Still Subconsciousifying Pruitt-Igoe

Flying into St. Louis (STL) from LaGuardia (LGA) in Queens, NYC, get a window seat on the left side of the plane for a spectacular view of the city:

From top-left to bottom-right over the Mississippi River, the bridges are MacArthur Bridge, Poplar Street Bridge, Eads Bridge, and Martin Luther King Bridge; the new Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge (opened Feb. 2014) is to the north (right) of this image, about 1.5" at this scale. Still further upriver are the McKinley Bridge, Chain of Rocks Bridge, and New Chain of Rocks Bridge.

From top-left to bottom-right over the Mississippi River, the bridges are MacArthur Bridge, Poplar Street Bridge, Eads Bridge, and Martin Luther King Bridge; the new Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge (opened Feb. 2014) is to the north (right) of this image, about 1.5″ at this scale. Still further upriver are the McKinley Bridge, Chain of Rocks Bridge, and New Chain of Rocks Bridge.

But the view goes by fast. And a short second later you’ll see this giant patch of seemingly undeveloped land just to the northwest of downtown. It’s not quite large enough to make you think it was a significant “central” park, and it is dense enough with green to make you wonder how long it’s been abandoned:

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I say seemingly undeveloped because while the land is overgrown now, it is the site of the former Pruitt-Igoe housing project:

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It’s impossible to not look at, to not wonder, to not question, “What went wrong?” The project’s designer of course was Minoru Yamasaki, the same architect of New York’s World Trade Center “Twin Towers”, infamously collapsed by two hijacked planes. Both places are complex sites of the American subconscious; one was attacked from the outside, the other was imploded from within.

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Of course it’s not all entirely gone. In the following image the red outlines are still-standing structures (some in better condition than others) from the original project. For instance the little red rectangle inside the forest of green is a still-functioning electrical substation; the other small rectangle below the one in the forest was originally Richardson’s Delicatessen, then served as the Neighborhood Station (it is now abandoned, falling into the earth); the largest of the red outlines is the former Pruitt School (or Pruitt Military Academy, depending on your source), and operated from 2006-2010 as the Cleveland Junior Naval Academy; the rectangle to the furthest left was originally a library, now a church (among many in the immediate vicinity); and the last rectangle to the further right was a health center that now serves as the city’s Fire Department headquarters. The pruittigoenow.com website suggests other buildings – mostly churches – are also extant “remainder” buildings from the original project. The green outline for reference is DeSoto Park.

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The site is still a point of kitchen table conversation; I haven’t been “home” in two years, and admittedly haven’t been paying attention either, to the proposal by the federal government of reclaiming the Pruitt-Igoe site for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Wow.

So much history wrapped up in this site, whether it gets developed for the NGA or not. So many stories:


Film stills courtesy Flickr user Pruitt-Igoe Myth, grabbed from the documentary of the same name.

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