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.

julian-goodfellow

West End Concrete Blocks

This ride really excited me. Pause, no, wait….what I learned after this ride really excited me. I had no clue of the Goodfellow-Julian Concrete Block Historic District. I’ve never heard a peep of it in my entire life. I’ll get to that later.

On this ride I’m revisiting the West End and Hamilton Heights. I last rode around here in November of 2015 – right before Thanksgiving. The trees were nearly bare. It was cool and gray that day too. It’s Sunday June 26th. It’s around 8am. There was some rain overnight so the streets were a little wet. It’s partly cloudy but there are some clouds that look a little threatening in the distance. I brush it off and tell myself it will be fine. It was. After I explore the West End, I dart into University City and ride around just north of the Delmar Loop to Olive.

I weave through the West End Streets west of Hamilton. Down and back on Enright, Cates, Clemens, Cabanne, etc. As I mentioned, last time I rode around there there were barely leaves on the trees. Now the trees are full of green foliage so much so I can’t see some of the houses as well. The Theodore Link house on Cabanne is hidden. Sigh, no point of taking it’s pictures. W Cabanne Place is probably the best known street in this neighborhood. It has a narrow entrance with some white gates. There is a plaque recognizing it’s historical significance.

Going way way way back in the 1700s into the early 1800s, this street would have been part of a Spanish Land Grant called the Papin Tract or Survey 378. This was west of Union between Maple and Delmar (some say Lindell..not sure which). It reached as far west as where Hanley Rd is today. Into the 1800s several parcels of this land were purchased by people like James Clemens, The Cabanne Family, Emanuel de Hodiamont, James Kingsbury and others. Later these parcels of land were subdivided – many of them into private places.

westcabanne

As for W Cabanne Place, in 1877 James Shepard Cabanne supplied the land in which the land for which the road would be built upon. It would strech from Union to Hodiamont. W Cabanne Place, which was on the far west section was ready for development and by 1885 it’s first residents moved in. George Townshend was in charge of the development. He hired Julius Pitzman (that name comes up a lot) to plat the street. He called for plots of 100 foot widths, 50 foot setbacks. It was touted as the next Vandeventer Place. This didn’t happen as the houses were not as grand and the rules for with size of land plots were not followed closely. It didn’t attract the wealthiest of the wealthy – they went further south near Forest Park. This is not to say this place wasn’t substantial. In fact it has some types of houses that are not anywhere else in St. Louis (as far as I have seen). Plus it was home to many of St. Louis’ most prominent architects such as Theodore Link, Charles Ramsey, Robert Walsh and others.

W Cabanne Place and even east of Hamilton are many examples of Shingle Style architecture. In fact there are shingle styles dotting the whole neighborhood. Just on W Cabanne there were ten houses exhibiting this style – including one by H.H. Richardson that was demolished in 1952. According to the book St. Louis Lost there are seven left on Cabanne but, sadly, I bet there are less today.

I head further north. I wanted to see Oakley Place. I saw some street views on Google that looked interesting. The houses have a Prairie/Craftsman style that all looked similar. Oakley Place is a short s-curvy road that stretched a block from Plymouth to the south and Julian to the north. Little did I know the significance of these but something about them were strange and interesting. I couldn’t figure out why. Again, I’ll get to it shortly.

I continue north to Page and then head south on Goodfellow and dart down some surrounding streets. I notice some more houses that look just like the ones on Oakley. I snap some photos. Something looks odd about them but I still can’t put my finger on it. I didn’t learn until after my ride that these houses are made of concrete blocks. Interesting. They certainly don’t look like concrete block buildings I’m familiar with. These are stylish and interesting – not bland or cheap or institutional looking.

concreteblock-groups

Someone told me about the Goodfellow-Julian Concrete Block Historic District on Instagram (One of the Stl Style guys is a hint). Oh cool! I had to look into it. What I find is most are built in 1905-1906. These are the earliest and largest concentrations of concrete block construction in St. Louis. When built the concrete block was considered experimental and the style of houses indicated a transition from Victorian styles to more modern styles. Why use this? Apparently, from what I read, there was fear of a timber shortage in the midwest at the turn of the 19/20th century so builders were looking for alternatives. Concrete was promoted as being more “healthful”, having low cost and needing less maintenance. It was touted as being fire resistant and earthquake proof. They were deemed as being efficient in heating and having strength and durability, resistance to vibration and cracking. During the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis there were exhibitions touting concrete block construction. A year after, builders started experimenting with it.

