As Iím sure many of you had, I read the reports last week of the atrocious torture and killing of six dogs in an abandoned apartment building in the Hamilton Heights neighborhood of St. Louis. While I consider the building in question, at 5321 Wells Avenue, to be in Wells-Goodfellow, nonetheless it is in one of the most deeply troubled areas of the city.
While not the smartest action to take, I felt a personal need to go see this neighborhood, and perhaps get some sort of grasp of how this happens. I set out for the street, and reached it from South City in about fifteen minutes. I was expecting a bombed out neighborhood, with only a few houses scattered here and there surrounded by dense undergrowth, as I had seen in other part of Wells-Goodfellow. Much to my surprise (though certainly predicted by Google Maps), the streets around the apartments in question are still densely populated, with few empty lots and only a few abandoned houses. How did the sound of six dogs being tortured to death go unnoticed? It seems to be an impossibility.
I turned down Arlington Avenue from MLK Dr. and saw dozens of people out in the street, and I got the distinct feeling I was being watched. When I reached the corner of Arlington and Wells, I realized that it was not a good idea to proceed down the street. Out in front of a corner store were a group of young men, all dressed identically in red polo shirts, loitering. They saw me and started yelling. If you look back at the pictures Stray Rescue posted (Update: Link is now dead), you can see the gang graffiti features a reference to the Bloods street gang. Did those young men perhaps know who had committed the unspeakable acts in the apartments a block away down Wells Avenue?
I wasnít waiting around to find out, and proceeded another block down Arlington, turned down the next street parallel to Wells Avenue and then turned out onto Union Avenue and headed back downtown. I snapped some furtive photographs from my car, which give you an impression of what the area looks like.
My investigation raises some questions in my mind. Clearly people on Wells Avenue knew exactly what was going on in that house of horrors, where six dogs were mutilated and tortured over the course of several weeks, based on the state of decomposition of several of the dogs. The drug dealing had been going on there for a while as well. Were they too terrified or too apathetic to contact the police? Considering how blatantly those gang members were showing themselves out in broad daylight with little fear of harassment by the police, I suspect the former. In fact, I have never seen such obvious gang presence in the city of St. Louis, anywhere.
Update: As is so typical of problem properties in the City of St. Louis, the house is now owned by the LRA.
Also, why the heck does the woman who owns this building even own it? She’s not doing anything with it, and just letting it sit and rot and become a haven for crime. The city will never, ever recover until it gets serious about absentee slumlords, allowing their “investment properties” to be maintained like this. She should answer for her negligence as well, since she is legally responsible for what happens on her property. “I’m trying my best,” a common refrain of slumlords when confronted by news cameras, is not good enough.
It also begs the question, how did this obviously once nice neighborhood fall so far? If you look at Google Maps, you can see the huge yards and stately homes that propagate in this area. Judging from the housing stock, I would suspect it was middle to upper middle class, correlating with what I have read about Wells-Goodfellow in books about the city. The apartment building where the crimes occurred is actually a beautiful building, and probably once commanded high rents. Its huge backyard once probably hosted innumerable barbeques and pick-up baseball games, but one hundred years later, it hosts nothing but horrors.
I'd love to know how it happened as well. I was helping a friend photograph in North City and there were once beautiful homes. It's all falling apart. From what I've heard, it was a government initiative in the 1950s to encourage people to move out into the suburbs. By dispersing the population, more could survive a nuclear attack?
Read American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass.
Available to read here:http://socsci.colorado.edu/~downeyl/re/Massey1990_American_Apartheid.pdfThanks for the reference.
Still no excuse for the absentee landlord…
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