Above: postcard with a view of the West Side Flats, 1910. From the Minnesota Historical Society.
Our work today as a community organization is rooted in our history here on this land, the West Side of Saint Paul. That means that all of our work is grounded in the histories of displacement that have affected the West Side, from the forced removal of the Dakota people in 1851, to the destruction of the immigrant community on the Riverside Flats in the early 1960’s, to today’s displacement of low-income people of color due to gentrification. To organize for a just and joyful West Side today, we must also learn about and understand the lessons from our past.
Let's learn about our history, together. We are beginning to listen to stories from our elders and compile archives from the West Side's past, and will share what we learn here, beginning with stories from the old West Side Flats. If you have a story, photograph, or other piece of history to share, please reach out to us at [email protected]!
According to MNOpedia, "In 1956 the city’s Port Authority announced the creation of Riverview Industrial Park—a project that needed every acre of the Flats. The city began buying houses in 1961 and tearing them down in 1962. By the end of 1963 the last residents of the Flats had left." However, many of the residents who we have interviewed claimed that they were forced to moved and never compensated for their lost homes, and a recent Minnesota Public Radio story highlighted how undercompensated families tried to fight back. "The insult to injury was that after we moved, they built a flood wall to protect this area. That has never sat right with any of us that grew up down here. 'Had you taken care of us, then maybe we could have done something with that housing, and we could have kept our neighborhood,'" said Don Luna in an interview with PBS (above). The MN Historical Society reports that 480 buildings were planned to be destroyed, displacing 2147 people.
In short, "it killed a community," said West Side flats resident George John Avalon.