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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.

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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.

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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.

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Broadway to the Greenway

For the past few weeks I have taken a break from biking around St. Louis city and have instead biked around Belleville, Edwardsville, and St. Charles. Plus I did a few rounds on the trails in Madison Country a couple times for a combined total of 37-ish miles. Also within this time period I have decided to get serious about my diet and to try to take off some weight because despite riding my bike I have gained 20 pounds over the past year. It has to be because of my diet – which has been crap. I eat out too much and eat food that is not good for me too much. I’m not 18 anymore. I’m 38 and my metabolism is probably slowing down. I’ve built up some bad habits in the past 20 years. I don’t have a problem motivating myself to be active – I love being active. I ride my bike, I like to go on walks (used to run), and I do boxing classes. My achilles heel is food. I just don’t eat right. Anyway, this doesn’t affect my bike riding but I may be more moody.

Since I’ve enjoyed my time on the MCT Trails in Madison County I thought checking out the River Des Peres Greenway would be worth my time. I could get down to Carondelet, Patch and ride through Boulevard Heights for the first time. Part of my goal is to ride my bike in every neighborhood in St. Louis so I have marked another neighborhood off my list.

stone-houseI started in Patch, a small area just south of Carondelet that is on the southern edge of St. Louis City. The southern border is the River Des Peres. The river forms the border to the city and county. Patch and Carondelet many times get confused with each other. Frankly Patch just tends to be forgotten about and called Carondelet. Patch seems to be a working class type of neighborhood that is sandwiched by industrial areas along the Mississippi River and a chemical plant along the River Des Peres. Broadway is the spine that is the main street through the neighborhood. Most of the houses are small and cottage-like. It can seem a bit run down but it is home to many stone cottages and some buildings that date back to the Civil War. Some of the buildings still show the French and some Spanish influence. Of course there is the German influence of architecture too. If anything St Louis’ architecture seems rarely pure in it’s style or ethnic roots. A French Colonial or a shotgun house that is more Caribbean in it’s roots may take on characteristics common in German style buildings. A house in St. Louis may have the look of a house in New Orleans but take on some characteristics of Federalist Styles and so on. Something always makes a St. Louis house different. Many times the vernacular architecture takes on a combination of styles and it becomes uniquely St. louis. It’s part of what I love most about the city.

I was going to start at a little park called Alaska Park but I found it was really just a big grassy field. I tend to like to start at parks. Instead I started around Catalan and Minnesota. One thing I love about this neighborhood is the stone houses. In the past, I have taken photos of the Steins Row, and some of the houses on Vulcan and on the east side of Broadway. The two, while being the same style, are very different in condition. Steins Row looks great, wonderfully restored and beautiful. The ones east of Broadway are in terrible shape – crumbling, vacant and in need of some TLC. In general the area east of Broadway seems more forgotten about. I remember last time I rode by the ones on Vulcan Street, I made friends with a stray cat. By making friends, I mean approaching the cat and the cat running away and then staring at me – daring me to bother it me. Then if I do, it may hope to claw me to shreds. I imagine my death from a cat and me sprawled out on Vulcan Street in front of a vacant stone house with claw marks all over my lifeless body. Back into reality. It was just lounging below the stoop and I, being a human jerk thought I would disturb his leisure for my own joy. I may be cynical but I love animals.

On this trip I did take some pictures of other stone houses. Actually I think one I took a picture of is in Carondelet proper and the other is in Patch. One house is on Courtois Street which is a German coursed limestone house. It has two stories, symmetrical with the front door at the center. It has a forward sloping gable roof. These types of stone houses were most likely built with limestone quarried near the banks of the Mississippi. I’m sure it was a type of material that was plenty and easy to get to. If you have good stonemasons then something could be built with it. Across the street is South St. louis Square is the Anton Schmitt House on the southeast corner. It was built in 1859 but not on that corner. It was actually originally located in the area in which a large chemical plant sits west of Alabama on the southwest portion of the neighborhood. It was slated for demolition but was moved to the park in 1992. I think now it serves as a small museum. If you want to read more into the houses click here for the National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form.

southbroadwayThe other stone house is on Minnesota between Quincy and Blow. It’s similar to the one on Courtois but instead of three bays wide it is five bays wide. It is symmetrical with the door in the center, front sloping gable roof with fireplaces on each side. No porch. Front door opens onto the sidewalk. Like the other stone houses, it was probably built between 1840-1850. It looks like there was another house to it’s left but has been demolished. I can see the outline of the roof of a small cottage..maybe another stone house, maybe a one-room house? Hard to know.

