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Memorial Day in the Park

I thought I had written something about this ride but I haven’t. This was about a month ago so I am going to remember as much as I can. I do know this: riding my bike on Memorial Day has become a bit of a tradition for me. It is one of the rare times I ride during mid-day.

What I decided on was to ride my bike around Forest Park and into the Wydown-Skinker neighborhood that occupies a sliver of land just west of the park. Normally I pack rather light on my bike trips but this time I took a book, a sketchbook and some pencils, some snacks, and a blanket in addition to my camera and water. I stuffed it all in a backpack and was off. My idea was to be a little relaxed and to take it easy.

3cranesI started off in the Central West End to get on West Pine and enter the park and then ride around on the trails. I haven’t mentioned yet that it was hot and my backpack proved to be a bit more heavy than I liked. As the day and ride wore on these would greatly take it’s toll. One great thing (out of many great things) about Forest Park is that it has a lot of bike trails. It has fine gravel and paved trails so you can have variety in terrain. The park also has great variety in sights which I’ll get into. One of the first things to catch my eye is the skyline of the hospital and the cranes perched up amongst the construction. I became fascinated with it and wanted some pictures. I got some pictures from an overpass that crosses Forest Park Parkway and then I crossed into a grass path in an area with some small ponds and wild grasses. I take some more pictures with the cranes and buildings reflecting into the ponds. It was serene but very hot with no shade. I got a glimpse of the mansard roof of the Cabanne House but I wanted a better and closer look. I did like how it was peeking out from the trees but I was too far for the picture I was imagining. I hopped back on my bike and pedaled through the grass looking for a spot but couldn’t find one. Oh well. I start to wonder where I’m going to end up because I have no idea where I’m going.

I then happened upon another trail that follows a stream. There is an area of rock outcroppings and a shore made of large flat rocks. It’s easy to mistake these as nature but this is landscape. These ponds, rock outcroppings and such are planned. The park was designed by Maximillian G. Kern, the park superintendent and landscape gardener. The lakes are all artificial and filled via piped in water from the River Des Peres, Cabanne Spring, and storm water runoff. For the World’s Fair, in order to control flooding, the river was buried. Anyway, it’s all picturesque. The dogs enjoy the ponds too – they had the right idea to jump in and take a short swim to cool off. I, again, stop for more pictures and just watch the many that were biking or walking past for a few minutes. I watch dogs cool off and hear someone in the distance singing loudly. I wish I remembered what he was singing. I wish I could have jumped in that pond.

cabanne-houseI then find the Cabanne House that sits on Union near Lindell on the northern edge of the park. The Cabanne House was designed by James H. McNamara in 1875 and was part of the original master plan of the park that would open in 1876. For many years the house was used as a residence for park superintendents and commissioners but today it seems to be a house that is rented out for weddings and private events. Why is it called the Cananne House? It is because on the same site the farmhouse of Jean Pierre Cabanne that was built in 1819. Cabanne was a major landholder and owned the land Forest Park and land north of Forest Park. On this land was a dairy farm. When you’re in Forest Park or when you’re passing the many private places, imagine that at one time there were cows roaming the land. By the 1870s or so the Cabanne’s started selling land off for the developers of Forest Park and for the developers of Forest Park Terrace (now just Lindell on the north edge of the park), Kingsbury Pl, Washington Terrace and so on.

casadesI bike on the path along Lindell and look at the mansions, though I doubt many go back to the formation of Forest Park Terrace. I pass the History Museum and head toward Skinker. I then turn back and head back into the park and find a good place to rest. On my right I see some cascading waterfalls with some standing around taking pictures. It seems like a nice place and it’s shaded. Plus there is a trail up along the side. One may think that this is a natural formation but, again, one may be fooled. This is called Flegel Falls. It was built in the 1930s with WPA federal funding. Many people just know it as the Cascades. It was named after the World’s Fair Cascades that ran down Art Hill during the fair. I sit here for a bit and watch people. I read, snack a little and do a quick sketch of the cascades.

