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Photo by Andrew Richards
Annabelle Gibson, 83, of East Alton, points to an older photo taken of the apartment complex that was owned by three generations of her family. The building, which consists of four apartments and is one of the complexes built during World War II for temporary housing, was recently bought from the family so it could be demolished for East Alton’s Emerald Ridge project.
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Photo by Andrew Richards
Now, the apartment complex sits in what Annabelle Gibson describes as “a war zone.” The building waits to be razed to make way for new development.
EAST ALTON – It stands alone in what Annabelle Gibson refers to as “a war zone.”
It waits for its impending doom.
The apartment complex at 417-423 Ohio St., owned by three generations, will become a victim of the village’s $15.8 million venture aimed at cleaning up the “defense area.” The complex was part of temporary housing built during World War II for workers at the Olin munitions plant.
But for Gibson’s family, the building meant so much more.
Gibson’s parents, Homer and Iva McPeak, moved to East Alton in 1943 in search of work for Homer. Gibson was 13 at the time.
They settled into a three-bedroom apartment at 74 West Drive, where they would raise three children, Gibson, her sister, Katie, and brother, Leonard. When the street's name changed, the apartment's address changed to 74 Ohio St., and later to 423 Ohio St.
The apartment was part of a four-apartment complex that sat in the “defense area,” which consists of two blocks that stretch north up East Drive to Reed Drive, west to Ohio Street, south to Third Street and east toward East Drive again.
Documents Gibson provided showed the McPeaks paid $29 a month for rent at the time.
In 1954, McPeak paid the federal government $10,750 to own the complex, which consisted of two three-bedroom and two one-bedroom apartments. He charged $32 a month on the apartment leases.
Gibson said her father, who worked about 20 years for the village, owned it until his death in 1982, and after that it was passed to her mother.
“Daddy had two tenants that lived there,” she said. “Each of them lived there 27 years. One of them is dead now and the other one is alive and she’ll be 103 in July. She lives in Grafton. I talked to her the other day. She’s still sharp.”
Gibson, 83, said she lived in the apartment until 1949 when she was 19, then moved back in 1952 and lived there another seven years. She now lives at 406 Lincoln Ave., right behind the complex.
She said her father took care of the building when he owned it, making improvements such as adding aluminum siding.
“Daddy was no slumlord,” she said, in reference to the area having a reputation for irresponsible landlords. “In fact, he built a garage; there’s a brick garage built right here on the alley, a two-car garage.”
Gibson said her father even furnished the apartments with couches, chairs, a dining room set, a refrigerator and a stove.
After he died, followed by the death of Gibson’s mother in 1996, the complex was given to Gibson and her siblings. She bought them out.
In 2004, the youngest of Gibson’s three children, Christine Cunningham, bought the building from her for $40,453 on a contract for deed. Cunningham had been living in the complex since 1996 and sold the property to RISE, the St. Louis developer in charge of the redevelopment project.
Cunningham would not comment on how much she sold it for except to say she made a profit.
She will be moving in to live across from her mother at 409 Lincoln Ave.
Gibson said the apartment complex always had her family name stamped on it.
“That place has been the McPeak house since ’43,” she said. “Nobody else has lived there except the McPeaks.”
She agrees it was time for it to go but cherishes memories made in the building.
Gibson said not much changed on how the family ran the complex, other than the increased monthly rent payments for changing economic times. Since the starting $29 monthly payment, prices have ranged from $32 to $100 to $375.
“It was time,” Gibson said. The housing that the complex was part of wasn’t “supposed to stay in that long. They were supposed to be torn down anyhow.”