I did go over to the east side of Broadway which is a more industrial section but the buildings and houses left are quite interesting – more stone houses, one-room style houses, more houses with a Creole influence mixed in amongst scrap yards and other industrial types of places. Water, Vulcan, Steins, Courtois and Reilly Streets. Houses right on the street. It’s gritty. This was the area of Vulcan Ironworks which my assumption is that is where the name Vulcan Street came from. It’s not a Star Trek reference but I can’t help but think of it. Close to here is where James Buchanan Eads engineered Ironclad warships for the Civil War at Union Marine Works.

Along Broadway are some interesting storefronts, an old firehouse with a large arched garage, some Romanesque Revival influenced mansions with domed towers that sit above the street. In the neighborhood you can still see the divisions of class in the 1800s. Today though, I’d say mostly the neighborhood is of the working class. Small houses, corner taverns and places that are more utilitarian and less beautiful. I could write all day about what I see in Carondelet. If you want to see some of the oldest buildings and more unique neighborhoods in St. Louis, you should hit up Carondelet and Patch. Also Stacked Burger Joint is amazing.

riverdesperesAs a contrast I headed west, under I-55 into area just south of Carondelet Park. This would be Boulevard Heights There, I climbed some hills and my chain popped off my bike. The further west I go, the newer the houses are. The area starts to look more suburban with small bungalow style houses, ranch style houses that are evenly spaced with front yards. I’d guess built up between the 1930s and 1950s. I am not greatly interested. I get to Morganford and speed down the bike lane to Germania and the river Des Peres Greenway. I head over to where it crosses the river and then head down a spur that is called The Christy Greenway. It runs along a creek and past some cemeteries and is peaceful and shaded. I rode that up to Holly Hills Avenue then track back. I then bike the length of the River Des Peres Greenway to Alabama. Hello Patch and chemical plant. It was a quick trip back to where I started. Flat and fast but windy. It seems like it is always windy by rivers. Is that true or am I imagining that? The River Des Peres isn’t really a scenic river by the ducks and geese don’t seem to mind that it resembles an open sewer. Right now it’s pretty low but it can rage with floods when this area gets a lot of rain.

With some time to spare before sunset I combed the streets of Carondelet. There were people milling about some corner bars and bikers were out at some biker bars – roaring their engines. Stacked Burgers and surrounding restaurants were buzzing with activity. It was one of those days that really felt like summer is here. The trees have bloomed, there is the smell of grilling in the air. It was very warm and the sun was bright. There’s going to be plenty more days like this.

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Dutchtown Wanderings

Sunday’s ride was way less of a struggle. Something happened on Saturday night that got me excited and I hope it’s something that comes to fruition. I don’t want to really say much about it yet though. So I was actually excited about going bike riding. I just had to get some sleep first and hopefully wake up early. I don’t set an alarm. Yeah, I know that may be strange but I tend to get up around the same time each day cause I keep a regular sleep schedule all week – not just weekdays.

The first thing was I wanted to go closer to the river and spotted on Google Maps, that Potomac will take you down to 1st Street and you’d be right by the river and to the right would be some rocky bluffs. I had never been down there so I wanted to see for myself. Once I got to Gasconade I would be in the Dutchtown/Mt. Pleasant area. So a good place to start would be around the Lemp Brewery. That was my plan and from there I’d just wander and see where my wheels take me.

Flash forward to Sunday morning, instead of waking up at 6am as usually I overslept until 7am. So not much waking up time where I can lounge and eat breakfast and relax. I wanted to get out. It was also a bit colder than Saturday. Plans are plans and I have the penchant for forcing myself to stick to plans and to force myself to do things I don’t want to do. I do everything according to plan – start at Lemp, hang a left at Broadway and then almost immediately make a right down Potomac. Potomac is all downhill and is great except it’s cold. I’ll warm up though.

firststreet-south1st Street is mostly industry along the river. The reality is I can’t even see the river even though I’m almost right next to it. There are giant white storage tanks. There is not much happening. It is early Sunday morning and it’s Easter. I come upon the rocky bluffs which I start to suspect was actually an old quarry. The rock seems cut and it’s just a small area that is rocky. Go south and north and it’s just a overgrown hill. I do realize though on top of those bluffs is I-55. I can hear the cars and there are billboards planted. I am below the highway. I take some pictures and then head further south. Just more industrial sites and some municipal maintenance related sites. There wasn’t too much to see.

