city-establishes-marvin-court-home-as-historic-landmark

City Establishes Marvin Court Home As Historic Landmark

Displaying a placard of its 1956 historic home designation, along with framed articles about the history of the home at 15 Marvin Court, are Joel Jones, Rev. David Denoon and Gayle Jones. | photo by Rebecca Novak

Just in time for Thanksgiving, the city of Webster Groves has a newly-designated historic structure — the home located at 15 Marvin Court. 

On Nov. 21, the Webster Groves City Council voted unanimously to establish the home as a city-designated historic landmark, deeming it a site of special historic significance. The council awarded a placard of its 1956 designation, as well as framed articles about the history of the house, to the home’s owner, Gayle Jones, and her son, Joel Jones.

The designation is the result of a year of research by Gayle Jones and Rev. David Denoon, pastor of First Congregational Church in Webster Groves. Webster Groves City Council Member Pam Bliss said it was an incredible discovery and commended the two for bringing it to light. Others agreed.

“I’m glad we’re moving in this direction to make 15 Marvin Court a historical landmark in Webster Groves,”  said Council Member Emerson Smith.

Gayle Jones spoke at last week’s council meeting.

“One year ago this month, November 2022, the story of the hidden history of Webster Groves was beginning to come to light. This is God’s story. He just chose me and Pastor David Denoon to tell it,” she said.

The council found facts that support the designation, including the following: 

• Bennie Gordon, a resident of North Webster, who was a proponent of community change and racial equity, owned the first African American Realty Company in the St. Louis area. Through his business, he applied for and was approved to develop a 13-lot subdivision on April 21, 1955, which he named the Bennie Gordon Subdivision, and established the street Marvin Court. 

• The first home of the subdivision, a display home at 15 Marvin Court, was built. It was purchased by Gayle Jones’ parents, Melvin and Thyra Bonds, in late 1956. Records indicate that no other applications were turned in for construction of the remainder of the homes in the subdivision. 

• In April of 1964, the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority went before the plan commission requesting to rezone roughly 13 acres of land (50 parcels) to light industrial. These properties included the remaining parcels of land for the Bennie Gordon Subdivision. 

• The rezoning also proposed to vacate the street that had been dedicated as Marvin Court, along with other residential streets in the area. It was approved by the plan commission with ultimate final approval by the city council in October of 1964. Subsequent lawsuits were unsuccessful. The house at 15 Marvin Court and a small section of the street right of way are all that remain of the Bennie Gordon Subdivision.

Time, geography, people and events shape each community and form its overall character. Based on the written evidence presented and the oral testimony given, Webster’s current city council found that the significant history of the home made it worthy of preservation, ensuring that the story endures for generations to come. 

Webster Groves has 48 historic landmarks and five historic districts. Information about the city’s historic landmarks and each of the historic districts is available at the Webster Groves Library, through the Historic Preservation Commission and the city’s building commissioner, or on the city’s website at webstergrovesmo.gov. 

Benefits of historic structure designation are assistance from the city’s architectural review board to develop appropriate plans and designs that protect against unnecessary destruction of important historic features, and protecting against demolition or relocation. 

Tax incentives may also apply that help offset project costs, making restoration and preservation of historic buildings more economically feasible. 

Historic designation encourages continued interest and research into the community’s past for the benefit of future generations. This entire journey started when a former member of First Congregational Church, visiting for the Thanksgiving holiday last year, dropped off a Sunday School photo album for the church archives. 

There, Denoon would see a photo of Jones’ sister, Kassandra Bonds, the only Black child in her class. This kicked off a search for information on African American congregation members, which led to the discovery of Jones and the hidden history of 15 Marvin Court.

Denoon is now interviewing residents, whose homes were razed when the land was cleared to make way for industrial businesses. With Jones’ help, he has located an individual who worked for Dr. Hoard’s Black-owned filling station and a neighbor of Jones, whose dad was born in one of the homes that was torn down. 

Denoon has plans for sabbatical next year to do more research and continue his historical deep dive into the hidden history of North Webster. The stories continue to be discovered and evolve.

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