First suburb

Over a century ago, Lafayette Square was a fashionable neighborhood that surrounded St. Louis' oldest park.  Today, thanks to its dedicated residents, it remains a vibrant reminder of Victorian St. Louis.

God and government in the ghetto : the politics of church-state collaboration in Black America
Michael Leo Owens.
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 2007.
In recent years, as government agencies have encouraged faith-based organizations to help ensure social welfare, many black churches have received grants to provide services to their neighborhoods' poorest residents. This collaboration, activist churches explain, a way of enacting their faith and helping their neighborhoods. But as Michael Leo Owens demonstrates, this alliance also serves as a means for black clergy to reaffirm their political leadership and reposition moral authority in black civil society. Drawing on both survey data and fieldwork in New York City, Owens reveals that African American churches can use these newly forged connections with public agencies to influence policy and government responsiveness in a way that reaches beyond traditional electoral or protest politics. The churches and neighborhoods, Owens argues, can see a real benefit from that influence-but it may come at the expense of less involvement at the grassroots. Anyone with a stake in the changing strategies employed by churches as they fight for social justice will find God and Government in the Ghetto compelling reading. Book jacket.
Tomorrow's cities, tomorrow's suburbs
William H. Lucy, David L. Phillips.
Chicago : American Planning Association, 2006.
Tomorrow's Cities, Tomorrow's Suburbs predicts a surprising outcome in the decades-long tug-of-war between urban hubs and suburban outposts. Planning scholars William H. Lucy and David L. Phillips document signs of resurgence in cities and interpret omens of decline in many suburbs. They offer an extensive analysis of the 2000 census, with insights into the influence of income disparities, housing age and size, racial segregation, immigration, and poverty. They also examine popular perceptions-and misperceptions-about safety and danger in cities, suburbs, and exurbs that affect settlement patterns.
Edens lost & found : how ordinary citizens are restoring our great cities
Harry Wiland and Dale Bell with Joseph D'Agnese.
White River Junction, Vt. : Chelsea Green Pub. Co., c2006.
Focusing on Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Seattle--all cities facing a range of demographic, economic and environmental challenges--this volume highlights the many small acts of heroism, activism and leadership that bring neighborhoods together to build landscapes of beauty and surprise. Bell and Wiland, both award- winning documentary filmmakers, provide inspiring examples of citizens restoring their communities by creating sustainable urban ecosystems. Annotation #169;2006 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
House by house, block by block : the rebirth of America's urban neighborhoods
Alexander von Hoffman.
Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2003.
Not long ago, neighborhoods such as the South Bronx, South Central Los Angeles, and Boston's Roxbury were crime-ridden wastelands of vacant lots and burned-out buildings, notorious symbols of urban decay. In House by House, Block by Block, Alexander von Hoffman tells the remarkable stories of how local activists and community groups helped turn these areas around.For sixty years, federal policy has attempted with little success to solve the problems of housing and poverty in America's inner cities. Yet increasingly, local organizations are picking up where Washington has left off. In a series of dramatic and colorful narratives, von Hoffman shows how these groups are revitalizing once desperate neighborhoods in five major cities: New York, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. The unlikely heroes include: the tough-talking Bronx priest who made apartment buildings for low-income people glisten in the midst of ruins and despair; the "crazy white man" who scrambled to save Chicago's historic Black Metropolis from the wrecking ball; the Boston cops who built a task force that put the brakes on youth gangs. Thanks to locally-based, bootstrap efforts like these, in inner-city neighborhoods across the country, crime rates are falling, real estate values are rising, and businesses are returning. Von Hoffman also shows that grass-roots work can't do it alone: successful revitalization needs the support of local government and access to business and foundation capital.Based on years of research and more than a hundred interviews, this book is the first systematic account of the dramatic urban revival now going on in the United States. House by House, Block by Block will be a must-read for anyone who cares about the fate of America's cities.

Lafayette Square was originally a "commons"-- an area of woods and fields where St. Louisans hunted game.  It was not settled until after 1835, when the city offered parcels of the Commons for sale. Wealthy citizens, seeking a retreat from the bustle of the city, bought land and moved their families into newly built Victorian mansions. The neighborhood's days as a suburb ended in 1855, when the city annexed it.

Lafayette Park

Lafayette Park, the first public park west of the Mississippi, was set aside by city ordinance in 1838. 

Under the leadership of several landscape superintendents, the Park became a botanical showcase and the city’s first recreation area. Their efforts resulted in the Park's large lake, an ornamental pond, a rocky grotto, a 34 x 60 ft. aquarium, gazebos, a bandstand, and a boathouse.

Today the park is the venue for summer concerts, vintage baseball games, and family outings.

Lafayette Park

Lafayette Square continued to prosper through the Civil War years and late 1800's. The destructive tornado of 1896, the coming of the cheap automobile, and smoke from the nearby rail yards after World War I changed that. Residents moved to the Central West End and other St. Louis suburbs. Many neighborhood buildings became shabby and neglected.

During the 1960's and 1970's a handful of daring men and women who moved into Lafayette Square formed the Lafayette Square Restoration Committee (LSRC).  They pledged to promote and defend the Square and to encourage the sale of houses there to people who would restore them. Houses designed by well-known architects such as George Ingham Barnett and Theodore Link became homes to a new generation of St. Louisans.  Painted ladies regained their color and glory.

Now visitors to Lafayette Square find a neighborhood returned to its elegant beginnings. Streets are lined with meticulously restored homes, restaurants, and shops. The Lafayette Square neighborhood is considered one of the finest examples of urban restoration.

Article by: St. Louis Public Library staff