Lewis Place Historic Preservation, Inc.
LEWIS PLACE HISTORIC PRESERVATION, INC.
Training: July 10 - September 4, 2006; various Lewis Place homes; Lois Ingrum, Instructor
Exhibition SITE #1: PPRC Photography Project Gallery
May 15-July 28, 2007
Exhibition SITE #2: Stevens Middle School Community Education Center
May 22-July 28, 2007
Special Exhibition: Carolyn Hewes Toft Gallery, Landmarks Association of St. Louis
February 2 - March 1, 2009
Special Site: History Happened Here: A Virtual Tour of St. Louis' Cultural Communities, a website by Missouri Historical Museum
Lewis Place, the oldest African American private street in St. Louis, is a quiet, stately neighborhood just north of the Central West End. Its three tree-lined blocks encircle a central parkway surrounded by turn-of-the-20th-century homes, and its east end is capped by an elegant arch. The neighborhood was founded and developed by the William J. Lewis Family in 1890. In 1980, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks, in part because of its unique homes designed by the architectural firm of Barnett and Haynes, but also for its part in the fight against restrictive covenants in St. Louis and across the nation. Restrictive covenants, struck down by the United States Supreme Court in the landmark 1948 fair-housing case Shelley vs. Kraemer, were private arrangements by which neighbors agreed not to sell homes to people of a different race or creed. Lewis Place had restrictive covenants as early as 1928. By 1944, returning African American WWII veterans were forced to purchase homes in crowded, run-down neighborhoods and St. Louis' growing black middle class and professional population faced mounting roadblocks. Working through a go-between who "passed" for white or using "wild cat" realtors, some black families were able to purchase homes on Lewis Place and in the surrounding neighborhoods. The first black family to purchase a Lewis Place home was the Robbins family, who still own a home there. In 1944, with three sons fighting in the war, Clifford and Carrie Robbins bought 4739 Lewis Place. Just days before they were due to move in, a white couple named Boonshaft took up residence in their home claiming they had a lease agreement. It took the Robbins over a year and a half and several court rulings (with the accompanying legal fees) to evict the Boonshafts. The Robbins family's success led to home purchases by other African American families, and by March 1945, the neighborhood's restrictive covenants had been voted down.
Lewis Place has seen some hard times recently, but in 2001, a group of determined residents formed Lewis Place Historic Preservation, Inc. Now gardens abound in the neighborhood and many of the stately homes have regained their old polish. The grounds of the central parkway undergo annual revitalization, and neighbors gather there every September for the Lewis Place Reunion and Barbeque. In 2006 and 2007, Photography Project Instructor Lois Ingrum worked with residents to record life in the neighborhood over a 7-month period. They photographed each home on Lewis Place and, when possible, the families who lived there. Many long-time residents stepped forward with old family photo albums. These old family photographs appeared beside the new Photography Project images, giving an historic feel to the Lewis Place Historic Preservation, Inc. exhibitions.
Note: Historic information was provided by Lewis Place residents and a publication by Elizabeth Pickard, Opening the Gates: Segregation, Desegregation and the Story of Lewis Place, a publication of the University of Missouri Extension, 2005.
--Mel Watkin, Instructor and Director
PPRC Photography Project
The Charles Goldston Family
Keith and Shawn
The Mattie Meyers Family
Donayle Whitmore-Smith Family
Lewis Place Historic Preservation Inc.
Stevens Middle School Community Education Center
Landmarks Association of St. Louis