angelou

Angelou’s St. Louis

Working on trying to get back into bike riding but it just hasn’t happened a lot since my vacation. I’ve gone on some but just haven’t seemed to find the time or energy to actually write about them. It’s more the latter. I’ve been very lazy when it comes to writing. So instead of writing about the entirety of of a ride, I’m just going to choose bits and pieces and go from there.

About a week after getting back from Colorado I was happy to get back on my bike. I went out to Lafayette Square and started there and then headed out west through The Gate District – which in itself isn’t that inspiring. It’s like the polar opposite of Lafayette Square architecturally.

mayaangelou-bookThe reason why I am writing this in the first place is that recently I started reading Maya Angelou’s I know Why The Caged Bird Sings. It occurred to me that on this same bike ride I found the house that she lived in during her rather short stay in St. Louis. The house is still there but the place she described in the book, the neighborhood as it was then is gone. The house she lived in was a typical St. Louis red brick two story, 2 bays, side entrance, flat roof with a simple cornice (actually looks new and not the original). Next door on both sides are newer houses. They have vinyl siding and look like basic suburban houses – wood frame, vinyl, prominent garages, front yards, driveways. So much of this neighborhood is like this. It’s mostly suburban housing with modest older St. Louis brick houses peppered throughout. There is no brick canyon or coal soot in the air and settling on everything.

In the book she describes coming up from a very small Arkansas town where everyone was self-sufficient and lived off the land, hard work, and community. When she lived in Stamps, her grandmother whom she stayed with owned a store but was very thrifty, strict, and religious. She made the children’s cloths herself, they canned their own food, people raised their own food and helped each other out. Raising the children was a community act where it wasn’t just her grandma that raised her, she had uncles, neighbors, people from her church. I don’t want to make this sound like it was ideal life cause Arkansas was extremely racist and segregated and just giving a white person the wrong look could give you the noose.

In St. Louis everything about day-to-day life was different. She describes the noise of the streetcars, busses, buying food at stores, buying ready to wear cloths. She described the differences in the schools, how people talked. St. Louis to her might as well of been New York City. Life was fast paced, people seemed less friendly. She described the heat (not that Arkansas wasn’t hot). I think there is just something weirdly unique about St. Louis heat. It’s like the heat of a hot brick oven just sprayed down with a water hose. I don’t know what that’s like but I imagine it that way.

I’m not that educated when it comes to Maya Angelou. I’m new to her but not her name. I remember her always being on the Oprah show so I associated her with Oprah Winfrey. I know she’s more than that. I didn’t know of the terrible things that happened to her in St. Louis, in that very house I saw. It was where she was sexually abused and raped by her mother’s boyfriend. I don’t blame her mother for what happened. She didn’t know and certainly didn’t take his side when she found out. I think her family life was complicated and everyone just tried to do what was best. Anyway, it almost makes me sick looking at that house. It makes me feel the house is full of bad mojo.

maya angelou houseI do imagine that experience and St. Louis left a giant mark on her and will greatly influence her life and who she eventually became as an adult. When I saw her on television later in life she was very deliberate and clear with her words, spoke of wisdom and grace. I think the book was written in the late 1960s and I get that feeling from the book too – she was wise beyond her years. The book is very easy to read and engaging. It’s told in a way that I feel like she is telling me a story – actually speaking. Also she doesn’t seem to write about those horrible things or a “hard life” in a self-pitying way. It was from a perspective of just trying to understand what she went through at the time and how she saw the world through the eyes of an African American woman but also as a woman, or as a child. The book isn’t all hardship. There is humor and the showing of great courage and resilience. It’s about growing up and the shaping of her life.

Some of the things she write of sure remain true today. She speaks of her grandmother or black mother’s fearing for their sons. Just being late could strike fear because black men could be killed and the authorities didn’t care. Black men were lynched, killed in horrendous ways just for looking at a white woman “wrong” or “back talking” or if someone just felt like it – for shits and giggles. She watched young white children that were more poor, less educated than they were try to humiliate her grandma. It must have been something hard for a child to watch and understand. Also lets not pretend this only happened in Arkansas or the south. These things were apparent in St. Louis and more northern cities too. It seems to me sometimes the segregation in St. Louis or other northern cities was just as bad and sometimes worse.

These were not things I thought about on my bike ride. I just saw Angelou as a famous person that spent some time in St. Louis and I saw her house as just a small curiosity. Now I see that place not just as physical brick and mortar, but as a place that elicits emotion and holds stories that made an indelible mark on a human being. Some places aren’t just great cause of great craftsmanship, or great ornamentation, or a great architect designed them. They are great because of the people that lived there, their experiences and how those experiences would shape a person’s life.

hipointestonehouse

Storms on the Hi-Pointe

About a few days before my vacation out to Denver and Rocky Mountain National Park I was going to explore around Hi-Pointe and Franz Park neighborhoods on the extreme west end of St. Louis. Checking the weather before the ride I could see there was a line of storms coming our way but they seemed a good distance away – far enough away I could get a ride in. I did get a ride in but I did have to cut it short faster than I thought I would have to. Compared to other rides, this one was pretty short.

I started over at the Forest Park Pavilion and made my way down Wells Rd on the south edge of the St. Louis Zoo and connected on to the Tamm overpass and then on to Oakland (which has a bike lane). This area is basically called Dogtown. Dogtown is an area that is essentially Clayton-Tamm, Hi-Pointe, and Franz Park. What seems great about this area is that it is so close to Forest Park, Clayton/Washington University, I-64 but it is not as exclusive as places immediately north of Forest Park. The houses around Hi-Pointe are varied from century old houses built not only of brick but of wood frame, brick ornate apartment complexes, some houses that are rather plain suburban tract looking houses, shotgun houses, a few stone houses and pretty much any style from 1900 to now. Essentially there isn’t a style of houses that dominate this area. The one thing that unifies the houses are that most are at a modest scale.

A lot of people believe that Hi-Pointe is the highest part of the city but that is actually near Sublette and Arsenal in The Hill neighborhood. I’m sure many people may disagree with me. The difference is about 10 feet. It’s very close. With that said, I’m not sure why Hi-Pointe is called that. Maybe there was a belief it was the highest point? Maybe it took the name after the great movie theater that is nearby at Clayton and McCausland? I’m not sure. I will say this, as a person on a bike, it is a hilly neighborhood.

hipointestonehouseIt is also very much a residential neighborhood with just a smattering of businesses, mostly on Clayton Ave.

As I meandered the streets there were a couple stone houses I enjoyed but I only got a picture of one. One sat diagonally at Clayton Ave and Grandview Place. The other was about halfway down Grandview Place. I didn’t really see any other houses like these in the area. They don’t look like the rock houses of Carondelet either. I’m going to guess it was built in the early 201th century because a lot of this area was developed around the World’s Fair. Anything around Forest Park became very fashionable at that time.

As I pedaled, the sky became more overcast. I kept a good eye on the western sky. In the meantime I saw a huge pig in someone’s front yard. This thing probably weighted more than me and I’m no flyweight. I’m always caught off-guard when I see farm animals in the city but I’m not sure why. First chickens are pretty popular to keep these days but in the earlier days of the city farmers would run their cows and pigs to the slaughterhouses or to be bought or sold in the city so I’m sure it wasn’t an uncommon sight to see a pig in the city. I will say this though, it wasn’t an aggressive pig and, unlike many dogs, it didn’t chase me. Like any good pig, it was eating.

hipointegarageI passed through some alleys, and saw a house in mid demolition and a guy was riding around on a small dirt bike motorcycle. Then I thought I heard a rumble.

I still took to riding south into Franz Park. Honestly, the neighborhood isn’t that much different but it isn’t surrounded by heavily traffic areas or by a fantastic hugely popular park. From what I know, there was a lot of brick manufacturing around this area and there were clay mines to supply the materials for brick. Many immigrants from Ireland, Poland, Italy, and Germany came here to work. The mines closed around World War II. Even today along the southern edge along Manchester, the it takes on a more industrial feel. Most of the neighborhood seems to just merge into Hi-Pointe and there isn’t really a distinctive change. As most of Hi-Pointe, the area seems quiet and subdivision-like.

I didn’t even get to see the centerpiece of the neighborhood, which is Franz Park. I definitely heard thunder and the sky to the west was getting substantially darker. Via the Franz Park website, “Sophia D. Franz gave her 5.32 acres to the city for a park and playground in honor of her husband Ehrhardt D. Franz in 1915, (with the stipulation to be used for a playground for the children). Ehrhardt was a wholesale merchandiser. He came to thee United States in 1854, and after accumulating some wealth, moved his family to St. Louis in 1871. Their house sat on 6730 Mitchell on what is now a tennis court in the playground.” My guess is the neighborhood was named for the Franz family.

stormrollinginI couldn’t stay out riding and I didn’t want to have to seek shelter under some awning or something. So I basically rode as fast as I could back to Forest Park. As I crossed I-64 on Tamm, the clouds were dark and lighting could be seen and the thunder was getting louder. I continued on my way. I sped down the bike trail and back to the Forest Park Pavilion. The sky was dark. I packed up but….

