2-for-1: Pruitt Igoe and Clemens House

Whether it was because I just got distracted with my busy work week, or because I simply forgot about today’s exploration, it was not until late last night I remembered I was going to explore the infamous ruins of St. Louis’ Pruitt-Igoe housing project. I had semi-recently discovered the place thanks to a terrific documentary on Netflix, called The Pruitt-Igoe Myth. (Watch it.)

Built in the 1950’s, St. Louis built the Pruitt-Igoe projects to essentially rid the city of slums, and to ultimately create something attractive and something pretty to look at, despite the fact it was for people who were very poor. In fact, the thirty-three building property was said to have been on the same scale as cities and buildings in the city of St. Louis itself. In other words, the government spent a ton of money to make these new buildings look pretty damn attractive.

Minoru Yamasaki, the architect behind Pruitt-Igoe, also designed the World Trade Center towers and the main terminal for the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

Time carried on and these projects quickly became notorious for absurd amounts of crime, murder, poverty, and a long list of most anything that related back to what they wished to eliminate in the first place: slums. Aside from the segregation already present, Pruitt-Igoe managed to escalate it even farther. Residents of the city itself wished to eliminate the projects completely, as it only made the city look worse than what it really was. Because, as far as the rest of the city saw it, Pruitt-Igoe was not St. Louis, Missouri.

Fun fact: police and fireman stopped going out to calls by the early 1970’s. They were either getting injured or attacked each time. Sounds like a swell place, huh?

By 1972, the place was an absolute hellhole. Pipes had frozen over in the winter, sewage was spewing out of the ground, murders were happening daily, before eventually…

The demolition was shown live on national news networks. Yes, it was that notorious.

…Pruitt-Igoe was no more. The one thing the city and the government wanted to fix was the thing that ultimately ruined their dream of a better, more secured way of living for those involved.

Skipping forward 2013, the remains of Pruitt-Igoe are both a bad taste in the city’s mouth, and what could most likely easily be mistaken for a forest, sitting calmly and peacefully amidst the lifestyle sitting in the streets of Cass Avenue. Lives go on, people do business and time moves forward, but Pruitt-Igoe is nothing more than a piece time left behind.

The small power plant still in operation.
The small power plant still in operation.
All that's left.
All that’s left.

The entrance is ‘blocked off’ by nothing more than two poles, a chain and a sign warning of high voltage ahead. That was it. Sure, there were fences blocking off the rest of the property, but it’s almost welcoming us in. And, surprisingly, whether it be the fact Fall is in full swing, or it’s just nature being nature, nothing was creepy. Would I go there by myself? Definitely not. But would I go back with others? Absolutely.

Like I said, Pruitt-Igoe is now nothing but a forest. You can still make out what used to be sidewalks, asphalt and the like, but it’s mostly unrecognizable. Many areas were covered in rubble that looked to purposefully built to keep people from climbing over and continuing on. And while our small group of seven did do that some, the sad fact of the matter is that there just isn’t too much to see. It’s very pretty, but more sad than anything else. Where we were walking once stood the same souls that were, at some point, happy, cheery and having fun. It’s very unfortunate what happened to the property. It could have really been something special had they, both the residents and government, kept it up. They learned their lesson, albeit in the worst possible way.

The baby stroller sitting in the middle of God knows where was the point we decided to turn back before we got lost.
The baby stroller sitting in the middle of God knows where was the point we decided to turn back before we got lost.
Hidden way behind some thick bushes was a tree, growing through a very old tire, sitting on top of tunnel access to the property.
Hidden way behind some thick bushes was a tree, growing through a very old tire, sitting on top of tunnel access to the property.

As I mentioned, there were seven of us. I thought I was going to be the last one there, but it turns out most of the group had a problem finding the place we would meet up (you know, to look less suspicious), so even though I showed up about twenty minutes late, everyone had just gotten there. Ironically, though, this group ended up getting split in two. Four of them stayed behind, photographing everything possible, while myself and two others were eagerly awaiting to explore the abandoned mansion also planned for the day. Regardless of how hard we tried to all leave together, the three of us ended up leaving and driving down the street to the mansion alone.

Was that probably a dickish thing to do? Probably. But, it was getting colder and colder, with the sky getting darker right along with the weather, and we needed to get there sooner rather than later to get some decent shots of a famous building around St. Louis — the Clemens House.

Home sweet home.
Home, sweet home.

