North Broadway Love Song Revisited

On Saturday, Ben and I went to a book sale over at West County Mall. I have enough books for a small library and I haven’t read many of them. I wanted to just look and if an art, design or architecture book stands out, I may get it. I did buy a field guild to American architecture which will be of use. However, I found a book that is important to why I went cycling up North Broadway that same eventing. The book is called Sidestreets by M.M. Constantin. It’s a book of a collection of columns that were written for a local publication. All the short columns are about various places within the city of St. Louis in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The book was published in 1981. When we arrived home I read the first couple columns. One was on North Broadway and while I have biked up that street many times, I felt inspired to ride up again.


My assumption before I read the column, “North Broadway Love Song”, was I would find my experience to be much different than hers. In some ways it wasn’t but in many ways it is very different. It has been 35 years. It’s still a gritty area on, in Constantin’s own words, “the wrong side of I-70”. The Central Waste Materials Company sign is still at 1510 North Broadway. Still peeling away. The Federal Cold Storage Building is still there just north of the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge. If your not very familiar with the Near North Riverfront, there are many cold storage warehouses. They are basically huge refrigerators. They don’t have many windows. They are huge hulking thick brick structures that sit heavy. Solid. St. Louis was a leader in refrigeration technology in the early 1900s and many refrigerated buildings were constructed at that time to store cold items. Why was St. Louis a center of this technology? One word: beer.

The triangular intersection at Howard, just south of the bridge, is still there. The platform of cobblestones to commemorate the Indian burial mound that was torn down is still there but I wonder how many know what it is? It is still missing the bronze plaque. Stolen many times that eventually the plaque was never replaced. Wedge Tire Company is still at Chambers. Produce Row is still on North Market. The sign for The Crystal Grill, Established in 1946, is still there but shuttered. The whole block of wonky storefront – shut. My assumption is that it was open since it’s written in the present tense. I wonder what it was like? William Patented Crusher and Pulverizer is still at Montgomery. Past Palm is still a tractor-trailer gas station. Near Dock Street are still scrap and salvage yards. The Bremen Bank Building is still at Mallinkrodt.

crystalgrillHowever, North Broadway is very different from the North Broadway of 1981 and earlier. First of all many of the places the author speaks of are gone. Either the business is shuttered, torn down and replaced with a vacant lot, or replaced with a pre-fab metal structure, or absorbed into other industrial complexes. The biggest thing I realize is that most of the homes, bars and restaurants, and other services she speaks of are gone. It seems the transition from a true neighborhood to a large riverfront industrial park is mostly complete. Over time, the neighborhood has been sliced and diced by highways and bridges.

From the book I learned a few things such as as just south from Brooklyn Street, that is right by the bridge up until the 1940s, were a bunch of houses where many Irish families lived. When the book was written they were gone and what was left was a vacant lot. Today the Stan Musial Bridge passes directly over that. So next time you cross that bridge just think that you are driving over the ghost of an old Irish block. Would they ever have thought that in the future such a structure would replace them? Do you ever think of what you currently drive over?

Near Mullanphy St. was a place called Ina’s Restaurant that served brain sandwiches or if you wanted a hearty breakfast, brains and eggs. They had full liquor service too. You could start your day off with brain and eggs and wash it down with some whiskey. If that isn’t a working class dive, I don’t know what is. That place is gone and the local brain food is almost extinct too. Nearby on Mound Street was a fish wholesaler which is gone and is in the footprint of the bridge. Today Mound St is basically a small spark/landmark for the Indian mound.

All Around Town Express Company near Brooklyn seems to be gone. Either it was in the odd shaped lot on the northwest corner or was on the southwest corner (which is in the footprint of the bridge). United Disposal and The Scrubby Dutchman don’t seem to exist. All I could seen between Labeaume and Hempstead are nameless metal prefabs. At one corner of Tyler was a Japanese Barber Pole Factory but that seems to have slid off into obscurity. My guess is was right across from the American Brake Company Building? Today, the rough and tumble brick building with grimy grid windows is nameless. On the other corner is another metal pre-fab. Maybe it was there?

She writes of an old hotel near Madison but all I see are more pre-fabs on the northern corners. In this area between Madison and Clinton with a place called Mabel’s Cafeteria, an adult bookstore, saloons. It was nicknamed Dodge City because it was a violent place – shootings, stabbings, etc,… Though on one of the saloons was a Budweiser mural. All that is gone. All replaced by nameless pre-fab metal structures.

branchcornerAt Benton looking toward I-70 would have been older houses that would have been included in the 1875 Compton and Dry, Pictorial St Louis book. Today all those houses are gone. Today all I see are vacant lots full of weeds. Near St. Louis Ave were a bunch of scrap yards but today I see mostly plants where a nursery occupies three corners of the intersection just west of Produce Row. You can buy Christmas Trees here if you want. All fenced in by chain-link. Fresh Inc. which occupied the southwest corner is gone.

Just down Branch in a very odd intersection where the off-ramp of I-70 meets 9th Street and 11th street was The St. Louis Farmers Market and nearby was an old icehouse. Today a fleet of trailers are parked there and mostly looks barren. I’m curious about the block of buildings on a triangular lot at the end of the 1-70 offramp to go west on Branch. It looks to me to be a couple of multi-family dwellings with a building on the end that looks like it could have been a tavern or a small corner market. On the second story looks to be one of those square plastic beer signs but it’s covered. The entrance is on the Branch and 11th St. corner and is of brown painted cast iron with a column. The entrance has been closed up with white siding.

The ruins of Buchanan are gone. Just grassy vacant lots. Tobin’s Hardware at Angelrodt is still there. There are still snarling, menacing, intimidating watch dogs on duty and let you know their presence. I’m sure they are not the same dogs though.

Catty corner from Bremen Bank (northeast corner) was Westerheide’s Tobacco and Cigars. Established in 1860. Today it’s part of the Mallinkrodt complex – a gated and landscaped parking lot. That’s about as far as I got. There were storm clouds on the horizon. The bright sunny evening was turning angry.

9thstreethousesI zig-zagged a bit more over to Second Street near where the old fire station that is now a salvage lumber company. I took a look into the narrow alley of spiral fire escapes in the Ford Hotel Supply Complex. More warehouses. Smelly dumpster farms that smell of death. I do start to imagine finding a dead body and what I would do if I found one. Yeah, that is morbid. As the dark clouds to the northwest get closer I start to think I should end the ride. In 1981 there wasn’t a bike path and that was my easiest and shortest route back to my starting point. The sky is getting dark. The people fishing along the edge of the Mississippi are quickly packing up. Anyone that was out by the Cotton Belt and the small Bob Cassily park were gone. Though a couple sitting on a car just south of the Stan Musial bridge were still making out….eyes straight ahead, I move along. I don’t want to know. The things I see on my rides…sigh. I suppose it could be worse. Most people were smartly seeking shelter.

North Broadway is still a grimy character where much is gone. There are still links to it’s past but most of all the restaurants, bars and houses are gone. I imagine in 1981 it being a dying residential/industrial district – strangled by I-70. Though back then factories and houses were near each other. People lived near their jobs but today we decidedly live a good distance from our jobs in neatly zoned areas. Today, the houses are few and far between. There are some that dot the landscape west of Broadway. There are even less east of Broadway. I remember one on Ferry St. There is a group of rough and tumbles at 9th and Angelrodt. All brick, a couple Second Empire styles. A couple with mouse-holes. One on the south east corner covered with a stone veneer. There’s one on the southwest corner that has lost part of the south side wall near the roof. South of Branch near 9th Street are a few more houses. The block of Warren was cleared last year. Slowly but surely those houses that have been orphaned by their old neighborhoods of Murphy-Blair (ONSL) and Hyde Park because of the construction of I-70 are disappearing.

