Back-in-the-day slumlord John Wesley Pearsall

03/03/2010 5:10 PM by

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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