Photo Flood 129: Clayton

 

photo by Caren Libby

Lincoln had Douglas. Stalin had Trotsky. Schwarzenegger had Stallone. There have been a lot of great rivalries throughout history, but perhaps most important among them is the rivalry for which every St. Louisan (and adjacent) must choose a side: St. Louis City vs. St. Louis County. Not since Photo Flood 22 has PFSTL stepped foot into Clayton, the capital city of our city’s enduring foe, but the day has finally come for this to change (and to see if anything has changed).

photo by James Palmour

 

photo by Yvonne Suess

 

photo by Jason Gray

 

photo by Kym Birkenkamp

 

photo by Irene Griggs

St. Louis emerged from 1876 like a middle-aged divorced dude revving the engine of his new Corvette–imagine how much fun we’ll have in all these parks without all the provincial baggage of all of those County folk! But alas, the fun was short-lived, and by 1970, our fair city (and its beat-up old sports car) was looking longingly across its border to the prosperous good times Clayton had made for itself as the County’s new “head of house”. If interested, we wrote a less tongue-in-cheek history in our first Clayton article.

photo by Diana Linsley

 

photo by Jason Bauman

 

photo by Dennis Daugherty

 

photo by RJ Wilner

 

photo by Jason Gray

Back to seriousness for a bit. One of the things that we left out of our first summary of Clayton, was its unfortunate removal of a long-standing African-American community.

From the early to mid-1900’s, Clayton’s character changed from a quaint and quiet rural suburb of St. Louis to a major center of business for the region. In the 1940’s, the city removed its height restrictions for buildings and Clayton’s first skyscrapers began construction. Occupancy for those buildings was sold out far before they were completed. This all meant that a building boom was looming, which would forever alter the character of the city. In the 1950’s, more land was needed for its rapidly expanding commercial sector, but where among Clayton’s sprawling residential areas should this go? The answer was the same racist one that had already been well established in St. Louis City (ie. Mill Creek); remove the city’s historically Black settlement.

Sadly, over the next two decades, this community, which had existed well prior to “The Great Divorce” of St. Louis City/County, was fully erased. The area that it once inhabited, between Hanley and Brentwood, is now home to the County’s government offices, courts and its justice center (jail), as well as, many high-rise office or apartment/condo buildings, and some of the St. Louis region’s most expensive restaurants. What Clayton did with its historically Black community, is not dissimilar to what other St. Louis suburbs have done to theirs, like Kirkwood and Kinloch, and represents what is essentially a reverse-counterpart to the “White Flight” of the time from the region’s urban core. Today, there are very few existing remnants of Clayton’s Black community, though the city has installed a bronze plaque near the site of the former Attucks School, and the community’s historic Baptist congregation relocated to St. Louis’ Kingsway West  neighborhood, where a church of the same name still operates.

photo by Mike Matney

 

photo by Caren Libby

 

photo by Kym Birkenkamp

 

photo by Jason Bauman

 

photo by Mike Matney

Today, Clayton is a thriving city with all of the amenities and wealth one would expect of the seat of the State’s fastest growing county of the past half-century. However, population is beginning to shift in interesting ways. For St. Louis County, urban sprawl since the 1990’s continues to lure residents away, further west and south to St. Charles County, Franklin County and Jefferson County. And for Clayton, though its overall population remains fairly stable, reported demographics show white families moving out at about the rate that minority families are moving in (all minorities actually, with about equal percentage increases shown for Black, Asian, and Hispanic residents). It will be curious to see what this may mean for the city’s future; perhaps an opportunity to correct the mistakes of its past? Either way, in the colorful parlance of one side of our aforementioned rivalries, we’ll be back.

photo by Irene Griggs

 

photo by Irene Griggs

 

photo by James Palmour

 

photo by Diana Lindley

 

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