I do resist calling it a wasteland or abandoned. It’s not. It does look desolate and it isn’t a place of beauty. There are many businesses but it certainly isn’t a place to go and do stuff like eat or shop. Tourist will not be scampering down it’s sidewalks. It’s good to see Bissinger’s set up their factory just south of the bridge. The area between the bridge and Laclede’s Landing has been threatened by demolition for a variety of projects such as the recent football stadium. In the time between 1981 and now, North Broadway has been many changes. I wonder what will happen over the next 35 years? By then, I’ll be an old woman.


Pedaling the Overlook

I really hope I can remember something meaningful of my bike ride in St. Charles. It’s been nearly two weeks since I biked here. I haven’t driven this far to go bike riding in awhile. I remember Ben and I biked on the Katy Trail on a 100 degree day years ago. We went way too far and in the end we didn’t have too much fun. We were just trying to avoid a heat stroke. This ride was nothing like that. It certainly wasn’t 100 degree hot. It was more like a partly cloudy, comfortable evening. Honestly, it was almost perfect.

stcharles-1The St. Charles riverfront is quite different than the St. Louis riverfront. St. Charles doesn’t have the cobblestones that slope into the river – the remnants of riverboat and steamboat industry. St. Charles’ riverfront is more like a big park with grass, some pavilions, a pier that hooks out into the Missouri river, a stage, trails, some sculptures to mark the historic significance of the city. The edge of the river is more “natural” looking – mud, sand, wild grasses and plants. It’s a bit more scenic if you like trees and nature.

I don’t really go to St. Charles too often. It’s not exactly close to where I live. It takes about 45 minutes to get there and we don’t have much reason to go there. I typically think of it as suburban sprawl with cookie-cutter houses and McMansions. We may go to an art show at the Foundry Art Center, get food and hit an antique mall while we’re there.

I know the old town has much history and character. I also know it’s main street, while there are many historic old buildings it can seem a bit too touristy or just too “nice” for me. For some reason I’m attracted to grimy wear-and-tear and seem to naturally reject what many people naturally like. It is a very active street with stores and restaurants and would make most people safe, content and comfortable. I was riding around on a Saturday evening so it was busy with people enjoying dinner and drinks or just hanging out. There were also a lot of women in wedding/formal dresses too (mostly they were near the riverfront getting pictures) stumbling around in the gravel. I can’t imagine high-heels as being the ideal shoe but if you really want some wedding pictures by some railroad tracks and an old locomotive you may deal with it. Nothing says authenticity more than some railroad tracks. My cynicism shines.

That said, I really wanted to get into the old Frenchtown section and more into the business district and further in from the river where there are more victorian era homes and other buildings that are more grand. I wanted to get away from the fun hustle and bustle of nightlife and social gatherings. Who needs that kind of fun when you have a bike and a bunch of hills to climb?

stcharles-2Frenchtown is an area east of the main drag and business district. It is more of a modest residential area with some storefront commercial type buildings along 2nd Street. According to the Historic Frenchtown Association, Frenchtown has the largest concentration of French Colonial style architecture in the Midwest. Most were built between 1820-1850. The structures feature a front facing gable roof that extends over a galleried front porch. They typically have double front doors and are often mistaken as duplexes. They are typically brick on limestone foundations.

It is said Lewis and Clark dined at a house in Frenchtown before departing on their expedition to explore the Louisiana Territory. It is also said that the founder of Chicago and fur trader, Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable, spent his last ten years in a stone house at the corner of Second and Decatur Streets. It is very hard to tell these things happened as it just seems like an older neighborhood and not much to mark the historic significance. I guess you just have to know but maybe it really isn’t that hard to figure out or maybe I’m not giving most people enough credit.

Later on the area took on many German immigrants and you can see some of their influence in the architecture of the area too. Like Belleville, IL, they have a lot of small German Street House cottages made of brick. This expanded the population and it became a bustling area with many businesses. In the 1870s the St. Charles Car Company was founded and later on was bought by the American Car Company. They made streetcar and railcars and later machinery for World War I. They became the largest employer of the people in the immediate area and it does have a presence. When you ride the Katy Trail along side the old factory the buildings seems to go on and on and on. Today, the buildings still exist but factory operations have ceased to exist. Part of it is an art center and there are various businesses such as an indoor tennis complex using the old factory buildings.

Many of the earlier houses are more “pure” in their European influenced design but by the late 1800s the styles were more mixed with American styles. Some were updated with popular Victorian styles. While there are many of the French Colonial and the German Street Houses – the neighborhood has a wide variety of styles from Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Second Empire, Queen Anne, Saltbox, Italianate, to Romanesque. I will add there are newer houses and metal trailers peppered about too.

stcharles-3With the many styles of buildings it was interesting biking around looking at the different structures. I will note that some are raised on stone foundations. I wonder if the Missouri would flood this area back then. The land does slope up as you get further from the river.

I did meander the streets to find a great Queen Anne Victorian home with an ornate onion-shaped dome. It goes by the name of “The Meyerdorf”. It was built in 1892 and was designed and built by a local jeweler. Nearby were some other great victorian homes too. Next door to The Meyerdorf there is a house with an oval shaped tower with a red band around the second story and ornate woodwork trim that served as the first library in St. Charles. Those two places stood out to me.

Going into the main business district the incline becomes more steep as it seems to sit on a big hill. I can look out over the Missouri river in some spots. It is quite scenic. I took a break at the grounds of the domed Old St. Charles Courthouse. It sits up high and has plenty of grassy areas and I can see the river. It’s a good sitting area – perfect for my little break near the end of my zig-zagging through the streets. Before heading back near the river, I took a ride through the main street and admired many of the storefronts – most wonderfully restored. They do have charm and people seem to like going to the restaurants and shops. I got the feeling many just like to walk around and hang out. The only thing I didn’t like is that the streets are brick and there is a lot of car traffic. With my narrow wheels I don’t like roads with gaps in the surface. This means I am wary of railroad tracks and cobblestone streets.

Right before I ended my ride I biked back down to the river and just sat on the edge in the sandy dirt and watched some boats go by. Watching the river in itself can be relaxing and peaceful. I could feel the breeze on my face as the sun was setting and felt at peace and content. Tired but happy. I wonder how different the view is than from when those early french traders and explorers stepped here over 200 years ago. I look out and there isn’t much directly across so I imagine that it isn’t much different but the river isn’t as natural as it was. There certainly wasn’t airplanes or motor boats. Either way, I feel a connection to the past or just a realization that while times may be different, many things don’t change. I wonder what those early settlers thought when looking over the river? I’m not sure they’d see the landscape as I do today but I bet it would of filled them wonder. Could they have known this area would grow into what it is now – that they laid the seed, the foundation of these communities, of this metro area and ultimately the western United States?


Leclaire: A Village of Progress

I have been exploring areas east of St. Louis lately. On Tuesday’s I have been going up to the SIU campus in Edwardsville to draw many of the Louis Sullivan ornament that is displayed in the Lovejoy Library. I then decided I was going to bike around a small part of Edwardsville called Leclaire for an hour or so.

