Why They Built the Pruitt-Igoe Project

(The pattern of Corruption and Incompetence we see in Hollywood’s woes is not new. This article shows how the same philosophy of “elegant density” created one of America’s worst Redevelopment nightmares, and the HCP is a blueprint to bring the same disaster upon Hollywood. – Richard Abrams)

by Alexander von Hoffman, Joint Center for Housing Studies, Harvard University.

St. Louis’s Pruitt-Igoe housing project is arguably the most infamous public housing project ever built in the United States. A product of the postwar federal public-housing program, this mammoth high-rise development was completed in 1956.

Only a few years later, disrepair, vandalism, and crime plagued Pruitt-Igoe. The project’s recreational galleries and skip-stop elevators, once heralded as architectural innovations, had become nuisances and danger zones. Large numbers of vacancies indicated that even poor people preferred to live anywhere but Pruitt-Igoe. In 1972, after spending more than $5 million in vain to cure the problems at Pruitt-Igoe, the St. Louis Housing Authority, in a highly publicized event, demolished three of the high-rise buildings. A year later, in concert with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, it declared Pruitt-Igoe unsalvageable and razed the remaining buildings.

Pruitt-Igoe has lived on symbolically as an icon of failure. Liberals perceive it as exemplifying the government’s appalling treatment of the poor. Architectural critics cite it as proof of the failure of high-rise public housing for families with children. One critic even asserted that its destruction signaled the end of the modern style of architecture.

Yet for all the criticisms, little is known about why Pruitt-Igoe was designed as a massive high-rise project in the first place. One popular theory blames the Swiss architect, Le Corbusier, and his influential conception of a modernist city of high rises. Another points to segregationist policies aimed at confining African-American residential areas to the inner city. Perhaps the most widely accepted theory holds that the federal Public Housing Administration’s (PHA) restrictive cost guidelines for public-housing construction required the construction of a megalithic high-rise project.

An examination of what really happened in St. Louis, however, reveals that the essential concept of Pruitt-Igoe arose from the desperation of civic leaders to save their city by rebuilding it, a bricks-and-mortar type mayor who sang “I’ll take Manhattan,” and an ambitious young architect with no place to go but up.

As they surveyed their city at the end of World War II, St. Louis’s business and political leaders had reason to be anxious. The city was one of only four in the United States to have lost population in the 1930s. In 1947 the City Plan Commission devised a comprehensive physical plan to bring people back to St. Louis. The plan designated the DeSoto-Carr neighborhood, the eventual site of Pruitt-Igoe, as “extremely obsolete” and provided detailed site plans for its reconstruction. The commission proposed clearing the area and constructing “two- or three-story row type apartment buildings” and a large public park.

The election of Joseph Darst as mayor transformed these plans. Elected in 1949, Darst typified the new breed of big-city mayors who came to power in the postwar period. These mayors distanced themselves from the old-style political bosses and looked for support from downtown business interests. They campaigned for the revival of their aging cities and promoted large-scale physical building programs that included highways, airports, and especially downtown and neighborhood redevelopment. Darst, in particular, considered the low-rise projects built by his predecessors to be ugly. Instead, he greatly admired the new high-rise public housing projects that New York mayor William O’Dwyer had shown him on a visit to that city.

Under pressure from Darst to move forward, in January 1950 the St. Louis Housing Authority revived the City Plan Commission’s redevelopment scheme for the DeSoto-Carr neighborhood. Meanwhile architects George Hellmuth and Minoru Yamasaki — who had been hired at Darst’s insistence — persuaded the authority to adopt modernist-style high-rise designs for public housing. The first of these was Cochran Gardens, which later won architectural awards. This was followed by a much larger-scale plan for Pruitt-Igoe which, when completed, contained 2,870 dwelling units in 33 eleven-story buildings.

These structures were no anomaly. Instead, the Pruitt-Igoe project was the product of a larger vision of St. Louis government and business leaders who wanted to rebuild their city into a Manhattan on the Mississippi. Other redevelopment schemes of the time, for example, placed middle- and high-income residents in buildings that actually rivaled Pruitt-Igoe in height and scale.

There is, moreover, no evidence that redevelopment plans intended to make an all-black, all-poor enclave at DeSoto Carr, which had been a poor area housing both whites and blacks before it was razed. An early scheme would have produced a majority of middle-income black residents. The final plan designated the Igoe apartments for whites and the Pruitt apartments for blacks. Whites were unwilling to move in, however, so the entire Pruitt-Igoe project soon had only black residents.

