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Thursday, Sept. 8, 2005 10:01 pm

At the crossroads

South Town, one of Springfield's historic neighborhoods, reaches for better days

art2434
Rick Mari slides across a wet South Grand after a thunderstorm. Some of the 100-year-old brick buildings line the horizon. “My dad used to play guitar at the Cracked Crock [a now-defunct bar],” Mari says. “I would help him cart his equipmen
PHOTO BY MICHAEL BROWN

In the first half of the 20th century, Springfield's South Town, a neighborhood defined by the intersection of 11th Street and South Grand Avenue, was a prominent neighborhood shopping center. Boasting restaurants and stores for fine jewelry and furniture, it was prime commercial real estate. South Town was "a city within a city," according to the State Journal-Register in 1937, "with stores and shops to suit every need."

But the spread of the suburbs hurt urban neighborhoods, and places such as South Town began to slowly deteriorate. In 1937 South Town had 26 stores; today there are eight.

In October 2004, the city of Springfield formed the Old South Town Redevelopment Program, which includes more than a half-dozen city blocks. The focus is primarily on providing assistance to the commercial and residential area to bring it back to the thriving, distinctive neighborhood it once was.

"While we cannot re-create the past, we can work to return economic vitality to this area and refashion it into a thriving and vibrant neighborhood," says Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin.

The mostly residential and somewhat rough neighborhood, a mix of white and black residents, is one block east of the railroad tracks that seem to divide Springfield into two communities.

"This is the crossroads," says resident Doug Delong.

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