I know the area pretty well and I wasn’t expecting to find opulent examples of Victorian or great examples of sleek Modern architecture. I didn’t even expect to find unique local examples of vernacular architecture that can’t be found anywhere else. If anything it just gets me out to take another look at the familiar and maybe see something in a different light or from a different perspective. Plus I was getting out and exploring, enjoying the weather and getting exercise. Typically I’ll stumble upon something or wander off from my planned route (Planned route is a very generous term because no route is planned. Planned route means, “I plan to ride around Leclaire.”).

leclaire-nelsonI started on one of the bike trails that sits on a former railroad bed and goes past the Old N.O. Nelson manufacturing Company Factory (currently is a campus of Lewis and Clark Community College and before that the SIUE Art Department resided here) and the water tower that says “Historic Leclaire”. Leclaire today is a neighborhood on the south of Edwardsville that straddles Illinois Route 159. However, it used to be it’s own village. It merged with Edwardsville in the 1930s. Leclaire is actually pretty modest with smaller wood frame homes built around 1890 to the early 1900s. At it’s core the roads are curvy, the lots are spacious.

I did venture out of that area and up to the area just east of downtown that is along Routes 143 and 157. Most of my ride was flat terrain but there was some hills just east of downtown. I came across a brick factory that still is creating bricks. It’s called Richard’s Brick and was founded in 1890. It was founded by a bricklayer named Benjamin H. Richards. He bought half of two local brickyards (Springer and Tunnell Press Brickworks). The business incorporated in 1905. It makes brick for mostly residential uses. It’s a place that is hard to miss – brick towers stacked everywhere and the bike trail goes right through it. I will note that there was a street that I rode on called Springer Ave so I am going to assume it had something to do with the brick company.

Overall it was a easy relaxing ride for the most part. The neighborhood and surrounding areas are pretty active and it’s in great shape. There were people walking their pets, exercising, playing at or around Leclaire Park. There was activity around the Children’s Museum which used to the the village’s school. There were people riding bikes on the bike trail, a baseball practice at the diamond, and activity at the college.

As for Leclaire there is a lot of information on the Friends of Leclaire website. I’ll leave it up to you if you want really detailed information. I’ll just skim and give out the basics.

The village of Leclaire was founded by industrialist, N.O. Nelson in 1890. It was founded as a cooperative village that offered affordable homes, clean environment, free education, areas for recreation, and N.O. Nelson Manufacturing Company claimed to provide more pleasant, humane working conditions for their workers. He offered profit sharing to his workers. The factory was designed so it had plenty of natural sunlight via skylights and large arched windows that would open to let in fresh air. All the buildings had electricity, sprinkler systems for fires, and had running water. The grounds were landscaped with grass and flowers and the village and factory were separated by a hedge of orange trees.

In a way Leclaire could have been just another company town but workers didn’t have to live there. The idea was to not just offer housing but to give the workers the means to owning their own home. This wasn’t a factory where the workers would live in tenements or old dilapidated houses in the overcrowded, dirty cities. That was part of the reason for building out away from the city. They are modest wood frame and typically one story homes were not opulent. However, many had running water, electricity, indoor pluming, and had heaters. Over time homeowners would add features or maybe more space. Today each house has it’s own character.

leclaire-houseLeclaire offered free education with a school and library. Students were encourage to stay in school. Older boys, in order to learn skills had the opportunity to put in light work in the factory or on a farm. They were even paid a small stipend. Older girls would learn domestic skills. Sometimes after they completed their education, many of the boys would have employment waiting for them at the factory.

Leclaire was a progressive experiment to remedy the social evils of the time. It was created by a businessman who not only was a capitalist but supported socialist ideas too. He believed in a middle ground. Later on there was inner squabbling in the company between him and others that didn’t believe in his vision and wanted a more traditional business model. The company also suffered great losses during World War I. Soon after they went out of business. Eventually in 1933 the village was absorbed into Edwardsville.

Today, most of these houses survive and there is much knowledge about many of the houses and those who owned the homes. The area is very well taken care of and the residents are proud of the history of their neighborhood. The old school is sill standing, the old manufacturing plant has been rehabbed and is now a campus in Lewis and Clark Community College system. Before that it was owned by SIUE and housed the art department. For a period of time it was in rough condition but is beautiful today.

The neighborhood isn’t a marvel in architecture but it is a marvel in it’s ideals. It is no surprise that Edwardsville today seems to value education with it’s good schools, the community college in town, and the Southern Illinois University campus.

This was a bike ride that shows me that exploring can spark a curiosity. When biking though here I am aware that it is a historic district (there are signs everywhere) and it has the look of a turn of the 19/20th century look. It has a simple charm that isn’t intimidating. It isn’t a wealthy neighborhood that seems exclusive. This was a ride that I didn’t learn about architectural styles or the typical stories of settlement. Leclaire is unique in how it came together and it’s history. I knew nothing about the ideals that lead to the founding of Leclaire but my bike ride and curiosity led to learning about the history here.

With bike riding, there is a connection to place – I am participating. It isn’t like driving where I am separated and are a spectator. It isn’t like driving in that I just pass through and listening to music or the radio that has no connection to the place. With bike riding I can say hello to people and experience a place with all my senses. I think by doing that I find myself wanting to learn more and I get more out of the experience. Basically what I’m saying is when visiting a place, get out the the car.


Street House Spin

A couple Saturday’s ago I went to my dad and stepmother’s wedding anniversary over at a brewery on West Main in Belleville. When my stepsister called to invite me, I didn’t take notes on where this brewery was and since it was on Main Street, I assumed it was downtown. So I drive to Belleville looking for this place and I can’t find it. Feeling frustrated, I finally texted my stepsister and found out I was nowhere near the place and it was a good distance away on the west side of town. Starting in downtown Belleville and heading west on Main, I pass all these older buildings. It isn’t like these buildings are new to me. I have known they were there. I’m aware that there’s a lot of old houses in the area that was in the shadow of the old Stag Brewery. Of course, I don’t really have time to explore because I have somewhere to be. I think to myself, “I should make it a point to bike around here one day”.

Then last Monday, my boyfriend and I went to this same place to try it out. I want to mentioned that when I was at my parent’s anniversary I wasn’t hungry and didn’t eat anything except for some cheesecake and had something to drink. On the way back we passed by all the same buildings I passed the prior Saturday and again I’m thinking to myself, “I should make it a point to bike around here one day”.

It wasn’t an ideal evening but this was the day I was going to bike around here. It was sunny, which is good, but it was pretty cool outside but that shouldn’t stop me as long as I dress appropriately. Plus I have gone riding on much colder days. I started in a parking lot just across the street from a restaurant that looked closed, The Red Onion. It had a brightly red and yellow paint cast iron storefront. From there I meandered several blocks south and several blocks north and ended up as far west as Lindenwood University (formerly Belleville West High School) and as far east as the Firestone on Main Street. I just wanted to be sure to cover as much ground as I could. The terrain was more flat to the north and west but more hilly to the east and south.

As I rode around the sights that interested me the most were the old German Street Houses, some ghost signs, and some mid-century signage and sights.

german-streethouseIn the process of learning about the German Street Houses, I ended up learning a lot about this area. First of all this neighborhood is on the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district. Second of all, it used to be it’s own town called West Belleville. It was a place that grew independently of Belleville. It had it’s own downtown which makes sense to this strip that looks like a downtown but isn’t connected to Belleville’s downtown. It was a town that was greatly influenced by the coal and brewery industries and German immigrants. The German roots gave the neighborhood a lot of it’s defining vernacular architecture. Some of it’s earliest buildings date back to the 1830s as the area was platted in 1833 but wasn’t incorporated until the 1850s. By the 1880s, the cash-strapped town of West Belleville became part of Belleville. However what interests me is the architectural style that is most prominent in the area and that is the German Street House or the German-American Folk House. There is a recorded over 300 of these types of houses in the area. Probably the most of it’s kind in Illinois.

