cementland

A Wet July 4th Tradition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

stone-house

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.