Angelou’s St. Louis

Working on trying to get back into bike riding but it just hasn’t happened a lot since my vacation. I’ve gone on some but just haven’t seemed to find the time or energy to actually write about them. It’s more the latter. I’ve been very lazy when it comes to writing. So instead of writing about the entirety of of a ride, I’m just going to choose bits and pieces and go from there.

About a week after getting back from Colorado I was happy to get back on my bike. I went out to Lafayette Square and started there and then headed out west through The Gate District – which in itself isn’t that inspiring. It’s like the polar opposite of Lafayette Square architecturally.

mayaangelou-bookThe reason why I am writing this in the first place is that recently I started reading Maya Angelou’s I know Why The Caged Bird Sings. It occurred to me that on this same bike ride I found the house that she lived in during her rather short stay in St. Louis. The house is still there but the place she described in the book, the neighborhood as it was then is gone. The house she lived in was a typical St. Louis red brick two story, 2 bays, side entrance, flat roof with a simple cornice (actually looks new and not the original). Next door on both sides are newer houses. They have vinyl siding and look like basic suburban houses – wood frame, vinyl, prominent garages, front yards, driveways. So much of this neighborhood is like this. It’s mostly suburban housing with modest older St. Louis brick houses peppered throughout. There is no brick canyon or coal soot in the air and settling on everything.

In the book she describes coming up from a very small Arkansas town where everyone was self-sufficient and lived off the land, hard work, and community. When she lived in Stamps, her grandmother whom she stayed with owned a store but was very thrifty, strict, and religious. She made the children’s cloths herself, they canned their own food, people raised their own food and helped each other out. Raising the children was a community act where it wasn’t just her grandma that raised her, she had uncles, neighbors, people from her church. I don’t want to make this sound like it was ideal life cause Arkansas was extremely racist and segregated and just giving a white person the wrong look could give you the noose.

In St. Louis everything about day-to-day life was different. She describes the noise of the streetcars, busses, buying food at stores, buying ready to wear cloths. She described the differences in the schools, how people talked. St. Louis to her might as well of been New York City. Life was fast paced, people seemed less friendly. She described the heat (not that Arkansas wasn’t hot). I think there is just something weirdly unique about St. Louis heat. It’s like the heat of a hot brick oven just sprayed down with a water hose. I don’t know what that’s like but I imagine it that way.

I’m not that educated when it comes to Maya Angelou. I’m new to her but not her name. I remember her always being on the Oprah show so I associated her with Oprah Winfrey. I know she’s more than that. I didn’t know of the terrible things that happened to her in St. Louis, in that very house I saw. It was where she was sexually abused and raped by her mother’s boyfriend. I don’t blame her mother for what happened. She didn’t know and certainly didn’t take his side when she found out. I think her family life was complicated and everyone just tried to do what was best. Anyway, it almost makes me sick looking at that house. It makes me feel the house is full of bad mojo.

maya angelou houseI do imagine that experience and St. Louis left a giant mark on her and will greatly influence her life and who she eventually became as an adult. When I saw her on television later in life she was very deliberate and clear with her words, spoke of wisdom and grace. I think the book was written in the late 1960s and I get that feeling from the book too – she was wise beyond her years. The book is very easy to read and engaging. It’s told in a way that I feel like she is telling me a story – actually speaking. Also she doesn’t seem to write about those horrible things or a “hard life” in a self-pitying way. It was from a perspective of just trying to understand what she went through at the time and how she saw the world through the eyes of an African American woman but also as a woman, or as a child. The book isn’t all hardship. There is humor and the showing of great courage and resilience. It’s about growing up and the shaping of her life.

Some of the things she write of sure remain true today. She speaks of her grandmother or black mother’s fearing for their sons. Just being late could strike fear because black men could be killed and the authorities didn’t care. Black men were lynched, killed in horrendous ways just for looking at a white woman “wrong” or “back talking” or if someone just felt like it – for shits and giggles. She watched young white children that were more poor, less educated than they were try to humiliate her grandma. It must have been something hard for a child to watch and understand. Also lets not pretend this only happened in Arkansas or the south. These things were apparent in St. Louis and more northern cities too. It seems to me sometimes the segregation in St. Louis or other northern cities was just as bad and sometimes worse.