The German Street House in this area is mostly brick, one and a half stories, symmetrical with a door in the center and flanked by windows, and a side gable roof. These were houses constructed with local materials and designed and built by local craftsmen that immigrated from Germany. Many are of a red brick with simple alternating tooth-like dentils along the cornice. Over time many have been altered with front decks if there was room but many are almost right on the street. The front door opens right onto the sidewalk. Some have awnings or have been painted, or have dormers. Some went through more extensive alterations such as adding another floor or a mansard type roof, and additions to the side or rear for more space. Each one has it’s own character and many look very well cared for though there were some in disrepair and/or were boarded up.

edlers-ghostsignRiding though the neighborhood, I get the feeling of a old working class neighborhood with saloons on the corner, small houses that were close together and close to the street (which gives it a somewhat urban feel), remnants of railroads that include tracks and small depots, some light industry and commercial storefronts that are mixed amongst the houses. Coal would have been moved through, a large brewery was near and I’m sure was a force that loomed over the neighborhood. People lived and worked and played in the same neighborhood. This is a concept which is very different from today’s zoned districts where residential areas are separated from commercial and industrial areas.

There was one ghost sign near the intersection of West Main and 11th Street. Part of it looked like it had been covered at one point. From what Larry Betz, of the Belleville Historical Society, tells me on an Instagram post, the building that has the ghost sign was called Reichling’s Saloon. You can see the name above the EDLERS word. Also next door was Gaul’s Saloon. When I took this picture I was standing in a grassy area but that used to be a square with a public scale for weighing wagonloads of coal or whatever he wagons carried. There is also the Ebeling-Maurer House that sits in the grassy area. Today it sits back from the road quite a bit but it would have been right on the square. Plus at one time it had a storefront but later was replaced by a residential storefront. I would have never known about this if it wasn’t for some of my follower’s input.

briteway-signAlong West Main are some mid-century stylings too. On the corner of West Main and 10th St is Harter’s Hobby House. To me it actually looks like an older building that was altered in the 50s or 60s. On the 10th Street side are some breeze blocks and another storefront that was home to a business that sold art and craft supplies. There was even an old 1970s or 80s era sedan parked in front which gave me the impression of what it would have been like then. Further west was Brite Way Cleaners that occupies another old brick building but altered with a midcentury storefront. However, the thing I love the most is the large sign complete with neon lights, a big blue star on top, and angular diagonal shapes that tower over the building. I absolutely love these types of signs.

I love riding around and looking into some of the history and I love when I post pictures on Instagram and I have others fill me in or correct me on information about these places. Sometimes the bike is just an instrument for learning. It’s being able to observe, and contemplate places. I make my observations and sometimes I’m right and sometimes I’m wrong but I always come away knowing more than I did before.


The Uphill Struggle

I had a really hard time getting myself on my bike this time. Just the putting the bike in my car and getting ready to go seemed to be extremely burdensome. I did it anyway even though I really didn’t want to bother.

I had been feeling down and a bit depressed for the past few days. The feelings of loneliness of working at home with almost not human contact except for the boyfriend was getting hard to take. There is one thing I hate about working at home is lack of human contact and feeling disconnected with everyone. I was really upset and frustrated Friday night and was unable to do anything. I drove around in my car for two hours trying to think of something to do, or a way to not feel so bad. The more I tried, the more upset I got. The feelings subsided a little into Saturday but I still was feeling discontent. I started to think maybe seeing a therapist again would be good.

FemaleHospital_largeIn the meantime it was nice outside and I thought I need to get out. Maybe riding my bike would help. The worst part is getting started. Plus I had to figure out where I wanted to go. Last weekend I drove through The Hill at night and walked around a little. There were some things I wanted to see better during the day so I thought maybe I should go there. The big thing was to get some sun, fresh air and force myself out of this rut.

I started at Sublette Park, the site of the old Social Evil Hospital. For a period of four years in the 1870s, St. Louis legalized prostitution. There were some rules. First of all, all prostitutes and brothels had to register with the Board of Health and pay a monthly fee. This fee would help pay for the hospital. Secondly, all prostitutes had to submit to weekly medical exams to get a license. If they failed their medical exam they had to get treated at the hospital. At first this idea of legalized prostitution was popular but it’s popularity soon waned. Many didn’t like the fees and restrictions, there were moral objections, and there was widespread corruption. Soon legalized prostitution was repealed but the hospital continued to treat women and children. Famous dancer and activist, Josephine Baker was born here in 1906. Not too long after, in 1915 the hospital was torn down.

I wandered north to Southwest Ave and stopped to get some photos of some railroad tracks and then meander around the neighborhood. The Hill is known for their restaurants and it was Saturday night so there were a lot of people around. The streets were crowded. Some areas were pretty festive. I wasn’t feeling festive. I was interested in seeing a few specific things: the long industrial buildings on Daggett Ave, see the childhood homes of baseball Hall of Famers, Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola, and see some of the houses on Shaw that I saw at night a week ago. Of course I saw all these but since my rides are wandering affairs, I discover things.

kings-viaductFirst of all I decided to ride through where the Kingshighway viaduct was. There was some clear paths so I rolled in. Not all is gone. There are some spots with some interesting graffiti, some old industrial buildings. It really isn’t a large section but it’s enough to cause much traffic disruption since Kingshighway is a busy road.

There was a interesting sculpture in a yard called “Damsel in Distress”. It’s a nude woman in a classical pose painted red and green with spots all over.

All this exploring takes my mind off my worries and the things that upset me. I look at all the interesting houses, houses that are not like other areas in the city. I notice all the Italian pride – colors of the flag, actual flags, Mediterranean styles, Italian social clubs advertising bocci ball. St. Louis is a city of neighborhood and each have a unique flavor. I climb hills and tire myself out.

I end by laying down in the grass in Sublette Park, the site of an old hospital. I feel as though I brought myself there to get treated and now I leave feeling better. The golden glow of the evening sun, the cool grass, the sound of kids playing somehow puts me at ease again.

Monks Mound

Chasing Clouds Through Parks

I bike to find the extraordinary that is all around us. The world may seem mundane as we speed past everything in our automobiles. Biking for me is about the act of exploring seemingly normal surroundings and find something about the that is surprising, beautiful, educational and sometimes emotionally moving.

I haven’t biked at all this weekend since the weather has been sort of bad. On this first day of Spring it snowed. Not much but it’s enough to keep me inside and watch Netflix curled up under a warm blanket eating cereal and drinking coffee.

I did go on a bike ride on Tuesday evening because it was really nice out AND because of Daylight Savings it doesn’t get dark so early. I can stay out till around 7:30. It’s awesome. Normally I like to ride in St Louis and explore places but I stayed closer to home. I was just going to get on the MCT Schoolhouse Trail and head toward Horseshoe Lake and ride around the lake and come back. However, in mid-ride and decided on a lark to go down some roads I wasn’t too familiar with. With a brisk headwind, I headed south to another road that took me over I-255 and further south. I had a feeling I may end up in State Park. It was going to be a struggle in the headwinds. It’s very flat so no worries of hills to add to the difficulty. The idea really was to just relax and enjoy the warm weather.

grandpas-enterI passed by some farms and some marshland with ponds. I saw a few turtles and wanted to stop to look at them basking in the sun, they somehow knew I was around even though I wasn’t that close. They scurried into the water. I did hope to get some pictures but that was dashed. So onward. I head over another bridge that goes over I-55 and I can see Fairmount Park (a horse racing track) isn’t too far away and I’m heading into State Park. I see some horses in a small pasture and want to take a look at them. They see me and walk away. They seem to have an eye on me and seem very suspicious about my presence. I snap some photos and just look at them. They get bored of me and I guess think I’m not a threat and go back to eating and ignore me. The horses are not that big. I don’t know much about horses but my guess was they were pretty young. They are also close to the horse track so they are probably used there. I don’t know. It’s a guess.

