Home   Days in El Dorado   St. Louis Addition Not What It Was by Shea Wilson News-Times Staff 03/24/94

St. Louis Addition Not What It Was by Shea Wilson News-Times Staff 03/24/94

In its heyday, the St. Louis addition attracted such notable jazz and blues artists as Louis Armstrong and B. B. King to El Dorado.

Establishments such as The Plaza were popular night spots for the black community, drawing large crowds from all over South Arkansas to the neighborhood, located just off of North West Avenue.

While many businesses catered to the area’s entertainment needs, others that lined Liberty Street provided a variety of services and goods.

Pete Sims Jr. has lived in the St. Louis addition all his life.  He enjoyed the good times, but was also witnessed to the demise of the area.

From the location of Sims Mortuary (423 Liberty), he can point to almost any direction around him, recalling what used to be.

“Most known blues and jazz artists played up at The Plaza (333 Liberty).  And, the Washington High School basketball team played their games there.  “I played at The Plaza,” said Sims, a 1942 graduate of WHS, the city’s former black high school.

The Plaza was a wooden building during Sims’ youth.  The front part served as a tavern and the back was a dance hall, where basketball games also were played.

The current brick building where the Plaza was located remains and a business still operated in the location in the mid-to late 1980s, but like most black businesses in that area, its success ended with integration, Sims said.  The building east of the Plaza was a movie theater at one time.

“From the boom days on up until the late 1950s and early 1960s, the area thrived,” he said.  “Before integration, it was the only place blacks could go out.”

Sims recalled at lest 60 businesses in the St. Louis area, including shoe shines, taverns, cafes, dance halls, rooming houses, apartments, grocery stores and others.

According to the 1924 El Dorado City Directory, the St. Louis addition included West Bell (now Cordell), North Columbia, Kinard, Liberty, Lincoln streets and Union Avenue.  And, it was identified in the directory as the St. Louis addition.  However, by the time of the 1966 directory, the area had lost that identity.  Only the street names were used.

When the area was thriving, businesses lined both sides of Liberty Street, Sims said.

In the 1924 directory, some of the businesses on the street included the Black cafe, Sims Pool Hall, St. Louis Inn Cafe, Alexandria Barber, Cleaning & Pressing, Coats of Colanthis Lodge Hall, Dixie Shining Parlor, the New York Cafe, Poro Hotel, Edward Cutler Sr. Grocery, Dixie Barber Shop and L. B. burks, a tailor.

Columbia Street was home to Dr. Edward L. Dunning and the Washington Institute.

By the mid-1960s, the names had changed along Liberty to include the St. Louis Pool Hall, the Continental Club, Greystone Court Apartments, Liberty Street Cafe, 52-20 Club, Ingram’s Chicken Shack Restaurant, Ingram’s Pool Hall, the Liberty Hotel, Plaza Cafe, Liberty Street Barber Shop, Powell’s Drive Inn and El Dorado Victrola & Bicycle Shop Repair.

Sims said the Continental Club, which was located at 312 Liberty, was owned by the Merryweather family.  It was a tavern on the bottom level and a dance hall on the second floor.  The original wooden building burned and was rebuilt in brick.

Most of the businesses referred to as hotels actually were rooming houses, he said. The Family Life Center (621 Cordell) of First Baptist Church on Cordell was once a rooming house.

According to Virginia Frazier of El Dorado, who grew up in the area, blacks owned most of the property in that part of town before integration.

They owned from North Jefferson “on down to the hospital,” she said.

She provided the News-Times with several programs from state meetings of the Order of Elks held in El Dorado through the years.  Several of the ads in the programs were for businesses in the St. Louis area, which included a part of North West Avenue, she said.

One of the businesses, Sims Cafe, was owned by her aunt and uncle, Ida and Brock Sims.  The cafe was located at 626 North West Ave.  The family also owned another cafe on Hill Street, a barber shop and a pool hall.

Businesses listed in a 1950 Elks program included Moore’s Cash Grocery, 618 Lincoln; Grant’s Cafe, 227 Liberty; Lonnie Mitchell’s Confectioner, 220 Liberty; Small Town Barber Shop and Beauty Parlor, 333 Liberty, the Savoy Theater, 624 N West Ave; Farris Grocery 807 Ouachita; Sister’s Place, 218 Liberty; and Mason’s Grocery and Market, 805 Ouachita.
An El Dorado News Times reporter interviewed Pete Sims and Virginia Frazier.

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