Sunday, November 9, 2014

St. Louis City Park Website

The thing that started me on a personal quest back in 2009 to visit each and every neighborhood in St. Louis and share my findings on this blog was the official St. Louis Website.

Being an admirer of maps, I kept looking at the bird's eye view of St. Louis thinking of all the places I'd never been or never heard of.  

I then starting poking around the city website a bit more as I was researching names and other places in the city.  The parks too began to intrigued me, as the city website had a comprehensive list of all the parks.  

Per the city website, there are 111 parks in St. Louis covering ~3,250  I hadn't set foot in most of these parks, so in order to complete my personal goal of traversing every part of this city that I love, I knew what had to be done.  111 more blog posts were in my future. 

January, 2016 edit: the city reevaluated the parks and landed on 108 park and ~2,956 acres. My park posts are being updated to reflect this change.

I recently read an interview with guitarist Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth in the Guardian. A comment from Moore struck me and I couldn't agree more. The interviewer was asking him about his recent move from Connecticut to the UK. Moore explained that he is trying to get to know his new adopted home by digging into the history of his new home and said:  

"You should know where you live. I find that to be a certain responsibility.”

I couldn't agree more, and I am now in the habit of exploring my city, so I decided to go back to the city website and start understanding the elaborate parks of St. Louis. 

We are lucky to have all this green space.  The city doesn't necessarily "sell it" as a benefit of STL city living.  The park information on the city website was sparse at best and straight up erroneous at worst.  There is a lot of room for improvement in helping people understand what parks offer and where they exist.

Some parks listed might not even seem like parks at all, rather fields of mowed grass...with nothing to mark it or identify it as a city park.  Some parks are trashed, some are stunningly beautiful.  The park's department doesn't have a master plan to improve the park system.  It is done piecemeal.  It is up to the neighborhood to decide what it wants its parks to be.  The good side of that is if you organize and collaborate, you can have local control and tremendous influence on what your neighborhood parks are and can be.  The downside is that not all parks are cared for or funded equally.  The parks in the neighborhoods where the people care the least have parks that reflect that lack of care and sweat equity.  It's the St. Louis way.

I was able to build a personal perspective on what works and what doesn't.  Parks can be the beacon or centerpiece of a neighborhood, or they can be the worst eyesore and gathering place/dumping ground for city problems.  The parks range the full gamut and are as honest a representation of the current state of St. Louis as any.

I had countless conversations with people in the parks, I love the interactions that these visits bring.  The vast majority of my visits were positive and in some cases memorable and inspirational.  It is addictive talking to strangers about their place and part in St. Louis.  I was surprised how important some of our parks are to some people, especially older folks and fishermen.  The parks are part of their weekly routines.  It is a thing of beauty. 

The interactions didn't end there.

Another fringe benefit of this project was crossing paths with other like-minded city park lovers.  Of those, I was able to meet Sonia Emmons, Liz Kramer, Nick Speiser, Claire Wolff and Jeff Wunrow.

Jeff vowed to visit each park, take three photos and post to his Facebook page...111 parks in 111 days!  The others took a social approach to their project while exploring and documenting each park.  They are logging their adventures on their Park Picnic Project site described as "An ongoing project to visit, picnic in, and discuss every park in the City of St. Louis." is wonderful, enlightening and down right fun reading.  

