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St. Louis Regional history comes alive in this joint production by KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. Stories of our past are connected with the present in these well researched and entertaining short presentations about the people, places, and events that have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. 

Apr 17, 2023

Teens have always needed a place to gather. There was one place in the 1980’s where they could go and meet and hear the music relevant to them. It was also a place where important connections were made between people of different racial backgrounds, and different musical genres. But there were forces against them. Just press play to hear the whole story. ———

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Podcast Transcript: I’m Andrew Wanko, Public Historian of the Missouri Historical Society, and Here’s History on 88-one, KDHX. ———

In the 1980s, punk rock and hip hop were simultaneously bringing new youthful voices to the landscape of American music.  While their respective music scenes rarely crossed paths, there was one local place that became a haven for St. Louis’s punk rockers and rap fans alike. Right next to North County’s unmissable Lewis and Clark Tower is a cavernous building that was once the Mark Twain Theatre. But through the 1980s, it was known to St. Louis teenagers as Animal House. ——— 

Animal House was opened in 1983 by Walter Lanham, who the club-going youth knew as “Uncle Walt.” One of a handful of under-21 night clubs anywhere in the region, the music at Animal House made it common ground for both Black and white St. Louis teenagers. Friday nights were set aside for punk and new wave music, while Saturdays were hip-hop nights. The club became one of the top local places to see nationally known hip hop stars - including LL Cool J, Whodini, and Eazy E - often with St. Louis dance groups as their opening acts. The crowd was always eclectic, and the excitement stretched into the early morning hours. ———

Animal House reminds us how music can connect, but its story also reminds us how music can become a flashpoint for divisions. By the late 1980s, Moline Acres aldermen and business owners moved to shut Animal House down. They claimed the club attracted supposed gang activity, while Lanham claimed the attempt was motivated by racism toward Black youth gathering around rap music. At one of the tense city council meetins, a defiant Lanham stated “The city and county say they need something for these kids to do, but they leave it to the other guy… well I’m the other guy.” ———

Local teens stood alongside Uncle Walt, speaking about the social importance that Animal House held in their lives. Exhausted by the constant defense, Lanham finally decided to close Animal House in 1989. Other clubs would appear, but for the 1980s St. Louisans who discovered like-minded friends and bonded over music, Animal House was a second home. ———

Here’s history is a joint production of the Missouri Historical Society and KDHX.  I’m Andrew Wanko and this is 88.1 KDHX St. Louis. ———