Saturday, February 14, 2009

Laclede Town


My friend Dominic invited me into a FaceBook group centered on Laclede Town. Laclede Town was a mixed income, federally funded housing experiment that opened in 1964. My family was one of the first to move in.

It attracted counter culture artists and social activists. I remember the whole town getting together at a place that was called either The Coffee House or The Book Store (depending on why you were there) to watch a CBS news special about hippies. Everyone had a great laugh.

Friday nights they would screen old serials and silent movies. My favorites were The Sheik and Son of The Sheik starring Rudolf Valetino.

Across the street from The Coffee House was The Coach and Four Pub. My parents were both bartenders there. Across the street from that was our house, the first one as you entered The Circle.

The Circle was the main gathering place of the community. We had Shakespeare, live music, and art fairs there. In the winter plows pushed snow into it. This created a mountain that Santa used for his throne.

The guy that ran Laclede Town was a guy named Jerry Berger. He was kind of our mayor. I found out later that he was also our Santa.

Our first public swimming pool was a square box of a building that was the Vashon Gym at the corner of Compton and Market. I’ll never forget wading around in the shallow end and feeling a small yellow turd squishing between my toes. The lifeguards laughed. A few years ago I was swimming at the St. Peters Rec Plex and some kid pooped in the water. They closed and drained the whole pool.

In the Laclede Town FaceBook one of the kids I grew up with published a photo of the last piece of the Arch being added. He mentioned a Waring School assembly getting to see it. I was part of that assembly.

When we moved to Laclede Town Waring School wasn’t opened yet. We went to school at Harris Teacher’s College. They put Kindergarten through 4th grade in one room and 5th through 8th in another.

I don’t think they were equipped to deal with us. All we did was copy definitions directly from a dictionary. We used to win bags of candy if we were fast.

I was in 1st grade. My buddy Jeff Jones sat next to me in the 2nd grade row. We were pretty much left alone and he taught me cursive handwriting.

By 1967 or 1968 my folks were divorced and we moved. My dad stayed in another part across Laclede called Laclede Park. This gave us access to the Peanut Pool where all the cool people hung out. My band mates Dom and Ben would be lifeguards there. Years later the band would play a political benefit for Eugene McCarthy there. We I turned 18 he was the first presidential candidate I voted for. This was 1976 and I was still too naive and idealistic to vote the lesser of two evils.

We moved back to Laclede Town when I was in 8th grade but the seeds of decay and racism were beginning to grow. I met Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldren at Harris Teacher’s College with my 8th grade class.

People always seem to compare Laclede Town with “The Village” in the old Prisoner TV series. Strange little houses grouped together in an idealist’s dream of community.

Laclede Town has been totally absorbed by Harris and St. Louis University.

This news paper article from 1966 shows me leaning over a book at Waring School. My buddy Kyle Woods is next to me. It was our bird watching club and we were trying to identify the birds outside the classroom window. We were each given a bird name. I was Meadowlark. I think that’s what endeared me to Meadowlark Lemon of the Harlem Globetrotters years later. Oh, by the way, my daughter Chloe turned 13 today (Valentine’s Day). My children are both teenagers now and I’m looking forward to them taking care of me in my dotage.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

There is so much that can be said about laclede town, most of my earliest memories come from there. of course it's where i met you and pat and Dom and Ben and the parkers, i dont know if you were in on it when we were at jack parker's house,(for some reason my key fit his door, and he would lock Tommy and Jeff? out but we got in with mine), and a bunch of us were playing some kind of cowboys and indians thing and took all the papers out of jack's desk, piled them up put a rattrap game on top, and lit it on fire. we all got in big trouble, i think it was all Jack's buisiness papers from the O'connell pub. there was so much more... Geo

Doggie said...

Yeah, Patrick got in a lot of trouble. I wasn't there fortunately. My friends and I did accidentally burn down a construction shack. They had those instead of trailers in those days. Laclede Town was always under construction. I have a lot more and I'll try to get to it. The place shaped a lot of us.

dominic schaeffer said...

It's bizarre that you say a lot of people compare it to The Village, as far as i know- i'm the only one i remember drawing that parallel.

Geo- you really should check out the Facebook LaClede Town group... a LOT of people are showing up and we've only had it open for about 2 weeks.

Anonymous said...

I always loved hearing the stories that were included in this particular post. Having read this, however, you probably should have had me edit this one before posting as well. I always wondered what gramatical mistakes you might make if i didn't, now I know. Just kidding, though I do love hearing these stories.

Dylan

Codiyioti said...

Michael, a young black resident of Laclede Town, helped out at what I knew as The Circle Coffee House. He became an architect and has his own firm based in California. I think the Laclede Town experiment was probably an influence on him. Of course, Washington University probably didn't hurt.

Codiyioti said...

Oh yes, Ike Willis (a regular with Frank Zappa) spent some growing up years in Laclede Town.

sifukt said...

my name is keith i lived in i guess laclede park right at the corner of compton i learned kung fu from sifu meehan and later went on to study more after serving in the military. i was heartbroken on my returns during the 80's seeing it go down thanks to drugs. but it was a beautiful place if only they kept the balance it could still be there drugs is destroying us all.

Taye' Foster Bradshaw said...

I was searching for my old neighborhood and found your article. I was a little girl and was there in 1971. My little brother and I went to Waring and lived in LaClede Town in one of the townhouses. I think we were on LaClede. I have to search for our address. I fondly remember being 7 years old there. I have since moved back to St. Louis and every time we go to my husband's job (he is VP of Academic Affairs) at Harris-Stowe State University, I tell my kids that daddy works were I grew up!

Anonymous said...

We moved into Laclede Town in 1969. Came strait from Saudi and didn't know a word of English. Went to Waring School 4th grade. Dom taught me swimming. Great memories.

Mohammed

Anonymous said...

Oops, It was LaRue the lifeguard that taught me swimming. And I thought I wasn't that old.

Mohammed

Kellie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
heather marquis said...

we came to laclede town in 1971 from overseas. i was 3 years old and had never seen anything like it. we lived on olive and,compton first then moved,to Operation breakthrough on Lawton Walk. yes, the pool, we swam there all the time, i have a video of my dad in his 70s hawaiian trunks and "welcome back cotter" hair floating in the pool. we moved in 1976 after a few neighbors were robbed, shot, etc. how sad...it was a great place to grow up at one time.

heather marquis said...

we came to laclede town in 1971 from overseas. i was 3 years old and had never seen anything like it. we lived on olive and,compton first then moved,to Operation breakthrough on Lawton Walk. yes, the pool, we swam there all the time, i have a video of my dad in his 70s hawaiian trunks and "welcome back cotter" hair floating in the pool. we moved in 1976 after a few neighbors were robbed, shot, etc. how sad...it was a great place to grow up at one time.

Anonymous said...

The Roy Family!!!

pardonmyheart23 said...

Hey everyone who lived or just hung out in Laclede Town back in the day 65-69...I was a teenager findibg my place in the world and thx to many ppl there I found myself....a writer and teacher a poet....we were all a family. All different ppl getting along. All ages no racial barriers everybody accepting everybody...like we all had this vision and we were living it right here in stL... artists activists writers professors business owners musicians kids everywhere playing together acceptance like color rank education background it didnt matter. Everybody was cool and the harmony was a beautiful thing. I miss the Coffeehouse. Mike Willis George Dane RandazzoBerea the preacher was cool the mayor so cool ppl at the pub...man it was something! For me at that age I felt like it was our own little world. Travelled around a bit after LT and nothing ever came close to the peaceful inhabitants and love yes LoVE at Laclede Town!