penrosemansion

High Noon in Hyde Park

My last bike ride was to kill time. This one was to kill time too. It was Memorial Day weekend and I was going to do a walking tour of St. Louis place later in the afternoon. I figured what the heck and decided to take a short ride around Old North St. Louis and Hyde Park. It was near high noon and the sun way bright and the sky was an intense blue. I typically ride in the morning or evening but today was a bit different. I fit my rides around work and spending time with my boyfriend, making art, getting ready for shows, and being lazy. This particular Saturday my boyfriend had to work in the afternoon and we were going to a concert later that night. Perfect! I’ll do a bike ride and the tour.

purpleturtleFor me the interesting part of my rides through Old North St. Louis is that I sometimes run into people. Basically I get noticed now. I was riding by Wingman Park which is a small pocket park that is in a triangular slice of land bounded by three streets. I noticed someone and stopped for a short chat. There are these new red abstract metal shapes underneath the shaded park to sit on. Plus if you bang on them they each make different sounds. It’s a nice place to sit but it looks like a sculpture that doubles as a musical instrument. There is a Tiny Library there too. A person can get a book and then sit in the tiny park and read in the shade. After chatting for a few minutes, it was time to get rolling. I have a limited amount of time before the tour starts.

I head north on Blair, past the corner of Blair and Branch where recently some long abandoned row houses and an old corner bar were recently demolished. I call it the Purple Turtle corner because back in the early 1980s there was a bar on the corner called The Purple Turtle. It was just some piles of dirt, debris and stone, and a huge gash in the ground. Note: since then it has been filled in and is just a nondescript vacant lot. There are no traces of what was there and it will be forgotten about. Maybe one day something else will be built there but it won’t be anything like the brick structures that were there. I pause to contemplate but I must continue north as I’m on a time limit. This would be a swift check-up. What has changed since last time?

Honestly not much. There was a bit of activity in the park and people sitting outside on their stoops or porches. I can’t remember my exact route as it was meandering and unpredictable. The same places that were crumbling before still are. If anything has been demolished I haven’t noticed because the thing about demolition is if you haven’t seen a place in a long time and you go back and notice vacant lots it’s hard to remember what was there unless it was a place of importance in your life. For me, I’m a visitor and don’t see these places everyday, so to me it’s easily forgotten.

dreamscometrueI noticed some painted boarded up windows with positive messages and cartoon characters that would appeal to children. Though Mickey Mouse does seem to appeal to adults too. I love the mural at the intersection of Breman and 14th street. It features colorful alphabet blocks on a brick wall that might have been part of a building that was demolished. In the same vicinity there is a small community garden with a gazebo and Clay Elementary School across the street. There are also hand painted planters in on Bremen Road. My guess painted by school children. Little pieces of community art are recognizable and memorable for the most part because they are unique. All the red brick can become banal or normal. Easily ignored but the hand painted bright colored words and images stand out. Each are different as they are made my different hands. They are made my individuals or small groups that live nearby and are looking to brighten a place that may have some negativity in the form of blight, vacancy, and crime. I see it as a statement of, “we, who are of value, live here and we love our home”. Some will stick it out in “home” through the good and the bad because it’s home.

I love the architecture in Hyde Park. In my opinion it has some of the best 19th century architecture but it is showing it’s age. It’s a neighborhood that could be as beautiful as Lafayette Square or Soulard. It’s beauty is rough, not idealized and sanitized. It could use some sprucing up and if it was, it would be a jewel. There blocks that are wonderfully intact, some tree lined with big houses. Not quite mansions but houses that would have been large for it’s time. Actually, they still are large. Park Place is a delight. Penrose is a mix but has a mansion on a hill with a stone retaining wall and long staircase that goes up the hill to the home. Today is painted bright pink with an aqua front door under a simple portico. The house has been heavily modified in that the pink color is original and the brackets are too simple and stylized. It was built in 1905. It’s owner was Louis Nolte. He was a real estate dealer and was elected as Sheriff in 1906. What is more sad is that right next to this house is an abandoned complex of apartment building that were built in the 1970s or 1980s. Ugly, boarded up, tall weeds, and covered in graffiti.

penrosemansionOne thing I wish I would have done was ride down Randall Place. The house on Penrose is at the Corner of Randall Pl and Penrose. Randall Place at one time would have been a road on top of the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. Randall Place is also the home of the Bissell Mansion – said to the the oldest house in St. Louis as it was built in the mid 1820s. It was the home to Captain Lewis Bissell. When the house was built it was at the top of a hill (still is) but looked down toward 1500 acres of land and the Mississippi River. Today it looks down upon I-70 and the industrial riverfront. Surely not the view Bissell would have liked when he was alive. The Bissell Mansion is a success story of preservation. It was slated to be demolished for I-70 in the 1950s but was spared. Today it hosts dinner parties and mystery dinner theater events. I would think that at some point this street was populated by wealthy people. Some of the houses near the Bissell Mansion are as handsome as some of the houses in the Central West End. Not sure if it was truly a private place but I suspect it may have been.

