Vandeventer Neighborhood Overview
Information concerning the neighborhood history, characteristics, institutions and organizations, planning and development.
The area is bounded by Martin Luther King Drive on the North, Delmar on the South, Vandeventer on the East, and Newstead on the West. The Vandeventer neighborhood lies between the Central West End and the Ville and is just west of Grand Center.
The area that today makes up the Vandeventer neighborhood was once a part of the Grande Prairie Commonfield established by St. Louis’s early French inhabitants. Common fields for cultivation were laid out on the broad prairies west of the settlement. These were parceled into long narrow strips to different landowners but fenced with a common enclosure. This system was maintained until about 1800, after which pacification of Native American Indians enabled farmers to spread out. At that point, fences were abandoned in favor of the Anglo-American practice of individual farming.
By 1850, the majority of arpent strips had been combined into larger tracts more suitable for the purposes of subdivision and development. By the mid-fifties, two large subdivisions had been laid out in the area, Cote Brilliante, to the west and Prairie Place along Belle Glade, to the north. In 1858, Charles M. Elleard, a florist and horticulturist, purchased a tract, bounded by the present Martin Luther King Drive, Annie Malone Drive, Cote Brilliante and Newstead Avenues, just north of the present-day Vandeventer neighborhood. There, Elleard established a conservatory and greenhouses. Real estate activity slowed during the Civil War but resumed quickly following the conflict's end. By 1870, a small town, Elleardsville, had emerged around Elleards’s floral nursery. During this period, the northern portion of what is now the Vandeventer neighborhood was contiguous with Elleardsville. In fact, Elleardsville’s town hall was situated on the corner of the present Martin Luther King and Whittier. The local horse track, Abbey Trotting Race Track, occupied in the northern section of the current neighborhood, in the area between Page, Whittier, MLK and Taylor. After the track moved westward in about 1877, this area was developed as the Evans Place residential subdivision.
The Grand Prairie area experienced a gradual urbanization, building-up westward from Grand Avenue, which continued into the first decade of the twentieth century. Among many people moving into the area were significant numbers of German and Irish immigrants, as well as some African Americans. In the early 1900s, during an era of racial segregation and restrictive covenants, Elleardsville, or "the Ville", was one of the few areas in the City open to African Americans. These practices remained through the first half of the century. During which time, the Ville emerged as the heart of black culture in St. Louis and home to many prominent African-American institutions. During this time period, Lloyd Lionel Gaines (1911-39?) lived with his family in a house on West Belle Place in the Vandeventer neighborhood. After graduating first in his class from Vashon High School, he became the first African-American to apply to the University of Missouri School of Law, then a segregated institution. After rejection of his application, Gaines, with the assistance of the NAACP, took his case first to the county court, then, the Missouri Supreme Court and finally, to the United States Supreme Court. The court landmark decision in 1938 was the first of a series that culminated in the abandonment of the 1896 "separate-but-equal" doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson.