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Back-in-the-day slumlord John Wesley Pearsall

The Other Side of the Slum Story from the Dec.21, 1968 issue of The Richmond Afro-American is a fascinating look back at an earlier East End slumlord, John Wesley Pearsall.

The article says that Pearsall, a lawyer named the 1948 area Junior Chamber of Commerce “Man of the Year”, was “known as a church-going man of great responsibility”. The article also credits Pearsall with sparking the drive to renew the area around St.John’s Church by restoring “two fading houses in the 2600 block of Franklin Street, which is now a quaint pocket of affluence amid the pitiful conditions on Church Hill”.

After this lauditory introduction, though, more is shared about Pearsall’s other holdings. He owned at 1608 North 22nd Street, for example, “a dismally deteriorating six-room dwelling” at the center of an eviction dispute (see image below). The article says that Pearsall owned hundreds of houses of slum property worth over $1 million in Church Hill and Fulton, “most them … rundown and below the city housing standards”. In 1968 this included houses with no indoor toilets and no hot water.

Pearsall was leagues beyond being an amasser of substandard housing; he was not merely a proto-Oliver Lawrence. John Wesley Pearsall did not just own countless houses that defied the housing code: he helped write the code in the first place. From 1949 to 1950 he served on the Richmond Commisssion on Housing, and was given the responsability of drafting Richmond’s first housing codes.

Pearsall is described as having out-maneuvered and then profited off of the city in the years leading up to the 1958 sale to the city of an entire block for the construction of the Safety, Health, and Welfare Building (Where is this? – JM). He’d out-bid the city again and again for the parcels making up the block, and then sold the entire kit and kaboodle to the city at an even higher cost. Another big score off of substandard housing for Pearsall was the sale of 75 slum parcels as part of the 17th Street Renewal Project.

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Steven
Steven
10 years ago

Anything about former slumlord Stanley Smith? Or more recent Lacey?

sean
sean
10 years ago

Oliver Lawrence owns 1608 N 22nd St now. Weird.

publius804
publius804
10 years ago

Nice work John, this is fascinating.

Any connection/relation to the Evelyn Pearsall Trust–the owner of dozens of properties in the city, including multiple listings on the vacant property registry?

Jennifer C.
Jennifer C.
10 years ago

The block in question may be the old Public Safety Building, which takes up the area between Marshall and Leigh/9th & 10th.

sean
sean
10 years ago

#3: I was wondering the same thing, how curious that a Pearsall pops up so often in the search for abandoned/slumlorded property

sean
sean
10 years ago

Makes me wonder how much the city paid Pearsall to raze his properties in old Fulton. Insanity.

This is one thing i found about Pearsall vs City re:blight..

Virginia Supreme Court Reports
PEARSALL v. RICHMOND R & H AUTHORITY, 218 Va. 892 (1978)
43646 Record No. 761445.
March 3, 1978.

In this eminent domain proceeding instituted under Virginia’s Housing Authorities Law (hereinafter the Act), Code Sections 36-1 to — 55.6, we consider a question of evidence and the problem of so-called “condemnation blight”, a condition which often stems from urban renewal projects.

gdawg
gdawg
10 years ago

Funny thing is the Pearsall’s own quite a bit of property in the Bottom and elsewhere – several of which are in Terrible condition.

gdawg
gdawg
10 years ago

*Still own*

crd
crd
10 years ago

#3 – The Evelyn Pearsall Trust is usually about Billy Pearsall, who is a modern day slumlord. I’m not sure how he’s related to her, perhaps it was his mother, perhaps another relationship. I know of two parcels, one on East Franklin and the other on East Grace, that he actually owns. One has been vacant for years, the other occasionally rented but has problems that just barely escape the code, probably ’cause he rents it so cheaply and the tenants would rather pay cheap rent than complain. I’m sure there are many other parcels in the area like that.… Read more »

crd
crd
10 years ago

#8 and 9 – please be clear about which Pearsalls own what. I suspect it’s Billy Pearsall, or the already mentioned trust. I happen to know a couple by the same name, and they don’t own any slum properties at all. I’m just trying to be clear about it, thanks.

Right on Broad
Right on Broad
10 years ago

Excellent job, John, for bringing a little sunshine to this situation. The more resentment that can be brought against people like this the more likely these properties can be pried out of their hands and put in those of responsible, caring owners.

tiny
tiny
10 years ago

Does anyone know when our public housing projects were built? Public housing was initially conceived as the government response to the tent citiss and slums that grew out of the Depression. I wonder what role Pearsall may have had in development of public housing in Richmond.

sean
sean
10 years ago

I love that book. I’ve read it twice, even. I wish there were more photos available from that area so i could piece together the story visually. I think i could count on two hands the number of pics i’ve ever seen.

Melinda
Melinda
10 years ago

There are several wealthy families in Richmond who made much of their money off poor people– starting after WWII in the late 40s. I’m old enough to know that another large proportion of Richmond’s “FFVs” rose in the ranks by selling tobacco or people. They haven’t been keen on digging into a lot of the city’s history. It’s way past time.

Melinda
Melinda
10 years ago

If anyone wants to purchase this wonderful book, we are selling it (paperback) to benefit the Alliance to Conserve Old Richmond Neighborhoods.

P.Pearsall
P.Pearsall
10 years ago

The story that’s missing in the article about the eminent domain case mentioned by poster #7 “sean” should be on record at the Times-Dispatch. The librarian there should be able to help you find the articles or you can probably search and pay for the link through the newspaper’s website. I haven’t tried, so I don’t have copies myself, but this case was heavily covered in the press at the time. As for other posters’ interest in who owns what, Billy Pearsall (mentioned above in connection w/Eveyln) still owns multiple properties. To my knowledge, the bulk of the property owned… Read more »

Melinda
Melinda
10 years ago

A terrific and thoughtful commentary, P.

chpnfan
chpnfan
10 years ago

Mr. Pearsall,

Thanks for the additional history, your personal insight on and behind the article.

Reality is, history and sometimes family histories may not be glorious tales to tell, but the stories need to be told. You’ve raised some great points.

Bill Conkle
Bill Conkle
10 years ago

Thank you for your perspective, it is a valuable piece of this whole story.

RP
RP
7 years ago

I agree with #14 we need to bring more attention to the landowners who won’t bring their properties up to the standards of the surrounding properties especially when they have the money.So here’s a shout out to the Carson brothers fix your properties.We can also do a lot more to help out the elderly and less wealthy keep and renovate the houses they have lived in for sometimes generations.The neighborhood raised over $15,000.00 so far for Sub Rosa,a successful business with insurance,why couldn’t we put that same effort into a fund raiser for Elder-Homes stipulating that is spent in the… Read more »

Mark Shbrt
Mark Shbrt
4 years ago

Mark Shbrt liked this on Facebook.

Andy Barton
Andy Barton
4 years ago

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Vanessa Elke Dieterly
Vanessa Elke Dieterly
4 years ago

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