LaFarge Pokes Veteran's Administration for Plans to Destroy Palladium

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PRESS PHOTO
  • Press Photo

One of St. Louis' most popular musicians entered the fray to save a nightclub pivotal to the history of St. Louis' music.

In a op-ed letter published on St. Louis Public Radio's web site, Pokey LaFarge chastised the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' desire to raze the Palladium (Plantation Club) at 3618 Enright Avenue in Grand Center. The club was also featured in this recent Riverfront Times piece about the threats to the landmarks of St. Louis' black music legacy.

LaFarge's plea, published Sunday, detailed the club's rich history as once a crown jewel in the city's early jazz scene.

From its construction in 1913 through the early 1950s, the building was associated with important musicians involved in both local and national development of dance, jazz and swing music.

So why does the Veterans' Administration want to demolish the Palladium? The VA claims it needs the space to expand the Cochran Hospital, but it could expand on its existing site or demolish buildings that aren't rare links to our musical heritage. Especially as St. Louis is launching the National Blues Museum, we should be preserving our remaining music history sites.

Kevin Belford, author of Devil at the Confluence: The Pre-War Blues Music of St. Louis Missouri, also penned a lengthy piece about efforts to save the Plantation Club in May 2011.

The VA's plans to tear the Plantation Club to the ground aren't new news. In fact, the VA wanted to raze the Plantation Club long before it erected the hospital.

A 2009 appropriations bill earmarked $44 million for the John Cochran Veterans Affairs Medical Center to build a 262,000-square-foot hospital tower.

UrbanReview STL published a Jan. 23, 1947 article that detailed the VA's threat that it would halt plans to build the $15 million hospital unless the city razed the Plantation Club.

A letter from Milton M. Kinsey, president of the Board of Public Service, was read at a meeting of the commission at Hotel Statler. It stated that Col. E. E. Bowie of Washington, an official of the VA, had informed the city that his organization is unwilling to erect a hospital so close to these places.

Turns out, according to the article, that the law didn't allow the VA to purchase the property because it wasn't "contiguous to its proposed hospital site." The agency wanted to purchase the site and turn it into a park.

Continue to page two for more.

The Palladium - CHRIS NAFFZIGER
  • Chris Naffziger
  • The Palladium

LaFarge wonders why the city would allow the VA to build the new facility just as Grand Center enters a period of revitalization, pointing to plans to resurrect the similarly troubled Sun Theater.

The Missouri Theater building, recently home of the Department of Health, will follow with a multi-million-dollar renovation slated to start in this new year. Tearing down the Palladium while Grand Center is bouncing back to life makes no sense.

LaFarge encouraged residents to contact the VA and Ward 19 Ald. Marlene Davis, saying that "...when you tear down a piece of our history, you're also risking losing your identity."

A Facebook group called Save The Palladium Building at Grand Center started December 7, 2011 and currently boasts 1,271 members.

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