Miles Davis' East St. Louis Childhood Home Is Falling Apart

Categories: Community

miles-davis-house2.jpg
Andrew Theising
Miles Davis' East St. Louis childhood home in October 2011.
​There was a deep puddle the width of the entire dirt road, so Dr. Andrew Theising, a political science professor at Southern Illinois University- Edwardsville, wheeled his car over the gravel shoulder instead.

He was taking a reporter on a mid-autumn tour of East St. Louis and no tour of East St. Louis would be complete without going down Kansas Avenue, to the corner at North 17th street, to see the childhood home of Miles Davis. As the car rolled back onto the road, the famous house came into view.

"Oh, no," said Theising. "Oh my God."

The jazz legend's house was rotting. The white wooden panels had been ripped off every side of the house's ground floor. The aluminum siding was pillaged. All that was left of the backyard porch's wall railing lay in a shattered and charred heap on the ground. The windows were boarded up. Garbage trickled around the perimeter.

"This is so sad," said Theising.

Across the street from the house, on a steel pole and just above a green sign reading "Kansas Ave," stood a blue metal strip that said "Miles Davis Way."

Here's what the house looked like in 2009:

miles-davis-house1.jpg
Andrew Theising
Miles Davis' East St. Louis childhood home in 2009.

East St. Louis residents maintain a resilient pride in their city's history: the booming industry and the magnetic nightlife and the sports heroes, but perhaps more than anything else, the jazz. All the greats stopped in town, played it like they were in New York or Chicago or Kansas City. Miles Davis represents the good times of the city, before the jobs and the people left.

He was born in Alton but his family moved to East St. Louis while he was a baby. He lived here through high school, before moving to New York City and becoming a legend. He learned to play the trumpet in that house on Kansas Avenue. It's easy to imagine 13 year old Miles sitting on that porch, stumbling through the same eight bars of some Bobby Hackett tune over and over as the neighbors all down the block brusquely shut windows.

So when Theising got out of his car and walked around the crumbling house on a recent October afternoon, he grimaced and shook his head.

"Tragic. Just tragic."

Theising, who wrote "Made in USA: East St. Louis, the Rise and Fall of an Industrial River Town," had seen the house in the early summer and it was fine. While it remained vacant, the owners-- Davis' relatives-- had kept up its visage. But the vandals, likely hungry for the mildly valuable aluminum, outpaced the renovations. In a statement to KSDK in September, the owners said:

The Miles Davis family spends thousands of dollars yearly to maintain the property which suffers from repeated vandalism. The family has hired a contractor, whose team regularly visits the home to re-secure and update as necessary. Unfortunately, the vandalism occurs much quicker than the regular recovery efforts set forth.

The statement goes on to say that, over the last ten years, the family has met with city officials to try to make the house an official historic site. But, "To date, there has been no definitive interest." So the house continues to sit, anonymously, another empty and decaying structure in East St. Louis.

Meanwhile, Davis' first home in Alton is occupied and still standing as of 2008, when RFT's Chad Garrison explored the town for the cover story Alton Confidential.

It's tough times and desperate people likely don't care where the aluminum comes from. It's neither more nor less valuable if it's ripped from the home of East St. Louis' soul.

miles-davis-house3.JPG
Jennifer Silverberg
Miles' Davis first home in Alton, taken in 2008.

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12 comments
Barchbac
Barchbac

There would have been an easy solution: a family firend or member of the family occupying it!

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Rightshopping11

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MSanders
MSanders

Isn't that what things do in East St. Louis?  Fall Apart?  Saving anything over there is throwing good money after bad.  The solution to East Boogie's problems is and has always been to raze it to the ground, remove the region from the control and oversight of Illinois, build 2 more bridges across the river and better infrastructure, and incentivize development of the newly created cheap land available.

Douglas Duckworth
Douglas Duckworth

Or if Illinois had an Historic Tax Credit we could redevelop this property and others.  

Goldanboi
Goldanboi

A historic tax credit to preserve what?  East St. Louis isn't like the other side of the river where a patchwork of degradation allows instruments like historics to work.  You'd have to apply the credits to the entire region only to get it back to where it was in the 50s'!!  And frankly, whatever over there could be described as "historic" isn't enough to justify such subsidies.  Demo the frickin thing!!

scottsteele97233
scottsteele97233

to preserve the birthplace of one of the leading lights in the only kind of music that originated in the US.This home needs to be preserved, it needs to be the site of a Miles Davis museum, and it needs to happen now. 

oldtimer
oldtimer

The patient is terminal...remove life support.

SMDrPepper
SMDrPepper like.author.displayName 1 Like

Why dont they make it into a museum an get some security in it?  Would THEN provide a few jobs and a tourist attraction.   Seems like that would not only secure the building but even help the surrounding neighborhood.

TheMan
TheMan

Maybe the NAACP and some jewish organizations should kick in some money for a change instead of jamming their hands in Y T's pocket all the time and then both of those two after they do, just talk complete shit about Whites after they rob us.

guest
guest like.author.displayName 1 Like

you deserve getting robbed, racist prick

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