State Park Place, if you’re not familiar, is a small unincorporated community where it’s western border is Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. It is a rough and tumble looking community – hardscrabble and possibly doesn’t have a great reputation. It’s a community without regulations or zoning and all that stuff incorporated towns and cities do. Some houses look horrible, mixed with trailers, trash and rubbish in yards – this includes cars and boats on cinder blocks, dogs running around (I was chased at one point), chickens running around. It’s not picturesque. Anyway it’s not wealthy and there is a large community of Mexican immigrants. You can see the stores from western wear to Mexican Markets, restaurants and such.

moundpaintingsI find myself being judgmental and have to fight myself from being that way. I know many that say it’s just a trashy place full of “white trash” and Mexicans and whatever. It isn’t well kept and isn’t a beautiful place but it is home. Home is home. Some people prefer to live in places like this to not have to pay for city services and taxes. Though there are many reasons why people live in places and it isn’t that they are bad people. I realize my thoughts have bias and what I am thinking speaks of classist thoughts. It’s the thinking that I am better than them. I am being judgmental and snobbish. Calling someone “white trash” is saying a person has no worth cause of their social economic class – being poor and white is worthless. I bike and I’m aware that I’m making judgements but what I see and interpret may not be the whole picture or may be entirely wrong. Essentially it is best that I not deem a whole population of people as worthless. I’m sure many work hard and ALL people have value in some way. That may sound hippie-ish but everyone, even criminals, can love and have worth.

I head through the deserted old parking lot of Grandpa Pidgeons (an old St. Louis discount store that went out of business decades ago). I remember going there as a child with my parents sometimes. This stretch of Collinsville Rd used to be part of Highway 40 before the interstate highways so it was a main road to get to St. Louis and 40 was highway many people traveled. There were stores such as Kroger, a K-Mart, motels, a Venture and some restaurants. Today most of that is all gone due to I-55 running almost parallel. Travelers no longer had to take 40. The commerce mostly dried up. However it goes right through Cahokia Mounds – a World Heritage site and the site of Cahokia – the largest city in North America at one point. They built huge earth mounds all around. There were some in St. Louis. Their people are all gone but the mounds and artifacts remain. People take side trips to climb the biggest mound, Monks Mound to get a great view of the St. Louis skyline and the surrounding area. Before Cahokia Mounds was deemed a state site, many of the mounds were destroyed. I was told to build the structure for Grandpa Pidgeons, they had to tear down mounds. People just didn’t see the value in them. Grandpa Pidgeons is closed today and is in bad shape with trees growing on the roof. It gets hit by taggers and graffiti. Those painting over the graffiti got clever in painting silhouettes of mounds over the spray paint.

Monks MoundBy the time I get here I am close to magic hour. Plus there are some great cloud formations. The light is just great. People are climbing the mounds, running up the stairs. I have to get some pictures of the sky. I don’t have too much to say about the park other than it was the first time I had ever biked there and it’s didn’t take too long.

What was even better was riding my bike back to my car. The wind was at my back and it probably took half the time to get back. It was like I was flying. The clouds were getting darker as the sun was going down. I make it back to my car and I see a flash. It is lightning. Those puffy clouds I was looking at and taking pictures of turned in the storm clouds and I made it back just before it started raining.


Hills to Clear The Mind

Today my ride was more about clearing my head than seeing anything. I did hit a couple new neighborhoods and biked more through Forest Park. The morning was cool but it was damp, cloudy and dark. Not ideal but it could be worse. There was some rain that was actually more of a mist than anything.

I’m not saying I didn’t see anything interesting but I just wasn’t that focused on it as much. I didn’t take many pictures. I just thought and huffed and puffed a lot. This ride was mostly about forgetting about all the political nonsense going on right now that has sent my stress level to an unhealthy level. It’s the type of stress that causes me high anxiety and endless ruminating on things I can’t control. It sends me into a ranting and inconsolable angry mess. I don’t like feeling powerless and unable to see a meaningful future that is hopeful. I am always hopeful for a better future cause I typically see the present as a unmitigated disaster or just boring. I just don’t have a sunny disposition or have unrelenting positivity about the present so I hope for a better future where I learn to be happier. I’m not sure how to make that happen.

I’m not saying NOTHING makes me happy. Many things make me happy or bring joy but it’s always tempered by some underlying doom. So I hope to be happier but in my soul I know that it may never happen. It’s just how it is so maybe I should just own it and like it.

wfpav-postcardAnyway, I started at the World’s Fair Pavilion that actually wasn’t there during the pinnacle of St. Louis history that was the 1904 World’s Fair. The pavilion is rather nice and I look it with the thought that it would be a great place for a wedding. It’s on a terraced hill and features waterfalls and features. The pavilion it self has this southwestern look with curved clay tiles on the roof, arched columns. I bet people have weddings there all the time. The pavilion opened in 1910 as a gift from the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Committee. It was designed by Henry Wright, with George E. Kessler, a landscaper.

Looking more into Henry Wright I learn he did many things in St. Louis. He designed the private subdivisions Brentmoor Park, Brentmoor, and Forest Ridge in Clayton. They were platted in 1910, 1911, and 1913. He was also instrumental in creating the design for Hi-Pointe subdivision between 1917 and 1923. The area just south of the southwest corner of Forest Park. He also did work in other cities such as Pittsburgh, New York City, Washington DC and other places on the east coast.

Another things Henry Wright is known for is that he was a major proponent of the Garden City. It was method of urban planning that was conceived in 1898 by Sir Ebenezer Howard in the United Kingdom. The vision was utopian and intention was to create highly organized, self-contained communities surrounded by “greenbelts”. There would be designated areas of residences, industry, and agriculture. I haven’t looked into this too much but it sounds like the concept of suburbanization – there would be a central cities with little cities around it with highly organized and separate spaces for housing, industry, commercial development. I’ll call it “zoning”. I think the idea was to create healthier environments for people to attain a higher quality of life. This was in opposition of the old, dirty, polluted, unorganized cities where factories and businesses and people were all were mixed together.

So I climbed up the hill by the Art Museum, swept down curvy winding hills passing people on morning walks, jogs and walking their dogs. I weaved through the forest on bumpy paths of mostly potholed concrete and gravel. I eventually made my way around the Zoo and over to cross the highway at Tamm. I made pedaled past the Bob Cassily created Turtle Park without giving it much notice. I swung over on to Oakland and then into the Clayton-Tamm neighborhood. The scenery was mostly brick multifamily housing that is distinctly different to the architecture closer to downtown. My guess is most of this was built in the 1920s-1930s and some later. The neighborhood is also known as Dogtown and it a neighborhood known for it’s Irish heritage and you will see that in the numerous pubs, and places decorated in green, shamrocks and such. It is St. Patrick’s Day weekend so I’m sure that area will be buzzing with activity. Headed south and east the houses are pretty ordinary, modest and lots of shotgun houses. Go further you will head downhill to Manchester.

I then swung up on to Macklind where it’s mostly light industry with some offices. One place is called American Pulverizer – that sounds like could maybe be the title of a book or movie. It would have to be something violent and action packed. I don’t think that is what is there now but it is carved into stone so it’s there forever. I was attracted by the White Castle regional office building which looks just like one of their restaurants. It’s white with a crenelated tower and their logo. All I could think of were chicken ring sliders. I love those things. I think I like them more than the burgers. I decide to turn around and breeze down the hill through the mist and cross Manchester and go into The Hill.