These were not things I thought about on my bike ride. I just saw Angelou as a famous person that spent some time in St. Louis and I saw her house as just a small curiosity. Now I see that place not just as physical brick and mortar, but as a place that elicits emotion and holds stories that made an indelible mark on a human being. Some places aren’t just great cause of great craftsmanship, or great ornamentation, or a great architect designed them. They are great because of the people that lived there, their experiences and how those experiences would shape a person’s life.


Storms on the Hi-Pointe

About a few days before my vacation out to Denver and Rocky Mountain National Park I was going to explore around Hi-Pointe and Franz Park neighborhoods on the extreme west end of St. Louis. Checking the weather before the ride I could see there was a line of storms coming our way but they seemed a good distance away – far enough away I could get a ride in. I did get a ride in but I did have to cut it short faster than I thought I would have to. Compared to other rides, this one was pretty short.

I started over at the Forest Park Pavilion and made my way down Wells Rd on the south edge of the St. Louis Zoo and connected on to the Tamm overpass and then on to Oakland (which has a bike lane). This area is basically called Dogtown. Dogtown is an area that is essentially Clayton-Tamm, Hi-Pointe, and Franz Park. What seems great about this area is that it is so close to Forest Park, Clayton/Washington University, I-64 but it is not as exclusive as places immediately north of Forest Park. The houses around Hi-Pointe are varied from century old houses built not only of brick but of wood frame, brick ornate apartment complexes, some houses that are rather plain suburban tract looking houses, shotgun houses, a few stone houses and pretty much any style from 1900 to now. Essentially there isn’t a style of houses that dominate this area. The one thing that unifies the houses are that most are at a modest scale.

A lot of people believe that Hi-Pointe is the highest part of the city but that is actually near Sublette and Arsenal in The Hill neighborhood. I’m sure many people may disagree with me. The difference is about 10 feet. It’s very close. With that said, I’m not sure why Hi-Pointe is called that. Maybe there was a belief it was the highest point? Maybe it took the name after the great movie theater that is nearby at Clayton and McCausland? I’m not sure. I will say this, as a person on a bike, it is a hilly neighborhood.

hipointestonehouseIt is also very much a residential neighborhood with just a smattering of businesses, mostly on Clayton Ave.

As I meandered the streets there were a couple stone houses I enjoyed but I only got a picture of one. One sat diagonally at Clayton Ave and Grandview Place. The other was about halfway down Grandview Place. I didn’t really see any other houses like these in the area. They don’t look like the rock houses of Carondelet either. I’m going to guess it was built in the early 201th century because a lot of this area was developed around the World’s Fair. Anything around Forest Park became very fashionable at that time.

As I pedaled, the sky became more overcast. I kept a good eye on the western sky. In the meantime I saw a huge pig in someone’s front yard. This thing probably weighted more than me and I’m no flyweight. I’m always caught off-guard when I see farm animals in the city but I’m not sure why. First chickens are pretty popular to keep these days but in the earlier days of the city farmers would run their cows and pigs to the slaughterhouses or to be bought or sold in the city so I’m sure it wasn’t an uncommon sight to see a pig in the city. I will say this though, it wasn’t an aggressive pig and, unlike many dogs, it didn’t chase me. Like any good pig, it was eating.

hipointegarageI passed through some alleys, and saw a house in mid demolition and a guy was riding around on a small dirt bike motorcycle. Then I thought I heard a rumble.

I still took to riding south into Franz Park. Honestly, the neighborhood isn’t that much different but it isn’t surrounded by heavily traffic areas or by a fantastic hugely popular park. From what I know, there was a lot of brick manufacturing around this area and there were clay mines to supply the materials for brick. Many immigrants from Ireland, Poland, Italy, and Germany came here to work. The mines closed around World War II. Even today along the southern edge along Manchester, the it takes on a more industrial feel. Most of the neighborhood seems to just merge into Hi-Pointe and there isn’t really a distinctive change. As most of Hi-Pointe, the area seems quiet and subdivision-like.

