East St. Louis, Illinois Events

East St. Louis Sesquicentennial Summer Celebration

This weekend, East St. Louis is celebrating its 150th anniversary with a two-day program of events. All events take place at the East St. Louis Higher Education Center, 601 James R. Thompson Boulevard in downtown East St. Louis.

The Ainad Temple (1923) at 615 St. Louis Avenue in East St. Louis was designed by William B. Ittner and Albert B. Frankel.

Friday, July 8, 2011: 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

11:00 Building D Multi-Purpose Room
• Ceremony to mark the transition of the East St. Louis Action Research Project from the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville; representatives from the two universities will review the history of the ESLARP program and the exciting plans for the future

12:00 Building D Multi-Purpose Room
• Brown Bag Lunch Program: Dr. Malcolm McLaughlin will be the featured speaker at this event, sponsored by the St. Louis Metropolitan Research Exchange. Dr. McLaughlin is a lecturer in American Studies at the University of East Anglia in England and is the author of Power, Community, and Racial Killing in East St. Louis, a study of the 1917 riot. Free parking in Lot E. The cafeteria in Building B will be open for lunch purchases.

Saturday, July 9, 2011: 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

9:00 a.m.
• Family History Center (Building B Cafeteria, until 2:00): bring your elders and family photos to the Family History Center. SIUE students will record participants and their memorabilia on videotape for the University Archive and website. (Participants will be asked to sign a copyright release for the videotaping.)
• History Display Area (Building D Multi-Purpose Room, until 2:00): come visit the history display area for exhibits of East St. Louis’s industrial and cultural past. These include special displays by Eugene Redmond (poet laureate of the city), Howard Rambsy (director of the SIUE Black Studies Program), Reginald Petty (renowned local historian and author), and Edna Patterson-Petty (award winning artist, whose work is on display on the Higher Education Campus).

East St. Louis, Illinois Motels

East St. Louis Holiday Inn

by Michael R. Allen

Scan of postcard of the East St. Louis Holiday Inn at 657 E. Broadway. Source: Collection of the Preservation Research Office.

Following up on my article “Motels in the City of St. Louis”, I briefly wanted to show the largest motel built in our neignbor to the east, East St. Louis. The Holiday Inn at 657 E. Broadway, located just east of the seven-story Broadview Hotel of 1927, was built in the late 1960s. The motel’s amenities included a swimming pool and restaurant with cocktail lounge, in addition to close proximity to the cluster of interstates 55, 64 and 70 around downtown East St. Louis.  This modern motel was built amid Model Cities-funded redevelopment of the central city.  The large-scale building removal that was part of East St. Louis’ redevelopment efforts is evident in the above postcard view’s capture of large swaths of verdant green grass.

The remaining section of the Holiday Inn today.

The Holiday Inn’s two-story, U-shaped mass of hotel rooms stood until a decade ago. By then, the motel’s last owner had closed up shop, and the place was an abandoned curiosity. However, the one-story, brick-faced and largely windowless restaurant building remains standing and in use as a banquet center.  The trademark Holiday Inn sign’s twisted trapezoid replacement is as memorable as its predecessor.

East St. Louis, Illinois

New Book Commemorates East St. Louis’ 150th Anniversary

How is it that a city that has been labeled “the most distressed small in city in America” has also been home to some of the most amazing artists and talents in American life? And despite devastating population and job losses, how is it that East St. Louis has manifested such community resiliency and resolve? The Making of an All-America City: East St. Louis at 150 examines these paradoxes as it chronicles the rich history of this so-called failed industrial suburb. A collection of fifteen essays and one prose poem, The Making of an All-America City explores East St. Louis’ life as a river city, its complex experience with race, its challenges of deindustrialization, and the political choices that it has made from a wide range of perspectives.

Edited by prominent regional historian Mark Abbott, Harris-Stowe State University, The Making of an All-America City is a must-read for anyone who is interested in this fascinating city and what it says about America. This book is the first in the East St. Louis Sesquicentennial Series from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, which aims to examine the city’s influence, document and preserve its history, and provide meaningful reference for historians to come. The book is available for purchase through Virginia Publishing at and soon should be available in area book stores.

The book includes a chapter by Preservation Research Office Director Michael R. Allen entitled “The Second Skyline: Downtown East St. Louis’ Unique Architecture.” Last week, Allen joined fellow authors Debra Moore, Billie Turner and Andrew Theising on St. Louis Public Radio’s “St. Louis on The Air” with host Don Marsh. The authors discussed their chapters and the future of St. Louis’ urban neighbor to the east. You can listen to that program here.

