We are excited to announce the launch of a new digital exhibit on our website: Stories From the Flats. This exhibit is a series of portraits and interviews that seek to uncover and uplift the voices of those who grew up on the West Side Flats before the neighborhood was destroyed.
The old West Side flats was the first neighborhood for many immigrants arriving in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and it grew into a vibrant neighborhood with Jewish, Mexican, white, African American, Lebanese, Syrian, and many other communities.
The Mississippi River flooded the neighborhood frequently, and local officials used this as a pretext to force families from their homes in the early 1960s. After the neighborhood was gone, the City built a flood wall to protect a new development: the Riverview Industrial Park.
The Minnesota Historical Society reports that 480 homes and buildings were destroyed, displacing 2,147 people. In short, "it killed a community," said West Side flats resident George Avaloz. This had a devastating impact on generations of West Siders, who nevertheless have fought to maintain their identity, culture, and community. To date, there has been no formal recognition or redress.
"This year marks the 60th anniversary of displacement, and today we publicly and collectively call into memory the harm that was done,” stated Monica Bravo, Executive Director at the West Side Community Organization (WSCO), the neighborhood district council. “How many families were not fairly compensated for their homes? What opportunities for generational wealth building were cut short? What was the cultural cost of dispersing one of the city's most diverse neighborhoods? Who benefited from this displacement? How will future development in our neighborhood avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, and work towards truly equitable opportunities for all West Siders?”