Nor is there any truth in claims that PHA cost limits forced the authority to increase the project’s scale. On the contrary, building contractors inflated their bids to the point that public-housing construction costs in St. Louis were 60 percent above the national average. When the PHA would not raise its unit cost ceilings to accommodate the contractor bids, the city responded by raising densities, reducing room sizes, and removing amenities.

Ultimately, the massive, destructive, and expensive effort at re-development that produced Pruitt-Igoe failed to stem or even notice-ably slow the city’s decline. From 1950 to 1970, the city’s population fell by 234,000 people, and its share of the St. Louis metropolitan area’s population plummeted from 51 percent to 26 percent. This sad fact adds what may be the largest failure to the formidable list of failures associated with Pruitt-Igoe: even if it had been built as proposed, Pruitt-Igoe, the child of a grandiose vision that failed, probably would have failed anyway.

[bold type added to article by SaveHollywood.Org]



Author was Alexander von Hoffman is an urban historian. This piece is excerpted from his working paper, “Why They Built Pruitt-Igoe.” For information on how to order the paper, visit the Taubman Center Publications Page.

Rejoice, Rejoice, the Wicked CRA is Dead!

by George Abrahams

For years the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA/LA) has been imposing ugly, soulless monstrosities upon our community using a command and control central planning model. They use their power over the objections of the residents.

The court upheld the enactment of Assembly Bill 1X 26, dissolving redevelopment agencies and redirecting their property tax revenues.

Assembly Bill 1X 27 was unconstitutional because it conditioned the ability of redevelopment agencies to conduct new business on agreeing to an annual payment plan based on a portion of property tax revenues allocated to redevelopment agencies.

Angelenos are already on the hook for over $3 BILLION in CRA debt.

The projects over the Subway Stations are huge financial failures:

(1)  Hollywood-Highland lost $454 Million Dollars, that’s almost $ 1/2 Billion.

(2) The W Hotel has most of its condos vacant and hotel rates are in the basement.

(3) Hollywood-Western cannot rent 1/2 of its retail space after 8 years!

Redevelopment Agencies Sitting on $10 to $20 Billion in Reserve Funds
by Bob Blue

As the State and local municipalities continue furloughing employees, closing fire stations “brown outs,” cutting Educational funding, and reducing local services please use your collective influence to prevent any more precious tax dollars being diverted away from critical local services by preventing any legislation that attempts to bring back Redevelopment agencies.

State Controller John Chiang and State Treasurer Bill Lockyer understands the waste and fraud involved in Redevelopment agencies and most importantly the fact that Redevelopment siphons away Property Tax dollars from schools, fire, health, and other local government services and directs these public funds to subsidize wealthy private developers and their private projects that in the long run hurt communities.


Here is a link to a good Editorial from the Press Enterprise: http://www.pe.com/opinion/editorials-headlines/20120108-state-redevelopment-ii.ece

As you may know, the California Supreme Court decided to keep a bill that would end Redevelopment in California and throw out another bill that would allow Redevelopment Agencies partially survive. (Throwing out AB1X-27 and upholding AB1X-26). Politically connected developers that benefit financially from this form of Corporate welfare are lobbying the State to save their source of taxpayer handouts.


Redevelopment takes any increase in property taxes due to valuation increases since the establishment of a Redevelopment regardless of what causes property values to increase. All of that money (the Tax Increment) goes to the Redevelopment agency to fund private projects and their politically connected developers and repay bond indebtedness).

In some areas such as Bunker Hill in Downtown Los Angeles, kept all of the property tax increases since 1959 (over 50 years!). Just imagine how much the property values and taxes increased in 50 years and all of those funds were diverted away from local services for the people of Los Angeles.

And all of the taxpayers in the State have to make up the budget shortfalls.

Allowing Redevelopment agencies to survive, will just make matters worse for all Californians. Our budget and economic problems will drag on if Redevelopment comes back. Instead let’s start the road to economic recovery by returning Property Taxes back to the way the voters originally intended for them to be used.

Please make sure that our State representatives understand this. (See “How You Can Help” link for access info)

CRA Meeting 5-15-2008


Supreme Court Rebukes Crony Capitalism


Redevelopment agencies’ new bill targets Feb. 1 deadline


California Planning & Development Report
City, County, State Play Hot Potato with Los Angeles RDA | California Planning & Development Report


The City Maven
End of Community Redevelopment Agency Could Mean More Money for LAFD