17 Images from Peak St. Louis: 1949-1952

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StLouisPopSignThe following images were taken between 1949-1952, a time when the City of St. Louis reached its peak population of 856,796 (1950 Census). Though only a handful of images, the areas shown, Market Street, Grand Center, Lindell, and Forest Park, have changed very little. It’s incredible to think that in the ensuing half-century, more than 537,000 residents would leave the city and that so much could be retained. Of course, the loss of the city’s built environment has hit hardest in the residential areas of north city.

Photos by Erwin Louis Ocker (1894-1965), courtesy of Louis Takács:

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  • illusion87

    Looks like it USED to be a nice place.

  • kjohnson04

    A vibrant city of three quarters of a million people. It’s amazing to note at one point we had the population density of San Fransisco. It’ll be a long road back.

  • Adam

    that Lucas Park scene is beautiful. Wish it was still that picturesque.

    • jhoff1257

      I was down there a few weeks ago taking some photos of that area. It’s still pretty nice I think. It’d be nice if the fountain and little pond were still there, but other then that I think it’s pretty picturesque. This is one of the pics I snapped. It’s from a different angle though.

  • matimal

    A world before the Suburban Industrial Complex. It wasn’t all inevitable. It was a choice to create an new economy that undermined the existing one.

  • Joanne smelser

    I remember coming down to St Louis from Eau Claire Wi. during these years. It seems so long ago now….

  • HawkSTL

    Great photos Alex. Its great that we’ve come full circle in caring for these areas. They are back or nearly back to their former glory. Thanks for sharing.

  • Eddie in NorCal

    I like the ’49 Jeep Willys wagon cruising past City Hall in the 1st photo, shows up in some of the other pictures, too.

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  • Laura Lewandowski

    This is the time period my mother, who graduated from McKinley in ’54, was in her teens in St. Louis. Makes these photos precious to me.

  • jhoff1257

    They were way better landscapers back then…

  • rgbose

    The traffic must have been so bad then!

    • HawkSTL

      Ha ha – nice one. I’d let you have it, but it is fair to point out that many households did not own a car or only owned one in that era. Things have changed.

      • rgbose

        Also fair to point out throught gov’t action autos have gone from a tool to a ptosthetic sapping wealth from households, conributing to poverty.

        At least the air quality is better since then when a lot of buildings burned low grade coal. Though also fair to point out all our counties receive an F from the Amer Lung Assoc thanks in part to all the unnecessary vmt.

        • HawkSTL

          I don’t understand the contributing to poverty reference. U.S. median household income, adjusted for inflation, rose from 24,000 to $42,000 from 1950 to 2000. In 2015, it was $54,000. So, a 55% increase in median household income = government contributing to poverty? I think you have to more than manipulate the data to reach that conclusion.

          • rgbose

            Transportation costs have gone from 10% of household income in 1970 to 20% today, higher for those lower down. It’s a contributing factor to persistant poverty. Add on top the traffic fines and fees bei g used to fund towns with low yielding auto’oriented land uses. Add in the extra burden to maintain public and private infrastructure that isn’t supportting a commensorate amount of economic activity. Seems to me that’s all a contributing factor to families’ increasing striggle to get by.

          • SeenInMaplewood

            To add to your point, assuming you aren’t being tongue and cheek (it is hard to tell on the webs sometimes). In 1950 a married couple earning the average per capita income would pay a 7.6% effective tax rate including FICA. With 2 kids, they would pay only 1% FICA tax. That compares to a 15.2% tax rate in 2015. Oddly weird that it almost exactly doubled.
            Yes I did all the calculations correctly and, yes, I could have been doing more important things with my life instead.
            Side note: I actually used a 1950 tax return to figure out income tax. Check it out sometime. It is pretty wild and only 1 page.

          • rgbose

            I was quite serious on that one. Here’s the FICA rates over time.


            The addition of Medicare and keeping up with few workers per benefits recipient pushed it up.

            The same thing is happening with infrastructure as we spread out. More for each household to take care of and more spent going further to places.

          • Alex Ihnen

            Textbook example of using a true statistic.

    • SeenInMaplewood

      Didn’t you see the wires for streetcars?

      • rgbose

        Yes, my comment was tough in check.

        • SeenInMaplewood

          Had I thought about the source closer, I probably would have realized the intention of your statement. However, my intention wasn’t really to respond to your comment, it was was pretty much just a way to fit contextually into the discussion the fact that I noticed the streetcar wiring, got excited, then immediately sad about it.

  • Adam

    With the exception of the Castleman-Mackay mansion and the Grand/Lindell intersection most of the stuff in those pictures is still standing. I so so wish city hall could be restored to it’s original state though.

    • Justin

      It’s surprising that most of it has survived considering how much has been lost in other areas of the city.

      Also that mansion at Spring and Lindell is gone as well. I believe it was torn down in the 70s

      • Adam

        correct. that was the Castleman-Mackay mansion. it was a beauty…

        • Justin

          Oh I thought you were referring to the Mansion that sits between what is now Jesuit Hall and the Scottish Rites Cathedral. Which was also demolished for a parking lot at some point.

          I read something about it a while back but can not remember who it belonged to.

      • Louis Takács

        For the records, here’s the Castleman-Mackay Mansion inside and out in 1960:


        • Adam

          I just can’t comprehend how someone can look at such a beautiful structure and say “This would be a great spot for a parking lot!”