Abandonment East St. Louis, Illinois Fire

Suspicious Fires, Crisis in East St. Louis

by Michael R. Allen

The Arch design competition winner has leaked this week, and that means we have some glimpse at what the East St. Louis waterfront could look like in five years.  Yet more immediate, less hopeful news arrived this week too: KTVI television reports that there have been three suspicious fires at abandoned buildings in East St. Louis in a two-hour span early today. The fires were at a house the 600 block of 22nd Street, a building at 14th and Cleveland and a building in the 12-hundred block of Missouri burned.

The house in the 1200 block of Missouri Avenue is at left in the following photograph.

Meanwhile, back at the start of this month, the state Financial Advisory Authority voted unanimously to seize all state revenues in East St. Louis. Such revenues include all of the state gambling taxes from the Casino Queen, which comprise 50% of the revenues of the city. The Authority will now control at least half of the city’s budget, a move some say has long been needed. Whatever the politics, the effect is that a struggling city government is put further at risk of not being able to survive.

Yet amid this period of turmoil, a major design competition concluded that had half of its land area inside of East St. Louis. Even submissions that did not address the urbanized parts of East St. Louis all had elaborate plans for the east riverfront. Whatever gets built will be a bigger moment for East St. Louis in some ways, because it will be create a master plan for the riverfront and a totally new major metropolitan park.

What does that park mean for an East St. Louis with struggling finances, arrested revenue and massive abandonment? We will find out. If it means that a new park isolated from the city is built and business as usual continues to push the historic second city of the metropolitan area into the ground of history, then the region will be worse off. We can ignore East St. Louis at our own risk, and at the risk of the forthcoming investment in the riverfront.

As for the spate of fires, I can think of nothing more sad for the city at this time. The television report quotes from a neighbor of one of the burned abandoned houses, who says the house needed to go. He reported that bodies had been dumped there. That opinion is a micro version of the regional attitude toward the physical fabric of East St. Louis, and is based in despair. A hopeful mind could envision something greater than removal of the city bit by bit, or in large swaths. East St. Louis residents have more of a right than St. Louisans to see despair in the old great city, but neither of us should let the hope extinguish. The design competition and the radical change to city government ought to spark a revolution in East St. Louis.

One more reason — and a big one at that — for a revolution: next year, 2011, is the 150th anniversary of the incorporation of East St. Louis.  In 1861, dusty Illinoistown grew up and became East St. Louis.  The new name started a period of explosive growth and massive industrial development.  St. Louis would never have become the major city that it did without the workshops of its neighbor across the river.  East St. Louis would reach a population over 82,000 in 1960 before beginning massive decline, but it retains a central position in the region.  Its anniversary provides a crucial occasion to imagine its next life.  The entire region should seize the opportunity.  After all, never was East St. Louis fully a creature of Illinois, and never will it be again.  At the least, the City+Arch+River 2015 Foundation does not think so.

Downtown East St. Louis, Illinois Green Space JNEM

PRO Proud to Serve on the SOM/Hargreaves/BIG Team

Renderings from the SOM/Hargreaves/BIG submission in The City + The Arch + The River 2015 design competition.

The Preservation Research Office is proud to be a part of the SOM/Hargreaves/BIG team in The City + The Arch + The River 2015 design competition, and urge readers of this blog to examine our team’s proposal as well as those of the other teams. PRO Director Michael Allen provided architectural history and research for the SOM/Hargreaves/BIG team as well as cultural resource management suggestions. The experience has been exciting and rewarding, and PRO commends its fellow team members for many hours of hard work and amazing creativity.

We recommend taking the team to at least skim the narrative statements on the competition website, because the boards only hint at the full scope of all of the submissions.

Downtown East St. Louis, Illinois Green Space JNEM Riverfront

Final Designs Submitted in Arch Design Competition

Yesterday, the five finalists entered in the City+The Arch+The River 2015 design competition submitted their completed designs. Among these is the team headed by SOM and Hargreaves Associates that includes the Preservation Research Office. PRO has provided conceptual planning for both preservation of cultural resources within the competition boundary and creation of new cultural tourism plans for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. That is all that we can divulge until next week.

See our team’s submission and all of the others starting on Tuesday. Here is a calendar of upcoming events in the exciting final stretch of the competition.

