When Mission: St. Louis first found a home in The Grove, it was a very different neighborhood. It was crime ridden and run-down. As The Grove has grown and flourished in recent years, our relationship with the St. Louis community has spread further north. We are being called to North City, where many of the people we serve are living.
A Diverse History of Jeff Vander Lou
Our new neighborhood, once known as Yeatman, has a long and diverse history. Across the street from Mission: St. Louis’ new building sits the Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club, once the site of Sportsman's Park, the home stadium of the St. Louis Cardinals from 1920 to 1966. Rumor has it that Babe Ruth hit a home run through the second story window of our new home!
Further south, the St. Louis Symphony played in The Odeon Theater until 1927. Parts of the neighborhood contain some of the first places in the city where African Americans could buy property. The historic Scott Joplin House sits right on our border with Midtown.
Sportsman's Park 1946 and 2016
3108 N. Grand
Mission: St. Louis is setting up shop at 3108 North Grand Blvd. This historic four story building recently housed World Impact Inc, a Christian mission organization. Before that, Jamaa Learning Center, a charter school sponsored by Missouri State University was housed here. Built in 1918, the building was first a YMCA. In our basement sits an unused, beautifully tiled swimming pool, and our gym still has a wooden curved running track overlooking the basketball court.
Jeff Vander Lou Today
The neighborhood today has suffered a huge drop in population, high rates of poverty, and problems with crime. However, it is also home to beautiful churches like the Eastern Star Baptist Church, many architecturally important homes, parks, St. Louis Community College and even the only US branch of a worldwide corporation, Sensient Colors Inc. African Americans make up 97% of the population.
A Legacy of Community Action
The same year that Sportsman’s Park was torn down, community members began to worry about the city’s push to demolish large sections of the neighborhood as a part of “Urban renewal” programs. Our neighborhood’s name stems from those community members’ fight to save their neighborhood. In 1966, housing rights advocate Macler Shepard, formed Jeff-Vander-Lou, Inc, a community development organization dedicated to helping those living in low income housing by protecting and restoring existing buildings in the neighborhood.
In a 1979 news article, Shepard explained the name’s reasoning saying,
“The name stands for the three thoroughfares by which people come from the suburbs to downtown St. Louis, earn their money during the day, and disappear at 4:30. The name was a way of saying that this is part of the problem."
Finding Our Place
We will miss The Grove with all its coffee shops, restaurants, and unique style. However, moving to our new building means we get to learn what makes a whole new neighborhood unique. It also provides us with substantially more space to use in a multitude of ways, and more importantly, our move provides us with the opportunity to work more closely with many of the people we hope to serve. We’d like to truly become a part of this community. We are willing to look beyond those main thoroughfares and help empower individuals who want to make their home a better place.
More than half of our office has made the move to our new home on North Grand. We hope that over the coming months, the rest of our office will soon join us. We have been working hard sanding, painting, and cleaning the building, and every week more rooms are ready for desks and we think of more great ways to use this amazing space available to us.
If you would like to visit our new home or help us bring out its beauty through one of our work days, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can’t wait to see you here.
“City Faces: Bringing Sprit of St. Louis”. AP. December 1979.
Hayes, Bernie. “Macler Shepard, legendary housing advocate, dies”. St. Louis American. October 2005.