Sunday, June 30, 2013

Beckett Playground

Beckett Playground is 1 of 108 city parks, making up 3.34 acres of the total 2,956 acres of dedicated park ground in St. Louis.

The park has been around since 1959 and is in the historic Lewis Place neighborhood.  The park is nearest the intersection of Page Boulevard and North Taylor Avenue right in the shadow of Ranken Technical College.

Ranken is a positive presence in the neighborhood and sits just southeast of the park.

I would love to see Ranken partner with the city to help beautify the park...building some new benches, pavilions, etc would be a great partnership for both Lewis Place and the College.  Ranken boasts a top notch fabrication and welding school...why not take the students out for some "field work"  and show the community what skilled craftsmanship can bring...The need is certainly there.  I wonder if the alderman in the area has ever thought of this?

The park website boasts picnic grounds, pavilions, basketball courts and softball fields.  This is true, but the softball field is underwater and needs to be graded and dragged to remove weeds.  The park's dept (who just embezzled ~$0.5M from  the taxpayers) should take responsibility here.  If, IF, the neighbors demand it.  If they either don't care or don't want softball, then the resources could go to folks and parks that have people caring for them.

When I was heading toward the park on Page I could smell chicken on the grill, the smell got stronger and better as I approached Newstead.  Turns out, I got lucky, because there was a big event in the park...called Praise In The Park hosted by the Pleasant Green Missionary Baptist Church at 4570 Page Blvd.

Of course, I was welcomed by the large group of parishioners and others.  I was offered chicken, hamburgers, chips, etc.

The gospel music sounded sweet and old school and it was a positive vibe.  People love their city and this was no exception. I just love meeting all these folks and hearing their stories.  Sometime hilarious, sometimes just simply positive and nice...welcoming.

Anyhow, there is a really cool mod looking bathroom/pavilion set up.

There are new trash cans located all over the park...therefore you can imagine it was very clean.  People want to use trash cans, they just don't exist in many parks.  Beckett was a clear exception.

The water fountains work, but the spray pool/fountain (becoming a common sighting in No. City parks) was inoperable.

The basketball courts are in EXCELLENT condition (complete with nets) and were heavily in use during my visit.

The playground equipment was in excellent shape too.

Sadly, many if not all the homes lining the park have fallen into severe disrepair.  There is not an overwhelming sense of residential pride or cleanliness evident from the street.  It's just kind of falling down.  And in fact, many of the homes and business properties have been demo'd since I was here in 2010 doing my Lewis Place photos and write up.

Beckett Playground could be even stronger than it is with the help of Ranken to take it under its wing.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Barrett Brothers Park

Barrett Brothers Park is a 13.16 acre park in the Wells Goodfellow Neighborhood.  It has been in existence since 1947.  It is located near the intersection of Goodfellow Blvd. and St. Louis Ave.
The homes that line the park are mostly modest mid-20th Century dwellings mixed in with some new apartment complexes, etc from the 70s/80s.  This part of St. Louis is fairly industrial as well.

Here's some background on the brothers Barrett for whom the park takes its name:
The Barrett brothers were young men who lived and played in this north St. Louis neighborhood as boys. They gave up their lives during World War II, along with four of their cousins – all great-grandsons of Irish famine immigrants Patrick and Mary Barrett.  The park was dedicated to their memory in 1947.

Pfc. (Infantry) Francis P “Frank” Barrett, Jr. (1917-1945) died in Germany on 17 Apr 1945 after the German defeat, during the last days of World War II (V-E Day was 8 May 1945). According to his cousin Kathleen Barrett Price, “He was walking down the street after the war was over and was shot by a sniper.” He is buried in the Netherlands.  He was 28 years old, leaving his wife Marie behind.

Marine Sgt. Florance “Florrie” Barrett (1919-1944) died on 16 Dec 1944, in Guadalcanal, of leukemia at the age of 25. He saw action in the campaign of 1942 as an aviation mechanic. Apparently he knew he was ill, came home on leave, but chose to return to Guadalcanal. He was reburied 13 Jan 1949 in the National Memorial Cemetery of The Pacific, Honolulu, Hawaii.

