period of three weeks or less, depending on the number of syllables in your best friend’s mother’s maiden name.)

3. [Archaic.] If a person stands in a hallway of the Tower of the City Hospital and hears a whistling sound, that person needs to repent for an injustice against a close relative. (Alternate version heard in Soulard Market: The whistling connotes imminent death.)

4. While standing in the locker room of the Armour Packing Plant, say the name of your beloved three times, then spit violently. That person will never stop calling you. To reverse this spell, you have to gather four rusty bolts of varying sizes and place them in your right shoe for two days before putting that shoe on and returning to the Armour Packing Plant. Then you must stand motionless on the roof for three minutes, and cannot think about any of these things: tax collection, leather, onion soup, sex with your loved one. You only have one chance to reverse this spell without having to actually take responsibility for your actions.

5. If a couple conceives a child in St. Mary’s Infirmary, they will name the child Jean or Lucinda if the child is female or Thomas or Lawrence if the child is male.

Clearance McRee Town South St. Louis

The Destruction of McRee Town: April 2004

by Michael R. Allen

Nearly every building in these photos taken on April 18 has since been demolished, never to be seen again. Considering such vast demolition on buildings is staggering. Further considering all of the loss in one-of-a-kind building materials makes one wonder how any contemporary city that would consent to such wanton destruction could be considered a healthy place to live. And this is just a very basic assessment of the loss of buildings. No one can yet know how much damage this demolition has wrought on the entire city fabric or upon the lives of the displaced residents.

Any building that escaped the demolitions of late spring 2004 would be gone by fall, including the Regal Foods store building (seen in the 3900 block of McRee below). The store — last remaining outpost of neighborly commerce in this neighborhood — was open into the beginning of April 2004.

Views from the 3900 block of Lafayette Avenue


Views from the 3900 block of McRee Avenue


Views from the 4000 block of McRee Avenue

Views from the 3900 block of Blaine Avenue

Views from the 4000 block of Blaine Avenue

Clearance McRee Town South St. Louis

The Destruction of McRee Town: Background


Saint Louis is in the midst of the most devastating wholesale land clearance project since the Mill Creek Valley demolition. The Missouri Botanical Garden has lead a coalition called the Garden District Commission in a successful effort to level much of the city’s downtrodden McRee City (later McRee Town) neighborhood for construction of a new, lower-density, more-expensive housing development called “Botanical Heights.” (McRee Town is located west of 39th Street, north of I-44, east of Vandeventer and south of Chouteau.) Around 240 buildings on six blocks in the blighted McRee Town neighborhood have been or will be demolished by the end of 2005. This dramatic process went ahead despite passionate opposition from people who advocated a holistic, urban redevelopment plan of the neighborhood that would have retained many existing structures and ensured that the neighborhood’ housing would stay affordable.

The McRee Town story portends a bleak future for city redevelopment. Wholesale clearance is once again an acceptable development tool, and nonprofit groups are leading the charge for its implementation. Watch out, Saint Louis. The landscape is going to break open, one way or another.

More Information

The City of St. Louis has posted a detailed and surprisingly balanced history of the neighborhood up to 1999: Five-Year Consolidated Plan Strategy: McRee Town. [LINK DEFUNCT]

St. Louis Commerce published an article in its November 2004 issue about the new Botanical Heights subdivision: Botanical Heights: McRee Town Lifts Itself to Higher Ground

A good overview of the story can be found in Shelly Smithson’s Riverfront Times article, The Greening of McRee Town.

Built St. Louis features more photos of the demolition.

West End Word reporter Tim Woodcock recounts his attempts to interview McRee Town residents in his article “When News Breaks”.


While the McRee Town boundaries are strictly Vandeventer Avenue to the west, Chouteau Avenue to the north, 39th Street to the east and I-44 to the south, only its 12 core residential blocks are in the area targeted by redevelopment plans. These are bounded by Tower Grove Avenue on the west, Folsom Avenue on the north, 39th Street on the east and Lafayette Avenue on the south.