In 1905 Pendleton Investment Co. bought several tracts of land. A. Blair Ridington designed nine of the houses,
while Pendleton worked both with Edward F. Nolte, to design four houses. Ridington, supplied plans for two. These were all near Julian and Goodfellow. There was a second group built around Oakherst and Oakley Places by Pendleton too. These were built in 1906.

However despite the success in building these houses in design and construction, the concrete block house didn’t get as popular in St. Louis city as hoped. By 1910 fears of timber shortages waned. In the end brick in the city won.

concrete-vacant

If you want more details check out the National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form.

I get on Hodiamont and loop by the old Walbash Train station by the Metro station (covering my face as I head through a cloud of construction dust – there were workers out on a Sunday morning) and head up Skinker a few blocks. The good thing about Sunday morning is traffic is relatively light because normally Skinker is heavily traveled. I turn down Vernon Ave which is a two-lane street, tree-lined. There are no houses facing the street. There is also no shoulder. Then I head up Westgate then loop around Olive to Kingsland. Olive has mostly rundown storefronts and on the south side of the streets are large vacant lots. As I head down Kingsland, I turn down Clemens (I find many of the east-west streets have same names as streets in the West End such as Cates, Cabanne and Enright. I wonder if they were once connected with the West End streets?) and find most of this are are multi-family flats all packed together. Most of the places are 3-4 stories. There was a bunch being worked on and had Washington University signs on them. My guess is that they own a lot of these. Surprisingly there are a few tudor style houses mixed in. I’m going to say the centerpiece of this area is the octagon-shaped All-Saints Church. It’s an interesting stone building but didn’t get a good picture that illustrates it’s shape well. This is known as the Eastgate-Westgate Apartment District.

There is a chapter in the M.M. Constantin book, Side Streets, that gave me some interesting information about this area. First of all where these apartment sits today was a horse racing track called the Delmar Racetrack. It was closed down around 1904 when horse racing was made illegal in Missouri. The street names Westgate and Eastgate were where the actual gates were for the racetrack.

It was thought that in it’s place a bunch of single-family bungalows would be built. The church was built to replace it’s old location north of Olive and just west of Skinker which is mostly industrial today. The church was Irish Catholic and so was the neighborhood around it. When the church was built in Eastgate-Westgate it was thought that the Irish Catholic neighborhood to the north would expand because of the church. Instead the neighborhood became mostly Jewish. In fact as World War II loomed, many of the Jewish people that moved into the flats were refugees that fled from Hitler. Many of the stores on Delmar were owned by Jewish immigrants too. Post World War II the area was victim of many of the same issues plaguing the city. Families were moving in droves to the western suburbs. Black families started moving into areas just west of Skinker for the same reason the Irish moved in decades before – to have a nice place to raise a family. Unfortunately blockbusters descended on the area. Many took the money and fled out of fear a “black ghetto” was coming. Business on the Delmar Loop started closing. Many stayed, including the Church. Many say it was instrumental in not letting the area slide into further blight. The church worked the University City’s city council to build housing for the elderly, create more park, provide more dumpster for the apartments and businesses, and financial help for those too poor to keep their property in sound shape. It was an anchor/a rock to the neighborhood.

ucity

The loop area was hurt by the exodus to the suburbs and had it’s down time. I vaguely remember when the Loop was not as “pristine” and “great” as it is now but while many say Joe Edwards saved it, there was a lot of people in the area working to set the platform for a rebirth of this area to what it is today. Speaking of how it is today, I took my bike onto the Delmar Loop for about a block since traffic was light. I do have to say the trolley tracks are not friendly to cyclists. In my opinion, it’s downright dangerous. In some spots, the tracks are not even a foot from the curb and crossing the tracks at a slight diagonal is recipe for getting a wheel stuck and the rider flying off into traffic. There is no margin for error. This street is normally highly busy and a spill could easily kill a cyclist. Note to self – avoid at all costs.