Frank and Florrie Barrett were the sons of Francis and Molly Curran Barrett, 2519 Semple Avenue.
The Barrett brothers were the great-grandsons of Patrick Barrett (abt. 1828-1905) and Mary Gardiner Barrett (abt. 1820-1906), both refugees from the Irish potato famine of the 1840s. Both were born in County Mayo and entered the U.S. at New Orleans.  Here, many starving Irish were willing to do the dangerous work of digging canals and dredging the Mississippi River.  Mary Gardiner arrived with her brother, who soon succumbed to a yellow fever epidemic that killed 2400 people in New Orleans. She made her way to St. Louis on her own. Patrick Barrett also found his way to St. Louis, where the two met and were married in 1849. They lived near the riverfront on Green Street between Fifth and Sixth. Within five months of their marriage, the Great Fire tore through 15 blocks of the riverfront. Then the cholera epidemic hit, killing more than 4000 of the total St. Louis population of 64,000. About 1852, when the Barretts had seen enough, they moved with their first two children to farmland at Catawissa (Franklin County), Missouri – to a settlement of Irish immigrants known as Armagh – and built a log cabin near St. Patrick’s Church. The church is known today as “Old Rock” and has an active membership who celebrate their Irish-American history.

The Barretts prospered as farmers but not all their offspring were suited to rural life or the matriarchal dominance of Mary Barrett. Many of their flock migrated back to St. Louis.
The Barretts knew food. They hungered, they farmed – and then the St. Louis grandchildren went into retail.

• Starting sometime before 1910, Thomas Barrett owned grocery stores at 4841 Easton Ave [Martin Luther King Dr], 4865/4867 Easton, 5900 Cote Brilliante, and 1441 Rowan Avenue. The store on Rowan was family-run through the mid-1960s.

• Tom’s brother Francis Barrett operated a confectionery at 5310 St. Louis Ave.

• Their cousin Thomas McLaughlin owned a grocery store on Easton Avenue.

In the 1940s, these three grocers sent five sons off to war, never to return. Their cousin Mary Timlin Pedrotti sent a sixth.  (source)
I ran into a guy with a metal detector, and we struck up a conversation about what we were both doing, me with a camera, him with a metal detector.  We chatted for ~ 10 minutes on the history of the park and the neighborhood.  He has been in Wells Goodfellow since the 1960s and told some great stories.  He said there was a large population of Jewish and Italian Americans living around the park leading up to the 1950s.  They started to leave in the 60s and that's when black folks settled in (the 2010 Census data indicates 98% black population).  This part of the city is bleeding residents.  People can't get out fast enough as 28% of the residential base took off for greener pastures from 2000-2010.  Which is a damn shame, it could be a decent place if folks rooted down and fought for positive change.  It's easier to just leave though and that's been the ~25 year trend in Wells-Goodfellow.

Anyhow, he told me that while a lot of people are trashing the park and acting like fools, there is a lot of good stuff going on here.

Here's some proof of the negative stuff:

trash set on fire on the playground padded surface

But there is good stuff going on too.

Youth football practices occur during the season:

And baseball is played regularly.  My acquaintance with the metal detector told me Bob Gibson used to live in this area and Lou Brock sponsored a youth league and would show up to games on Walter Greene Sr. Memorial Field within the park.

I couldn't find any info on Walter Greene, Sr., so if there are folks in the know, please contact me; I'd like to add that history to this blog.

The fields are in decent condition, but the people need to demand better stands:

He also said Ted Simmons used to live in the area.  So there is a rich baseball history in this part of the city.  There are 3 separate fields.

There have been some nice developments within the park recently.  Among the positive change, a nice brick and stone sign, a paved walking path around the perimeter of the park was lined with outdoor workout equipment and new trees to provide future shade for walkers/joggers.  A beautiful new pavilion was recently built (although it is being trashed by knuckleheads).

The basketball courts are in excellent condition and the baseball fields are clearly in use.

 The Boys of Destruction just doin' what they do

The park needs some continued attention though.  In my opinion, the dilapidated chain link fencing must be removed.  Why is this necessary in the first place?  To keep people out of the park?  I don't get it.  Anyhow, there is fence around most of the park's exterior perimeter and even the interior around the playgrounds and walking trail.  Get rid of it!!!

The spray pool was not operating on the ~ 90 degree day I was there, but it appears to be operational.  Turn it on if so. Why have these things if they are not used or maintained?  I'd like to hear from neighbors whether this is operational.

Minus the graffiti and burnings, the playground equip is in pretty good condition:

The mid-Century bathroom building is in good shape too, but is not open for public use.  You have to get the Park's Dept to open it up if you are having a function in the park.

Toward the northernmost section of the park there are some raised beds that once were used for gardening...they are in poor repair, but there appears to be someone working on getting them back to growing condition.

