Visitation Park Neighborhood Overview
Information concerning the neighborhood history, characteristics, institutions and organizations, planning and development.
The neighborhood is defined by Maple Avenue on the North, Delmar Boulevard on the South, Union Boulevard on the East, and Belt Avenue on the West. Visitation Park is a small neighborhood nestled southeast of the West End neighborhood, just north of DeBaliviere Place.
The area that today makes up the Visitation Park neighborhood remained largely undeveloped landholdings through the first half of the nineteenth century. Jean Pierre Cabanne had a farm just to the east. The area within its present-day boundaries became part of Survey 378, which was the property of Lucien Cabanne, James Clemens Jr. and Emanuel de Hodiamont. By 1875, several large estates with fashionable mansions were located along the west side of Union, north of Delmar, including homes of the Blossom, Monks, Cabanne, Colman and Gay families. As the century drew to a close, housing construction increased substantially as landholdings were subdivided into smaller residential developments. During the 1890’s and through the World’s Fair years, the area became home to exclusive subdivisions, small private places such as Windemere Place(1895), Beverly Place(1905), and Savoy Court(1909), as well as prominent institutions.
The area particularly became a center for educational institutions. Among these, Visitation Academy was one of the earliest to move to the area. The school was incorporated in 1858 by the Visitation Nuns who had arrived in St.Louis from Kaskaskia following the flood of 1844. In 1892, the school moved from a site on Cass near Twentieth Street to a large French Renaissance style building on a tract at the southeast corner of Cabanne and Belt Avenues. Other educational institutions that followed include:
- Smith Academy(1905), an elite preparatory school for boys and male-counter part to Mary Institute
- Soldan High School, which upon its opening in 1909 was the brightest gem in the city’s public school system
- and St. Philomena’s Technical School(1910), founded as a training school for girls.
Cultural organizations such as the St. Louis Artists Guild(1908) and Young Men’s Hebrew Association(1927) were also drawn to the area.
The years after World War II were a significant period of transition both for the city as a whole and within the small area today known as Visitation Park. Beginning during the 1930’s and continuing through this period, large numbers of African Americans migrated from rural area of the South to St. Louis. In the late 1940’s, the removal of restrictive covenants greatly increased housing options for African Americans. Simultaneously, many white middle-class residents moved out of the City to new homes in the county. These forces resulted in a dramatic transition in theneighborhood in the 1950’s and 1960’s, from predominately white community to a predominately African American community. During these years, the neighborhood was the childhood home of contemporary African American poet, playwright and novelist, Ntzake Shange. InBetsy Brown : A Novel, she deals with the black community in St. Louis during this time and the upheaval caused by court-ordered integration.
Churches and other institutions in the neighborhood responded to these changes in different ways. The Pilgrim Congregational Church, that had existed in the area since the World’s Fair, made a decision in 1953 to remain in the area rather than move west. It became one of the first St. Louis churches to welcome an integrated membership. While some institutions adapted or converted to different uses, many followed residents to their new homes in the county. Of those that moved west, some, such as Visitation Academy, the Y.M.H.A and the St. Louis Artist Guild, are now prominent institutions in the county. When Visitation Academy made a westward move in 1962, the property was sold to the City and became the site of Visitation Park.
In 1955, the West End Community Conference was organized by black and white neighbors to combat problems of blight in the area bounded by Hodiamont, Delmar, Union, Page, and the City limits. At this time, the present-day neighborhood was a smaller area of the West End neighborhood. In 1963, the City declared the 693-acre area of the West End to be blighted and eligible for $30,000,000 in urban renewal funds. One of the last bills of the retiring Alderman C.B. Broussard in early 1975 was to create the Visitation Park Historic District. The area around the park was delineated as a separate entity and thus, establishing the Visitation Park neighborhood.