Opening of the Public Exhibition of the Design Concepts of the Five Finalist Teams
Tuesday, Aug. 17
o 9:00 a.m.: Welcome at the Arch Grounds (in the event of inclement weather, event will be held in Arch Lobby)
Remarks by: St. Louis Mayor Francis G. Slay; Tom Bradley, Park Superintendent, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial; Lynn McClure, National Parks Conservation Association; Donald G. Stastny, Competition Manager

o 9:15 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.: Open House in the Arch Lobby
Park Superintendent, Competition Manager and others will be on hand to answer your questions about the competition

Design Concepts Exhibition at the Arch and in the Community*

Aug. 17 – Sept. 24

East St. Louis, Illinois

Monroe Manual Training Center

by Michael R. Allen

Few 1910’s buildings in the St. Louis area anticipate the Art Deco style as much as the Monroe Manual Training Center at 1620 Martin Luther King Drive in East St. Louis. The building’s symmetrical form, flat roof, angular lines, large expanses of windows and mostly-abstract terra cotta ornament are extremely precocious for this 1916 building. The building’s purpose — serving as home for a progressive school aimed at training young people in the industrial and mechanical arts — only heightens its machine-age aura. The central pediment proclaims “Learning and Labor,” a proud summary of the values of the inter-war period, when modernist ideas were being refined to seeming perfection. Yet the Monroe Manual Training Center building is not an early Art Deco palace. There is a hint of Beaux Arts classicism in its small doorway pediment, which displays garlands and a keystone. The Greek-key frieze, running along the entire cornice and also above the doorway opening, is more classical than modern. The building’s architecture is forward-looking but not quite avant-garde.

Still, the building’s stylistic refinement — although not its modest scale — is on par with educational buildings being built in Chicago at that time, such as those of Dwight Perkins, Richard Schmidt and Arthur Hussander (see Jacob Riis School). These buildings embodied a fascination with the intersection of machine age and education as well as the influence of nascent European modernism and the Prairie School philosophy on architects trained in classicism. In 1916, both East St. Louis and Chicago were bustling industrial centers whose leaders saw no limits to their cities’ growth. Civic leaders pushed for strong and progressive public education, including innovations like manual training, as well as for grand civic architecture worthy of budding metropolises.

Today, the Monroe Manual Training Center stands empty, diagonally across the street from the now-demolished Gateway Community Hospital. The old dreams of East St. Louis are dormant, and new dreams have yet to include this building.

Adaptive Reuse East St. Louis, Illinois Historic Preservation

Broadview Hotel Rehabilitation Getting Underway

by Michael R. Allen

The seven-story Broadview Hotel at 5th and Broadway in East St. Louis is one of several tall buildings that anchor downtown. The 13-story Spivey Building is the tallest, the adjance Murphy Building and Majestic Theater are wonderfully ornate and the First National Bank Building is a solid red-brick corner building that is still occupied. Through demolition, the Broadview sits away from the concentration of other large downtown buildings. Through placement of the 4th Street exit ramp from Interstate 55/64/70, is the first major building greeting motorists entering East St. Louis.

Built in 1927, the Broadview has the characteristic elegance of pre-crash 1920s hotel design. The symmetrical brown brick body contrasts with buff terra cotta forming two bays and providing other ornament. Unlike some of the exuberant foliate terra cotta seen on contemporary St. Louis hotels like the Chase and Coronado, the design here is a rather sober interpretation of Renaissance Revival themes. Still, the hotel is powerful, especially through the rise of the terra cotta bays to form a temple-like top story that towers over the city.

For many years, this temple was the crown of a palace of night life, conventions, dinners and even a radio station (WTMV 1490 AM was located here). As East St. Louis’ fortunes drowned in a powerful current of American industrial reorganization, so did the those of the Broadview. The Broadview ended up housing a branch of Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville (SIUE) until 2004. The first floor’s storefronts, once open to a bustling business district, have long been clad in forbidding granite blocks.

In 2006, SIUE ceded the Broadview to the City of East St. Louis. The city has long been dealing with the other big vacant downtown buildings, but lacked clear title to the others. The Broadview was not boarded up for long. In 2009, East St. Louis awarded development rights to CDC Development Corporation, headed by Donald J. Johnson. CDC plans a $35 million renovation ofthe hotel into 88 loft-style apartments. Preliminary work is now underway, and many of the hotel’s windows are again unboarded.

Abandonment East St. Louis, Illinois

Fireman’s Training Tower

by Michael R. Allen

This fireman’s training tower at the northeast corner of 18th and Broadway in East St. Louis once stood next to a station house. According to neighbors, the city government demolished the station in the 1990s but left the tower to stand. It’s a quirky vestige of the once-proud firefighting days of East St. Louis. The sturdy concrete body and relative youth — it dates to the 1950s — ensure that it won’t fall down anytime soon.

East St. Louis, Illinois Metro East

East St. Louis Videos on New Geography

by Michael R. Allen

Last month, New Geography uploaded the third of a three-part video series on East St. Louis. Alex Lotz created the videos, which started with a whirlwind tour that I gave him and St. Louis University history professor Flannery Burke on New Year’s Day last year. Alex shot footage on that day of the various places we saw, including downtown, Alta Sita and the stockyards district. Then he interviewed me and located archival footage to develop the videos.

Watch the videos:

Part I

Part II

Part III