The six blocks east of of Thurman are the blocks that the Garden District Commission is clearing completely for the “Botanical Heights” project. The six blocks west of Thurman are part of a second phase of redevelopment. No one is certain how much of those blocks’ buildings will survive.


Toward Politics as Signification Ritual, and Nothing Else?

by Michael R. Allen

The meetings of the Saint Louis Board of Education have devolved into an aimless political ritual. This assessment is born from the experience that the observer could have gathered at the April 27 meeting of the board, which consisted of some of the most uninspiring antics of the whole sorry spectacle that the new board majority began in April 2003. The underlying mission of the board majority has always been polarization of the discourse of the schools situation. Before the election of the Gang of Four corporate-backed members last year, the board already was in a state of crisis over how to rebuild (I avoid the tainted word reform) the flagging Saint Louis Public Schools.

While the board had seen some nasty fights, at no point did the board’s majority seek to take as their direct opponent the parents, teachers, students and staff of the district. The discourse of the board prior to April 2003 consisted of confused attempts by the four-person majority of longtime members, including William Purdy, to silence the three-person insurgent faction of reformers, which included Bill Haas (elected in 1997) and Rochell Moore (elected in 2001). This discourse was built on conflict, but was certainly not a monologue: the reformers got their points across, and came close to swinging votes in favor of their ways of making changes. Then, the big issues were over budget sizes and transparency of process. The reformers wanted to cut the bloated district budget to provide more direct services to students, and maintain a transparent political process that allowed the district’s actual constituents to have rights in decision-making.

Now, the discourse has been altered significantly. The phrase “budget cut” is more likely associated with and spoken by the school board majority and its most prominent members, former Mayor Vincent Schoemehl. The reformers are the ones the press accuses of hanging on to bloated and antiquated system—the very ones that they rhetorically assailed before. The majority’s members are posed as reformers, and have adopted the vocabulary of reform: “efficiency,” “results, “excellence,” “cutting waste,” etc. All the while, the old reformers have not really changed positions while the majority is actually an insurgent faction of members whose appropriation of vocabulary masks a mission to privatize much of the district’s functions and make the rest palatable to the influx of new affluent city dwellers who feel safer with corporate paradigms of government.

The reformers — now reduced only to Moore and Haas as their former ally Amy Hilgemann drifts in and out of alliance with the majority — are as true as ever to their old discursive challenge: they want the school board to accept the terms of its constitiution by the law, and to behave within certain bounds that are limited by obligation to the people who compose the district. Hardly radical, the reform group is actually conservative in its insistence on popular democracy restrained by the gentle restraint of the law. They want the board to act as guarantor of the welfare of district students and staff, instead of as bottom-line managers of district policy. Haas and Moore, in their often-disparate ways, ask that the board members act as if their roles connoted political commitment. The majority, as its behavior and language demonstrates, rudely disagrees.

The end result, though, has not been heartening to anyone who thinks that the board ought to act as guardians of the right to education. The old reformers have enjoyed widespread popular support from the day that the new majority was seated. District parents and teachers were quick to realize that the new majority was little more than a front for Mayor Francis Slay and his corporate cronies, who construe reform as anything that forcibly changes a public good into a private, unilaterally-controlled commodity. When the new majority hired the private company Alvarez and Marsal to manage the district, and placed the firm’s obnoxious William Roberti as Acting Superintendent, the people reacted harshly. School board meetings will never be the same as before.

Yet the meetings may never be any different than they are now, either. What began as a radical crest of descent has dwindled into a ritual of signification. The logic of board meetings used to be disrupted by odd events: one man’s jumping on a table in front of Roberti, Moore’s hapless threats to fellow board members and the building energy of the audience at meetings all spelled out a plan of revolt. Furthermore, the parents and teachers banded together and started an organization called The Community that aimed to use the schools issue as a way to revive popular radicalism among the city residents — largely people of color — affected by the school board majority’s destructive acts.

Now, however, the plan of revolt has not materialized. The energetic promise of hundreds of hecklers has not done much to stop the board from approving the wholesale destruction of the city schools with endless 5-2 votes. The meetings once felt like instances of democratic repossession of public meetings, but now feel like tired rituals in which dominance and dissent are predictably scripted (that is, utterly devoid of transformative meaning).