I didn’t even get to see the centerpiece of the neighborhood, which is Franz Park. I definitely heard thunder and the sky to the west was getting substantially darker. Via the Franz Park website, “Sophia D. Franz gave her 5.32 acres to the city for a park and playground in honor of her husband Ehrhardt D. Franz in 1915, (with the stipulation to be used for a playground for the children). Ehrhardt was a wholesale merchandiser. He came to thee United States in 1854, and after accumulating some wealth, moved his family to St. Louis in 1871. Their house sat on 6730 Mitchell on what is now a tennis court in the playground.” My guess is the neighborhood was named for the Franz family.

stormrollinginI couldn’t stay out riding and I didn’t want to have to seek shelter under some awning or something. So I basically rode as fast as I could back to Forest Park. As I crossed I-64 on Tamm, the clouds were dark and lighting could be seen and the thunder was getting louder. I continued on my way. I sped down the bike trail and back to the Forest Park Pavilion. The sky was dark. I packed up but….

I want to watch this storm come in. So I walked over to the Pavilion with my water and watched it come in as kids swam in the fountains. Yes, kids were swimming in the fountains up until it started raining even as lightning flashed across the sky. All the lightning didn’t stop the parents from grabbing their kids and seeking shelter. Sigh…who am I to judge, I suppose. The storm blew in and I stood in the pavilion and felt the cool air of the storm. I will note, my air conditioning in my house was broke at this time so the storm’s breeze felt very good.

Every bike ride is some sort of adventure. There’s always new sights and noteworthy experiences. It’s part of the reason why I like riding the bike – errr exploring on a bike. I don’t bike commute or race bikes for sport – I just ride for fun and exploring. I just love it as a way to see the world around me, to seek something new and unexpected, to connect myself to the outside world, and to be sufficient and rely on my instincts. I didn’t see everything I wanted to or ride as long as I wanted to but sometimes that’s not for me to decide. Nature will have her way.


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.


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.

Monroe Tree House

Monroe Treehouse


Some places have surprises or they just are not what they seem. From the front, it’s another boarded up house and looks to be in fairly decent shape. Then you walk around to the back and your perception changes. It is another boarded up house and it’s another house that has a giant chunk taken out of the back. I imagine it’s probably due to brick thieves.

Also it isn’t uncommon to find trees and other plant-life growing in and on vacant buildings. This tree doesn’t look to be rooted in the house but it is growing into the house. I can’t really see everything happening with this in that there are some giant plywood boards creating a fence around the exposed rear. Probably to keep people out for both the safety of the people and of the building.

This house is estimated to built around 1907. As with a lot of houses in St. Louis, I assume many to be older than I find out they are. It very well could be older. The front is red brick with a mansard type roof which would make me think that it is older, like 1870s-1890s. It’s a pretty modest house with simple dentils and the original shingles (probably slate) are gone and are replaces with brown shingles you’d find on recent new houses. The front door(s) are ground level and are right on the sidewalk. No front yard. It looks like there may have been 2 front doors. One going to a ground level flat and the other to a second floor flat. One door as a couple white stone steps that sit atop a worn, weed strewn sidewalk – or what is left of a sidewalk.

This portion of Monroe St, near N 14th Street is mostly vacant lots but are typically cut and maintained. Across the street from this house is a collapsed ruin of a multi-family house that was probably built around the same time. There is also a small one-story shotgun type house next door to this one with a worn asphalt shingle facade that covers the brick. The windows have white awnings. It looks worn but seems tended to. Further west on the same block near Blair, the houses on the corner have been rehabbed and look very nice.

