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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Place I Forget

It’s been nearly two weeks since I hopped on to my bike and went for a ride. That’s what happens when you get a nasty cold and spend most of your time hacking up an endless supply of lungs. Then there comes a point where you just have to get out and go and risk a coughing fit as your cranking up a hill. It makes it a little more difficult but it’s doable. In my mind I have a list of routes or rides I want to take in the next few weeks. Some are inspired by Sidestreets St. Louis and others are just places I haven’t been in a while or been eyeing as I drive somewhere. One example is riding the full length of Jefferson. I will get to it soon.

clifton2In the meantime, this one was inspired by Sidestreets. It’s a neighborhood I forget exists and have never been to but I have driven past it probably a thousand times. If you live in and around St. Louis you may have done the same too. As I drive down Hampton and under I-44 and pass mid-century office buildings, fast food places and a tall hotel, I forget there is a beautiful, quiet neighborhood lurking behind the all the hustle and bustle of the busy thoroughfare. The neighborhood I am referring to is Clifton Heights.

In Sidestreets St. Louis, the chapter on this neighborhood is called, “Just A Regular Neighborhood”. It’s an apt title and I bet residents probably just want to keep it that way. I don’t blame them. In fact to me, it feels like a small town. There is the park and then there is a small business district that feels like a town’s Main Street with low-slung two story store fronts. There’s an old police station that is an Amvet’s Post. When I rode by they were preparing for a BBQ that would start hours later. The Richardson Romanesque styled building was constructed in the late 1890s. Across the street is an SEIU office building that appears as though it was a school built in the late 1890s but the front was torn off and replaced with a mid-century face that is complete with a clock. Today the clock is missing its hands. First the face was ripped off and now it’s the hands – it’s like it’s being dissected.

Anyway, it was a cool morning. Sunny. It was cool enough for a jacket at the start but as I warm up it becomes too much but I deal with it. Climbing hills will get me sweating. I start by Clifton Park. One thing about Clifton Heights is apparent – it is hilly. If you become familiar with St. Louis and it’s geography you realize St. Louis is fairly hilly. This is especially true in the southwest portion of the city. The north side is relatively flat though. The northside is more close to the Mississippi and Missouri confluence’s flood plain. The southwest takes you toward the Ozarks – the rocky and hilly portion of the state. This is something one may not recognize in a car but on a bike a hill is something you recognize and may dread. The park itself is situated in a valley and may be the lowest elevation of the neighborhood. The houses that surround the park look down into the park like an audience to watch the dog walkers or an overseer making sure no one hurts the ducks. They are set back from the street, some up on terraces, mostly wood-frame Victorian or Arts and Crafts houses built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The lots are large and it is treelined and shaded. It is quiet and serene. I almost forget that I am just a few block south of the highway. If I sit still and stop huffing and puffing I can hear the highway’s hum in the near distance. The streets don’t follow a grid around the park. They curve and wind around the park and lake. It’s a place in which you don’t feel like you’re in the middle of a city.

clifton3As I mentioned the park is the geographic low point and in fact, according to Sidestreets, the park and lake started out as a sinkhole. In fact there were clay-mining operations in that area so maybe it was from that? Maybe there are caves underneath? Anyway, the sinkhole was plugged and it was turned into a private park and eventually was deeded to the city in 1912 to be open to the general public.

While the geography of the neighborhood is unique, it’s architecture is unique too. St. Louis is known for it’s brick vernacular architecture but the houses that surround the park are mostly wood frame. There are brick houses but the wood frame structures stand out as odd in a brick city. The neighborhood also has a wide variety of architectural styles that span from Victorian Queen Anne and Romanesque Revival (and a few small Second Empire mansard roofed structures) to Arts and Crafts, bungalows, some tudor revival, and even some mid-century ranch styles. Then there are all the above that have been heavily modified and are a miss-mash of styles that relect DIY renovations and add-ons. There are grand ornamented jewels and modest square boxy houses that repeat over several blocks. There’s just a bit of everything and as a bicyclist exploring, it makes for some interesting riding as I slog and fly up and over the hills.

By the end of my ride, I realized I didn’t cough up a lung and felt pretty good overall. At the beginning I felt apprehensive but by the end I felt confident again. Sometimes when I’m sick and miss workouts or get off my routine, I feel like I may be thrown completely off the rails FOREVER – I’ll stop bike riding, or my diet will go back to unhealthy, or I’ll stop drawing or making art and lose my whole identity and way of life. It’s an absurd worry. That never happens. If anything it just is a short break where I reflect, plan, think and get ready for a new start. The thing is I just have to start, to just get back in the saddle again and push forward. I’m ready.