lambert-building

Locust Pharma Corner

About two weeks ago I did a ride from the riverfront to around Downtown West, into Midtown, and then poked into the Central West End around the old Gaslight Square area. I always feel I miss some interesting stuff on Locust and areas between 18th Street and Jefferson so I spent a lot of time here on a Saturday afternoon rolling around on my bike. This area was big into manufacturing and along Locust there are many hints to it’s importance to the commercial printing/publishing industry and the automotive history in St. Louis. In addition lots of stuff was made around here but I’m going to focus on a corner important to the pharmaceutical industry. In fact it’s part of a historic district called the Lucas Avenue Industrial Historic District because of it’s manufacturing. Locust forms the south edge. Locust is also part of another historic district called the Locust Street Automotive District.

I only want to focus on The Lambert Building (aka the Singer Fixture Company or the T.M Sayman Products Company Building) because there is so much information on it.

lambert-buildingThe Lambert Building is a hulking Richardson Romanesque red sandstone building built in 1891. It is the birthplace of Listerine Mouthwash which was invented by a chemist named Joseph Lawrence in 1879. He named it “Listerine” in to honor Joseph Lister, a pioneer of antiseptic surgery. Lawrence then licensed his formula to a local pharmacist named Jordan Wheat Lambert in 1881. Lambert, in turn, founded the Lambert Pharmacal Company. In 1895 Listerine was promoted to dentists for oral care. Then in 1914 it became the first over-the-counter mouthwash sold in the United States.

Later in 1955, Lambert merged his company with New York-based Warner-Hudnut and became Warner-Lambert Pharmaceutical Company. Their headquarters moved to New Jersey. Then in 2000, Pfizer bought them out. In St. Louis, most people will recognize the name “Lambert” because of Lambert – St. Louis International Airport. However, the airport is not named after Jordan Wheat Lambert, it is named after his son, Albert Bond Lambert, who was a golfer that competed in the 1900 and 1904 Olympics. After his Olympic years he was an early proponent of aviation. In 1907 he was one of the founders of the Aero Club of St. Louis. At that time he was flying hot-air balloons. Then in 1909, Lambert met the Wright Brothers, and purchased his first airplane from them. Soon after he took flying lessons from Orville Wright. Then in 1911 became the first St. Louis resident to hold a pilot’s license.

Later he bought Kinloch Field, which had been used for hot-air ballooning. There he made improvements by building runways, hangars and all the things needed for an airport and called it Lambert Field. He also did it with his own money. Then in 1927 Lambert was one of backers/financers to Charles Lindbergh’s purchasing the The Spirit of St. Louis and making his historic solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. The following year he sold his airport to the city of St Louis, thus making it one of the first municipal airports in the USA. Oh and he sold for the same amount he paid for it, and making improvements. Essentially he sold it at a loss.

It’s easy to say Listerine made the family tremendously wealthy. The development of a mouthwash essentially funded part of America’s early involvement in the aviation industry. Just to think this is the corner where it started.

After Lambert Pharmacal Company moved out, it became the home to Sayman Products, another pharmaceutical company. They then chiseled their name above the door so it’s hard to know by looking from the street, that this was where Listerine was produced.

T.M Sayman, the founder of Sayman Products Company, seems like an interesting fellow. He was born in 1853 in Indiana and ran away from home at age 9 and by 10 he joined the circus. After a couple years he worked for P.T. Barnum’s Circus, touring with them for a couple years. Later he joined other circuses, vaudeville acts, and groups that sold medicines across the country. How does a circus, vaudeville performer sell medicine? Well, it sounds to me like he was involved with “snake oil” salesmen of the day. The idea was to sell medicine through means of entertaining a crowd first and then selling the medicine after the crowd had gathered and they were in a happy frame of mind. It seems to me a circus and vaudeville performer could do this well. He became interested in the “medicines” and found most were worthless but found some to be useful. By age of 18, he entered medical college and studied medicine for four years.

After his medical studies he founded Sayman Products Company in Carthage, Missouri. He was interested in certain Indian herbs and became interested in what was called the soap plant. After a couple of years of trial and error, he learned how to make an effective extract where he combines these herbs and soap with other materials to produce Sayman Vegetable Wonder Soap. Soon after he developed Sayman Salve and other remedies for common ailments. Still sounds snake oily to me. I bet he was a good salesman, one that could talk you in circles and get you to buy anything.

By 1912 he was a multi-millionaire and moved his operation to St. Louis. After moving to St. Louis he expanded his operations with the manufacture of soaps, toiletries, household preparations, salves and related items that were distributed nationally. He also became a philanthropist in the city.

On top of that he seemed like an eccentric person who like to challenge people to headbutting. He would challenge people to butt heads with him and liked to do it on a bet. What? I guess it was something learned in the circus? He also passed out pistols to all his employees and collected them at the end of their shifts. A fully-equipped shooting gallery was maintained at the plant. He specified that applicants must be proficient with rifles and revolvers to work at his plant. Wha-what and why?

Anyway, Sayman Products Company moved out in 1975 and was replaced by the Singer Fixture Company. In 1976 a huge fire swept through and destroyed many nearby buildings and heavily damaged this one and Swift Printing Company across the street. The ruins from this fire seemed to be attractive to movie director John Carpenter were then used in his 1981 movie, Escape From New York. In fact, features from this building, and the old Swift Printing building can be seen in the movie. Today, both have been fixed up. In 1991 the Swift Printing Building became The Schlafly Tap Room and is still going strong. The Lambert Building was rehabbed and is now home to offices and lofts.

I was going to write about the Swift Printing Company Building and the Mendenhall Building but the history of this one cool corner at 21st and Locust was more interesting than I thought it would be. What an interesting place! I had a feeling or could sense and importance to this place as I passed on my bike. To me, if a name is inscribed into stone on a building, it has be be important. I do wish I did take more pictures because all I have is the one of the corner entrance. Sounds like another assignment.

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.

ngawall

To the Old Armory, I’m Not Lyon

This was the first bike ride after the opening of my show at Third Degree Glass Factory. It was Friday, June 24th. I was also experiencing some post-show blues. Over the week or so after my show, I didn’t feel like doing anything and I just felt bummed out. What now? I was cranky, whiney, and more pessimistic than usual. Another trait of my post-show blues and how I feel when I’m down is this lack of decisiveness. I can’t make decisions. Maybe it’s due to not feeling clear minded. The bike ride was forced. Maybe getting outside and riding will make me feel better – it seems to have worked before. I’m not sure if this is a proven thing, but I’ve heard physical exercise can be a mood enhancer. I think there’s a releasing of feel-good chemicals in the brain but maybe it’s also getting fresh air and sunlight. Maybe it’s a combination of all. Whatever it is, it seems to work much of the time for me. Unfortunately I can’t exercise 24-7.

Where to ride? Oh, where to ride? I whine. This shouldn’t be that incredibly difficult and there should be bigger things to worry about in this world. Just make a decision! Ok. I thought maybe I’ll just keep close to the flood wall and go south. First I can look and see how all the graffiti has changed. I was going to see how far I could go without technically trespassing. Plus, I’d finally ride the trail in front of the Arch. I also thought I saw on the news something about a mural going up down on the flood wall on the south side of the Arch ground. I was right about that but it wasn’t close to being finished. It has a marine life/St. Louis theme complete with old style steamboats and lots of fish. I thought I saw some Killer Whales and I know those don’t live in the Mississippi. Odd. In the moment of passing the in progress mural no one was working on it. I just kept going. Maybe next time I ride down there it will be finished. I’ll get a picture then.

I get to where Chouteau ends and the bike trail ends but keep on going south. There is a road that is parallel to the flood wall. For awhile it is paved (but very pothole-y) but eventually it turns to fine gravel. The graffiti wall is in constant change as artists are constantly putting up new images. Some of the works from last year’s Paint Louis are still visible but many are highly modified and partially covered. I find it visually chaotic but interesting. I also marvel at the talent. I’m an artist but I’ve never done anything like that before. The further south I head, keeping watch to the terrain and railroad tracks, the graffiti becomes less impressive and more like a collage of tags. One side of me is the wall and the other side is train tracks. The wall isn’t straight, it juts in, juts out and at some point I’m crossing train tracks, service roads, dodging potholes, ruts, and large puddles. I get very nervous around the tracks. Last year I had a bit of a spill down here when my front wheel got lodged in a gap. I crossed a bit too parallel. My bike stopped and I flew off the bike. I did land on my feet though. After that I try to cross as perpendicular to the tracks as possible.

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At a certain point the trail just starts to disappear. I cross the tracks and meander around some industrial buildings, ride on some course gravel slowly. I get to where there are some east-west streets. I squint into the sun and determine I don’t see anything that interesting. I keep going south, slowly keeping balance on the rocks until the road gets more smooth as I pass some low-slung warehouses lined with tractor-trailers delivering or picking up goods. I do get to a point where I can go east again toward the wall. This is Dorcas Street. I get to near the end. I see a “No Trespassing” sign but I can’t determine if it means straight ahead or the road that turns south or both. I sit for a minute. There a brick building that looks interesting with large vertical windows and what looks to be some patina copper ornament. I take the chance and turn to go down this road. I go under a trestle that is coming out of a large rail yard near Anheuser-Busch. To my right are some large cylinder containers and to my left is the large brick building. I’m nervous because I might be trespassing. I stop to take some pictures. On the south side of the building it says, “ENGINE HOUSE MANUFACTURERS RAILWAY COMPANY”. Beside some tall garage doors are rusty train wheels. At this point I realize I’m at the end of Arsenal. I’m right by the current NGA complex and the old St. Louis Arsenal. Surrounding the complex is an old rock wall fortification topped with barbed wire. Just inside, closest to the tracks is a gargantuan, windowless, brick, 5-6 story warehouse looking building. I imagine inside there are people remotely flying drones or something in the middle-east. Maybe it’s more innocuous. I really don’t know exactly what they do and maybe that’s how they like it.

ngawallI figured this was a good time to quit my journey south and start going west. I start climbing gently sloping hill on Arsenal, following the large rock wall fortification. I get up to 2nd Street. I notice the fence has these pillars that are topped with cannonballs. This is a big national security complex. There is no getting in and I’m sure I’m being watched on the perimeter and will have security swooping in if I do anything deemed “suspicious”. I do know there are many Civil War era buildings in there. I saw some old cannons through the fence too. I wonder what will happen to all of this when the NGA finally moves north to the new, yet to be built complex, in St. Louis Place? I hope something gets done with it. It’s a major historic site in the city for the age of the structures and the part it played in the Civil War. I could see extending the park and setting up an interesting Civil War Museum there. I think there is already one at Jefferson Barracks though.

Just across the street is a small park with a tall obelisk. I consult Google Maps to determine what park this is. It’s Lyon Park. There’s a couple baseball fields and a walking pathway with benches. It also slopes uphill toward South Broadway. I’m curious about the obelisk. I get off the bike and walk it along the path uphill, prop the bike up and walk toward the structure. It says Lyon on it. Hmmm…I’m not sure who this is? Is this a grave? I don’t see any birth or death dates. There is one date on it. I guess, it’s a monument to someone. Further up the structure are empty ovals. I’m guessing something should be there. It’s time to consult Google again. What would I do without a smartphone on these rides?

Lyon Park is named after General Nathaniel Lyon. He was with the Union during the Civil War and was instrumental in fortifying the St. Louis Arsenal across the street. He also saved the arsenal from a mob of Confederate sympathizers. The obelisk is a monument to him. In the oval spaces are supposed to be bronze plaques. One was Lyon’s portrait, and the other was a mythological figure holding symbols of war and justice, with a lion in the background. Both are gone – either removed or stolen. The monument was dedicated in 1874 and was created by Adolphus Druiding.

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Concerning the arsenal, the first building on the grounds was completed in the 1820s. This was to replace the federal arsenal at Fort Bellefontaine that was further to the north near the Missouri River. The purpose of the arsenal was to store ammunition and supplies. By 1840 there were more than 22 buildings and Fort Bellefontaine was abandoned. The arsenal was instrumental in the Mexican-American War in 1846. Later as the Civil War grew near there was talks into moving the ammunition and supplies into Illinois. St. Louis, as well as Missouri, was caught in the middle. St. Louis had many Union supporters and many Confederate supporters. Eventually Missouri decided to stay in the Union but would refuse to supply weapons to both sides. Because of this there were many spats between Union and Confederate sympathizers. In a way there was a war within the state over it’s participation in the Civil War.

This is where Nathaniel Lyon comes into play. He is loyal to the Union. In 1861 he arrives in St. Louis. Missouri Governor Claiborne F. Jackson was a strong Southern sympathizer, and Lyon was concerned Jackson would try to seize the federal arsenal in St. Louis if the state decided secede. There was news that Confederate mobs were storming in and seizing armories across Missouri. In response, Lyon had the arms and ammunition shipped into Illinois. He also ordered that the Confederate’s Camp Jackson (in the area where SLU is today) be surrounded. He forced the Camp’s surrender to the Union. However, this enraged southern sympathizers. It further enraged them when Lyon publicly marched the captured citizens through the streets to the arsenal. Confederate sympathizers watching this grew more and more enraged. Riots broke out – this included hurling rocks, paving stones, and insults at Lyon’s troops. Then shots rang out from the crowd. A Union troop was killed. In response, the Union troops fired into the crowd, killing at least 20 – including women and children. Many more were injured. This incited riots over the following days until martial law was instated. This became known as the St. Louis Massacre or the Camp Jackson Massacre. The arsenal remained in Union hands and Missouri didn’t secede. Tensions were high throughout the war though.

Later in 1861 Lyons was killed in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. Shortly after the war, 10 acres of the arsenal was given to the city to create a park and memorial for Lyon. Plus the armory was moved to Jefferson Barracks. Today it is still used by the Federal Government for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).

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I hop back on my bike and ride up into the shadows of the Anheuser-Busch brewery and head north on South Broadway. I turn left on to Barton Street In Soulard. I take a break and explore a community garden on 9th St between Lami and Barton. I ride up and down the streets lined with 19th century houses and businesses. I take short trips into alleys to scout out some alley houses. I weave my way up north. Booze trolleys slowly roll up and down streets (basically large stretched golf carts with a working bar on them) and the drunken revelers hoot and holler. It’s always Mardi Gras around here! The bars and restaurants will be hopping as we creep into the evening. I’m not here to get boozy. I’m not much of a drinker. I head out across Broadway.

The other side of 7th St is a neighborhood called Kosciusko. It’s not a residential neighborhood. It is mostly all commercial or industrial. Actually most of my ride was in this neighborhood. I turn down Broadway and pass some old storefronts. There’s a guitar store, a tattoo parlor and a few other places. Actually the guitar store is called J Gravity Strings and they have been around since the early 1970s (says so on the storefront). In the entryway there is tile that says “Barnholtz 1546”. I had to do some research into this. I found that early in the 20th century this was a dry goods store owned by the Barnholtz family called Barnholtz and Sons Dry Goods. The family was headed by Dora and Sam. They were immigrants from Russia that came over around the turn of the century. The store opened in 1919. The family lived on the second floor. I found that Dora died in 1961. I’m not sure when Sam died. I would suspect there was more residential places around here. I know Little Bohemia, and St. Louis’s Chinatown was close by. Today, you’d be hard pressed to find residents in this neighborhood.

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I move on to Third Street and head north. The view of the Arch is great. I snap some pictures from the street, under the highway and then pedal through the old industrial streets near the MacArthur Bridge and head on back. I am greeted at the end of my journey with a large group of people wearing tie-dye and chanting, hooting, and drinking. Not sure what’s going on but they stare at me. I get it. I don’t fit in. I won’t interrupt your ceremony of whatever.

Yet, another ride where I start bored, unsure, and unhappy but the end, I feel good and happy I took the ride. There is always something new to discover in this city if I look hard enough. Maybe it’s true, exercise is a mood enhancer.

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Broadway to the Greenway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pedaling the Overlook

I really hope I can remember something meaningful of my bike ride in St. Charles. It’s been nearly two weeks since I biked here. I haven’t driven this far to go bike riding in awhile. I remember Ben and I biked on the Katy Trail on a 100 degree day years ago. We went way too far and in the end we didn’t have too much fun. We were just trying to avoid a heat stroke. This ride was nothing like that. It certainly wasn’t 100 degree hot. It was more like a partly cloudy, comfortable evening. Honestly, it was almost perfect.

stcharles-1The St. Charles riverfront is quite different than the St. Louis riverfront. St. Charles doesn’t have the cobblestones that slope into the river – the remnants of riverboat and steamboat industry. St. Charles’ riverfront is more like a big park with grass, some pavilions, a pier that hooks out into the Missouri river, a stage, trails, some sculptures to mark the historic significance of the city. The edge of the river is more “natural” looking – mud, sand, wild grasses and plants. It’s a bit more scenic if you like trees and nature.

I don’t really go to St. Charles too often. It’s not exactly close to where I live. It takes about 45 minutes to get there and we don’t have much reason to go there. I typically think of it as suburban sprawl with cookie-cutter houses and McMansions. We may go to an art show at the Foundry Art Center, get food and hit an antique mall while we’re there.

I know the old town has much history and character. I also know it’s main street, while there are many historic old buildings it can seem a bit too touristy or just too “nice” for me. For some reason I’m attracted to grimy wear-and-tear and seem to naturally reject what many people naturally like. It is a very active street with stores and restaurants and would make most people safe, content and comfortable. I was riding around on a Saturday evening so it was busy with people enjoying dinner and drinks or just hanging out. There were also a lot of women in wedding/formal dresses too (mostly they were near the riverfront getting pictures) stumbling around in the gravel. I can’t imagine high-heels as being the ideal shoe but if you really want some wedding pictures by some railroad tracks and an old locomotive you may deal with it. Nothing says authenticity more than some railroad tracks. My cynicism shines.