On Tuesday, the audience jeered, heckled and booed Roberti and the school board majority. We applauded students and others who spoke critically of the district’s management. We managed to get Schoemehl to walk out in a huff. Yet the whole meeting probably accomplished almost nothing in the way of improving a single city child’s education. The audience has fallen into accepting the signification of dissent for the thing itself, and the result may take awhile to realize but could be neutralization (through neglect) of the radical force of the populace that created disruption before.

Obviously, the board majority has recuperated some of the audience tactics. Board members have apologized for rudeness and often offer a disarming smile when their remarks lead to heckling. Yet they still stumble into ritual from time to time, given that the one move they won’t make is to compromise on their elitist agenda. Thus they continue to enrage audiences, even though they are better at appearing undeserving of such rage then before. After all, who could be moved to rage at their moderate agenda? The way the majority argues, one can only disagree with them — a move in which the dissident rescinds ownership of the district to the board majority.

The dissenting audience has not yet adapted to this recuperation of their rage with any identifiable strategy. They seem to be the predictable crowd on the other side of the proscenium, and their gestures are no longer pregnant with any imminent meaning. Many people were quieter on Tuesday, but that seemed due to a general weariness in the perpetual opposition than in any strategic refusal to “play along.” Most members of the audience continue to boldly signify their dissent through booing the almost all of the majority’s statements, even the introduction of commonplace agenda items. The audience feels powerless, but is almost now resigned to that feeling. Unfortunately, mainstream media will portray this resignation as a sign that the majority’s agenda has proven necessary, and that the popular resistance has died out.

The audience at the school board meetings may be quietly involved in The Community’s efforts to recall the board majority, or other less-obvious measures. Perhaps they really do have the upper hand. Yet that upper hand is not evident in their discursive present at the board meetings. The audience is engaging in a tired ritual in which their dissent exists only through signification — not through direct action. Their dissent is so easy to dismiss to the nonbeliever when it is only present in ritual; one does not want to learn to decode the already-static codes of the audience unless one is highly opposed to the board majority’s agenda.

The situation is discursively polarized, which represents a momentary victory for the board majority and friends because they have the power. Even though the masses and the board majority are both stifled in this discourse, the majority still has the power of action that transforms the discursive environment (the city schools). The masses lack that power, although they once had it. They need to reclaim the meetings space through creative distractions and discursive challenges, unless they plan on some political action (recall?) that will alter the political space of the school board meetings in a manner impossible to effect from within.

The audience at the meetings has no reason to hesitate or tire. The board majority’s agenda can only be successful if the school board’s decision-making process is predicated on its own malleability; that is, if there are no blocks to their discourse becoming the district near-monologue that allows for their proclaiming that their actions are the unavoidable result of consensus (among the monologists) . The audience — as well as Haas and Moore — needs to create genuine discursive interference so that the monologue is impossible. Without monologue, the board meetings would allow for polyphony, and every truly democratic action would be possible (because compromise among the legitimate owners of the district would be a process-inscribed precondition to any action). Power would collapse the moment that the audience started to break out of the ritual and transgress the proscenium, as they have done before.

This article was first published April 30, 2004 in mprsnd.

Demolition Gate District South St. Louis

Row Houses on Chouteau Avenue

This short row of late 19th-century rowhouses stood — replete with “mousehole” entrance — just west of Compton Avenue on Chouteau Avenue until one day, inexplicably, wreckers began tearing them down.

Demolition Hyde Park North St. Louis

Demolition, 19th and Farragut

by Michael R. Allen

The activity that you see in these two photos is only a routine occurrence. You probably are not even alarmed. You surely are not surprised. Yet many buildings disappear every year in Saint Louis, only to give way to empty lots or, at best, construction of lower density and poorer quality of materials. I do not know why these two buildings at corners of the intersection of 19th and Farragut streets in the Hyde Park neighborhood have been demolished.

Abandonment Carondelet Industrial Buildings South St. Louis

Inside of the Carondelet Coke Plant

More information here.