I want to watch this storm come in. So I walked over to the Pavilion with my water and watched it come in as kids swam in the fountains. Yes, kids were swimming in the fountains up until it started raining even as lightning flashed across the sky. All the lightning didn’t stop the parents from grabbing their kids and seeking shelter. Sigh…who am I to judge, I suppose. The storm blew in and I stood in the pavilion and felt the cool air of the storm. I will note, my air conditioning in my house was broke at this time so the storm’s breeze felt very good.

Every bike ride is some sort of adventure. There’s always new sights and noteworthy experiences. It’s part of the reason why I like riding the bike – errr exploring on a bike. I don’t bike commute or race bikes for sport – I just ride for fun and exploring. I just love it as a way to see the world around me, to seek something new and unexpected, to connect myself to the outside world, and to be sufficient and rely on my instincts. I didn’t see everything I wanted to or ride as long as I wanted to but sometimes that’s not for me to decide. Nature will have her way.

cementland

A Wet July 4th Tradition

Since this ride, I haven’t got out way too much. Just some short rides. In that time, I had noticed my rear wheel was looking wobbly. It wasn’t loose but it was not true. Plus on a recent ride I heard a popping noise from the rear wheel but I couldn’t see anything wrong. I took my bike into a local bike shop and found I had some broken spokes and that was the reason my wheel wasn’t true. So I left it there to get fixed. Plus I opted to get a new chain and a tune-up. Great! I’m excited and ready to get back out.

mhm-route66This ride was on July 4th in the late morning to early afternoon. I remember that holiday weekend as being wet with some storms. When Ben and I went to see fireworks on Saturday in Alton, it was wet. In fact on the way there it was pouring rain. All day the weather was alternating between damp and pouring rain. As we got settled to watch the fireworks, it was raining – we sat in our chairs in ponchos looking grumpy and trying to fiddle with our phones underneath. As for the actual holiday, I thought it was supposed to clear up. At least the weathermen at the local television stations said it was to clear up. The ride started damp and cloudy with the sun peaking out here and there but it ended with riding through a nice downpour.

Anyway this is my most northern route so far and I only popped into the city for a short time. I started at the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge and headed across to explore around where the old amusement park. Then I was to head down the Riverfront Trail past Cementland and see how far I can make it down the trail. I made it just north of the Merchant Bridge. Then I turned around to head back. I rarely do out-and-back type of trips. I don’t like repeating scenery.

I had recently saw the Route 66 exhibit at the Missouri History Museum and I knew there was some traces of the Chain of Rocks Amusement Park left. Just as an FYI – Route 66 took many routes through the city so this was just one route. At one time the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge was part of Route 66. Today the bridge is only for bikes and pedestrian traffic and has some Route 66 artifacts and tourist info displayed. You can learn more about the bridge here.

In fact the Chain of Rocks Bridge is one of my favorite places to see the Mississippi river. I love this narrow steel truss bridge with the bend in the middle. I love the small castle-like stone intake towers that sit in the river. I love the view of the city skyline in the distance. I’m not sure many people know it but on the east side of the bridge there is a small hiking trail that will take you under the bridge and to the river. It floods a lot and is typically extremely damp and I get attacked by bugs. However, it’s a great way to get close to the river and it’s peaceful. Plus it is a flat easy hike. Once you get to the banks of the river a nice place to just sit and watch the mighty river go by.

As a side note, on the Missouri side, the porta-potties were in sparkling condition. I had to go and was feeling a sense of dread that the restrooms would be gross – like most park restrooms. I don’t know if they were just cleaned or if they are actually well maintained but I was pleasantly surprised. When I’m done, it’s time to get rolling again.

chainofrocks-postcardSoon the trail will cross Riverview and arc up the hill/bluffs slightly. This is where I want to be. I notice on the trail here that there are some old, non-functioning street lights. This is getting into amusement park territory. I slow down and there are two more little roads that trail off into the brush. I see some more old streetlights peeking through the trees. I then get off my bike and started walking my bike up the old road. Dodging branches, spider webs, and tall weeds and brush I could see more streetlights and some old concrete fence posts. This took me all the way to the top of the bluffs at Lookaway Drive.

Lookaway Drive, today, is lined with apartment complexes – many looked abandoned/vacant. I shortly noticed that many were getting new windows so maybe they are getting a remodel. However, it looked really rough. I then head north to a grassy park-like area to where the road loops in the shape of a teardrop. I could see the concrete table and chairs that were part of a picnic area. Some are sunken into the ground to the point the seats are maybe 6 inches off the ground. Also along Lookaway near the “teardrop” are some old concrete posts that lined the entrance to the park. I walked a little through the grass and there are hints of old asphalt/concrete pathways and pads. There is not much left over. Here’s a site with some great pictures. One even has the same exact concrete picnic tables in it. I love these old amusement parks. I wish there were more like those. However, the big mega-parks like Six-Flags are the norm now. These seem like place you could go anytime, were affordable. Yes, the rides may not be as fast, or high, or high-tech but they looked fun.

I then head south on Lookaway, passing the sketchy looking apartment complexes, I arrive upon some interesting houses. Many are mid-century era looking ranch houses but there some great looking Tudor style houses, some colonial revival, and renaissance revival type houses. Some are very substantial in size too with immaculate landscaping and large yards.

lookaway-houseI get to a part of the street that is gated. This is something so familiar with many St. Louisans. It turns into a private street. Shucks. I don’t want to head back and down the overgrown weed trail. I know this this is the fast way back on to the trail. There is a large tudor revival house on a wooded lot in sight and some other houses. I drag my bike around the gates. I’m just going to coast through. I get nervous about doing is because I always seem to get caught. I start to notice that this private road is not too well maintained. In fact some of the houses are in great disrepair or are vacant. I’m starting to think that this private street is not very “exclusive” these days. I don’t really have to worry about being stopped by security. I head down the hill and back onto the trail. No problem.

cementlandThe thing about this trail is that it seems to flood a lot and there were many areas submerged by water from the recent storms. It is muddy and wet. I get to a place called Cementland. It’s an old cement plant but it was supposed to be turned into an urban/industrial playground/park and was the vision of a local artist, Bob Cassily. It was to be like the City Museum but in an abandoned cement plant. In fact Bob died while working here – his bulldozer flipped over, killing him. I’m unsure if this project will move forward, it’s been in limbo since he passed away. I think it would be a really awesome place. City Museum is awesome and this would have and still could be just beyond amazing.

I head up Scranton Ave, it loops around the fenced off complex. At this point, I really don’t know where I’m going. I’m just going to follow the road or try to go in the direction back to the trail. I turn off, going under a railroad trestle, to St. Cyr Rd. I pass more industrial sites – mostly metal processing plants. I get to Bellfontaine Rd. I head south on this main artery until I get to Riverview. Most of it is looking rather run-down, older suburban areas with boxy tract housing from the 50s and 60s. They mostly all look alike. Older shopping areas like Riverview Plaza are looking a bit lonely and empty. The same goes for some of the buildings that look like older restaurants. I turn down Riverview. Yay! A bike lane. Great.

I get back to the trail and continue south. At this point there is not much to look at other than the river and trees. It’s getting muggy and the sun is starting to peek out as I pedal on the trail that sits on the levee. There are little river-based type of businesses dotting the bank of the river on the east. To the west is mostly industrial scrap metal yards, some of those metal shipping containers piled on to of each other like LEGO. Some trains go by – slow and squealing like nails going down a blackboard. I was going to see if I could go across Hall Street but I got stuck waiting for a train to slowly rumble pass. I soon realize there is nowhere to go and I’m not biking down Hall St. That road is notorious for drag racing – it is perfectly straight, wide and cars just zoom through.

mississippi-river-trailI turn around and figure I should head back. I do have my DSLR so I stop at a few sites and take some pictures. I pass Cementland again. I snap more pictures. I get to an opening where I can see the river and there is a trail – a muddy trail and I could carefully tip-toe through to get some nice river shots. It doesn’t matter, I’m going to end up with mud all over. As I head back to my bike, I feel some wet drops. Oh no. Then I feel more and more until it’s a steady shower. I hastily pack my camera deep in my backpack and hop back on the bike. At this point I just want to get back to my car. The rain gets heavier. It is soon pouring as I’m rolling through muddy puddles. I will say, I was forward thinking enough to attach my rear fender before I left. This saved my back getting covered in water and mud. If you ride a lot, I highly recommend one. I have one that attaches to my seat post easily and it wasn’t too expensive. By the time I arrived back at the bridge, the rain was slowing. At this point, I just want to get done. I crank and crank to get to the bend and then there it slopes down as I cross onto the Illinois side. I coast in. I am welcomed by some German motorcycle riders (seriously, leather bikers speaking German).

