The Threat to Historic African-American Music Venues in St. Louis
The contribution and influence of African-American artists to the St. Louis sound and the universal music scene is undeniable. From Scott Joplin to Chuck Berry and countless others, St. Louisans have helped define what ragtime, jazz, the blues and rock 'n' roll are today. Scattered around the city, the ballrooms, clubs and theaters where these musicians cut their teeth still stand, but many are now in danger of disappearing forever.
All photos by Chris Naffziger The Castle Ballroom
The last sixty years have been hard on the historic neighborhoods and places important to the African-American experience in St. Louis. Starting with the demolition of the Mill Creek neighborhood in Midtown after World War II, the destruction of historic African-American communities continues with the recent demise of the Hadley Township neighborhood in Richmond Heights. And just recently, one of the few survivors of the wholesale clearance of Mill Creek, the Castle Ballroom, has seen a partial collapse; the specter of demolition now hangs over it.
Besides the Castle Ballroom, other buildings critical to St. Louis' African-American musical heritage still stand in various states of preservation, providing us with a window into where the people of these long lost neighborhoods socialized, danced and watched music history happen. Here are a few:
The Palladium (Plantation Club), 3618 Enright Avenue
Grand Center's role as the fulcrum of the performing arts in St. Louis goes back at least a century, and the Palladium played a key part. While the building shows the wear and tear of disuse over the last sixty or so years since the club closed in 1947, the club remains structurally sound and could easily rejoin its neighbors as a performing arts venue. (The rebirth of the nearby Sun Theater shows that anything is possible with the right people taking a risk to save a St. Louis treasure.) Back in the day, a concertgoer could see the likes of the Billy Eckstine Orchestra or Eddie Johnson's Crackerjacks. Sitting next to the Midtown branch of Sweetie Pie's on what should be prime real estate, the Palladium needs our help to find its role in the new Grand Center.
See Also: Pokey LaFarge: Keeping the Palladium Alive
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