Admittedly, I don’t know too much about this mansion compared to what I know with Pruitt-Igoe. From what I do know, however, is that the mansion was built for James Clemens Jr. — the uncle of Mark Twain. Its purpose changed multiple times throughout the years, from a private home for Clemens, to a Sisters of St. Joseph site, to a homeless shelter. It is rapidly deteriorating amidst a street which is seemingly pretty well off, considering the street this mansion sits off of is one of the poorer neighborhoods in the St. Louis metro.


From taking just a few steps in, you can tell what sort of beauty this place used to be. Apparently, there was a chapel added onto the back part of the original building (on the left), but unfortunately, we did not get that far back. As I’m sure it’s apparent from the picture above, this place is in awful condition. Even on the first floor, there were gaping holes from rotting wood, mold all over the walls and anything else you can think of when entering a house so damaged.

Back in the day.
© Built St. Louis

To be completely honest, there just was not too much to see. What has either been overtaken by nature or destroyed sits calm and still. There was an eerie hallway on the first and second floor that we were going to take. Our plan, from what I understood, was that we’d go to the second floor, search the house built after the original, and wrap back around the first house before leaving. Unfortunately, other things wanted to stop us in our tracks.

The eerily long hallway on the second floor had a huge door at the other end, right next to a staircase leading up to what I assume is the attic. (But, of course, that too was fancy.) Oddly enough, however, myself and the other guy both heard some sort of shuffling going on near the end of the hallway. Not the type that makes noise when wind rustles against an old building, but footsteps trying to quietly back up from being seen. Not only that, but the woman there with us also heard some sort of shuffling to the left of her, which was another hallway, cornering the bathroom.

Instead of approaching potential danger, we headed right, to yet another hallway, which is when we saw it.

The ballroom.
The ballroom.
...without a roof.
…without a roof.

This ballroom-turned-balcony was, and still is, absolutely gorgeous. Despite the fact you could hardly take any steps forward without stepping down to a nice little injury, the view was breathtaking and, for the first time, you could truly make out the beauty that this house once was. From what is not seen in the bottom picture is the haunting view of downtown St. Louis, and a sight that reminds you how often people pack up and move on, but continue living right next door, ignoring property like this used to once also be lively.

If you can’t tell, the roof is no longer there.

“Hey, they finally made it,” alerted the woman, laughing, “Took ’em long enough.”

We peak our heads out one of the open windows, and see a woman in a black hoodie, and assumed it to be the leader of the group whom we met at the Pruitt-Igoe property. She looked to be trying to climb over a brick and a pole, but couldn’t. That’s sort of weird, I thought, because she was climbing over stuff before without hassle. But the more I looked, the more I put together that wasn’t her — because there were kids there, at least three, and a teenager. For some reason though, I waved my arms trying to let them know (thinking it was our group) to come up, but instead, I get met with a thousand middle fingers, and the people quickly jump into a car that magically shows up at the last second and peels out.

“Uhh.” was what we all uttered, and decided it would be best to go ahead and wrap up before anything else might happen. (Obviously, it was just a random incident, and in no way connected to anything inside, but still odd.)

Just to the left of the bush near the back is where they stood.
Just to the left of the bush near the back is where they stood.

And just like that, we left. It was short, sweet, a little peculiar, but a much nicer visit than the Pruitt-Igoe visit. I’m glad I met those other two, because it seemed like if I hadn’t, everything would have moved much more slow today, and you can’t do that when losing daylight as soon as we do upon entering the Fall season.

Funnily enough, as we were pulling backup to the place we all first met, one car was just leaving (and I ended up passing the couple on my way to get gas, as they were approaching the mansion), and the other two were walking the streets of Cass Avenue, alone, taking pictures of other abandoned houses. That was a very bad idea, but I’m sure they ended up being okay.

'1849', the board covering the front door reads.
‘1849’, the board covering the front door reads.

Lastly, I was researching the house a bit before starting this and discovered that, in 2009, there were plans to renovate the entire house, and plans to do were physically evident up until early 2011 (as seen here), and I’m still not too sure what happened with these plans, but there were absolutely no signs of any redevelopment inside or out. (Case in point, the blue tarps hanging in older pictures, but were most definitely not around when we visited today.)

I’ll be uploading the full album to Imgur later tonight, and will update this when I have it completed, but in the meantime be sure to check out this website that shows a sad, physical representation of how much this property has degraded in the last decade alone.


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