It’s time to get home, shower, eat some lunch and get ready to head to the family for some grilling, snacks, drinks and shooting off fireworks. I’m happy that I got some biking in. I did it the year before. It’s becoming a tradition.

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West End Concrete Blocks

This ride really excited me. Pause, no, wait….what I learned after this ride really excited me. I had no clue of the Goodfellow-Julian Concrete Block Historic District. I’ve never heard a peep of it in my entire life. I’ll get to that later.

On this ride I’m revisiting the West End and Hamilton Heights. I last rode around here in November of 2015 – right before Thanksgiving. The trees were nearly bare. It was cool and gray that day too. It’s Sunday June 26th. It’s around 8am. There was some rain overnight so the streets were a little wet. It’s partly cloudy but there are some clouds that look a little threatening in the distance. I brush it off and tell myself it will be fine. It was. After I explore the West End, I dart into University City and ride around just north of the Delmar Loop to Olive.

I weave through the West End Streets west of Hamilton. Down and back on Enright, Cates, Clemens, Cabanne, etc. As I mentioned, last time I rode around there there were barely leaves on the trees. Now the trees are full of green foliage so much so I can’t see some of the houses as well. The Theodore Link house on Cabanne is hidden. Sigh, no point of taking it’s pictures. W Cabanne Place is probably the best known street in this neighborhood. It has a narrow entrance with some white gates. There is a plaque recognizing it’s historical significance.

Going way way way back in the 1700s into the early 1800s, this street would have been part of a Spanish Land Grant called the Papin Tract or Survey 378. This was west of Union between Maple and Delmar (some say Lindell..not sure which). It reached as far west as where Hanley Rd is today. Into the 1800s several parcels of this land were purchased by people like James Clemens, The Cabanne Family, Emanuel de Hodiamont, James Kingsbury and others. Later these parcels of land were subdivided – many of them into private places.

westcabanne

As for W Cabanne Place, in 1877 James Shepard Cabanne supplied the land in which the land for which the road would be built upon. It would strech from Union to Hodiamont. W Cabanne Place, which was on the far west section was ready for development and by 1885 it’s first residents moved in. George Townshend was in charge of the development. He hired Julius Pitzman (that name comes up a lot) to plat the street. He called for plots of 100 foot widths, 50 foot setbacks. It was touted as the next Vandeventer Place. This didn’t happen as the houses were not as grand and the rules for with size of land plots were not followed closely. It didn’t attract the wealthiest of the wealthy – they went further south near Forest Park. This is not to say this place wasn’t substantial. In fact it has some types of houses that are not anywhere else in St. Louis (as far as I have seen). Plus it was home to many of St. Louis’ most prominent architects such as Theodore Link, Charles Ramsey, Robert Walsh and others.

W Cabanne Place and even east of Hamilton are many examples of Shingle Style architecture. In fact there are shingle styles dotting the whole neighborhood. Just on W Cabanne there were ten houses exhibiting this style – including one by H.H. Richardson that was demolished in 1952. According to the book St. Louis Lost there are seven left on Cabanne but, sadly, I bet there are less today.

I head further north. I wanted to see Oakley Place. I saw some street views on Google that looked interesting. The houses have a Prairie/Craftsman style that all looked similar. Oakley Place is a short s-curvy road that stretched a block from Plymouth to the south and Julian to the north. Little did I know the significance of these but something about them were strange and interesting. I couldn’t figure out why. Again, I’ll get to it shortly.

I continue north to Page and then head south on Goodfellow and dart down some surrounding streets. I notice some more houses that look just like the ones on Oakley. I snap some photos. Something looks odd about them but I still can’t put my finger on it. I didn’t learn until after my ride that these houses are made of concrete blocks. Interesting. They certainly don’t look like concrete block buildings I’m familiar with. These are stylish and interesting – not bland or cheap or institutional looking.

concreteblock-groups

Someone told me about the Goodfellow-Julian Concrete Block Historic District on Instagram (One of the Stl Style guys is a hint). Oh cool! I had to look into it. What I find is most are built in 1905-1906. These are the earliest and largest concentrations of concrete block construction in St. Louis. When built the concrete block was considered experimental and the style of houses indicated a transition from Victorian styles to more modern styles. Why use this? Apparently, from what I read, there was fear of a timber shortage in the midwest at the turn of the 19/20th century so builders were looking for alternatives. Concrete was promoted as being more “healthful”, having low cost and needing less maintenance. It was touted as being fire resistant and earthquake proof. They were deemed as being efficient in heating and having strength and durability, resistance to vibration and cracking. During the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis there were exhibitions touting concrete block construction. A year after, builders started experimenting with it.

In 1905 Pendleton Investment Co. bought several tracts of land. A. Blair Ridington designed nine of the houses,
while Pendleton worked both with Edward F. Nolte, to design four houses. Ridington, supplied plans for two. These were all near Julian and Goodfellow. There was a second group built around Oakherst and Oakley Places by Pendleton too. These were built in 1906.

However despite the success in building these houses in design and construction, the concrete block house didn’t get as popular in St. Louis city as hoped. By 1910 fears of timber shortages waned. In the end brick in the city won.

concrete-vacant

If you want more details check out the National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form.

I get on Hodiamont and loop by the old Walbash Train station by the Metro station (covering my face as I head through a cloud of construction dust – there were workers out on a Sunday morning) and head up Skinker a few blocks. The good thing about Sunday morning is traffic is relatively light because normally Skinker is heavily traveled. I turn down Vernon Ave which is a two-lane street, tree-lined. There are no houses facing the street. There is also no shoulder. Then I head up Westgate then loop around Olive to Kingsland. Olive has mostly rundown storefronts and on the south side of the streets are large vacant lots. As I head down Kingsland, I turn down Clemens (I find many of the east-west streets have same names as streets in the West End such as Cates, Cabanne and Enright. I wonder if they were once connected with the West End streets?) and find most of this are are multi-family flats all packed together. Most of the places are 3-4 stories. There was a bunch being worked on and had Washington University signs on them. My guess is that they own a lot of these. Surprisingly there are a few tudor style houses mixed in. I’m going to say the centerpiece of this area is the octagon-shaped All-Saints Church. It’s an interesting stone building but didn’t get a good picture that illustrates it’s shape well. This is known as the Eastgate-Westgate Apartment District.

There is a chapter in the M.M. Constantin book, Side Streets, that gave me some interesting information about this area. First of all where these apartment sits today was a horse racing track called the Delmar Racetrack. It was closed down around 1904 when horse racing was made illegal in Missouri. The street names Westgate and Eastgate were where the actual gates were for the racetrack.

It was thought that in it’s place a bunch of single-family bungalows would be built. The church was built to replace it’s old location north of Olive and just west of Skinker which is mostly industrial today. The church was Irish Catholic and so was the neighborhood around it. When the church was built in Eastgate-Westgate it was thought that the Irish Catholic neighborhood to the north would expand because of the church. Instead the neighborhood became mostly Jewish. In fact as World War II loomed, many of the Jewish people that moved into the flats were refugees that fled from Hitler. Many of the stores on Delmar were owned by Jewish immigrants too. Post World War II the area was victim of many of the same issues plaguing the city. Families were moving in droves to the western suburbs. Black families started moving into areas just west of Skinker for the same reason the Irish moved in decades before – to have a nice place to raise a family. Unfortunately blockbusters descended on the area. Many took the money and fled out of fear a “black ghetto” was coming. Business on the Delmar Loop started closing. Many stayed, including the Church. Many say it was instrumental in not letting the area slide into further blight. The church worked the University City’s city council to build housing for the elderly, create more park, provide more dumpster for the apartments and businesses, and financial help for those too poor to keep their property in sound shape. It was an anchor/a rock to the neighborhood.

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The loop area was hurt by the exodus to the suburbs and had it’s down time. I vaguely remember when the Loop was not as “pristine” and “great” as it is now but while many say Joe Edwards saved it, there was a lot of people in the area working to set the platform for a rebirth of this area to what it is today. Speaking of how it is today, I took my bike onto the Delmar Loop for about a block since traffic was light. I do have to say the trolley tracks are not friendly to cyclists. In my opinion, it’s downright dangerous. In some spots, the tracks are not even a foot from the curb and crossing the tracks at a slight diagonal is recipe for getting a wheel stuck and the rider flying off into traffic. There is no margin for error. This street is normally highly busy and a spill could easily kill a cyclist. Note to self – avoid at all costs.

