angelou

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.

hipointestonehouse

Storms on the Hi-Pointe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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.

stfrancisdesales

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.

clifton3

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.

stork inn

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.