While the ride itself was not enthralling, what I learned about these areas after the fact was. Time after time I am marveling over the interesting history this area has to offer. It is fascinating how places to change over time and how if you are in the know or look close enough you can see traces of the past in what exists today.

crystalgrill

North Broadway Love Song Revisited

On Saturday, Ben and I went to a book sale over at West County Mall. I have enough books for a small library and I haven’t read many of them. I wanted to just look and if an art, design or architecture book stands out, I may get it. I did buy a field guild to American architecture which will be of use. However, I found a book that is important to why I went cycling up North Broadway that same eventing. The book is called Sidestreets by M.M. Constantin. It’s a book of a collection of columns that were written for a local publication. All the short columns are about various places within the city of St. Louis in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The book was published in 1981. When we arrived home I read the first couple columns. One was on North Broadway and while I have biked up that street many times, I felt inspired to ride up again.

federalcoldstorage

My assumption before I read the column, “North Broadway Love Song”, was I would find my experience to be much different than hers. In some ways it wasn’t but in many ways it is very different. It has been 35 years. It’s still a gritty area on, in Constantin’s own words, “the wrong side of I-70”. The Central Waste Materials Company sign is still at 1510 North Broadway. Still peeling away. The Federal Cold Storage Building is still there just north of the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge. If your not very familiar with the Near North Riverfront, there are many cold storage warehouses. They are basically huge refrigerators. They don’t have many windows. They are huge hulking thick brick structures that sit heavy. Solid. St. Louis was a leader in refrigeration technology in the early 1900s and many refrigerated buildings were constructed at that time to store cold items. Why was St. Louis a center of this technology? One word: beer.

The triangular intersection at Howard, just south of the bridge, is still there. The platform of cobblestones to commemorate the Indian burial mound that was torn down is still there but I wonder how many know what it is? It is still missing the bronze plaque. Stolen many times that eventually the plaque was never replaced. Wedge Tire Company is still at Chambers. Produce Row is still on North Market. The sign for The Crystal Grill, Established in 1946, is still there but shuttered. The whole block of wonky storefront – shut. My assumption is that it was open since it’s written in the present tense. I wonder what it was like? William Patented Crusher and Pulverizer is still at Montgomery. Past Palm is still a tractor-trailer gas station. Near Dock Street are still scrap and salvage yards. The Bremen Bank Building is still at Mallinkrodt.

crystalgrillHowever, North Broadway is very different from the North Broadway of 1981 and earlier. First of all many of the places the author speaks of are gone. Either the business is shuttered, torn down and replaced with a vacant lot, or replaced with a pre-fab metal structure, or absorbed into other industrial complexes. The biggest thing I realize is that most of the homes, bars and restaurants, and other services she speaks of are gone. It seems the transition from a true neighborhood to a large riverfront industrial park is mostly complete. Over time, the neighborhood has been sliced and diced by highways and bridges.

From the book I learned a few things such as as just south from Brooklyn Street, that is right by the bridge up until the 1940s, were a bunch of houses where many Irish families lived. When the book was written they were gone and what was left was a vacant lot. Today the Stan Musial Bridge passes directly over that. So next time you cross that bridge just think that you are driving over the ghost of an old Irish block. Would they ever have thought that in the future such a structure would replace them? Do you ever think of what you currently drive over?

Near Mullanphy St. was a place called Ina’s Restaurant that served brain sandwiches or if you wanted a hearty breakfast, brains and eggs. They had full liquor service too. You could start your day off with brain and eggs and wash it down with some whiskey. If that isn’t a working class dive, I don’t know what is. That place is gone and the local brain food is almost extinct too. Nearby on Mound Street was a fish wholesaler which is gone and is in the footprint of the bridge. Today Mound St is basically a small spark/landmark for the Indian mound.

All Around Town Express Company near Brooklyn seems to be gone. Either it was in the odd shaped lot on the northwest corner or was on the southwest corner (which is in the footprint of the bridge). United Disposal and The Scrubby Dutchman don’t seem to exist. All I could seen between Labeaume and Hempstead are nameless metal prefabs. At one corner of Tyler was a Japanese Barber Pole Factory but that seems to have slid off into obscurity. My guess is was right across from the American Brake Company Building? Today, the rough and tumble brick building with grimy grid windows is nameless. On the other corner is another metal pre-fab. Maybe it was there?