10554231_560357424124032_2144883462_nFirst though I stop on the bridge before the big hill to go into The Hill. It crosses what I think is the River Des Peres. At this point I think it is just a big open sewer. It is mostly empty right now and the bed is covered in concrete. The river used to snake through Forest Park but it was heavily modified for the World’s Fair probably for sanitary reasons. I think I read something about it being swampy and was known for harboring cholera and other water borne diseases. Eventually the river was buried. That said what a person sees of the River Des Peres today doesn’t resemble a natural river. It just looks like a wide concrete channel that goes through the south side and forms the southern border of the city and county. It eventually empties into the Mississippi. It looked nearly empty today but if it rains a lot it will fill up and can cause some flooding like it did around this past New Years.

I then huff and puff slowly cranking up the hill. I will mention Dogtown and Forest Park isn’t entirely flat. There was a lot of hill climbing. The climbing is really what clears the head cause there the thinking is for survival. Its breathe, breathe, breathe. Go. Go. Go. Keep going. Don’t quit. You can do this. Almost there. This is all as your legs are burning and getting tighter. Once to the top it is such a great relief and i just coast a little to get my composure. I’m not thin and fit. I’m middle aged and a bit chunky so I’m sure it doesn’t look graceful.

The Hill is the center of all that is Italian in St. Louis. Honestly, when I got up the hill the the scent of food cooking was mouth watering. Whatever it was, I bet it was heavenly but I got other things to do. I really didn’t spend much time in the neighborhood. A lot of modest homes, some shotgun, some simple one-story ranches that looked mid-century, some “gingerbread” tudors. It’s a variety but not big mansions or the more opulent styles just north of Forest Park. North was more upperclass and south was more working class.

magic-chefI retraced my route down Macklind and then I wanted to check out the old Magic Chef building which is now a big U-Haul storage area. It doesn’t look like much with all the corrugated metal cladding but it is a significant piece of midcentury modern architecture. It was built in 1947 and it’s architect was Harris Armstrong. It was in the International Style and there are not many buildings in St. Louis like it. It had big curtain windows on the south and east side. The west side has this tall brick tower jutting out. One part is rectangular and the brick portion is angular like a knife cutting into the glass and metal structure.

What may be more significant is the fact that there is a hidden Isamu Noguchi designed ceiling that is still there but under a drop ceiling. I hear it may be uncovered someday. That would be awesome to see. The curtain windows may never be uncovered again. I think it was said the cladding probably damaged it and it’s all in bad shape.

Here a little article about it from St. Louis Public Radio. Click to read.

The rest of the ride is getting back on Oakland and riding by what used to the the Forest Park Highlands that I never got to see. It was an amusement park that was around from 1896 to 1963. You can see lots of pictures and learn more about the pace here. Today Forest Park Community College occupies the space. I also ride past where the old Arena was. I do remember that pace. I went there some as a child to see the Ice Capades and other kid friendly stuff. It was the Blues used to place. I won’t hash out too much on it since there is a lot of stuff about it on the web, I am sure.

Here’s a video of the implosion. It was quite the spectacle! Lots of booms! Watch on YouTube.

From there it was past new glass structures for mixed use development, a Mercedes-Benz dealer, the vacant land left from the old Forest Park Hospital. The Zoo is supposed to do something with it. From there it was returning back via the bike/running trail and dodging runners and returning to the madness of life.


Downtown to Downtown

The plan was to ride a little around downtown East St. Louis and then over the Eads Bridge into downtown St. Louis. That happened but not everything went as planned and overall it was sort of a terrible ride.

First of all I am getting over a bad cold and on top of it I had a migraine. My headache was literally making me feel nauseated. I was going to soldier on though. I started at the Metrolink station and made my way through the cold, barren streets and noticing a lot of bulldozed rubble and dirt in many lots. Piles of broken concrete, stone, brick, and giant holes in the ground. There has been a lot of demolition in the downtown area. I couldn’t think of what was there. I don’t know what the plans are to replace what used to be there. I do know where the old Murphy Building was and I was very sad when that was torn down. To say that East St. Louis has suffered some tough times is an understatement.

12718068_10209017774663841_8441347364081797652_nThere are two fantastically spectacular ornamented structures downtown that I really like. One is the Ainad Temple and other is the Majestic Theater. Both were built in the 1920s and feature colorful decorative tiles but are very different. The Ainad Temple’s decoration is more Arabic looking with some trim that looks like Arabic calligraphy. The entrance features rounded arches and Arabic columns. The Majestic Theater is grand and vertical with colorful tiles and intricate patterns and ornament. It is said to be the style of Spanish Gothic and designed by the Boller Brothers – known for their theater designs in the early 20th century. The theater is very unique looking but it was also special in that it was the first building in East St. Louis with a modern air conditioning system and it was the first theater in Southern Illinois to show “talkies”. The theater closed in the 1960. It’s crazy that it has sat abandoned for more than 56 years! It still stand but peppered with graffiti and weeds growing out of the facade.

I was also interested in the Spivey Building – the only real skyscraper in the city. It is 12 stories and is abandoned too. In fact you can see straight through the building at certain angles as most of the windows are broken out and the building looks gutted. It is also peppered with graffiti and is mostly in shambles. It still retains it architectural beauty though. It was built in 1927. It seems like the 1920s were good times for the city. Like neighboring St. Louis, it hit it’s peak in the 1950s and the decline since has been sharp. It was designed by Albert B. Frankel and features terra cotta spandrels that vertically separate it’s windows. It has an asymmetrical entrance and The top of the building features a two-story parapet with terra cotta decoration that surrounds the windows and seven capitals at its peak. The building was named after A.T. Spivey, who was editor of East St. Louis’s newspaper the Journal. The building next door must have been where the actual newspaper was located – it features a vertical sign that says Journal.

From there I headed over to the Eads Bridge to cross into St. Louis. I don’t have to stress how important the Eads Bridge is and I won’t. Right now there is a lot of construction on the bridge. There is a pedestrian walkway and it’s absolutely not made for bicycle traffic. It is narrow and riding across was treacherous with broken glass everywhere. I stopped for some pictures. The view of the Gateway Arch and the riverfront areas on both sides is great. This is where my bike ride was ruined.

stl-eadsI was approached by a guy who proceeded to creep me out and I really had no chance to get away. I don’t like being in a position where I can’t ride away if being approached. He tried to give me money and solicit sex from me. I wasn’t having it and just kept on talking and trying to get me to “hang out” with him. My idea is to try to get away by politely turning him down and just nudging my way out and saying I have to go and I’m on a time limit and have somewhere to be. It was annoying and frankly could have been dangerous. I didn’t feel particularly scared at that moment but after I got out and rode away thats where my mind starts going over the situation and I realize that I could have been in a dangerous situation. The more I thought the more I was really not enjoying myself. I was thinking that I have to cross that bridge again and he could be waiting for me. In fact when I got off the bridge I stopped for a min and I noticed he had turned around and was coming in my direction. I sped off and weaved through he downtown canyon. From there I just wanted to go home. I did make it over and back to my car without seeing him which was relieving.

The big thing I took from the ride mostly was maybe I should carry some mace.


