On the third Saturday of July neighbors and former residents gathered in the 2300 block of Mullanphy Street in north St. Louis.
That’s when the annual block party always takes place.
But this would be the last one.
In a matter of months homes in this St. Louis Place neighborhood will be knocked down to make way for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s new $1.7 billion facility.
"My dream was that they would do in-fill building," said Janet Bradley, who lives one block to the east. "When we moved in here there were houses up and down the street, all the kids played together, the parents watched out. This was a real community."
Bradley lives in the home her parents bought more than 50 years ago. She said she and her husband have found another house, but it won’t be the same as living near neighbors she’s known for decades.
"Once you’ve been together this long, you’re no longer friends. You’re really family," she said.
There’s a pride in this neighborhood that now has more vacant land than homes. Many people recall how momentous it was for their parents or grandparents to buy a house for the very first time.
"People who came maybe from Pruitt and Igoe and other places became home owners in the hopes of passing their homes to their children," said Joyce Belk Miller.
Her mother, Kathleen Belk, moved into a three-story brick in 1957. While Miller left her mother’s house after getting married nearly 40 years ago, she still considers it home. Now it will be a matter of days before moving her mother to a new house in north St. Louis County.
"I’m having a hard time leaving," Miller said, choking back tears. "I know my mother is in a little bit in denial. I keep telling her we have to go and she said ‘I don’t have to go right now. I can come back next week.’ No, you can’t come back next week."
As music played over loud speakers and old friends laughed together, there was also an air of sadness. John Ellston stood with his daughter gazing around the party. He said he’d come back to the neighborhood every year for this.
"It’s hurting my heart. The next time we come down these houses are going to be gone," he said. "It’s sad."
When asked his thoughts on the coming NGA facility, like most here, Ellston said he hoped it would bring new life to the area.
"Now that it’s a done deal, I hope so," he said. "I hope this wasn’t all in vain."
People began moving out in June and the city is planning to have the area emptied out completely by late September. Demolition could begin in October.
For now neighbors and former residents are collecting one another’s phone numbers and new addresses. They say they’ll try to continue this annual block party, some way.
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