Click HERE for an example from one of their park visits: Lyon Park; or read below to get a feel for the format.
Lyon Park: Picnic #9 
Date: Sunday, June 13th, 2014 
Who was there: Nick, Liz, Claire, Chris 
What was consumed: Drink: Beer, water; Food: Bomb pops, homemade hummus & dip, veggies 
Park assessment: This was one of our most heavily-used parks that didn’t have an event, surprisingly. There’s very little residential nearby, with just a handful of residences on the right side of highway 55. Most people seemed to come in cars, including two dog walkers and a couple playing catch on the ball diamond. A group of teenagers briefly walked through the park from down Broadway, and seemed to head towards the riverfront. The rolling hills were quite lovely, and the walking path was actually a little challenging with all the ups and downs. The fact that there were both ball fields and restrooms made it very appealing — it’s not a huge park but there are a lot of different activities that can be facilitated, including being an obsessive Civil War buff, and observing the activities of the Department of Defense. 
Pertinent research and facts: This is by far the most historically interesting park we have been to so far. Check out the history of the St. Louis Arsenal (and therefore the surrounding area) on wikipedia (we’re not historians here, ok!), plus the history of the AB Brewery (must pretend to be 21 to enter), and most importantly, the incredible story of a historical hero: Nathaniel Lyon (State Historical Society of Missouri and The Civil War Trust).  
Links to other reviews and descriptions: As always, Mark Groth! Also, tour of Lyon Park from the Civil War Muse. 
Picnic assessment: How is it possible that we picnic so often when it sprinkles on us? We were on a nice hill until the rain started to come down, so we relocated under a tree. All around delicious snacks and treats, and we had two picnic blankets for four people, so we were in great shape for space.  
Discrepancies with the city’s info: This park is most definitely not in Benton Park. It’s probably used by people who live in the Benton Park neighborhood, but it’s certainly in Kosciusko (or maybe you could say Soulard if you don’t want to think about people being in Kosciusko).  
Park recommendations:  Our biggest concern for this park is the impending relocation of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency's (NGA) relocation. As one of our parkers was formerly an NGA employee, we had a little discussion about the NGA and their activities. There is quite a bit of debate going on about where and how NGA should relocate, but when the relocation happens, both the historic arsenal site and Lyon park will likely be reconsidered completely. So — we hope that this park can continue to be used and the memory of Lyon preserved in some way, and that a solution that is good for the region is worked out! 
Nappability: On Sunday afternoon, this is a lovely napping park, as it’s quiet, smells a little like beer, and has some nice nooks and crannies for napping. 
Nearby features: As previously mentioned, AB, the Arsenal, and if you crane your neck, the river itself. 
Access: There was a really consistent bus running by on a Sunday: the #30, which lets out just in front of the Arsenal and therefore in front of the park. The #40 is also available on the west side of the park by AB. Walking access was poor, since you have to cross Broadway to get to the park from basically anywhere that’s not the river. There were bike racks, but it seems like it would be relatively unpleasant to bike to this park, given the speeds on Broadway in this section.
Awesome...and the photos are great too.  Note one section of their post called "Discrepancies with the city's info"...this is something I experienced as well...and hence the point of this blog post.

The city reached out to us to collaborate on the city parks website.

It was another one of those St. Louis big city/small town moments that I've come to cherish over the years.  If you have like interests, you will eventually cross paths; you will have the opportunity DO something greater than what you can accomplish on your own.  This is a strength of St. Louis.

Enter Cari Cleeland, the City of St. Louis Web Content Specialist/Writer.  She was tasked with updating the park data on the city website and asked to set up time to meet and discuss possible collaborations. 

We met at Fritanga in McKinely Heights, noshed on fried plantains, and discussed the project.  Cari explained that she wanted to update the park data, locations, maps, resources and amenities...including photos.  She wanted to know what info was inaccurate.  She asked us for feedback on what content to add.  We spoke about inconsistencies, and shared stories on our visits.  It was healthy, productive and fun.  I was happy to see everyone offer their photos, experience and knowledge for strings attached...the greater good.  It bodes well that the city has reached out to citizens and bloggers to help get the good word out on our wonderful city.  Cari has a tremendous amount of energy and got the park pages updated beautifully with new photos and accurate information.  It is an incredible refresh.  You have to check it out.

Congrats to the city, congrats to Ms. Cleeland, congrats to my fellow park explorers.  This city is getting better day by day, and it feels good to be part of the positive energy.

Thank you.

So, want to see the major upgrades to the city park directory?  

Click here to view an example of Berra Park on the Hill.  

If you like those changes as much as I do, more good news is on the horizon.  The pages for each of the 79 neighborhoods will be upgraded as well by Cari in the near future.  She will be adding refreshed content and photo galleries to help people see how beautiful this city really is...maybe the next generation of STL explorers will be inspired to start their own adventures!

The next chapter of this story is related to Forest Park, my final park profile....stay tuned.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Fox Park

Fox Park is one of 108 St. Louis parks.  The 2.69 acre park was placed into ordinance in 1917 and is located in the Fox Park neighborhood.

The park is located just south and east of the intersection of California and Shenandoah Avenues:
The park has seen much investment and hard work over the years. There is an active park committee dedicated to improving the park. This used to be not such a nice place, it is getting better year after year as more eyes/ears and sweat equity are directed toward the park, the center of this great neighborhood.

In full disclosure, I was a co-chair of the park committee for ~3 years, so I have a lot of experience with this park.  You can read all about my adventures and thoughts from February, 2013.

For the purpose of this post, and to remain consistent with the other 108 or so park profiles, I'll keep this focused on the "passer-by" method of documenting the park.  What would you see if you visited for the first commentary.