I did this drawing sometime in October of 2014. Probably late in the month. It was colorful. It’s a comfortable time in that it isn’t too cold yet. The leaves haven’t all left the trees – some are hanging on. I remember there was a concrete pad in the back near the alley. That is where I set up to start the drawing. It was well shaded and I’m pretty sure it was in the evening when I did this. There were some people around. I think there was an event at a nearby building that is on the corner of North Market and 14th. Mainly kids. I did encounter one guy walking down the alley and he took a peek at my drawing but really not much conversation. Just some friendly words.

I didn’t do many outdoor drawings after this one. Once November comes around, the daylight hours are shorter and the temperatures start to take a nosedive. It becomes really difficult to get out and most of my drawings are made and finished on my kitchen tables. It isn’t like I stop going out. I don’t. I take pictures and work from the photos and sometimes it just seems easier to do so.

1409 Monroe - October

1409 Monroe – October

Double Exposure- Diana F+

Double Exposure- Diana F+

Front of 1409 Monroe from 14th St.

Front of 1409 Monroe from 14th St.

Blair Shack

Blair Shack


The little one is pretty underwhelming when compared to all the old Victorian era brick houses that are all around Old North St. Louis. This one is a little wood frame one story shotgun style of house. Right next to it is a tall 2 bay wide, brick 3-story mansard roof fronted house that was built in 1886 (est). The same website I am getting dates from (click here) states this was build the same year, 1886. For some reason I have doubts. I could be wrong. I do know that it is owned by Blairmont Association Ltd. This is essentially a rotting property Paul McKee owns….and seems to intend for it to rot. There is also a cool little house on the corner of Palm and Blair (1501 Palm), built in 1885 (est), that seems to be just getting in worse and worse shape every time I see it. It’s a two-story 3 bay wide brick house with a mansard roof. Last time I saw it the mansard roof had completely collapsed and there is a pile of roof and slate shingles nearly all over the sidewalk. The rear of the house is almost gone and the inside is completely exposed to the elements. I’m not sure how long that one will survive. You can look at older pictures of the house on Built St. louis.

Across the street is pretty much all vacant lots close to Strodtman Park. I know I drew this in the summer of 2014 and sat near the sidewalk in one of those lots. It was littered with discarded tires. Unbeknownst to me at the time, there was standing water in those tires and midway through drawing I was being attacked by mosquitos. However, once I start the drawing I don’t stop until I have the general sketch drawn out and proportions worked out at least. I can get the details and values and such worked out at home. I always take a photo from exactly where I sit or stand. Anyway, I left with a drawing and legs covered in mosquito bites that night. I also remember just series of cars stopping in front of a house just to the north and waiting for someone to come out to the car. Someone would come out to the car. Then the car would leave. This happened several times and all different vehicles. That doesn’t seem normal to me. It makes me think something illegal is going on. I’ve never seen really disturbing things but a few things that seem suspicious and weird. However, no one has ever scared me or been unfriendly. Anyone I have talked to on the street have been very friendly and inquisitive.

Anyway, what is this little wood frame “shack” doing here? Is it possible that actually another brick house similar to the one next door stood here and it was demolished and this wood frame house with brick veneer slapped on was built on the same foundation in it’s place? I just don’t buy that it was built in the 1880s considering almost everything from that era is brick.

3211 and 3215 Blair

3211 and 3215 Blair

Corner of Blair and Palm

Corner of Blair and Palm.

Palm St 1983

Palm St 1983. Photo by Jane M. Porter.

Howard Street Three

The Howard Street Three

Howard Street Three

These three are just to the east of the other house I drew that is on Howard street. This is close to the corner of Howard and North 22nd St in the St Louis Place neighborhood. This one is a little bit closer to the old Columbia/Falstaff Brewery. To the east of 22nd, the area becomes more inhabited with some newer multi-family units, rehabbed rowhouses, and the old brewery. To the west of 22nd the grid turns into an “urban prairie” that I find haunting but alluring.