Campsite Conversation

Most rides are typical in the fact that I ride around and find things I want to see, take photographs, think and enjoy myself. Today, I thought that would be the case. In fact, I was planning on today’s ride to be short. I had a couple things on my mental itinerary: to check out the demolition progress of St. Bridget of Erin and to check out the Tums building near the baseball stadium. Anything in between would be gravy. Well, I got a lot of gravy.

stbridgetoferinI first made my way north of the City Museum going up 18th street to Carr. Today, none of this area is very interesting. Theres a lot of uninspiring housing projects, open fields, some suburban-type sprawling warehouses. There just not much there of interest to me. However it’s past is more interesting. It’s roughly the area that was called Kerry Patch. It was an area in which most of the early Irish immigrants to St. Louis settled. It was called Kerry Patch because the earliest settlers were from Kerry County in Ireland and patch was a place that was home. My guess is that they started coming over in the 1840s or so and the immigrants were very poor. The homes built were clapboard frame houses and were built at the sidewalk/road edge which by the 1900s were replaced with tenement style structures. There were many homeless and very crowded. The streets were muddy and it was known as a slum with crime, gangs and hardship. In short it was a rough place to live. Riding down the asphalt streets and open spaces, low slung buildings, the urban forest of Pruitt-Igoe, it’s hard to imagine that past.

That takes me to the demolition of St. Bridget of Erin. This was an Irish Catholic church that would have been on the far west edge of Kerry Patch. This is one of many Catholic churches in the area. St. Bridget was built in 1859 and that makes it one of or if not the last structure left from Kerry Patch. I really just don’t know if anything is left at this point. The church was one of the five oldest in the city. Architecturally speaking it’s a big loss. Many may ask how could this happen? First there is not “preservation review” in that ward. If one wants to tear down a building, it doesn’t matter what it’s historical significance is, it can be demolished without question.

It’s sad but this would have never have happened if the surrounding communities were not destroyed. If it was still a thriving area, that church may still be operating. To the west it is a neighborhood that has suffered mass populations loss and in turn there are many horribly deteriorating houses, vacant lots and an environment that is severely depressed. To the north, it isn’t much better. The former site of Pruitt-Igoe haunts the area as a big urban forest – still empty since the demolition in the 1970s. The area immediately north of P-I is a vast grid of empty lots except for a few spots. To the east and south are not empty or crumbling but its newer housing projects, open fields, and suburban style developments like large sprawling warehouses and I know of a strip-mall. I pedal my way around checking up on some buildings I have drawn and seeing what is still around. Buildings disappear fast. As for buildings disappearing, St. Bridget is close to gone. I was there Friday evening and much of the nave was still up – opened up to expose it’s rib-cage. All that is gone. Metal flapped in the wind amongst piles of bricks.

st-leoI then rode into the mostly empty grid of St. Louis Place, an area directly north of the old Pruitt-Igoe site. currently it is a proposed site for the National Geospatial Agency which is currently in south St. Louis but needs to move. The city is trying to keep it and they believe this spot is the best for it in the city. There are still families that live in this area and many aren’t too happy about it. I rode past the old Buster Brown Shoe factory and over through a patch of houses. On the corner of 23rd and Mullanphy (named after a prominent Irish family in St. Louis) were a group of men, a campfire, some signs and an tent. Another things about this corner is that it was the site of a church – St. Leo (an Irish Catholic church built in 1888 that was closed in 1963 and razed in 1978). There are a few houses nearby that probably date back to the 1870s-80s. I rode past and I knew why they were there and I got the gumption to turn around and maybe talk to them. I was curious about what they had to say. I’m not a very socially outgoing person so this was a big deal for me. I met 4 men (one left midway through so I didn’t get his name) who are camping out in protest of the NGA.

The men I talked to were Gustavo Rendon, Larry Chapman and Terry (didn’t give a last name). They were very friendly and willing to give me their time to answer my questions about the neighborhood and what is happening. I was curious about their take. These are men in which have lived in the neighborhood for a long time, some since the 1960s or so. They explained that many these houses go back generations in ownership and there is a lot of pride in having these old brick homes.

I was curious to what brought the neighborhood to where it is now and it was explained. These are people that saw the neighborhood go from dense community to slowly over time losing buildings until it is where it is today. It wasn’t a massive land clearing like I thought it may have been. At first it was white flight and just over time as people left there was abandonment, many rentals were managed by bad landlords and then in turn the tenants were bad. This leads to more people leaving. Then as more people leave there are less city services and more people leave. I think what frustrates them the most is that it seems as though the city didn’t care and wanted it this way.

Anything that was put forth from a grassroots standpoint was shot down. I was handed a two-inch thick development plan put together in the 1990s. I gathered it didn’t matter what the residents there wanted. They wanted to make the community better, to build it back up but no one was having it. The city wanted to push out people they considered undesirable and make a land grab for developers. Then there came Paul McKee and was buying up land, getting houses by eminent domain and pushing families out of their homes – only for the houses to rot as nothing happened. Right now Gustavo is waiting in limbo not knowing if the city is going to take his house or not. They may take his house and the NGA may not even move in! He wants an answer so his family can know if they can stay or move on. It’s very stressful to be going through something like this. They can’t sell their house on the moment cause of the threat of eminent domain. He is camping on that corner lot and is fasting until he gets an answer. Larry was telling me about how the cost of service and taxes go up while services get cut. On top of it he sees that tax money going straight into developers pockets and the city not listening to their concerns. To me it sounds like taking from the poor and giving to the rich. It comes down to citizens in the United States NOT having a voice in what happens in their communities and leadership catering to the rich and getting pet projects leadership wants without regard to the people in which they serve.

I pedaled away on the brick street past the old Mullanphy Tenement building feeling sad, a little angry and just frustrated. It was very moving for me to hear people affected by this speak to me personally about what is happening in their community. These are stories you can’t really understand by just reading a newspaper or watching the local news. There is not that human element, that connection that gives a person empathy. It’s easy to take the side of the city cause as an outsider I may just see brick, buildings, empty land and say that the NGA is a good thing that will spur redevelopment and make things better. There is no other choice and it’s better than nothing. Then I think after hearing all that is that this is not the best we can do. We can do better. Why can’t we do better?

tumsSomberly pedaling toward downtown again, I just try to enjoy the warm weather, the sights. I speed down Locust and into the canyon of downtown. I look at the Laclede Gas Building, The Railroad Exchange, the spiraling ramp of a parking garage and make my way toward the Gateway Arch. I think of the mass land clearance for that, the city going against people’s wishes to build this memorial. It just goes on and on. By the way the cap over I-70 is great and the view of the Arch and the Old Courthouse are great. It was just great to take in the sunshine and look that the beautiful structure.

Then to the other reason I went bike riding – to see the Tums building. I really love the signage on it and the sleek modern look. There are Art Deco aspects to it at the ground level but overall it’s an International Style building. It was built in 1933 and designed by the Widmer Engineering Company. I really like that building in it’s simplicity.

This ride turned out to be like nothing I was expecting. It was still as long as my ride yesterday. It was emotionally exhausting but completely worthwhile. It was a great learning experience and one of those rides I won’t forget in a while. It hit me hard.


Welcome to the Velodrome

Today’s trip was to take me to the Penrose Park Velodrome. If you are not familiar with this place it is pretty special. It is an outdoor velodrome – one of 27 velodromes in the United States. It’s just off Kingshighway near I-70 on the city’s north side. Anyone can ride on it – open from dawn to dusk in a public park. That’s pretty cool.