While the ride itself was not enthralling, what I learned about these areas after the fact was. Time after time I am marveling over the interesting history this area has to offer. It is fascinating how places to change over time and how if you are in the know or look close enough you can see traces of the past in what exists today.

ngawall

To the Old Armory, I’m Not Lyon

This was the first bike ride after the opening of my show at Third Degree Glass Factory. It was Friday, June 24th. I was also experiencing some post-show blues. Over the week or so after my show, I didn’t feel like doing anything and I just felt bummed out. What now? I was cranky, whiney, and more pessimistic than usual. Another trait of my post-show blues and how I feel when I’m down is this lack of decisiveness. I can’t make decisions. Maybe it’s due to not feeling clear minded. The bike ride was forced. Maybe getting outside and riding will make me feel better – it seems to have worked before. I’m not sure if this is a proven thing, but I’ve heard physical exercise can be a mood enhancer. I think there’s a releasing of feel-good chemicals in the brain but maybe it’s also getting fresh air and sunlight. Maybe it’s a combination of all. Whatever it is, it seems to work much of the time for me. Unfortunately I can’t exercise 24-7.

Where to ride? Oh, where to ride? I whine. This shouldn’t be that incredibly difficult and there should be bigger things to worry about in this world. Just make a decision! Ok. I thought maybe I’ll just keep close to the flood wall and go south. First I can look and see how all the graffiti has changed. I was going to see how far I could go without technically trespassing. Plus, I’d finally ride the trail in front of the Arch. I also thought I saw on the news something about a mural going up down on the flood wall on the south side of the Arch ground. I was right about that but it wasn’t close to being finished. It has a marine life/St. Louis theme complete with old style steamboats and lots of fish. I thought I saw some Killer Whales and I know those don’t live in the Mississippi. Odd. In the moment of passing the in progress mural no one was working on it. I just kept going. Maybe next time I ride down there it will be finished. I’ll get a picture then.

I get to where Chouteau ends and the bike trail ends but keep on going south. There is a road that is parallel to the flood wall. For awhile it is paved (but very pothole-y) but eventually it turns to fine gravel. The graffiti wall is in constant change as artists are constantly putting up new images. Some of the works from last year’s Paint Louis are still visible but many are highly modified and partially covered. I find it visually chaotic but interesting. I also marvel at the talent. I’m an artist but I’ve never done anything like that before. The further south I head, keeping watch to the terrain and railroad tracks, the graffiti becomes less impressive and more like a collage of tags. One side of me is the wall and the other side is train tracks. The wall isn’t straight, it juts in, juts out and at some point I’m crossing train tracks, service roads, dodging potholes, ruts, and large puddles. I get very nervous around the tracks. Last year I had a bit of a spill down here when my front wheel got lodged in a gap. I crossed a bit too parallel. My bike stopped and I flew off the bike. I did land on my feet though. After that I try to cross as perpendicular to the tracks as possible.

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At a certain point the trail just starts to disappear. I cross the tracks and meander around some industrial buildings, ride on some course gravel slowly. I get to where there are some east-west streets. I squint into the sun and determine I don’t see anything that interesting. I keep going south, slowly keeping balance on the rocks until the road gets more smooth as I pass some low-slung warehouses lined with tractor-trailers delivering or picking up goods. I do get to a point where I can go east again toward the wall. This is Dorcas Street. I get to near the end. I see a “No Trespassing” sign but I can’t determine if it means straight ahead or the road that turns south or both. I sit for a minute. There a brick building that looks interesting with large vertical windows and what looks to be some patina copper ornament. I take the chance and turn to go down this road. I go under a trestle that is coming out of a large rail yard near Anheuser-Busch. To my right are some large cylinder containers and to my left is the large brick building. I’m nervous because I might be trespassing. I stop to take some pictures. On the south side of the building it says, “ENGINE HOUSE MANUFACTURERS RAILWAY COMPANY”. Beside some tall garage doors are rusty train wheels. At this point I realize I’m at the end of Arsenal. I’m right by the current NGA complex and the old St. Louis Arsenal. Surrounding the complex is an old rock wall fortification topped with barbed wire. Just inside, closest to the tracks is a gargantuan, windowless, brick, 5-6 story warehouse looking building. I imagine inside there are people remotely flying drones or something in the middle-east. Maybe it’s more innocuous. I really don’t know exactly what they do and maybe that’s how they like it.

ngawallI figured this was a good time to quit my journey south and start going west. I start climbing gently sloping hill on Arsenal, following the large rock wall fortification. I get up to 2nd Street. I notice the fence has these pillars that are topped with cannonballs. This is a big national security complex. There is no getting in and I’m sure I’m being watched on the perimeter and will have security swooping in if I do anything deemed “suspicious”. I do know there are many Civil War era buildings in there. I saw some old cannons through the fence too. I wonder what will happen to all of this when the NGA finally moves north to the new, yet to be built complex, in St. Louis Place? I hope something gets done with it. It’s a major historic site in the city for the age of the structures and the part it played in the Civil War. I could see extending the park and setting up an interesting Civil War Museum there. I think there is already one at Jefferson Barracks though.

Just across the street is a small park with a tall obelisk. I consult Google Maps to determine what park this is. It’s Lyon Park. There’s a couple baseball fields and a walking pathway with benches. It also slopes uphill toward South Broadway. I’m curious about the obelisk. I get off the bike and walk it along the path uphill, prop the bike up and walk toward the structure. It says Lyon on it. Hmmm…I’m not sure who this is? Is this a grave? I don’t see any birth or death dates. There is one date on it. I guess, it’s a monument to someone. Further up the structure are empty ovals. I’m guessing something should be there. It’s time to consult Google again. What would I do without a smartphone on these rides?

Lyon Park is named after General Nathaniel Lyon. He was with the Union during the Civil War and was instrumental in fortifying the St. Louis Arsenal across the street. He also saved the arsenal from a mob of Confederate sympathizers. The obelisk is a monument to him. In the oval spaces are supposed to be bronze plaques. One was Lyon’s portrait, and the other was a mythological figure holding symbols of war and justice, with a lion in the background. Both are gone – either removed or stolen. The monument was dedicated in 1874 and was created by Adolphus Druiding.

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Concerning the arsenal, the first building on the grounds was completed in the 1820s. This was to replace the federal arsenal at Fort Bellefontaine that was further to the north near the Missouri River. The purpose of the arsenal was to store ammunition and supplies. By 1840 there were more than 22 buildings and Fort Bellefontaine was abandoned. The arsenal was instrumental in the Mexican-American War in 1846. Later as the Civil War grew near there was talks into moving the ammunition and supplies into Illinois. St. Louis, as well as Missouri, was caught in the middle. St. Louis had many Union supporters and many Confederate supporters. Eventually Missouri decided to stay in the Union but would refuse to supply weapons to both sides. Because of this there were many spats between Union and Confederate sympathizers. In a way there was a war within the state over it’s participation in the Civil War.

This is where Nathaniel Lyon comes into play. He is loyal to the Union. In 1861 he arrives in St. Louis. Missouri Governor Claiborne F. Jackson was a strong Southern sympathizer, and Lyon was concerned Jackson would try to seize the federal arsenal in St. Louis if the state decided secede. There was news that Confederate mobs were storming in and seizing armories across Missouri. In response, Lyon had the arms and ammunition shipped into Illinois. He also ordered that the Confederate’s Camp Jackson (in the area where SLU is today) be surrounded. He forced the Camp’s surrender to the Union. However, this enraged southern sympathizers. It further enraged them when Lyon publicly marched the captured citizens through the streets to the arsenal. Confederate sympathizers watching this grew more and more enraged. Riots broke out – this included hurling rocks, paving stones, and insults at Lyon’s troops. Then shots rang out from the crowd. A Union troop was killed. In response, the Union troops fired into the crowd, killing at least 20 – including women and children. Many more were injured. This incited riots over the following days until martial law was instated. This became known as the St. Louis Massacre or the Camp Jackson Massacre. The arsenal remained in Union hands and Missouri didn’t secede. Tensions were high throughout the war though.

Later in 1861 Lyons was killed in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. Shortly after the war, 10 acres of the arsenal was given to the city to create a park and memorial for Lyon. Plus the armory was moved to Jefferson Barracks. Today it is still used by the Federal Government for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).

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I hop back on my bike and ride up into the shadows of the Anheuser-Busch brewery and head north on South Broadway. I turn left on to Barton Street In Soulard. I take a break and explore a community garden on 9th St between Lami and Barton. I ride up and down the streets lined with 19th century houses and businesses. I take short trips into alleys to scout out some alley houses. I weave my way up north. Booze trolleys slowly roll up and down streets (basically large stretched golf carts with a working bar on them) and the drunken revelers hoot and holler. It’s always Mardi Gras around here! The bars and restaurants will be hopping as we creep into the evening. I’m not here to get boozy. I’m not much of a drinker. I head out across Broadway.

The other side of 7th St is a neighborhood called Kosciusko. It’s not a residential neighborhood. It is mostly all commercial or industrial. Actually most of my ride was in this neighborhood. I turn down Broadway and pass some old storefronts. There’s a guitar store, a tattoo parlor and a few other places. Actually the guitar store is called J Gravity Strings and they have been around since the early 1970s (says so on the storefront). In the entryway there is tile that says “Barnholtz 1546”. I had to do some research into this. I found that early in the 20th century this was a dry goods store owned by the Barnholtz family called Barnholtz and Sons Dry Goods. The family was headed by Dora and Sam. They were immigrants from Russia that came over around the turn of the century. The store opened in 1919. The family lived on the second floor. I found that Dora died in 1961. I’m not sure when Sam died. I would suspect there was more residential places around here. I know Little Bohemia, and St. Louis’s Chinatown was close by. Today, you’d be hard pressed to find residents in this neighborhood.

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I move on to Third Street and head north. The view of the Arch is great. I snap some pictures from the street, under the highway and then pedal through the old industrial streets near the MacArthur Bridge and head on back. I am greeted at the end of my journey with a large group of people wearing tie-dye and chanting, hooting, and drinking. Not sure what’s going on but they stare at me. I get it. I don’t fit in. I won’t interrupt your ceremony of whatever.

Yet, another ride where I start bored, unsure, and unhappy but the end, I feel good and happy I took the ride. There is always something new to discover in this city if I look hard enough. Maybe it’s true, exercise is a mood enhancer.

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Sir, The Trail is Closed

I think my goal for this one was to ride down Jefferson. In the end, that is what I did but I didn’t do it how I planned and I was a little upset about it. I started on the Riverfront Trail and wanted to ride down the new section in front of the Arch then loop around, go north on Jefferson and then hit my starting point by riding through downtown which would be downhill. That is not what happened. I still rode down Jefferson though.

It was gearing up to be a hot Sunday. It was early morning and it was already hot. I started down the trail passing in front of Laclede’s Landing. I did notice some barriers across Leonor K Sullivan but that didn’t seem to worry me. I kept going, that shouldn’t keep me from the trail. So I thought. I stop my bike to go walk the bike around the barriers and then hop back on the trail. Startled, as a man jumped out of a van exclaiming, “Sir, the trail is closed!”. Ok. Huh? I respond with why is the trail closed with a great degree of irritation. First of all, I’m not male. Second of all, nothing is going on. The trail isn’t obstructed. He adds that I can take my bike and ride below the trail on the cobblestones along the shore. I’m thinking, “are you kidding more or are you just stupid or do you think I’m stupid?”. It’s terrible just walking on those things and I’m supposed to ride my thin tire bike on them? Seriously? People that don’t ride bikes just don’t have a clue. Grumbling, I start walking my bike up the levee…up through Laclede’s Landing. I can’t ride because the bricks are just too rough and treacherous for my bike. In my mind I’m grumbling and trying regroup. Once I get to the I-70 overpass I guess I’ll just ride up to Jefferson.

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I meander through Convention Plaza, Washington Ave, Lucas Ave then turn left on 14th and then right on to Olive and head up it gentle incline. Once I pass 18th street, I start to coast downhill until I start noticing a few things. First I recognize Korzendorfer and Bick Picture Framers. I remember getting frames from them for my BFA show in 2001. I wasn’t sure they were still around. They have been around for a very long time. In fact they have been open since 1898 according to their website. They are the oldest picture framing service in St. Louis. I’m not sure if they have always been in the same location though. Further down is a building I have passed many times in my car and have wondered about it. It a building for the National Electric Company. It has a limestone facade in an Art Deco style. It does have some relief ornamentation and some ironwork above the doorways. Plus I like the sign. Other than that it is not that extraordinary. I continue down to Jefferson.

I know I’m going to dislike this part of the ride. There is not much to look at but that’s probably a good thing because even though there is a bike lane, there is a lot of traffic on this wide road. There is not much of a shoulder and there is a large part that is a bridge. There’s also no shade and on a day that is already hot and is quickly heating up, it’s just not fun. I’m concentrating on traffic and doing what I can to keep myself safe. I think once I cross Chouteau, I’ll feel better. That’s not the case. The dedicated bike lane ends and now I’m in four-lane traffic. I then make a turn into The Gate District as soon as I can. I can take side streets but once I get to I-44 I’ll have to get back on Jefferson where there are entrance and exit ramps for the highway. I’ll probably have to take the lane and that rarely makes people in cars happy. What matter is that I am safe. Once I get past the highway, it’s all good.

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Why on Earth do I want to ride down Jefferson? First I want to get a closer look at the California Do-nut sign building. Second there are some interesting houses, old signage and buildings from here to Cherokee Street. I determine Cherokee Street will be my southern boundary. Plus the traffic has thinned out a little bit. While biking I realize there is some interesting storefront art from one that is covered in cat silhouettes to the street art of 2222, Peat Wollaeger’s place. There’s a storefront covered in collaged pictures of animals, Albert Einstein and bright colors. This place would be hard to see by car because it is blocked by a large trailer. As I get closer to Gravois, the traffic gets heavier. I get some pictures of The Palms sign that is on the storefront of the Way Out Club. My guess is that there was a place called The Palms here but when the Way Out Club opened, they couldn’t bear to take the cool old sign down. I think of a mid-century bar with tiki decor or maybe something that has a Las Vegas Rat Pack vibe. Anyway, I wait for the red light to change to green. I’m surrounded by cars and their hot exhaust, the sun beating down. I gaze at the tattoo shop and the sculpture-like bike rack. Must keep an eye on the traffic signal because once the green light signals I must race to the other side.

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I finally come upon the California Do-Nut building. I notice it’s a favorite amongst photographers and is a great bit of neon signage from the 1940s. The California is in a cursive script style and the Do-nut is a bold san-serif style. the metal sign above the storefront takes on a green and white color just like the building. There is an additional vertical “Donuts”sign along the southwest corner on the second story. Originally, it was opened in 1948 by Henry J. Bielefeld and churned out homemade donuts to the neighborhood for decades. As far as I know, someone is working on opening a donut place here again. It looks like some work is going on. The great thing is I hear they want to keep the old sign.

bentonpark-houseI get toward Arsenal and Benton Park, the street gets a little more residential. In fact there are some large victorian era houses – some Romanesque Revival, Richardson Romanesque with big towers and large arched windows and entries. It’s tree lined so there’s some shade. Eventually I turn down some side streets in the Benton Park West neighborhood. I meander around looking at the brick houses. I spot a plain white hipped flounder type house on an alley. I’m always looking out for flounders. It is a little odd in how it is raised. the front door is a good 6-10 feet from the ground. I think I’ve mentioned several times that it’s hot and I’m getting close to Cherokee. I get a picture of an old mid-century looking bank that doesn’t look open and then I get on Cherokee and start heading back. At this point, I just want to get back. I can take Cherokee down to South Broadway and ride straight into downtown. Going down Cherokee is a downward slope but instead of going straight to Broadway, I veer onto Lemp and head to Arsenal. From there I’ll hit Broadway. I fly downhill in canyon the Anheuser-Busch complex.

Once I get on Broadway there is almost absolutely no shade. I keep my head down and just focus on pedaling and keeping a decent pace. It’s mostly flat but it’s a wide and busy road mostly. It’s Sunday morning so it’s not too bad except for a few big rigs that pass. The bike lane is ok. I don’t like the ones directly on the curb because a lot debris seems to gather here. This can be broken glass, to trash, broke car parts. In some places I ride outside the bike lane if I can. Eventually Broadway turns to 7th St and I hit the bar section near Busch Stadium. Some of the buildings are covered in graffiti and are pretty ratty looking. Though some are starting to get fixed up. I’d think there’d be more development because of the stadium. This area has many large empty lots but are used for parking when there is a baseball game. I cross under the web of dark steel railroad trestles, now Broadway again and then turns to 4th St (confusing?). I head up a slight incline past the Tums building, the high-rise hotels, past the old Courthouse. I’m almost back to my starting point. The next challenge is the mashup of streets that weave around under I-70. From there I coast down Biddle. Drenched and done. I forget about the annoyance from when I started. I still figured out what to do and still did what I set out to do. It wasn’t how I planned but I was able to figure out my route and get past the irritation. I could have just quit and went home but through all my complaining and irritation, I stayed resilient. The bit thing is I need to learn to stay calm and not let annoyances get to me as I’m getting through the tough parts. I’m tougher than I think I am.