Eventually I had to head back down to the Old North. It’s lovely riding back because it is all a slight downward slope. On top of it, the view of the Arch as I glide down 20th Street is simply one of the best views of the Arch in the city. I will also say the best views of the Arch in the city are from the 14th Street Mall, Blair, 20th Street and West Florissant. It never gets old.

I get back to the Old North neighborhood with still time to spare so I take a spin around the southern section of the neighborhood. It seems depressing in that some houses have gone into further ruin and some are gone. A corner bar recently was a victim of fire. I wish and I hope that something happens soon to this part of the neighborhood because it seems to be disappearing. It’s sad.

One thing I learned about a high noon ride is that I should have worn some sunscreen. Ended up with a nice burn. Worth it.

Monroe Tree House

Monroe Treehouse

Monroe-TreeHouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

1409 Monroe - October

1409 Monroe – October

Double Exposure- Diana F+

Double Exposure- Diana F+

Front of 1409 Monroe from 14th St.

Front of 1409 Monroe from 14th St.

Blair Shack

Blair Shack

BlairShack

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

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

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

3211 and 3215 Blair

3211 and 3215 Blair

Corner of Blair and Palm

Corner of Blair and Palm.

Palm St 1983

Palm St 1983. Photo by Jane M. Porter.

Under the Elevated

2307 North 9th Street – Modern Screw Products

Modern Screw Products

This graphite drawing was done on June 28th, 2014. I specifically remember it is in the evening and it was quite sunny and hot – like a typical St. Louis summer day. The area was pretty quiet and the only people I saw were a couple cyclists that were probably doing the Riverfront Trail. Also a man passed on foot and looked at my drawing and then proceeded to ask for money. Whenever I go out and do my drawings I don’t carry cash (I rarely carry cash in general) so I had to decline his request. He went on his way.

Anyway I chose this building due to it’s proximity to the elevated railroad tracks which was part of the old Illinois Terminal Railroad. I love the metal scaffolding and also thought it would add depth and would form sort of a frame that would create a focal point that is the building. The elevated rail tracks are not in use anymore and I think is part of Great Rivers Greenway Trestle Project. The idea is to create an elevated bike/walking path that would connect to the Riverfront trail and go across I-70 and at Howard and Hadley in the southern edge of the Old North St. Louis neighborhood. It doesn’t seem much has been done recently – still in planning stage.

As for the building itself, the building is home to Modern Screw Products and from what I know is still in business – you can visit their website here. There is a little bit of history on the website. The company was founded in 1923 and at that time served the mining, railroad and military industries. This would have been a great location due to its proximity to railroads and the river. Today they are a machine show that serves the food industry, refrigeration, sporting goods, and medical industries.

I couldn’t find a date for it being built on the city’s website but on a real estate website it said it was built in 1916. At that time this building would have been part of Old North St. Louis neighborhood but after I-70 was constructed this area became disconnected with the rest of the old neighborhood. Now it’s an area that is commonly referred to as Near North Riverfront. It’s mostly an industrial area with a few homes – mainly abandoned – scattered mostly on the western edge close to the highway.

Just north of this building is North Market Street. This was the widest thoroughfare through the Old North St Louis neighborhood that started at the river and went into the heart of the neighborhood. Goods were routinely carried from the river via horse-drawn carriages, fishermen would travel to the river to fish. It was what connected the community to the river. Today it doesn’t seem as connected due to the Interstate slicing through the community. There is still industry here but it isn’t a bustling area with lots of pedestrians and traffic like I imagine it was up until the 1950s when the area was connected to the diverse and dense population of Old North St. Louis.

2307 N 9th Street

2307 N 9th Street

Before The Collapse

1112 Montgomery Street

Montgomery Street house

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

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

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

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

1112 Montgomery Rear

1112 Montgomery Rear

1112 Montgomery Front

1112 Montgomery Front