So, Fox Park has the only Cardinals Care baseball field in South City.  There are a total of 18 Cardinals Care fields throughout the two-state Metropolitan region.  Ten are in the suburbs and small towns, five in North City, two in Forest Park and then Fox Park.
There is also a basketball court and playground.
The brick park pavilion is probably the centerpiece of the park. There is a nice "general field" for soccer, etc near the California side.
There are some nicely landscaped areas and new trees planted to provide some definition to the different areas of the park.
A couple things I will say is that there is a planned "spray pad" section just south of the pavilion that should break ground any day now.  There is also a group of volunteers raising money and resources for a much needed dog park.
The recent opening of the Purple Martin, a neighborhood bistro, has activated a critical corner right across from the park.
The park is in good hands, the neighbors have invested a lot of time and effort on making the park a nice place.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Sherman Park

Sherman Park is 1 of 108 St. Louis parks.   This 22.04 acre park is located at the northwest corner of Kingshighway and Martin Luther Kingthe Kingsway West neighborhood.

The park was placed into ordinance in 1917 when the city took over the property after one of St. Louis' worst fires in its history took the lives of 10 people including 7 firemen.  

Here's some history on from the St. Louis Website:
Sherman Park's site was originally within the Cote Brilliante Suburb, platted in 1853. Later, it was the campus of Christian Brothers College, until that school was destroyed by fire in 1916. During the next year, it was acquired by the City for park purposes at a cost of nearly $200,000. Remaining portions of the school structure were later converted into a community center and library. In 1959, the new David P. Wohl Community and Recreation Center was completed within the park at 1515 North Kingshighway. It is located on a sloping site and was built at a cost of about $900,000 from plans by Russell, Mullgardt, Schwarz and Van Hoefen. (source)
Here's some more from

Christian Brothers College High School was founded in 1850 when the first school was established at Eighth and Cerre Streets in downtown Saint Louis. By 1855, the school became the first establishment of the Brothers to function on the collegiate level when
8th and Cerre Campus
the state of Missouri granted Christian Brothers College a college charter. This would be the first college of the Brothers in America.
2nd Campus

Rapid industrialization following the Civil War forced the school to build a new facility. The Brothers purchased 30 acres of land for $50,000 near the intersection of Kingshighway and Easton (now Dr. Martin Luther King Drive.) By 1882, the new school was ready for students and by
1889, CBC had established a reputation as one of the finest schools in Saint Louis.

Here are some photos of the fire damage:

Here's a little history on how CBC left St. Louis for the suburbs/then farmland of Clayton, Missouri and now they are located even further west in the suburbs near I-270/I-64.  From the CBC website:
The new campus was quite opulent. Its five-story structure contained a library with more than 40,000 volumes and manuscripts, four grand parlors and reception rooms, a 1,000 seat auditorium, and a steam elevator. But in October 1916, a fire ravaged the building and insurance at the time was insufficient to cover the estimated $275,000 in damage. The property was sold, and with the help of the Saint Louis Archdiocese, another campus was established on what was then farmland in Clayton, Missouri. That campus opened in 1922 and would serve as the school’s home for more than 82 years. Given the age of the building, inadequate parking, lack of practice fields and space considerations, the Board of Directors made the decision to build a new facility on land donated by a prominent alumnus.
In September 2003, CBC opened its fourth campus near the intersection of I-270 and I-64/U.S. 40 – one of the heaviest traveled intersections in the metropolitan area.

current CBC location; photo source

There are several prominent features within the park including another Cardinals Care ball field, a recreation center/swimming pool and an elevated topography that offers amazing views of downtown and the Arch.

park is elevated, surrounded by a ~4 foot stone wall

Downtown riverfront in the distance

If you like sports this is your park with tennis, basketball, football, swimming and baseball.

There is a cool service building on the west side of the park.

And of course, the classic bathroom buildings so common in our older parks:

And finally the Wohl Community Center built in 1959:

The glass block design has taken a beating by the local rock throwers, but you can still appreciate the mid-century modern design.

I couldn't verify who the park is named after, so please leave a comment if you have the information.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Fox Park East Immigrant Housing Project

After reading the story that NextSTL broke on the Fox Park East Immigrant Housing Project last week I wanted to provide some personal perspective from someone who has lived in the neighborhood for ~4 years and how I feel this project will play an important role in an extremely important section of the city.