Across the street from these houses are small Victorian-era brick houses. I would describe one as a brick “shotgun” house with decorative brick corbelling, a roof that is slightly terraced toward the alley. It has one window at the front with shutters and the front door to the left with a small wood deck, a stone foundation, and the small front yard has a damaged white picket fence near the sidewalk. According to here, it was built around 1885. The other one has a roof that slopes toward the street with one dormer. It looks like a one-story from the road but from the side it has two-stories with what looks like a later wood frame addition to the back. This one seems to have more in common with the Second Empire townhouses across the street and was built in 1895. It has a more recessed front door with some painted wood moulding in the entryway, smooth stone foundation at the front, white stone lintels, some brick corbeling along the cornice that is more simple than the other. However, I think it has the front sloped gable roof with dormer that reminds me of Federal Style houses. Now they are in varying degrees of disrepair, cluttered with trash, overgrown grass and weeds, leftover objects from previous owners that felt no need to take them to their new place. Maybe the previous owner died and their relatives didn’t want or couldn’t take the stuff. Who knows? All these houses probably have hundreds of stories to tell.

I think I picked these because they were grouped and are quite different from each other but all were built in 1887/1888. The one on the far left was built in 1887 and the two others were built in 1888. I would describe the two on the left as being Second Empire Townhouses and the one on the right is confuses me a little because it was built at the same time period but has no mansard roof at the front and is more modest but has some later attachments such as the awnings and wood deck. I love the colored shingles arranged in stripes on the mansard in the middle. My guess for the one on the far left, it has lost it’s mansard, which looks taller, and has been replaced with some wood covered in contemporary shingles and the wood corbeling along the cornice is gone. I saw something distinct in each of these in terms of style, and it’s stages of abandonment but don’t look like they are in abysmal shape. Yet you never know. I haven’t seen the back or inside. An intact front can be deceiving. However these don’t look like they have been empty for a real long period of time. I image at one time most of these lots were full with the shorter ones on one side and the taller 2 to 3 story houses on the other. I would also think on each corner were a store or a bar/tavern.

Again so much history, so many stories that seem lost forever. Each one of these houses has something unique about them, a distinct character, additions and can give you insights to previous inhabitants. I suspect the inhabitants of one on the left liked some privacy because of the fence and the bushes. The built on deck and awnings gave shelter from the sun. The deck would give a nice place to sit in the summer. I would suspect these didn’t have air conditioning at one time and St Louis summers can be miserable. Sitting outside and not in a brick oven would be great on a 100 degree summer day. The other two have chain linked fences, not as many bushes and that gave it more connection to the sidewalk and street. I imagine families sitting on their stoops, conversing with others by the fence.

One thing I didn’t mention in my previous post was that St Louis Place has been hit hard by brick thieves. Some people were looking to make a quick buck literally tearing down houses by pulling walls down, setting fires to burn most of the building to rubble and then taking the brick (less work this way, I guess). So anyway, perfectly inhabitable buildings, though vacant, were torn down by “poachers” to sell brick to people around the country. All to make a quick buck. It’s a shame really to lose these types of houses so someone can have a pretty patio. You can read more about the problem of brick thieves here.

I think what i remember most about the drawing is while I was on site it was late in the evening and the sun was setting. In a drawing with no color, it’s hard to tell but the light that evening made everything glow almost orange-pink. The light was very distinct. It was humid and I was getting eaten up by mosquitos. Like many, this was started outside but then finished in my studio. I just started this one so late in the day, I couldn’t finish it there. I rarely ever finish them on site though.

One thing that strikes me when doing these is how isolated I feel. In the middle of the city and it feels quiet but I know that at one time these streets were alive with people, industry and commercial enterprises. I feel like I am sitting and drawing surrounded by ghosts from the past. Under my chair is a brick road covered by cracked asphalt. Sidewalks are cracked and weeds sprout tall, bricks are scattered. The light posts seem frivolous. Sometimes I find pieces of terra cotta, stone, glass, random fragments. I wonder what else was there and is there as a clue to life there.

Howard Three

Howard Three

Howard Street Sunset

Howard Street Sunset

Howard Street Sunset

Howard Street Sunset

Howard Crumbles

Lone One On Howard St.