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Memorial Day in the Park

I thought I had written something about this ride but I haven’t. This was about a month ago so I am going to remember as much as I can. I do know this: riding my bike on Memorial Day has become a bit of a tradition for me. It is one of the rare times I ride during mid-day.

What I decided on was to ride my bike around Forest Park and into the Wydown-Skinker neighborhood that occupies a sliver of land just west of the park. Normally I pack rather light on my bike trips but this time I took a book, a sketchbook and some pencils, some snacks, and a blanket in addition to my camera and water. I stuffed it all in a backpack and was off. My idea was to be a little relaxed and to take it easy.

3cranesI started off in the Central West End to get on West Pine and enter the park and then ride around on the trails. I haven’t mentioned yet that it was hot and my backpack proved to be a bit more heavy than I liked. As the day and ride wore on these would greatly take it’s toll. One great thing (out of many great things) about Forest Park is that it has a lot of bike trails. It has fine gravel and paved trails so you can have variety in terrain. The park also has great variety in sights which I’ll get into. One of the first things to catch my eye is the skyline of the hospital and the cranes perched up amongst the construction. I became fascinated with it and wanted some pictures. I got some pictures from an overpass that crosses Forest Park Parkway and then I crossed into a grass path in an area with some small ponds and wild grasses. I take some more pictures with the cranes and buildings reflecting into the ponds. It was serene but very hot with no shade. I got a glimpse of the mansard roof of the Cabanne House but I wanted a better and closer look. I did like how it was peeking out from the trees but I was too far for the picture I was imagining. I hopped back on my bike and pedaled through the grass looking for a spot but couldn’t find one. Oh well. I start to wonder where I’m going to end up because I have no idea where I’m going.

I then happened upon another trail that follows a stream. There is an area of rock outcroppings and a shore made of large flat rocks. It’s easy to mistake these as nature but this is landscape. These ponds, rock outcroppings and such are planned. The park was designed by Maximillian G. Kern, the park superintendent and landscape gardener. The lakes are all artificial and filled via piped in water from the River Des Peres, Cabanne Spring, and storm water runoff. For the World’s Fair, in order to control flooding, the river was buried. Anyway, it’s all picturesque. The dogs enjoy the ponds too – they had the right idea to jump in and take a short swim to cool off. I, again, stop for more pictures and just watch the many that were biking or walking past for a few minutes. I watch dogs cool off and hear someone in the distance singing loudly. I wish I remembered what he was singing. I wish I could have jumped in that pond.

cabanne-houseI then find the Cabanne House that sits on Union near Lindell on the northern edge of the park. The Cabanne House was designed by James H. McNamara in 1875 and was part of the original master plan of the park that would open in 1876. For many years the house was used as a residence for park superintendents and commissioners but today it seems to be a house that is rented out for weddings and private events. Why is it called the Cananne House? It is because on the same site the farmhouse of Jean Pierre Cabanne that was built in 1819. Cabanne was a major landholder and owned the land Forest Park and land north of Forest Park. On this land was a dairy farm. When you’re in Forest Park or when you’re passing the many private places, imagine that at one time there were cows roaming the land. By the 1870s or so the Cabanne’s started selling land off for the developers of Forest Park and for the developers of Forest Park Terrace (now just Lindell on the north edge of the park), Kingsbury Pl, Washington Terrace and so on.

casadesI bike on the path along Lindell and look at the mansions, though I doubt many go back to the formation of Forest Park Terrace. I pass the History Museum and head toward Skinker. I then turn back and head back into the park and find a good place to rest. On my right I see some cascading waterfalls with some standing around taking pictures. It seems like a nice place and it’s shaded. Plus there is a trail up along the side. One may think that this is a natural formation but, again, one may be fooled. This is called Flegel Falls. It was built in the 1930s with WPA federal funding. Many people just know it as the Cascades. It was named after the World’s Fair Cascades that ran down Art Hill during the fair. I sit here for a bit and watch people. I read, snack a little and do a quick sketch of the cascades.

I ride of the hill to the Art Museum and take a breath at the Saint Louis statue known as the Apotheosis of St. Louis. It represents Louis IX of France, the person St. Louis is named after. This is not the original version of the statue. The original was made of plaster that was sculpted by Charles Henry Niehaus for the 1904 Worlds Fair. After the World’s Fair the Exposition Company presented a bronze version of the sculpture to the City of St. Louis. It was unveiled in the location where it stands in 1909. Until the Gateway Arch was built, this statue was the symbol of the city. The sun is beating down hard. There is a couple with baby getting pictures done by a photographer. I turn and gaze down Art Hill toward the Grand Basin. There is a runner taking a rest on the hill. Down by the pool with fountain, white. I imagine the white buildings from the Worlds Fair that surrounded that pool. I think of that awesome picture of Victorian Era St. Louisians sledding down the hill in their suits and dresses. I wonder if they ever thought that it would become a tradition? We still do it today. Not today today because it’s St. Louis Summer swampy hot. No sledding, just sweating.

wydownskink-flatI then head over to Skinker and want to cross into the Wydown-Skinker neighborhood. Tall skyscraper condos overlook the park. Skinker is a busy road so it takes some waiting to cross. This neighborhood is very narrow. It’s only a half-block wide (E-W) but extends north to Washington University and south to Clayton Rd. Something I notice is that I can tell when I cross into Clayton or St. Louis by how the pavement looks. I ride west to De Mun which is in Clayton. Along De Mun are some small cafes, maybe a wine bar. Mostly where I biked where multi-family brick apartment complexes are packed tightly together on a grid. On the northern edge and southern edge are a variety of single family houses that I think of as being mansion sized and built in the 1920s or later. I’d describe many of the houses take on a Colonial Revival, Tudor, and Craftsman styles. The streets gently curve and are tree-line. It’s quiet.

By this time, I’m running out of water. I am far from my starting point. Parched. The backpack seems heavier. Maybe I shouldn’t have packed so much. The first thing that comes to mind is that I hope there are water fountains nearby. The second thing I wonder is, do they work. I don’t know how many times I’ve been to a park and seen a water fountain but only find out it doesn’t work. I finally come up to one and it doesn’t work. I pedal past the Zoo and as I cross under Hampton, I see another fountain. Bingo! After a few seconds water comes out. I gulp some and fill my bottle. I gulp some more. I don’t even care how it tastes. It tastes great if it is greatly needed. In the future, I may have to invest in another water bottle and holder.

jewel-gatesI eventually come upon the Jewel Box. I can’t even think of the last time I went here or been inside. Basically it ‘s a big greenhouse built in 1936 in an Art Deco style. It’s tall with a stair-stepped barrel vault. Outside are some gardens with pools and fountains. I felt this was a good time, since I have water, to find some shade and roll out the blanket and eat the rest of my snacks and maybe read and sketch. I do find some trees near the old gates of Vandeventer Place. They were originally on Grand between Enright and Bell. It was a Private Place designed by Julius Pitzman in 1870. Soon after the wealthiest of St. Louisians built grand mansions. It had strict restrictions and was exclusive. Despite the restrictions, they couldn’t control what happened outside the private street. When it was built, it was countryside. It was on the outskirts of the city. However by 1910 the city was encroaching, factories and other industrial types of endeavors were built. More people moved around the place. It was becoming more urban and more polluted. It wasn’t a serene, idyllic setting anymore. The strict restrictions and standards were hard to keep up, residents started moving out – moving west to newer and more fashionable neighborhoods and private streets. It was in steep decline. By 1950, it was gone. It was demolished of the Veteran’s Administration Hospital. The gates were saved and moved to Forest Park. Today I eat my lunch nearby.

I sit and snack, drink my water and cool down a little. Then these oblong acorn looking pods started falling around me. I found it really hard to relax. So I ate and drank my water. Eventually one of the pods plunked me in head. Ok, it’s time to move along. At this point, I think it’s just time to head back. The clouds are building and some are looking a bit dark. I need to make my way to West Pine. I take a trail that takes me into the woods. I go across some old bridges. This wasn’t very bike friendly because there were a series of stairs. I had to carry my bike up the stairs several times. I notice the sky darkening more. Sigh. It looks like some rain. I’m tired and unhappy about trudging up stairs carrying my bike. I finally get up to West Pine and Kingshighway and some huge drops of rain scatter across the pavement and all around me. Strangely they are not all hitting me. The drops are far and wide. It doesn’t last long. There’s no thunder or lightning. In some ways, I hoped maybe the rain could cool me off a bit. I was done. Now it’s time for a real meal and a long nap. I’m exhausted.

