livindirty

Sir, The Trail is Closed

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

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

dowtownwest-olive

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

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

storefrontart

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

calidonut

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

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

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

livindirty

edlers-ghostsign

Street House Spin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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