2325 Howard St

This particular building is in one of the most devastated parts of St Louis city. It is in the St Louis Place neighborhood just north of the infamous, former location of the Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex. This once dense neighborhood has some life in some areas but in the blocks just north of Cass, it is mostly vacant lots with a few houses scattered around. Some blocks are cornfields. Not much is left of sidewalks and when looking around it is easy to forget you are just blocks from downtown St. Louis. Few are occupied. At one time, these blocks were full and vibrant but obviously something changed.

I have inquired about what this area was like and what happened. A former resident who lived there between 1939 to 1955 told me that most of the housing looked like the ones in my drawings but more had flat roofs and the architecture was more plain. Not as many had the more ornate mansard roofs. Most had arch top windows with stone sills. Ornamental fences were common to the small front yards so most houses were very close to the street. Most corner structures were store fronts with cast iron facades.

It was a real walking neighborhood where taverns, bakeries, groceries, hardware stores, barbers, confectioneries, drug stores were all within walking distance. He doesn’t remember what stores were on Howard, he says there was a neighborhood shopping group was at 25th and North Market. There was a pool hall, a diner, a dime store, and others. The 18th streetcar ran west on 22nd and east on 23rd. There were entire blocks of two story, two family and four family “flats” that were connected or built touching each other.

He says many of the structures had a three foot “gangway” open from the front through to the back yard. Many houses had wooden back porches with stairs led to the second floor apartments. There were alleys to the rear of the property and most had a wooden “coal shed”. Occasional small cottages dotted the blocks (his home was a 16 foot wide four room “shotgun” brick home on a 25 foot wide lot.) Some houses in the area lacked indoor bathrooms in the late 1940s, with outhouses in the back yard.

He described the area as a mix of elder couples and families with lots of kids. It was also a segregated neighborhood with Cass as the rough dividing line. He remembers when Pruitt-Igoe was new, the people raved about how nice it was. Crime was low. Over time things deteriorated and I have a feeling the downfall of St Louis Place was somewhat connected with the downfall of Pruitt-Igoe. As crime spread through Pruitt-Igoe, it spread into areas surrounding the complex. People who could move, did move. Drug addicts, criminals and people desperate for money started stripping the old houses of it’s plumbing or of whatever could be sold. Within a matter of 20 years or so the neighborhood went from vibrant to gutted and destroyed. HUD tried to build new townhouses but most ended up abandoned. A few stand today along with a few houses from when the neighborhood was a bustling community.

I also talked to a current resident that lives near N Market and has lived there since he was a kid in the early 1960s. He said his family was one of the first black families. He said most of the people were of Polish heritage. I didn’t have too much time to really inquire about what happened in the neighborhood but he said when it was emptying out, in the 1970s he purchased some houses for almost nothing and fixed them up and rents them out now – all on the same block and he lives on that block. It is one of the few pretty intact blocks just north of the old Columbia/Falstaff brewery. He seems to sort of watch over the place and we talked for a few minutes as I drew. I’ll go more into that later when I share that drawing.

So now that you got some background on the neighborhood, I want to go more into this particular house on Howard Street. I think I was struck by this one in that it is all alone but so tall and imposing on the flat, deserted blocks. Standing and then sitting there and drawing it, I felt alone and it made it’s abandonment seem more palpable. I felt like I could feel it’s aloneness. At the same time it’s a rugged survivor – yet destroyed and on life-support. I felt like I was with someone who has had a rough life, survived hardships, seen so much, but is in their last days of life. When I felt that, I had to draw it.

Here’s some basic info. It was built in roughly 1892 and the architectural style seems consistent with that date, I think. The address is 2325 Howard St and is owned by the Northside Regeneration LLC and they are located in O’Fallon, Missouri. Is that a Paul McKee property? Maybe. It is on a 25 ft X 130 ft lot. It also was a reported building collapse on November 21st, 2013. That seems consistent with the google street views that are dated in 2011 and my pictures that are from the summer of 2014. You can go here for more information. I’m not sure when it became abandoned but I am curious to know.