IMG_1893I typically start my rides between 7:30am and 8:00am and today was no different. I really wanted to get my GoPro back out and I broke my helmet clip so I had to figure out how to use my handle bar clips. Actually it worked out pretty good. I wanted to go around the track with the GoPro but I try to record my whole ride – you never know what you may ride up upon in the city. I even debated going since it was a pretty cold morning. I think when I started in was in the 30s. It was sunny and the sky had that orangish-yellow light that was a bit misty. I have really grown to like morning light. It isn’t as warm as the light at sunset but it’s great too. Totally underrated. I’ll also tell you that the morning can yield you some great stuff like low morning fog over the river and just the river. The steam that comes out of the ground on cold mornings with that morning light is great. Mornings on the weekends are great for riding because the streets are just less crowded. There are less people out.

I started off in the Central West End – straight up on Boyle and was caught by the sight of a house being demolished on Enright so I had to take a look at that. Two houses, twins. Painted white with an arched front window. These are houses that are very similar to houses just a few blocks south in the CWE but even as some are great others are empty or are deteriorating. They are rough diamonds while the ones south are polished. At one time they were all middle class neighborhoods in a city that was thriving – high off of the Worlds Fair of 1904.

I head further north, past MLK, past Page and I start meandering. Going west, going north…like a jagged stairstep pattern. The houses get smaller and the density gets lighter. The vacant lots get larger and many old brick houses and buildings are falling down, missing walls, boarded, burnt out. Then pockets of well kept places. I see very few people. I come across a school, Hickey Elementary school. Near Cora and Greer. It is a modern building in which most of the building is raised off the ground by pillars and you can walk under it. There is a central entrance under the building. The pillars are all colorfully painted, the concrete walls are painted. They all look like kids paintings and it brings a lot of color. Maybe it doesn’t follow the sensibilities of Modernism but you see it’s interaction with the children and community. I rode under and looked at the paintings and continued on.

Onward north, I head into Natural Bridge and then into the Penrose neighborhood. I haven’t ever been in the Penrose area. The housing is still dense and has a wide variety of architectural styles but some areas take on more of suburban feel. Neighborhood is still very much intact. I rode past a pretty bad car wreck…two cars banged up on the corner. One of the cars pushed up into a yard. It didn’t look like anyone was hurt bad though. I just flew past. No need to gawk. Police and ambulance was there.

The neighborhood takes it’s name from Clement B. Penrose. He lived on a nearby estate and was appointed land commissioner in 1805 by Thomas Jefferson. Another person that owned land early on in this area was Henry Clay, a shaper of the Missouri Compromise. Most of the early residents were of German heritage and came into the area in the 1880s. From what I read the area saw it’s boom in the 1920s. I know that Rexall Drug Company opened their plant and headquarters nearby in 1922. There was a GM plant and other factories nearby. I think there were ammunition factories that supplied the troops during World War 2 nearby too. I’d say most of the houses probably stem from that era but there are many older styles that say people lived here prior.

That said, I find my way to Penrose Park and have to get over the railroad tracks that separate the Velodrome from the rest of the park. One thing that is striking about the velodrome is how steep the embanked curves are. Once I start riding I find that riding a velodrome is not easy or for the the faint-of-heart. It is hard and I honestly just couldn’t get up on those embankments. I felt like I was going to slide or fall over and it was a feeling I didn’t like. I have total respect for people that can do this. I rode maybe 5-6 laps and had enough. I rather come and watch riders round what they lovingly call “Mr. Bumpy Face”. It is bumpy and has cracks – which adds to the scariness of it.

United Drug Company [United-Rexall Drug Company].  3915 North Kingshighway.  Photograph by Joseph Hampel, 1946.  Joseph Hampel Album. p. 8a. Acc. # 1998.94. Missouri Historical Society Photographs and Prints Collections. NS 23692. Scan © 2007, Missouri Historical Society. {"subject_uri":"","local_id":"34610"}From there I head into the industrial area between Kingshighway and Union. I’m unsure of all the old factories but there is the 7-story Rexall Drug Company building. It is white and looks very rough with lots of windows (the ones that looks like grids). Today it is a warehouse for cars and boats and they have car auctions. Basically it’s an auction house for cars. Rexall closed in 1985 and 1,000s lost their jobs. They manufactured drugs, medicines, cosmetics and where one of the largest drug makers in the country and had drug stores all over. I think they got acquired by another company via a hostile takeover. There are a bunch of low rise nondescript buildings, webs of old railroad tracks. You can see old cobblestone under broken asphalt. In the distance looking west you can see the old Chevy/GM plant (which moved it’s operations down south so it wouldn’t have to pay it’s workers union wages or something – it was a closing that made people very upset. North St. Louis was a center of manufacturing in the city and deindustrialization in the late 20th century really hurt the north side a lot. I rode through some lots and took a look and some of the old shuttered factories. I’m not sure what I can say about them cause I just don’t know enough about them.

Then it was time to head back. I zig-zagged through a neighborhood called Kingsway West. It’s a strip of land that is bounded by Natural Bridge on the North, MLK at the south and between Kingshighway and Union. Next time I’m up there I will have to take a look at a mid-century suburban development that is in this neighborhood that I have read about – seems important. What I love about these old neighborhoods are the old signs – ones that are more mid-century to handpainted ones on small stores. One that caught my eye was one of Malcolm X and President Obama on the corner of St. Louis Ave and Norwood. I love seeing the messy human element, stuff from the past most of suburbia will not allow because of ordinances. Nothing is pristine or highly manicured. It looks lived in and you can see the history all around. It doesn’t feel fake.

Headed down Union and then made a right onto Wells-Goodfellow. I just went up a hill for a block and headed south. Mostly I just wanted to get off Union. Then I headed east on MLK and hopped on Academy and headed south. In the Academy neighborhood, the houses get more grand. Similar to ones in the DeBaliviere Place and Central West End. Many are wonderfully kept with stone faces, towers. They are big but not mansions. It’s fun to just ride up and down these streets. I think this was the neighborhood that was the model for the one in Meet Me in St. Louis. Kensignton goes right though it but I think the house that inspired the one that was in the movie was torn down. It’s a really interesting neighborhood. I think Academy got it’s name from an actual academy that was part of a church.

corner-muralFrom there it was surviving riding down Delmar onto Kingshighway. By this time, the world has woken up and people are walking around the Central West End getting coffee, exercising. I ride down roads with houses very similar to what I saw just a few blocks north but the experience and feel is very different. You see two places that have gone down different paths. One has got more affluent with private places that seem so far removed from the reality of just a few blocks north. I see stores, restaurants, mostly white people. Just a few blocks north are nice houses but really no commercial development, pockets of abandonment and houses crumbling and mostly black people. It is impossible NOT to see that divide and wonder why it is like this. However, everywhere I go I see decent people just going about their daily lives. I haven’t experienced the ugliness I see on the news every morning – a person shot in north city, a homicide in north city. I say hello to people. They say hello back. I see people working on their old houses, old cars, sitting on their stoop, going to the corner store, grilling (yes, at 9am in the morning). It’s a place no different than anywhere else.

Sensory Notes: Smell of the morning was marijuana. I just could smell it everywhere. Sound of the morning was of the dinging of a railroad crossing and a locomotive rumbling. I didn’t taste anything except for coffee when I got back home. Touch? I don’t think I touched anything other than my stuff, myself (not in THAT way), the cold air, and my bike. I saw a lot of stuff but I really liked a house on the corner of Academy and Raymond and the Rexall Drug Company Building a lot.

Other notable things: Abusive anti-abortion protestor holding up baby cloths and shouting at some poor woman. A car spewing white smoke on Page, some dude walking on Delmar – in the road – and right in my bike path (which gave me a bad feeling) and toward me but I swerved around him. I thought I would have to give him a bike kick.