Aerial View of Pruitt-Igoe

Aerial View of Pruitt-Igoe

For those interested in St. Louis history and/or the fate of the American city in the 20th century, the new Chad Freidrichs documentary, The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, is a must-see. I was very fortunate to attend the first St. Louis screening of the 83-minute film April 9 at the Missouri History Museum. The screening was sold out, so a big shout-out to my mom for scoring tickets in time!

The Pruitt-Igoe housing development – 33 eleven-story buildings – opened in the City of St. Louis in 1954. Twenty years later, it was demolished and has stood since that time as a symbol of the failure of public housing and public assistance programs.

“At the film’s historical center,” read the film’s website, “is an analysis of the massive impact of the national urban renewal program of the 1950s and 1960s, which prompted the process of mass suburbanization and emptied American cities of their residents, businesses, and industries.  Those left behind in the city faced a destitute, rapidly de-industrializing St. Louis, parceled out to downtown interests and increasingly segregated by class and race.”

Implosion of Pruitt-Igoe

Implosion of Pruitt-Igoe

But was Pruitt-Igoe a complete failure? The Pruitt-Igoe Myth suggests that it was not.

One former resident featured in the film says she felt like her Pruitt-Igoe apartment was a “poor man’s penthouse.” Other former residents speak to the feeling they had as children when they moved into the housing project just before Christmas. One woman recalls all of the Christmas lights; for her, the experience was magical. Another memory shared is the feeling of grooving to Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Streets.” These former residents seem to indicate that Pruitt-Igoe – known mostly to us now through the images of its implosion – was, in fact, not a complete failure.

“The Pruitt-Igoe Myth attempts to reassess the complex history of Pruitt-Igoe within the larger post-War context of segregation, poverty, and urban population decline,” says a press release about the film. “It gives special emphasis to the stories of the residents who managed to adapt to, and survive, the downward spiral of vacancy, vandalism and crime that made Pruitt-Igoe infamous. By examining the interests involved in Pruitt-Igoe’s creation and re-evaluating the rumors and the stigma associated with it, the film reveals a much more nuanced vision of Pruitt-Igoe that implodes the well-worn stereotypes and myths.”

To view the trailer, click the video I’ve embedded at the end of this post. To learn more about the film, go to, or visit!/thepruittigoemyth. The website is a treasure-trove of information about the housing project and about the film. If you’re interested in Pruitt-Igoe but can’t get to a screening, you’ll learn a lot just by visiting key sections of the site: film summaries; a blog; a series of informative press releases; and a great page titled “Urban History.” Read Robert Koehler’s review in Variety, and listen to KWMU’s St. Louis on the Air interview with the filmmaker (click here for a partial transcript).

So far, there are no other St. Louis screenings scheduled – but I’ll let Wellston Loop readers know as soon as I hear anything about future showings.

2 Comments on New Film: “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth”

  1. JerryBerry says:

    The official trailer:
    (I don’t see an embedded video, for whatever reason.)
    (YouTube is easier to use than Vimeo)