I get to Gasconade and my ride was going to be a living hell for a little bit. While Potomac was downhill, Gasconade is uphill. As I ride around St. Louis, the city is more hilly than many people imagine. If you’re in a car it’s harder to notice. I have a mishap in which my chain dislodges itself. I repair and crank slowly. Breathing or at least trying to. At the top of the hill is a stoplight where I get to rest and catch my breath. Now the wandering begins.

Wandering is typical. That’s what I do. There is no particular route and what I come up upon is surprise. Sometimes I don’t feel like going up a hill, sometimes I see a building that looks promising, maybe I see a soccer game going on at a park, maybe I see a situation I don’t want to go through so I change my route. There are many reasons why I go where I go but many times there just isn’t a pattern. I somewhat loop but it’s a jagged, zig-zag loop. I don’t like out and back.

south-broadwayWhat I always enjoy about the south side is the variety of architecture which changes by neighborhood. Of course some styles you find through many parts of the city. Some neighborhoods are more opulent and others are more simplistic with small less ornament. The thing that ties many together is the use of brick – in the older sections it’s red brick. I rode a lot near South Broadway in the Marine Villa neighborhood, some in Gravois Park and Mt. Pleasant. I’m focusing mostly on Dutchtown even though there were some interesting sights in Marine Villa. Dutchtown isn’t really an area of many Second Empire or victorian styled houses. I find the houses to be more restrained and more of function and smaller. The area used to be a enclave of people from Germany. It’s called Dutchtown not cause Dutch people settled here, it’s cause it a mispronunciation of Deutsch. It should be called Deutschtown. Oh well. I heard the people here used to be called the “Scrubby Dutch” cause the scrubbed their houses – scrubbed the brick and kept their places immaculate. It’s a bit more grimy these days and other than the architecture it’s not really a German neighborhood. However I sense it as a neighborhood of deep German roots and history. It’s a neighborhood of mostly dwellings unlike Marine Villa that has a lot of industry from (former)beer brewing of the Lemp Brewery to operations that depend on the river.

Probably the most significant pieces of architecture on this ride was the Stork Inn on Virginia Ave, Cleveland High School. There were a few random homes that stood out in the area too.

stork innStork Inn wasn’t a random building I happened upon. I knew it was there and since I was near, I thought I’d check it out. The Stork Inn was built in 1910 by Anheuser-Busch as a tavern/restaurant to change the notion of what a tavern was. It was to change the image of taverns from seedy places of drunks to places that were seen as classy places in the time leading up to prohibition. The Stork Inn is a Tudor Revival structure on a triangular wedge of property. It features green glazed brick pilasters where the entrance was, stucco and timber on the second level, and a tower on the northern side (above the entrance). This gives the building the look of old German folk buildings and biergartens. It is quite a focal point in the neighborhood. You can find out almost everything you need to know about this building here.

cleveland-highNot too far away is the old Cleveland High School. It opened in 1915 and was one of the many schools designed by William B. Ittner. It is another focal point in the Dutchtown neighborhood. People describe it as a castle and it does look like a castle with its crenelated towers that serve as a focal point. It features intricate brick patterns, colorful glazed terra cotta panels illustrating various vocations that look medieval. Recently I watched a short feature on the school produced by KETC’s Living St. Louis. If you want to learn more about the school, click to watch.

I rode by Marquette Park and there were men playing a pick-up game of soccer but the area was generally quiet probably because it was a Sunday morning and it was Easter. Unlike most people who were either still sleeping or in Church for Easter activities, I was riding my bike. I was doing the thing that helps fuel my soul, lets me learn history, and inspires my art. In a way it’s like a religion to me.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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":"http://collections.mohistory.org/resource/18460","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.