AKA sorority to build women’s museum in founder’s former St. Louis home

The three-story property was tagged for demolition when found.

The former north St. Louis home of Ethel Hedgeman Lyle, founder of the country’s first African American sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, is undergoing revitalization to serve as an African American women’s museum. 

The Gamma Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Society and the Ivy Alliance Foundation, the sorority’s nonprofit, have teamed up for the $4 million effort. The vacant Jeff-Vander-Lou home at 2844 St. Louis Avenue is transforming into a museum honoring Black American women, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

View of St. Louis and the historic Gateway Arch in Missouri, from across the Mississippi River in Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park, Illinois / AdobeStock

The three-story property was “tagged for demolition” when sorority member Tracey Clark Jeffries found the home amid a search during a time when the St. Louis chapter of AKA needed a primary base for the Ivy Alliance Foundation. At the time, developer Paul McKee and his Northside Regeneration owned the Lyle home before ultimately selling it to the sorority. 

According to the Post-Dispatch, McKee said he saw this as a “unique opportunity to support their initiative.”

He helped connect the AKAs with Sensient Technologies Corp., the landowner of the block where the Lyle home sits, which reportedly sold its land to the sorority as part of “a lifetime partnership” opportunity said Sensient General Manager Matt Bartoe.

“They owned the land, and they didn’t have to sell the land,” Jefferies told the Post-Dispatch.

Lyle’s house is currently undergoing renovation for the museum which will have an adjacent 12,000-square-foot community center. 

AKA also plans to work with Sensient to offer job opportunities to residents. 

“For over a hundred years, we have been providing service to mankind,” said Jefferies of the sorority’s mission. “Now the community will know where to find us.”

The community center will reportedly offer job assistance and skills training. Jefferies said construction on the center will begin next fall and open by the summer of 2024. In the meantime,  Gamma Omega is seeking donations for the renovation effort. 

“Developing underdeveloped areas is a great thing. What we hope is that the people of the community will be able to benefit from it,” Jefferies said. “We want to be there to help them benefit from it.”

A land dedication ceremony is slated for 2 p.m. on Dec. 2 at 2850 St. Louis Avenue and is open to the public, according to the Post-Dispatch.

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