Monday, August 12, 2013

Compton Hill Reservoir Park

Compton Hill Reservoir Park is a St. Louis landmark. Located at Grand and Russell Avenues on the northeast side of the intersection. This post was updated in 2017 to include the repairs to the fountain basin and new tennis courts!
The park was placed into ordinance in 1867.  It takes up 35.8 acres of land near in the neighborhood of Compton Heights.

The homes that surround the park are nothing short of amazing.  There are high rise apartments, condos, single and multi-family homes...all typical St. Louis beauties.
the Magic Chef mansion

The park is a very popular place for dog walkers, joggers, etc. due to the following  apartment building that was recently renovated and allows pets. There are a lot of (presumably) SLU students here based on the average age of the tenants.  This has added much density and life to this stretch of Russell Boulevard.  And the park is widely used by these new folks.

The park has a large reservoir, a gorgeous standpipe (tower), a prominent sculpture, tennis courts, dog park, walking trails and a playground.  The park is in excellent condition and the neighbors have clearly embraced it in many ways. 

The dog park was established and is maintained by volunteers, the plantings within the park and along the perimeter are maintained by volunteer gardeners, and there is a non-profit foundation for the water tower.
There are efforts underway to improve the benches through personal donations.
There are also some cool new bike racks that look like hitching posts throughout the park.
They function pretty well with two bikes.
Let's start with the obvious landmark, the water tower.  First some history from the Water Tower and Park Preservation Society:
Toward the end of the 19th century the growing metropolitan area’s demand for water was outgrowing its existing water delivery system. The pumps that were used to send water through the City created dangerous surges in water pressure. To equalize that pressure a standpipe measuring five feet wide by 100 feet tall was built. But while this satisfied the functional needs of the system, it did nothing to satisfy the need for beauty and architectural ornamentation of the era. Thus the Tower was erected in 1898 to camouflage the standpipe. 

The Tower was built in a French Romanesque style of rusticated limestone, buff brick and terra cotta on its face. On the base are a griffin and vine-like scrolls. Inside, 198 iron steps spiral around the standpipe, ending in an observation deck where visitors can enjoy a 360-degree view of the City.

As the city continued to develop other options for water service were built and by 1929 the Compton Hill Tower was no longer needed and was retired. By this time it had hosted thousands of people who came to see it, to make the climb to the top and to just enjoy the beautifully landscaped park. It was a great favorite during the 1904 World’s Fair. The Tower was occasionally opened so visitors could once again make the climb to the top but had to be closed to the public in 1984 when it was discovered that asbestos surrounded part of the tank on the Tower’s interior. For more than ten years the Water Tower stood untouched and began to deteriorate badly. Large cracks were forming, windows were missing or broken, and the terra cotta roof needed repairs. Architectural detail on walls had weathered away. In 1995 the City was faced with the possibility of demolishing the Tower. Residents and neighborhood associations in the areas around the Tower immediately raised an outcry and offered to work with the City in repairing and maintaining the structure. Their voices were heard.

In 1999, the completion of a $19 million renovation was celebrated with a festival that included food, music, entertainment and tours of the Tower. Since then, under the stewardship of members of the Water Tower & Park Preservation Society, Inc., the Tower has been open several times for neighborhood celebrations. The Society currently includes over 125 friends and supporters and is led by a volunteer Board of Directors that works closely with the Water Division to continue to preserve and improve the Tower and its surroundings.

Currently the Society is working on a long-term master plan that will recreate the historical landscape design of the park, restore its original ponds and fountains, develop space allocated for large gatherings renovate the historic landscape, restore the park’s public restrooms and amend the park’s accessibility. The Society welcomes new members. If you are interested, please click here for more information. Your help is always welcome in the efforts to ensure that future generations will continue to have this beautiful and historic monument to enjoy.
You can tour the water tower and climb to the top on the first Saturday of each month from April to November, and also on full moon nights.  It is a must do for any St. Louis lover.
The reservoir is awesome as well.  The wall was designed by Guy Study. The arrangement of steps and wall fountains is in the manner of those in the gardens of Italian villas. Two bronze tablets on either side of the steps on the west wall give all of the historic information about the reservoir.
You can climb the stairs to the top of the reservoir and walk along the wall that affords great views of Compton Heights, Midtown and Downtown.  A great place to walk the dog or jog on grass. Also, a popular spot for sledding.
Moving on to the sculpture called "The Naked Truth" that sits in front of a small pond with a fountain and lily pads.  On a side note, this is a great little pond to take the kids to catch crawdads with nets.  They are quite prevalent here and are close to the edges.
kids love catching crawdads!
The fountain and base of the pond were recently fixed to sure up its ability to hold water. The lily pads and grasses look better than ever.
Here's the history of the sculpture from the Water Tower and Park Preservation Society website:
The statue called “The Naked Truth,” designated a city landmark in 1969, was controversial before it was even built. It is a memorial to Dr. Emil Preetorius, Carl Schurz and Carl Daenzer, German-American editors of the St. Louis Westliche Post. Adolphus Busch was the major donor, giving $20,000 of the $31,000 cost.

A jury selected a design by sculptor Wilhelm Wandschneider of Berlin. Busch was appalled by the jury’s selection and the controversy over the nudity in the statue prompted great debates. The sculptor refused Busch’s request that the figure be draped.
The jury voted 14 to 12 to accept the original design but said the nude figure should be made of a material other than white marble, to de-emphasize the nudity. The figure is made of bronze. 
The statue is a nude figure of a woman seated on a stone bench with arms outstretched, holding torches. The figure symbolizes “Truth” and the torches are for the “enlightenment of Germany and the United States.” The figure of Truth is of bronze in heroic size. The eyes are painted as in some bronze figures of the Greeks and as in many modern German statues. The inscription on the back of the shaft in incised lettering expressing the devotion of German-American citizens to the country of their adoption. This inscription is repeated in German. 
The memorial was a gift to St Louis by the German-American Alliance and was unveiled on May 27, 1914.
Moving toward the east side of the park, there is a dog park available to members; sadly per the Water Tower & Park Preservation Society website, the dog park is temporarily closed (as of Feb, 2017.
There is a playground and set of swings.
A charming pavilion exists as well.
The park is obviously loved by its neighbors and is in good hands.  But, what I would do to improve the current condition and usability of the park would be two things:

1. The tennis courts are in unusable condition.  The nets are sagging and the concrete is all cracked and uneven.  With all the young people that have recently moved to this part of town, i could really see these courts being used. We don't have tennis courts in this part of town, so I as a resident of nearby Fox Park would come here as well to play.
The good news just keeps on coming for the park. The tennis courts were rebuilt, complete with new nets, lights and sidewalks leading to the courts. This is a fantastic upgrade and the courts are in regular use.  Way to go!
2. I'd remove the ivy and weeds from this building:
I'm not exactly sure what this is, but it is surrounded by fence and barbed wire. It is a beautiful building that should be cleaned up.

Trees have been planted throughout the park and the pavilion is in great condition, adding to the overall charm.

This is clearly one of the premier showcase parks in the city park system. Enjoy!

3 comments:

  1. I wish people today were as worried about having such eyesores covered up. The tower is gorgeous. Just think if cell phone towers and all those stupid white AT&T DSL/UVerse boxes had to at least blend in a little. Also, OMG boobs. The horror.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I lived nearby during the war. At
    that time, army guards were posted
    on the reservoir, the word being
    that they were there to stop any
    south side deutchers from poisoning
    the water. Never heard that any tried

    ReplyDelete
  3. The tennis court and courting lights were refurbished in the fall of 2016. They are 'smooth and ready to use' by the public.

    ReplyDelete