That said, I really wanted to get into the old Frenchtown section and more into the business district and further in from the river where there are more victorian era homes and other buildings that are more grand. I wanted to get away from the fun hustle and bustle of nightlife and social gatherings. Who needs that kind of fun when you have a bike and a bunch of hills to climb?

stcharles-2Frenchtown is an area east of the main drag and business district. It is more of a modest residential area with some storefront commercial type buildings along 2nd Street. According to the Historic Frenchtown Association, Frenchtown has the largest concentration of French Colonial style architecture in the Midwest. Most were built between 1820-1850. The structures feature a front facing gable roof that extends over a galleried front porch. They typically have double front doors and are often mistaken as duplexes. They are typically brick on limestone foundations.

It is said Lewis and Clark dined at a house in Frenchtown before departing on their expedition to explore the Louisiana Territory. It is also said that the founder of Chicago and fur trader, Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable, spent his last ten years in a stone house at the corner of Second and Decatur Streets. It is very hard to tell these things happened as it just seems like an older neighborhood and not much to mark the historic significance. I guess you just have to know but maybe it really isn’t that hard to figure out or maybe I’m not giving most people enough credit.

Later on the area took on many German immigrants and you can see some of their influence in the architecture of the area too. Like Belleville, IL, they have a lot of small German Street House cottages made of brick. This expanded the population and it became a bustling area with many businesses. In the 1870s the St. Charles Car Company was founded and later on was bought by the American Car Company. They made streetcar and railcars and later machinery for World War I. They became the largest employer of the people in the immediate area and it does have a presence. When you ride the Katy Trail along side the old factory the buildings seems to go on and on and on. Today, the buildings still exist but factory operations have ceased to exist. Part of it is an art center and there are various businesses such as an indoor tennis complex using the old factory buildings.

Many of the earlier houses are more “pure” in their European influenced design but by the late 1800s the styles were more mixed with American styles. Some were updated with popular Victorian styles. While there are many of the French Colonial and the German Street Houses – the neighborhood has a wide variety of styles from Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Second Empire, Queen Anne, Saltbox, Italianate, to Romanesque. I will add there are newer houses and metal trailers peppered about too.

stcharles-3With the many styles of buildings it was interesting biking around looking at the different structures. I will note that some are raised on stone foundations. I wonder if the Missouri would flood this area back then. The land does slope up as you get further from the river.

I did meander the streets to find a great Queen Anne Victorian home with an ornate onion-shaped dome. It goes by the name of “The Meyerdorf”. It was built in 1892 and was designed and built by a local jeweler. Nearby were some other great victorian homes too. Next door to The Meyerdorf there is a house with an oval shaped tower with a red band around the second story and ornate woodwork trim that served as the first library in St. Charles. Those two places stood out to me.

Going into the main business district the incline becomes more steep as it seems to sit on a big hill. I can look out over the Missouri river in some spots. It is quite scenic. I took a break at the grounds of the domed Old St. Charles Courthouse. It sits up high and has plenty of grassy areas and I can see the river. It’s a good sitting area – perfect for my little break near the end of my zig-zagging through the streets. Before heading back near the river, I took a ride through the main street and admired many of the storefronts – most wonderfully restored. They do have charm and people seem to like going to the restaurants and shops. I got the feeling many just like to walk around and hang out. The only thing I didn’t like is that the streets are brick and there is a lot of car traffic. With my narrow wheels I don’t like roads with gaps in the surface. This means I am wary of railroad tracks and cobblestone streets.

Right before I ended my ride I biked back down to the river and just sat on the edge in the sandy dirt and watched some boats go by. Watching the river in itself can be relaxing and peaceful. I could feel the breeze on my face as the sun was setting and felt at peace and content. Tired but happy. I wonder how different the view is than from when those early french traders and explorers stepped here over 200 years ago. I look out and there isn’t much directly across so I imagine that it isn’t much different but the river isn’t as natural as it was. There certainly wasn’t airplanes or motor boats. Either way, I feel a connection to the past or just a realization that while times may be different, many things don’t change. I wonder what those early settlers thought when looking over the river? I’m not sure they’d see the landscape as I do today but I bet it would of filled them wonder. Could they have known this area would grow into what it is now – that they laid the seed, the foundation of these communities, of this metro area and ultimately the western United States?