I ride of the hill to the Art Museum and take a breath at the Saint Louis statue known as the Apotheosis of St. Louis. It represents Louis IX of France, the person St. Louis is named after. This is not the original version of the statue. The original was made of plaster that was sculpted by Charles Henry Niehaus for the 1904 Worlds Fair. After the World’s Fair the Exposition Company presented a bronze version of the sculpture to the City of St. Louis. It was unveiled in the location where it stands in 1909. Until the Gateway Arch was built, this statue was the symbol of the city. The sun is beating down hard. There is a couple with baby getting pictures done by a photographer. I turn and gaze down Art Hill toward the Grand Basin. There is a runner taking a rest on the hill. Down by the pool with fountain, white. I imagine the white buildings from the Worlds Fair that surrounded that pool. I think of that awesome picture of Victorian Era St. Louisians sledding down the hill in their suits and dresses. I wonder if they ever thought that it would become a tradition? We still do it today. Not today today because it’s St. Louis Summer swampy hot. No sledding, just sweating.

wydownskink-flatI then head over to Skinker and want to cross into the Wydown-Skinker neighborhood. Tall skyscraper condos overlook the park. Skinker is a busy road so it takes some waiting to cross. This neighborhood is very narrow. It’s only a half-block wide (E-W) but extends north to Washington University and south to Clayton Rd. Something I notice is that I can tell when I cross into Clayton or St. Louis by how the pavement looks. I ride west to De Mun which is in Clayton. Along De Mun are some small cafes, maybe a wine bar. Mostly where I biked where multi-family brick apartment complexes are packed tightly together on a grid. On the northern edge and southern edge are a variety of single family houses that I think of as being mansion sized and built in the 1920s or later. I’d describe many of the houses take on a Colonial Revival, Tudor, and Craftsman styles. The streets gently curve and are tree-line. It’s quiet.

By this time, I’m running out of water. I am far from my starting point. Parched. The backpack seems heavier. Maybe I shouldn’t have packed so much. The first thing that comes to mind is that I hope there are water fountains nearby. The second thing I wonder is, do they work. I don’t know how many times I’ve been to a park and seen a water fountain but only find out it doesn’t work. I finally come up to one and it doesn’t work. I pedal past the Zoo and as I cross under Hampton, I see another fountain. Bingo! After a few seconds water comes out. I gulp some and fill my bottle. I gulp some more. I don’t even care how it tastes. It tastes great if it is greatly needed. In the future, I may have to invest in another water bottle and holder.

jewel-gatesI eventually come upon the Jewel Box. I can’t even think of the last time I went here or been inside. Basically it ‘s a big greenhouse built in 1936 in an Art Deco style. It’s tall with a stair-stepped barrel vault. Outside are some gardens with pools and fountains. I felt this was a good time, since I have water, to find some shade and roll out the blanket and eat the rest of my snacks and maybe read and sketch. I do find some trees near the old gates of Vandeventer Place. They were originally on Grand between Enright and Bell. It was a Private Place designed by Julius Pitzman in 1870. Soon after the wealthiest of St. Louisians built grand mansions. It had strict restrictions and was exclusive. Despite the restrictions, they couldn’t control what happened outside the private street. When it was built, it was countryside. It was on the outskirts of the city. However by 1910 the city was encroaching, factories and other industrial types of endeavors were built. More people moved around the place. It was becoming more urban and more polluted. It wasn’t a serene, idyllic setting anymore. The strict restrictions and standards were hard to keep up, residents started moving out – moving west to newer and more fashionable neighborhoods and private streets. It was in steep decline. By 1950, it was gone. It was demolished of the Veteran’s Administration Hospital. The gates were saved and moved to Forest Park. Today I eat my lunch nearby.

I sit and snack, drink my water and cool down a little. Then these oblong acorn looking pods started falling around me. I found it really hard to relax. So I ate and drank my water. Eventually one of the pods plunked me in head. Ok, it’s time to move along. At this point, I think it’s just time to head back. The clouds are building and some are looking a bit dark. I need to make my way to West Pine. I take a trail that takes me into the woods. I go across some old bridges. This wasn’t very bike friendly because there were a series of stairs. I had to carry my bike up the stairs several times. I notice the sky darkening more. Sigh. It looks like some rain. I’m tired and unhappy about trudging up stairs carrying my bike. I finally get up to West Pine and Kingshighway and some huge drops of rain scatter across the pavement and all around me. Strangely they are not all hitting me. The drops are far and wide. It doesn’t last long. There’s no thunder or lightning. In some ways, I hoped maybe the rain could cool me off a bit. I was done. Now it’s time for a real meal and a long nap. I’m exhausted.