Actually, two separate low income housing projects were proposed by two separate groups that have the potential to make a huge impact on this key area in South St. Louis:  Fox Park, McKinley Heights and Tower Grove East.  These burgeoning areas are the ultimate bridges between Tower Grove Park, Shaw and Tower Grove South to the west, Soulard to the east, Lafayette Square to the north and the Benton Park areas to the south.

I love this part of the city and think it is going to continue to see investment as Shaw and Soulard and Lafayette get "built out".

Both projects proposed would utilize state and federal low income tax credits and both will target low income tenants as to provide quality affordable housing to an under-served population.  The first is the Fox Park East Immigrant Housing (FPEIH) project, the second is Southside Homes by C. F. Vatterott.

Today I'm  focusing on the first of the projects, FPEIH, which spans the Tower Grove East and Fox Park neighborhoods.  I'll do a separate post soon sharing my thoughts related to the Vatterott proposal to build new homes on LRA and Vatterott-owned lots in Fox Park and McKinley Heights in the near future.

The FPEIH venture will be a historic rehabbing project and will involve a non-profit called RISE, Wagstaff Urban Werks and Messiah Lutheran.  You may recognize Wagstaff Urban Werks, as they have designed the "Ritz Park" that was recently completed on South Grand (source).

RISE too has experience and a proven track record for respectful historic rehabs in Old North St. Louis and, closer to home, Forest Park Southeast with the Park East Homes project; take a look:

 Photo source:

  Photo source:

Not too shabby, eh?

Here is their mission statement:
"Rise's mission is to work in partnership with community-based and other organizations to redevelop and strengthen neighborhoods and communities. By providing capacity-building assistance, housing development services and access to financing, we make the connections between non-profit community organizations, financial institutions and government that make successful neighborhood revitalization possible."
Messiah Lutheran is a South City church in the Tower Grove East neighborhood and is the principal sponsor for this project. Following is a summary of their mission:
In a classic “middle neighborhood”, Fox Park and Tower Grove East provide the perfect blend of resources and revival to suggest the proposed development will be a success. What would seem to assure success is the genesis of this proposal. Messiah Lutheran has enjoyed the recent emergence of a refugee population in their congregation. Ethnically Nepalese, a significant population of Bhutanese refugees has made the greater neighborhood around Messiah Lutheran’s South Grand Church home. Having “adopted” this population, the congregants of Messiah Lutheran have become acutely aware of the needs of their new friends and neighbors. Often characterized by single households made up of extended families, these families are often under-housed, rent burdened and living in substandard housing. Still assimilating, the population has frequently been victims of street crime in the neighborhoods where they initially settle. On many occasions these families, most of whom have no automobiles or a single car for an extended family, have expressed a desire to live in a more stable neighborhood and closer to the church and the resources it provides. 
 The circumstances seem to be preordained. The recent relocation of the International Institute to 3401 Arsenal Street (in the heart of the proposed scattered site development) brings significant resources into immediate proximity to the proposed development.  The refugees and their families will have the regular support needed in order to develop the skills and cultural understanding needed to thrive in a new home.  In addition to affordable housing, limited commercial space in one of the centrally located buildings will be made available to local non-profits and financial industry volunteers to provide the targeted population with a variety of services including financial literacy, jobs counseling, credit building, and other important services. In keeping with MHDC’s stated goals, the proposed housing is a short walk from major public transportation stops, shopping, cultural resources, employment opportunities and entertainment. 
All three organizations involved in this project are St. Louis City entities.  This project will target 10 separate buildings for historical rehabilitation, including six in the Fox Park neighborhood and four in the Tower Grove East neighborhood.

Here is a map of the rehab projects proposed by FPEIH:

And here's the proposed property list by address:

Now let's take a look at these bruised brick beauties that may be coming back to life:

 2801-2803 California Avenue (front)

 2801-2803 California Avenue (rear)

2625-2627 Texas Avenue

2833 Magnolia Avenue

2850 Magnolia Avenue

2128-2130 Oregon Avenue

2644 Accomac Street

3114 Sidney Street

3152 Arsenal Street

3114-3116 Arsenal Street

3110 Magnolia Avenue

In a recent public meeting held in Fox Park, the neighbors in attendance had overwhelming support for the project.

Adding density, ethnic diversity, stable tenants, support of immigrants as well as sensitive historic preservation of vacant homes are all things I look forward to with this project. And these values are the ones that I really enjoy about living in this part of St. Louis. I personally feel that this project will be a success and will increase the quality of life in this amazingly happening part of town.