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A Grand Short Spin

Lately I haven’t been keeping up on the blog posts. Mainly it’s because I had been busy with getting ready for the opening of my drawing exhibition. Then after that I just felt a bit burnt out and unmotivated. It’s time to get caught up.

This ride was about a week before my show opening. My guess it was June 7th. I was going to attend a lecture over at KDHX about community art projects. I had just got off work and had roughly 90 minutes to kill. It was nice outside. Sunny and warm so I thought just taking a quick spin would be nice. By the time I was parked and ready to go, I had 45 minutes. I set my timer and set off. There was no particular goal.

n-grandI started west on Delmar and crossed Grand. Passing the old Palladium, I think about the Plantation Club that once was located here. It was a white only club that featured African-American jazz musicians and orchestras playing late into the night in the 1930s and 40s. Just to the north would have been Vandeventer Place but I imaging by that time it was well into it’s decline as the premier private street for the wealthiest of St. Louisans. Industry and city pollution was creeping in and ruining the idyllic setting. The Plantation Club’s entrance was on Enright, which bordered Vandeventer Place.

Speaking of Vandeventer Place, I was reading in the book, St. Louis Lost, that some of the mansion’s servants quarters were on Enright and there was at least one that had a tunnel that went from the servant’s home to the mansion. I guess it was to avoid the embarrassment of a neighbor having to see a servant on the grounds. The poor must be invisible. At the Plantation Club, the black people were just to entertain the whites in the shadow of decaying conspicuous consumption. I also read that many of the poor looked at Vandeventer Place with disdain and frankly could have gave a rats ass about saving it. Eventually it was all demolished by 1950 for the Veteran’s Administration Hospital that occupies the east end. The the west end of Vandeventer Place was demolished for a children’s detention home. It’s hard to imagine that space between Enright and Bell was once where the wealhiest of all St. Louisans lived. Now it is a place for the sick and other social institutions.

I meander up through streets just to the north – Windsor Place, Finney, Cook. I can see the remnants a middle class neighborhood but today it pock-marked with many vacant lots. Though there are some decent looking examples of Second Empire, Italianate, and Romanesque Revival houses – not many though.

I head west into what is the Vandeventer Neighborhood. I’ve rode through here on several occasions and there is an impressive amount of variety of houses that range from decent shape to rough and deteriorating. However, what is most noticeable is the amount of vacant lots. It’s a neighborhood that has been devastated by population loss and it’s a shame because it’s so close to Grand Center and St. Louis university. However, it’s a whole other world.

vande-housewebI ride west all the way to Pendelton. I ride west on Cook. I pass vacant blocks, then pass the crumbling Fout House that sits on the corner of Wittier and Cook. Other than that house the block isn’t that bad in terms of decay. There is a nice looking garden across the street, and well kept houses but still – the vacant lots are so numerous. I think at this point the vacant lots outnumber the houses. Still the people that live here seem to take pride in their homes.

I basically just zig-zag down to C D Banks, Bell, and Enright. It’s the same as Cook. Some great looking houses, some empty, and many many vacant lots. It’s a puzzle missing so many of it’s pieces, it’s hard to tell what it should be or what it was.

On the southern edge is the old Hodiamont Streetcar ROW. It ends just to the west of the old Vandeventer Place. I see the old streetcar line is a hint to the importance and wealth of this area. That line went through the most prosperous neighborhoods in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It went through Lewis Place, Fountain Park, Visitation, Academy, the West End and then out into the county which was mainly rural but was dotted with wealthy estates. Rather than ride on the streets, it had it’s own right-of-way. It served the most privileged people in the city.

What is great about being on a bike becomes evident here. I rode for about 30-35 minutes and covered so much ground. I greatly appreciate efficiency and productivity. I saw so much in a short time and still had time to put my bike away and get to the lecture early. Now, if I could have done something about the sweat. It’s a bit embarrassing to run into people and I’m sweaty but maybe that’s who I am. I’m that girl on a bike.

penrosemansion

High Noon in Hyde Park

My last bike ride was to kill time. This one was to kill time too. It was Memorial Day weekend and I was going to do a walking tour of St. Louis place later in the afternoon. I figured what the heck and decided to take a short ride around Old North St. Louis and Hyde Park. It was near high noon and the sun way bright and the sky was an intense blue. I typically ride in the morning or evening but today was a bit different. I fit my rides around work and spending time with my boyfriend, making art, getting ready for shows, and being lazy. This particular Saturday my boyfriend had to work in the afternoon and we were going to a concert later that night. Perfect! I’ll do a bike ride and the tour.

purpleturtleFor me the interesting part of my rides through Old North St. Louis is that I sometimes run into people. Basically I get noticed now. I was riding by Wingman Park which is a small pocket park that is in a triangular slice of land bounded by three streets. I noticed someone and stopped for a short chat. There are these new red abstract metal shapes underneath the shaded park to sit on. Plus if you bang on them they each make different sounds. It’s a nice place to sit but it looks like a sculpture that doubles as a musical instrument. There is a Tiny Library there too. A person can get a book and then sit in the tiny park and read in the shade. After chatting for a few minutes, it was time to get rolling. I have a limited amount of time before the tour starts.

I head north on Blair, past the corner of Blair and Branch where recently some long abandoned row houses and an old corner bar were recently demolished. I call it the Purple Turtle corner because back in the early 1980s there was a bar on the corner called The Purple Turtle. It was just some piles of dirt, debris and stone, and a huge gash in the ground. Note: since then it has been filled in and is just a nondescript vacant lot. There are no traces of what was there and it will be forgotten about. Maybe one day something else will be built there but it won’t be anything like the brick structures that were there. I pause to contemplate but I must continue north as I’m on a time limit. This would be a swift check-up. What has changed since last time?

Honestly not much. There was a bit of activity in the park and people sitting outside on their stoops or porches. I can’t remember my exact route as it was meandering and unpredictable. The same places that were crumbling before still are. If anything has been demolished I haven’t noticed because the thing about demolition is if you haven’t seen a place in a long time and you go back and notice vacant lots it’s hard to remember what was there unless it was a place of importance in your life. For me, I’m a visitor and don’t see these places everyday, so to me it’s easily forgotten.

dreamscometrueI noticed some painted boarded up windows with positive messages and cartoon characters that would appeal to children. Though Mickey Mouse does seem to appeal to adults too. I love the mural at the intersection of Breman and 14th street. It features colorful alphabet blocks on a brick wall that might have been part of a building that was demolished. In the same vicinity there is a small community garden with a gazebo and Clay Elementary School across the street. There are also hand painted planters in on Bremen Road. My guess painted by school children. Little pieces of community art are recognizable and memorable for the most part because they are unique. All the red brick can become banal or normal. Easily ignored but the hand painted bright colored words and images stand out. Each are different as they are made my different hands. They are made my individuals or small groups that live nearby and are looking to brighten a place that may have some negativity in the form of blight, vacancy, and crime. I see it as a statement of, “we, who are of value, live here and we love our home”. Some will stick it out in “home” through the good and the bad because it’s home.

I love the architecture in Hyde Park. In my opinion it has some of the best 19th century architecture but it is showing it’s age. It’s a neighborhood that could be as beautiful as Lafayette Square or Soulard. It’s beauty is rough, not idealized and sanitized. It could use some sprucing up and if it was, it would be a jewel. There blocks that are wonderfully intact, some tree lined with big houses. Not quite mansions but houses that would have been large for it’s time. Actually, they still are large. Park Place is a delight. Penrose is a mix but has a mansion on a hill with a stone retaining wall and long staircase that goes up the hill to the home. Today is painted bright pink with an aqua front door under a simple portico. The house has been heavily modified in that the pink color is original and the brackets are too simple and stylized. It was built in 1905. It’s owner was Louis Nolte. He was a real estate dealer and was elected as Sheriff in 1906. What is more sad is that right next to this house is an abandoned complex of apartment building that were built in the 1970s or 1980s. Ugly, boarded up, tall weeds, and covered in graffiti.

penrosemansionOne thing I wish I would have done was ride down Randall Place. The house on Penrose is at the Corner of Randall Pl and Penrose. Randall Place at one time would have been a road on top of the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. Randall Place is also the home of the Bissell Mansion – said to the the oldest house in St. Louis as it was built in the mid 1820s. It was the home to Captain Lewis Bissell. When the house was built it was at the top of a hill (still is) but looked down toward 1500 acres of land and the Mississippi River. Today it looks down upon I-70 and the industrial riverfront. Surely not the view Bissell would have liked when he was alive. The Bissell Mansion is a success story of preservation. It was slated to be demolished for I-70 in the 1950s but was spared. Today it hosts dinner parties and mystery dinner theater events. I would think that at some point this street was populated by wealthy people. Some of the houses near the Bissell Mansion are as handsome as some of the houses in the Central West End. Not sure if it was truly a private place but I suspect it may have been.

