The former residence of music giant Miles Davis, which had to be demolished at one point, now functions as a non-profit organization and an incubator for learning for young people.
The House of Miles East St. Louis (“HOME”, that is) is a non-profit tribute to Miles Davis, the influential American trumpeter, bandleader and composer – that “The Encyclopedia of Jazz” calls “the most innovative jazz musician from the late 1940s through the 1960s,” according to his bio capsule on the St. Louis Walk of Fame website.
Lauren A. Parks, president and co-founder of HOME, could hardly agree more enthusiastically. “Miles Davis was constantly evolving,” she says. “His artistic talent is intergenerational and intergender. His artistic development began in the East St. Louis/Metro East area, which included his formative years in the house that is now House of Miles East St. Louis. He also formed his first basement band there!
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Nowadays, thanks to the efforts of her and a friend, HOME welcomes visitors from all over the region, the country and the world for scheduled visits. And yet, for Davis’ childhood home after he was born in Alton, this tribute structure at 1701 Kansas Ave. experienced an uncomfortably close call not too long ago, Parks says.
While serving as executive assistant to the mayor of East St. Louis from 2007 to 2015, she noted with concern that a municipal demolition list included the address of the Davis property, which had sat vacant for quite a while. part of two decades, despite the family’s efforts to donate it to a number of organizations.
It called for action – and Parks took it. She partnered with longtime friend Gary Pearson to establish HOME and save the landmark across Mississippi with personal funds and resources – and “with dedication, determination, authenticity and courage!”
After a local engineering firm, operating pro bono, declared the 1920s property structurally sound, Parks and Pearson began planning in earnest.
Beginning in 2015, Phase I focused on salvage and restoration, as well as preserving the original integrity of the property, which is now recognized by the St. Clair County Historical Society. External and internal efforts at the time included the excavation of all surrounding land, the installation of a donated HVAC system and new windows, the construction of an accessible ramp, and the completion of numerous other structural projects. A pre-opening in 2016, HOME’s first “Kind of Blue & You” celebration and fundraiser, allowed the community to learn exactly what Phase I has achieved on that date.
Phase II, which began in July 2020, included among its multiple projects the renovation of an outdoor courtyard for entertainment purposes and the creation of an upstairs music learning space designed with input from students. Across the street from HOME, a late 1800s structure has been converted into HOME’s Educational Enrichment Center at 1636 Missouri Ave.
Phase II further involved a focus on healthy eating and living, leadership and fitness components for young people, including an agricultural program and the Muttigree program supporting the social and emotional development of young people. and support for stray animals that would otherwise be euthanized.
Phase III, of late, involved the development and construction of the lower level of 1701 Kansas Ave., where Davis often practiced. This venue, which will be called Miles’ Cellar, will function as an event space equipped with numerous bottles of wine.
Activity beyond Phase III, if all goes as planned, will focus on a newly acquired property at 1709 Kansas Ave., which is expected to house HOME’s recording studio – Studio 100.
Given such an obvious devotion to Davis, one can’t help but wonder which of his numbers is Parks’ personal favorite. “That must be a trick question!” she exclaims. “Of course, Miles’ catalog of music is massive and diverse. Everyone has their own “flavor”.
Ultimately, she names a Richard Rodgers-Lorenz Hart number that Davis first recorded in 1954 on “Miles Davis, Vol. 3,” agreeing, “‘It Never Entered My Mind’ is top of the line. rankings of a favourite.”
Davis faithful, in that regard, will likely thank Parks for thinking about saving the house that became HOME.
House of Miles East St. Louis, 1701 Kansas Ave., East St. Louis, 618-213-8120, houseofmilesestl.org