House on Howard from the southeast

Howard Street – Demolished

Up close at the stoop on Howard St

Howard Stoop – Demolished

House on Howard Street in sunset

Howard Street Sunset – Demolished

Looking up at the house on Howard St.

Howard Street – Demolished

Howard St House to the west

Howard Street – Demolished

Warren's Burnt Shell

913 Warren St

913 Warren St

This home grabbed my attention right away. The first pictures I took of this home was on May 3, 2014. First of of all there are not too many homes in Near North Riverfront and the wall on the east side is nearly gone. It looks almost looks like a Gordon Matta-Clark work. Anyway, it’s a quite abject example of decay in St. Louis that’s just left to rot away.

To me it looks like it was heavily damaged by a fire – lots of smoke marks and charred wood.i’m not sure how long ago the fire was but if you do a Google Street view, you will find a shot of the house(s) before the fire. The street view pictures I am showing are from October of 2011. It doesn’t seem like it was in too horrible of shape and the lot was fairly clean. Also had a dish attached so my guess it wasn’t too long ago that someone had lived here. How it has changed!

Again, this would have been a part of Old North St. Louis (note: in the past it was called Murphy-Blair) before I-70 was constructed. This one is very close to the highway and you can see it along with a group of abandoned multi-family units that extend to the corner of N 10th St. According to the city, this was built in 1900 and the other ones nearby were probably built around the same time according to this. I’m not sure how accurate all the dates are.

You can check out St. louis Patina’s blog to see some more pictures here

The drawing itself was done on June 28th and It started off nice but as the evening went on a storm was moving on and I had to cut off my drawing session early so a lot of this one was drawn at home. I will also note this was the first drawing I did of this current series/body of work. I think one thing about drawing on location that sticks with me is that it involves all the senses. It isn’t just seeing the subject, I can touch it, smell it (just an old musty, mildew-y sort of smell – like an old attic), hear the surroundings and how quiet and eerily peaceful it is. I didn’t taste it but I image it would taste like burnt and heavily smoked grilled meat.

Warren St May 2014

Warren St May 2014

Warren St May 2014

Warren St May 2014

Warren St June 2014

Warren St June 2014

Warren St June 2014

Warren St June 2014

Before The Collapse

1112 Montgomery Street

Montgomery Street house

This is a home I drew on July 19th of 2014. On the east side of the home is a vacant lot with a few trees scattered about. Behind this house is Warren Street. Warren Street is a curved street that is part of three circular lots that are unique to the neighborhood. These were part of the city’s plans when the city was founded (Old North St Louis was not part of St. Louis proper in it’s early days – it was later annexed by the city of St Louis). One circle was for school, one for the public, and the other for church. Warren Street forms the northern edge of the Church part. Just to the east is 11th Street and then I-70.

I imagine there were homes very similar to this one in the vacant lot in which I was sitting. From what I know this was a very dense area with a large immigrant population. My guess was that it was built maybe in the 1970s but I looked up the address on the city’s website and it was actually built in 1892 and it has an owner. Not sure what the owner is doing with it though.

Since it was built in 1892 that would put it in the Victorian Era but I don’t think it has a typical look of a Victorian home. It seems to have some wood moulding on the archways and in the entry. Also it looks like it had a decorative wood cornice. However it doesn’t have that Second Empire look or Queen Anne or Richardson Romanesque style. I’m guessing maybe is some sort of mix – Eclectic Style that used earlier vernacular styles with some of the decorative elements that would be found of Second Empire or Italianate styles. To me it’s roof looks to fit more of a Federalist style (some next to it have dormers).

So here is my “wild” theory. Many of the older homes in the area probably had a Federalist style and when it was built it needed to fit in the neighborhood but it had to be appealing to its era. Also it would be a bit more modest than typical Victorian Era styles in that this is a multi-family home so I would suspect those living here wouldn’t be wealthy. I am curious to know if the rear portion was part of the home of if those were actually another living space.

1112 Montgomery Rear

1112 Montgomery Rear

1112 Montgomery Front

1112 Montgomery Front