Eventually I had to head back down to the Old North. It’s lovely riding back because it is all a slight downward slope. On top of it, the view of the Arch as I glide down 20th Street is simply one of the best views of the Arch in the city. I will also say the best views of the Arch in the city are from the 14th Street Mall, Blair, 20th Street and West Florissant. It never gets old.

I get back to the Old North neighborhood with still time to spare so I take a spin around the southern section of the neighborhood. It seems depressing in that some houses have gone into further ruin and some are gone. A corner bar recently was a victim of fire. I wish and I hope that something happens soon to this part of the neighborhood because it seems to be disappearing. It’s sad.

One thing I learned about a high noon ride is that I should have worn some sunscreen. Ended up with a nice burn. Worth it.

comptonheights1

Killing Time Along Russell

It is rare for me to do a mid-week bike ride but I had some time and was feeling inspired. First of all I was included as one of the “10 Amazing St. Louis Photographers to Follow on Instagram” by Fox 2 News in St. Louis. It was quite a surprise and I am familiar with and respect many of the people on that list. I have found Instagram a very creating, inspiring and positive place if you use it in a way that is creative, inspiring and positive. It’s been a great place to show my art, my process of making art, and the things that inspire my art.

Plus I was going to go to a lecture by Michael Allen at Ritz Park on South Grand later that evening. I always find his tours, presentations and lectures thoughtful and informative. Anyway, I had a good three hours to kill. My bike is handy so I thought I would take a ride in the neighborhoods nearby: Tower Grove East, Compton Heights, and Fox Park. These are not new areas but every time I bike somewhere I see new things and the built environment changes too. The changes can be interesting and frustrating but that is the nature of the places that we inhabit. We humans are always making our mark and adding to the layers of history.

comptonheights1Less than a week before this ride, Ben and I did the Compton Heights House Tour – which was great. While doing the tour I had the thought that I should explore more and take a look at some of the places that were not on the tour. I started near the Compton Heights Water Tower at Grand and Russell. Russell is a fantastic street to bike down. If you start in Soulard and just head west you will see an interesting evolution of buildings, houses, street grids. The street itself goes through many changes – from being a wide street to being a divided street, to a narrow street. Many times these changes coincide with the change of neighborhood. It reflects the fact that the city grid was created by developers of the neighborhoods. I have a similar opinion of St. Louis Avenue on the north side. Both are east/west streets and in a way, you follow the westward expansion of the city and see how the architecture and neighborhoods changes over time. Anyway, my bike ride mostly straddled Russell but branched as far south as Pestalozzi and as far north as Geyer.

Compton Heights is one of the great neighborhoods in St. Louis. Russell goes right through the heart of Compton Heights. It’s mostly a clean grid but with a serpentine circle that is enclosed within that grid. It is shady with large old trees. The streets of Hawthorne and Longfellow are quiet, serene, shaded and bounded by mostly large old mansions from the turn of the 19th/20th century. There’s houses that range from Richardson Romanesque, Chateau style, Greek Revival, Beaux Arts, Arts and Crafts and there are even some smaller Tudor Revival, southwestern and mid-century style houses thrown in. There is a lot of variety. On Russell and surrounding streets are there are some equally great houses and one is the Magic Chef Mansion on Russell. Just across the street is the reservoir and the old Compton Hill Water Tower.

The land Compton Heights resides on started out as part of the St. Louis Commons. St. Louis City hugged close to the river and there were several prairies or cultivating fields that were shared by all the city residents. Any resident of the city could grow food, raise livestock, hunt, collect firewood. As the city grew rapidly into the 1850s the city annexed the land. The Compton reservoir was built in 1871. If you look at the neighborhood in the 1875 Compton and Dry map, it looks like much of the land that has gone to make up this neighborhood was dotted with ponds, springs, valleys, and maybe sinkholes. Today there is no trace of that. There is still natural beauty but it more of the human hand.

Keeping with a lot of residential development in St. Louis, Compton Heights was a planned development. It was bought, laid out and subdivided by local investors in the late 1880s. This was common in the city and helps explain the disjointedness of the city grids. It can be frustrating as a person that is not familiar with the area but as a person who enjoys exploring I find it delightful.

By 1890 the first building permits were issued but development was slow. The neighborhood was unique at that time in that as it was developed it was landscaped, Julius Pitzman laid out the streets in conjunction to the landscape to create a natural aesthetic so residents didn’t seem subjugated to a rigid grid. It was also the first planned subdivision with deed restrictions which still apply today. It’s part of the reason why, when many areas fell out of favor or into disrepair, or subdivided into flats or rooming houses in the 1930s through the 1950s, Compton Heights retained its integrity.

housestablizeThe neighborhood was rocked by the The Great St. Louis Tornado of 1896 and the selling of tracts was negatively affected by a nationwide depression. To speed up the sale of lots, they were auctioned in 1902. By the time the 1904 World’s Fair came to the city, the neighborhood finally took off. I did note that all of the houses we toured were built in the late 1900s and early 1910s. It has stayed as an intact neighborhood ever since and today is seen as one of the most beautiful and maybe exclusive neighborhoods of the city. However, it isn’t as exclusive as the private places that inhabit parts of the city – streets where the public isn’t welcome and if you have no place there, you may be thrown out, ticketed or arrested for trespassing. At least in Compton Heights anyone can stroll or take a leisurely ride and enjoy the beautiful setting.

All the neighborhoods I rode around are mostly residential with a few restaurants and stores dotting the landscape. Tower Grove East and Fox Park are less exclusive and more middle-class to working class. In fact early working class German immigrants settled in the area between 1885 and 1915 and the architecture seems to reflect that. However, it has gone through some rough times recently but seems to be slowly rebounding. Though there are many ragged stretches as you get closer to Jefferson and Gravois. Tower Grove East, like Fox Park and many other neighborhoods, has deep German roots. Riding through it is hard to imagine a lot of this land as prairie but at one time this was the La Petite Prairie – common grazing and farming land – in the 1700s. By the early 19th century this system was being abandoned and the land was being sold into private hands. Germans started setting in the area in the 1840s and much of this land was bought by German immigrants. As the German immigrants became come prosperous, they developed many blocks and built grand homes. Many of which survive today. They are not the mansions of Compton Heights and they don’t have large lots. Tower Grove East’s development is more urban with narrow lots and houses that are situated closer together. Still is very beautiful with big mature trees and great brick architecture.

I saw some changes from the last time I rode around in the area. There is some rehabbing of some properties on Magnolia near California. Plus there have been some new houses built on Magnolia. There are still buildings that are empty and have deteriorated. I’m not sure of the reasoning but it seems most of the vacancy – from lots to houses and other buildings seen near Gravois. It would be nice if some of the vacant lots could be more developed to plug the holes in the neighborhood’s fabric.

stfrancisdesales

One of the surprises of my ride was the towering cathedral on Gravois – not that it was hidden. It is huge. It just dwarfs everything. Imposing Gothic Revival structure that could look a bit threatening with some dark clouds looming. The church is called St. Francis de Sales. It’s also known as the Cathedral of South St. Louis. It is the second largest Catholic Church in St. Louis (The largest being the Basilica on Lindell). The church itself was founded in 1867 and had a German immigrant congregation that reflected the surrounding neighborhoods. However, the original church was destroyed in the Great St. Louis Tornado in 1896. After that, did they give up? No. They rebuilt and rebuilt it larger and more grandiose. The new church was finished in 1908. It was hard to see them or get a good look at them from the outside but the stained glass windows were designed by Emil Frei Sr. The name may sound familiar because is studio Emil Frei Glass has designed a lot of stained glass in St. Louis and other places. They did the stained glass in the demolished modernist treasure, Lewis and Clark Library in Moline Acres. The building was demolished but the stained glass was saved and some is displayed on the new library. Emil Frei Glass was founded in 1898 and is still a family business. They have a website: click here to visit and learn about their history and see samples of their fantastic work.

It was a fairly short ride because I was killing time but in a place with a lot of history, the ride was still interesting and still filled with new discoveries (by this outsider). Eventually, I’ll get back out to see where Eads and Pitzman built their mansions that are now gone and keep on getting to know the area.