Half Century Old Problems

Update: The motel was in fact closed by order of the City of St. Louis. It reopened illegally in February of 2023, and was ordered to shut down again in September of 2023. Its future remains uncertain.

The Grand Motel at 2534 North Grand Boulevard, or as it was originally known, Lisa or Lisa’s Motel, has now been around since the early 1970s in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood. Its construction reflects a sort of fearful worldview expecting outside invaders as it is built facing inward, like a Spanish mission I have seen in San Antonio, with a blank wall facing outward and its rooms facing a central courtyard and parking lot; only a single fortified entrance allows access off Grand. I found a newspaper article from the mid 70s about someone throwing a Molotov Cocktail through the front office’s window.

Things have been downhill ever since then.

Murders, dead bodies found, robberies–one of the benefits of newspaper articles being digitized is that we can chart the course of a property over the decades, and evaluate how a single motel has basically terrorized and dragged down a neighborhood due to the callousness and disregard an owner has shown for the people who live around his property. The City has renewed efforts to bring this property into compliance with relevant laws and regulations, whether by closure or voluntary action by the owner, and I went along as neighbors and a city employee canvassed the area, which is the area I photographed recently.

Much like when I talked to Dan years ago, many people are deeply disillusioned, feeling like nothing will change. But I also met many people who still want to fight for their community. One thing that always annoys me is the perception that these are uneducated, detached people who don’t care for their communities. No, these are very intelligent, well-versed people, who have been denied the same community resources that most other Americans take for granted. I was shocked at how many bullet holes I saw in houses on the streets that led away from the motel. It’s easy to dismiss the people who live around this eyesore as being lazy and not calling the police enough, but how scared would you be if you were put in this situation? And trust me, the police have been called a million times, and somehow this place is still open. The police are frustrated that the motel still has a business license, too.

Later, as I drove by southbound on Grand, I spotted a church group I had talked to briefly earlier gathered around a man who had passed out on the ground in front of the motel. They were lifting him up onto his elbows and presumably calling him an ambulance. The owner, who lives in Chesterfield, was nowhere to be seen.

Imagine living next to this hellhole for years, or even half a century.

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