The weird thing is, the raised beds spell out the work YEAT.  If anyone knows the history of that, please share.

On to Beckett Park...

Friday, June 21, 2013

Amherst Park

Amherst Park is a 4.38 acre park established in 1970.  It is located southwest of the intersection of Hodiamont and Julian Avenues in the West End Neighborhood.  The park takes its name from Baron Jeffrey Amherst (1717-1747), a British army officer in the French and Indian war (source). 

Man, do I love North City.  The way these neighborhoods were laid out is simply amazing.  It seems like there was more wealth in its heyday, meaning more mansions than the South Side which I know much better.  Today my visit took place on a Sunday, a great day to witness the scores of middle aged and older black people dressed to the T's and looking sharp, socializing and showing up in droves to the many, many churches.  It's a scene I love.

Anyhow, Amherst Park is one of those parks that is brimming with potential.

It needs some TLC, and the neighbors/current park goers are not treating it well.  But, man it's hard not to love the layout of this park and its potential as a destination place as it is very close to the recently renovated Ruth Porter Park and the St. Vincent Greenway which skirts Amherst Park.  The Great Rivers Greenway did an EXCELLENT job as usual with its walking/cycling trails.  The trails were completed in October, 2012 and will eventually connect all the way into the burbs near the University of Missouri St. Louis campus.
The St. Vincent Greenway will tie together North County near the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus to Forest Park when it is complete. The newest section that just opened is a 1.3- mile long asphalt trail, which runs north from Delmar and DeBaliviere through Ruth Porter Park and then west to Skinker and Etzel.

When initially planning this section of the St. Vincent Greenway, the staff at the Great Rivers Greenway District was determined to improve the quality of life for residents along the trail, many of whom had avoided the park for fear of their safety. The District added safety measures to the trail for the protection of area residents – including ADA grading at each intersection along the path, brighter lighting and flattened paths with enhanced visibility for residents, trail users and law enforcement. (source)

There has been a tremendous amount of investment by Great Rivers Greenway in the streets, crossings, easements and cul-de-sac's just south and east of Amherst Park leading to Ruth Porter Park.  It's great to see this kind of investment in areas lines with old mansions and other St. Louis classic homes:

Now is the time for the community to step up and try to build on the investment and momentum generated by the St. Vincent Greenway to improve Amherst Park.  Will they do it?  Only time will tell.

While the city website touts a volleyball court, basketball court and multi-purpose field.  That isn't entirely accurate.  Yes, the basketball court is in excellent condition and has been maintained very well.

The only thing to improve the courts would be a minor fix to the fence:

There are also soccer goals, a rarity in St. Louis parks, great to see.  I wonder if they are used?

The playground and swing set are in really good shape as well.

Now the volleyball court on the other hand has seen better days and probably hasn't been in usable condition for years. 

The same can be said for the water fountain/spray pool that is clogged and inoperable, making the stairs to the volleyball court impassable due to mud and water settling at the bottom of the stairs.

There are several things that are intriguing in Amherst Park.  First, what was once in the round space in the following photo?  There are benches facing this former sandbox...fountain...tether ball?

Secondly are the several concrete walls and benches.  What once sat on the concrete pads...picnic benches...grills?

If anyone knows the history of either of these, please leave a comment here.

The thing I really like about this park is the tiering and's not just a flat field.  It starts with a long sidewalk/walking path in the lowest lying area to the west.

Then it is built up with an eventual sitting area for adults right by the playground.

This is a great space, lined with healthy shade trees and you can image how vibrant it probably was before the spray fountain maintenance was deferred and eventually abandoned by the city park's dept.

I can imaging a hedgerow of Viburnum, Witch Hazel or Oak Leaf Hydrangea in the area leading from the concrete pads to the lowest lying area.  It's even demarcated with a concrete edging almost asking for it.

Again, this park has the bones of a great one.  It needs simple things like trash cans.  There was only one in the entire park right along the sidewalk on the far north side.  They need more trees, bushes, perennials, fixed spray fountains.  They need to define the space with some landscaping, otherwise it looks pretty drab and uninviting.

The city will not voluntarily do this stuff.  If the neighbors want these upgrades, they will have to demand them from the alderman and the park's dept and anyone else who will listen.  They will have to write grants, ask for help and but in a lot of work.

Amherst Park could be transformed into a diamond in the parks system, it wouldn't take much but a set of dedicated people in the neighborhood to make it happen.