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Demonstrators oppose SLU's plan to demolish Mill Creek buildings

The fate of two buildings along the Mill Creek Valley footprint — the historic, predominantly Black neighborhood that was razed in 1959 to make way for “urban renewal” in downtown St. Louis — has sparked calls for protest this week after St. Louis University submitted a proposal for demolition to the City of St. Louis.

3221 and 3223 Olive have been vacant for several years. The last use of 3221 Olive was a nightclub called Dante’s, which has been closed since 2014. Before the neighborhood was vacated, when Mill Creek Valley was filled with residents and businesses, the building was owned by restaurateur Tony Faust and used as a market.

Today, St. Louis University owns the property. The application for a demolition permit filed last week has historians, preservationists and advocates for Mill Creek Valley urging the university to restore, not remove, the properties.

Among those protesting the decision is author Vivian Gibson, who documented her childhood in Mill Creek Valley in the 2021 memoir, "The Last Children of Mill Creek." “I think those two buildings are probably just the tip of the iceberg,” Gibson told St. Louis on the Air. “This iceberg has been floating in St. Louis since the middle of the last century.”

Vivian Gibson
Tristen Rouse
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Vivian Gibson, the author of “The Last Children of Mill Creek,” attends a demonstration in protest to the demolition of two historic Mill Creek buildings on Wednesday along Olive Street in Midtown.

Gibson noted that St. Louis University’s influence has shaped the neighborhood she once called home to fit its means — despite the recent efforts to retell the history of Mill Creek Valley. She said, “The university has just taken on all of that space and anything connected to it to create an institutional wall for the students and faculty.”

In a statement about St. Louis University's application for a demolition permit, Clayton Berry, assistant vice president for communications said, “SLU is committed to ensuring the long-term vitality and vibrancy of the campus and the surrounding community."

In an effort to continue to improve the area around SLU’s campus, the university recently acquired these two structures, which had been vacant and boarded up for many years.

"It is in no one’s interest for the buildings to continue to deteriorate indefinitely," Berry said. "While SLU applied for a demolition permit, the University is also seeking to engage parties interested in acquiring and redeveloping the properties.”

Reflected in the window of a “City of St. Louis” bug car, people attend a demonstration in protest to the demolition of two historic Mill Creek buildings, on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, on Olive Street in Midtown St. Louis. Mills Creek was historic, predominantly Black neighborhood that was razed in 1959 to make way for “urban renewal.” St. Louis University has submitted a proposal to the City of St. Louis to demolish the structures, which have been vacant for several years.
Tristen Rouse
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Reflected in the window of a City of St. Louis car, people attend a demonstration in protest to the demolition of two historic Mill Creek buildings on Wednesday along Olive Street in Midtown. Mill Creek was a predominantly Black neighborhood that was razed in 1959 to make way for “urban renewal.” St. Louis University has submitted a proposal to the City of St. Louis to demolish the structures, which have been vacant for several years.

A protest was planned for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday evening in front of the properties in response to the demolition permit applications — and Gibson was there. Instead of demolition, she said she would like to see SLU take the route of renovation.

"You could easily have those two buildings with extensions that are more modern," Gibson said. "I live in a 120-year-old building, so it's possible to renovate those buildings and maintain that beautiful architecture."

For more about Vivian Gibson’s efforts to keep Mill Creek Valley from being wiped from the map and history books, including Mill Creek Valley Commemoration Committee’s proposal to SLU to create a mural that was met with an offer to place a temporary installation in a dog/sculpture park, listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify or Google Podcast by clicking the play button below.

Vivian Gibson opposes SLU's plans for Mill Creek buildings

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Ulaa Kuziez is our production intern. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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