Clearance McRee Town South St. Louis

The Destruction of McRee Town: December 2004

Photographs taken by Michael R. Allen on December 29, 2004

Views of the 3900 block of Lafayette Avenue

The corner of 39th and Lafayette, seen in the first photograph, was once the southern corner of McRee Town’s bustling 39th Street business district. The only remaining business on 39th Street in McRee Town is the St. Louis Architectural Art Company, which is on the east side of 39th and is unaffected by the clearance. The fences are part of the new development, which will leave all lots along 39th Street empty and enclosed.

“Dead Center”: Lawrence Avenue at McRee Avenue

This was the corner where the neighborhood grocery store stood just a few months earlier. Under the new project, this area will be left open as park space. Yet one assumes that the new residents will be humans and will require food and drink from some source.

Views of the 4000 block of Lafayette Avenue

Five buildings remained on the north side of this block, three of which were still occupied as of December 29, 2004. The twin two-flats below were the occupied, while the other two-flat shown below was unoccupied. Crews were working on tree removal in the 3900 block of Lafayette and were preparing to chop down the trees visible in these photographs.

Views of the 4000 block of McRee Avenue

Views of the 3900 Block of Blaine Avenue

The subdivision started booming in early December. Over six new homes were under construction alongside the three display buildings. People were moving into two of the display townhouse units.

Clearance McRee Town South St. Louis

The Destruction of McRee Town: October 2004

Photographs by Michael R. Allen taken on October 31, 2004

New Construction Area: Blaine between Lawrence and 39th

More demolition between Lawrence and Thurman

North side of the 4000 Block of Lafayette Avenue (between Lawrence and Thurman)

Clearance Crime Fire McRee Town

More Fires in McRee Town

From the October 26 St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

“3 suspicious fires hit McRee Town” [link defunct]

“Suspicious fires were set in two vacant buildings in McRee Town early Monday and in a third building nearby, authorities reported. The fires were in the 4000 block of McRee and Folsom Avenues in McRee Town and a three-story multifamily building at 39th Street and Shaw Boulevard.

“All the fires were discovered between 3 and 4 a.m., and police bombing and arson squad detectives presume all three were set by the same person. McRee Town was beset by a rash of fires in December, but until Monday the area had had just one fire over the past six months.”

Clearance McRee Town South St. Louis

The Destruction of McRee Town: September 2004

by Michael R. Allen

By September 2004, McBride & Sons Homes had opened their first two display homes on McRee Avenue and had built foreboding fencing along 39th Street to mark their subdivision’s boundary. The company had also placed sod around their fences after grass seed did not grow in the hot Missouri summer. One young worker had to water the sod lawn each day, dragging a large hose around the former site of St. Louis’ worst south side slum. Wreckers had completed nearly all of the demolition work on the eastern three blocks, including the demolition of the Regal Foods store (see third photo). The last remaining structure in this area, a handsome 1910’s-era four-flat at 3919-21 Lafayette, was half gone. We detail the wrecking of that building in photos below.

September 24, 2004

September 26, 2004

Clearance McRee Town South St. Louis

The Destruction of McRee Town: August 2004, Part Two

August 19, 2004

The first photograph shows that brick salvage and demolition at the Regal Foods Store has progressed quickly. Other photographs in the row show views around the corner of Lawrence and Blaine. The last two rows of photographs show a lone bungalow and a row of attached two-flats — a rare arrangement in St. Louis — under demolition on the south side of the 3900 block of Folsom Avenue, between 39th and Lawrence.

August 31, 2004

These photos show the 4000 block of McRee Avenue between Lawrence and Thurman Avenues, except for the last photograph, which shows the ongoing demolition of the Regal Foods store at McRee and Lawrence.

Clearance McRee Town South St. Louis

The Destruction of McRee Town: August 2004

Destroying the 3900 block of McRee Avenue

By August, the last remaining building on this block was the Regal Foods Store building located at the northeast corner of McRee and Lawrence avenues. This sturdy 1910’s storefront building was ripe for renovation but instead was headed toward demolition. During demolition, wreckers salvaged nearly every piece of masonry and lumber because all of it was in great shape.

Destroying the 4000 block of McRee Avenue

This was another block of mostly-sturdy residential buildings. The 4000 block contained some ecclectic juxtaposition of common 19th and early 20th century St. Louis vernacular housing, as the photograph below of the 1910’s four-flat, 1890’s two-flat and 1900’s four-square single-family home demonstrates.

Destroying the 4000 block of Blaine Avenue

Note the obvious physical integrity of most of the buildings scheduled for demolition. Here is one general shot and photos of buildings on the north side of the block:


These were the buildings on the south side of the block:

Displaying the 3900 block of Blaine Avenue

McBride and Sons continued to construct the display units in the 3900 block of Blaine Avenue in Botanical Heights. Along with the homes came fencing along 39th Street, sod lawns (after an unsuccessful seeding effort) around the intersection of McRee and Blaine. Only two older buildings, one shown below, remained standing in this block.

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.