Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The North Side Arsons: Two Months Later

I realized that this week marks the two month anniversary of the series of arsons that struck in the St. Louis Place and JeffVanderLou neighborhoods. How quickly the media forgets; I imagine they assume it was just a bunch of clumsy crackheads--who happened to burn down a good dozen houses in one weekend. Read an account here written by Claire Nowak-Boyd about what it was like to live in the proximity of these obviously deliberate acts of intimidation and destruction. Also, be sure to check Barbara Manzara's map of the properties hit here.

I recently took a look at several of the buildings attacked in the string of arsons to see what was happening now--two months and no arrests later. For comparison image, check out Ecology of Absence's photographic documentation of several of the properties just days after the fires. What is striking is how little, or how much, has changed in the last two months on the Near North Side.Likewise, brickrustling is alive and well, and business is good; many of the houses that were burned in the arsons are no longer recognizable. I pulled up to where they should have been, and many times there was freshly planted grass, or even worse, a depressing, half destroyed house with its wooden guts exposed by an utter lack of outside brick walls. No doubt the bricks are on their way to the suburbs.Surprisingly, the house below at 2507 Hebert Street has changed little since it burned in early May; it could be renovated if it were in the right hands--which it isn't.Not just large, two story houses are the targets of brick thieves and arsonists; the next two pictures illustrate the one story shotgun houses are also easy prey. Perhaps the thieves worry less about 40 feet walls falling on them with the little ones.
The row of houses below at 2206-2210 Hebert Street are particularly frustrating. They are largely intact, but the presence of tappers, literally up to their waists in holes in the middle of the street, signaled on Saturday that these houses are doomed as well. A short conversation with one of the men revealed what was suspected: they were city workers closing the water lines to the houses that are scheduled to be demolished next week. They almost looked like gravediggers, their truncated presence announcing the death of yet more of North St. Louis's housing stock.

Wow, these houses sure are well secured! Standing on the street, the interior of the house is wide open and easily observed by passersby.The alley house behind, a rare example of how many St. Louisans once lived, is also certain to face the wrecking ball.

The overgrown, lush backyards of the houses show just how wild and unkempt certain corners of the city have become through neglect. You would almost think you are stumbling across the ruins of a Mayan temple in the rain forests of Mexico than be in the middle of a metropolitan area of 2.5 million.This backyard looks like the perfect place for illegal activity! But seriously, even in this ruined state, one can imagine how it could be a beautiful and intimate space to enjoy the afternoon sun.The ugly truth reveals itself in the very back of the row; brick rustling has already begun on these houses. Perhaps the city has ordered the demolition so it can keep the money from the bricks for itself.


  1. "Perhaps the city has ordered the demolition so it can keep the money from the bricks for itself."

    How does the City of St. Louis profit from brick rustling? The City does not rustle the bricks and sell them to dealers who then ship them to the South. Does the City have a brick rustler sales tax? Licensing fees for brick rustlers?

  2. Sorry if I was confusing with my sarcasm. It just seems sometimes that the city actually wants these buildings torn down, the way they treat them.


A Blog detailing the beauty of St. Louis architecture and the buildup of residue-or character-that accumulates over the course of time.