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A Grand Short Spin

Lately I haven’t been keeping up on the blog posts. Mainly it’s because I had been busy with getting ready for the opening of my drawing exhibition. Then after that I just felt a bit burnt out and unmotivated. It’s time to get caught up.

This ride was about a week before my show opening. My guess it was June 7th. I was going to attend a lecture over at KDHX about community art projects. I had just got off work and had roughly 90 minutes to kill. It was nice outside. Sunny and warm so I thought just taking a quick spin would be nice. By the time I was parked and ready to go, I had 45 minutes. I set my timer and set off. There was no particular goal.

n-grandI started west on Delmar and crossed Grand. Passing the old Palladium, I think about the Plantation Club that once was located here. It was a white only club that featured African-American jazz musicians and orchestras playing late into the night in the 1930s and 40s. Just to the north would have been Vandeventer Place but I imaging by that time it was well into it’s decline as the premier private street for the wealthiest of St. Louisans. Industry and city pollution was creeping in and ruining the idyllic setting. The Plantation Club’s entrance was on Enright, which bordered Vandeventer Place.

Speaking of Vandeventer Place, I was reading in the book, St. Louis Lost, that some of the mansion’s servants quarters were on Enright and there was at least one that had a tunnel that went from the servant’s home to the mansion. I guess it was to avoid the embarrassment of a neighbor having to see a servant on the grounds. The poor must be invisible. At the Plantation Club, the black people were just to entertain the whites in the shadow of decaying conspicuous consumption. I also read that many of the poor looked at Vandeventer Place with disdain and frankly could have gave a rats ass about saving it. Eventually it was all demolished by 1950 for the Veteran’s Administration Hospital that occupies the east end. The the west end of Vandeventer Place was demolished for a children’s detention home. It’s hard to imagine that space between Enright and Bell was once where the wealhiest of all St. Louisans lived. Now it is a place for the sick and other social institutions.

I meander up through streets just to the north – Windsor Place, Finney, Cook. I can see the remnants a middle class neighborhood but today it pock-marked with many vacant lots. Though there are some decent looking examples of Second Empire, Italianate, and Romanesque Revival houses – not many though.

I head west into what is the Vandeventer Neighborhood. I’ve rode through here on several occasions and there is an impressive amount of variety of houses that range from decent shape to rough and deteriorating. However, what is most noticeable is the amount of vacant lots. It’s a neighborhood that has been devastated by population loss and it’s a shame because it’s so close to Grand Center and St. Louis university. However, it’s a whole other world.

vande-housewebI ride west all the way to Pendelton. I ride west on Cook. I pass vacant blocks, then pass the crumbling Fout House that sits on the corner of Wittier and Cook. Other than that house the block isn’t that bad in terms of decay. There is a nice looking garden across the street, and well kept houses but still – the vacant lots are so numerous. I think at this point the vacant lots outnumber the houses. Still the people that live here seem to take pride in their homes.

I basically just zig-zag down to C D Banks, Bell, and Enright. It’s the same as Cook. Some great looking houses, some empty, and many many vacant lots. It’s a puzzle missing so many of it’s pieces, it’s hard to tell what it should be or what it was.

On the southern edge is the old Hodiamont Streetcar ROW. It ends just to the west of the old Vandeventer Place. I see the old streetcar line is a hint to the importance and wealth of this area. That line went through the most prosperous neighborhoods in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It went through Lewis Place, Fountain Park, Visitation, Academy, the West End and then out into the county which was mainly rural but was dotted with wealthy estates. Rather than ride on the streets, it had it’s own right-of-way. It served the most privileged people in the city.

What is great about being on a bike becomes evident here. I rode for about 30-35 minutes and covered so much ground. I greatly appreciate efficiency and productivity. I saw so much in a short time and still had time to put my bike away and get to the lecture early. Now, if I could have done something about the sweat. It’s a bit embarrassing to run into people and I’m sweaty but maybe that’s who I am. I’m that girl on a bike.