She writes of an old hotel near Madison but all I see are more pre-fabs on the northern corners. In this area between Madison and Clinton with a place called Mabel’s Cafeteria, an adult bookstore, saloons. It was nicknamed Dodge City because it was a violent place – shootings, stabbings, etc,… Though on one of the saloons was a Budweiser mural. All that is gone. All replaced by nameless pre-fab metal structures.

branchcornerAt Benton looking toward I-70 would have been older houses that would have been included in the 1875 Compton and Dry, Pictorial St Louis book. Today all those houses are gone. Today all I see are vacant lots full of weeds. Near St. Louis Ave were a bunch of scrap yards but today I see mostly plants where a nursery occupies three corners of the intersection just west of Produce Row. You can buy Christmas Trees here if you want. All fenced in by chain-link. Fresh Inc. which occupied the southwest corner is gone.

Just down Branch in a very odd intersection where the off-ramp of I-70 meets 9th Street and 11th street was The St. Louis Farmers Market and nearby was an old icehouse. Today a fleet of trailers are parked there and mostly looks barren. I’m curious about the block of buildings on a triangular lot at the end of the 1-70 offramp to go west on Branch. It looks to me to be a couple of multi-family dwellings with a building on the end that looks like it could have been a tavern or a small corner market. On the second story looks to be one of those square plastic beer signs but it’s covered. The entrance is on the Branch and 11th St. corner and is of brown painted cast iron with a column. The entrance has been closed up with white siding.

The ruins of Buchanan are gone. Just grassy vacant lots. Tobin’s Hardware at Angelrodt is still there. There are still snarling, menacing, intimidating watch dogs on duty and let you know their presence. I’m sure they are not the same dogs though.

Catty corner from Bremen Bank (northeast corner) was Westerheide’s Tobacco and Cigars. Established in 1860. Today it’s part of the Mallinkrodt complex – a gated and landscaped parking lot. That’s about as far as I got. There were storm clouds on the horizon. The bright sunny evening was turning angry.

9thstreethousesI zig-zagged a bit more over to Second Street near where the old fire station that is now a salvage lumber company. I took a look into the narrow alley of spiral fire escapes in the Ford Hotel Supply Complex. More warehouses. Smelly dumpster farms that smell of death. I do start to imagine finding a dead body and what I would do if I found one. Yeah, that is morbid. As the dark clouds to the northwest get closer I start to think I should end the ride. In 1981 there wasn’t a bike path and that was my easiest and shortest route back to my starting point. The sky is getting dark. The people fishing along the edge of the Mississippi are quickly packing up. Anyone that was out by the Cotton Belt and the small Bob Cassily park were gone. Though a couple sitting on a car just south of the Stan Musial bridge were still making out….eyes straight ahead, I move along. I don’t want to know. The things I see on my rides…sigh. I suppose it could be worse. Most people were smartly seeking shelter.

North Broadway is still a grimy character where much is gone. There are still links to it’s past but most of all the restaurants, bars and houses are gone. I imagine in 1981 it being a dying residential/industrial district – strangled by I-70. Though back then factories and houses were near each other. People lived near their jobs but today we decidedly live a good distance from our jobs in neatly zoned areas. Today, the houses are few and far between. There are some that dot the landscape west of Broadway. There are even less east of Broadway. I remember one on Ferry St. There is a group of rough and tumbles at 9th and Angelrodt. All brick, a couple Second Empire styles. A couple with mouse-holes. One on the south east corner covered with a stone veneer. There’s one on the southwest corner that has lost part of the south side wall near the roof. South of Branch near 9th Street are a few more houses. The block of Warren was cleared last year. Slowly but surely those houses that have been orphaned by their old neighborhoods of Murphy-Blair (ONSL) and Hyde Park because of the construction of I-70 are disappearing.

I do resist calling it a wasteland or abandoned. It’s not. It does look desolate and it isn’t a place of beauty. There are many businesses but it certainly isn’t a place to go and do stuff like eat or shop. Tourist will not be scampering down it’s sidewalks. It’s good to see Bissinger’s set up their factory just south of the bridge. The area between the bridge and Laclede’s Landing has been threatened by demolition for a variety of projects such as the recent football stadium. In the time between 1981 and now, North Broadway has been many changes. I wonder what will happen over the next 35 years? By then, I’ll be an old woman.