Sunday, February 23, 2014

Loretta Hall Park

Loretta Hall Park, 1 of 108 St. Louis parks, is located near the intersection of 14th and Cole Street.  The park has been around since 1842 and accounts for 2.3 acres within the Carr Square Neighborhood just north of Downtown:

From the city website:
Presented to the City in August, 1842 by William C. Carr, with the stipulation that it was "to be forever used as a square" It was later enclosed with a high iron fence at the request of the citizens of the neighborhood.
I couldn't find any information on who Loretta Hall is, or her story.  Please contact me if you know.  So, instead I'll share some info on William C. Carr.

Here's a brief timeline of Carr's life from the Missouri History Museum:
The son of Walter Carr, William Chiles Carr was born April 17, 1783, in Albemarle County, Virginia. He arrived in St. Louis in 1804 at the age of 21 and entered into the practice of law. He remained in St. Louis only briefly before moving to Ste. Genevieve, where he lived a year before returning to St. Louis, which then became his permanent home. In 1826, William C. Carr was appointed judge of the circuit court, the jurisdiction of which included several counties besides St. Louis, extending west to the Osage River and south and southwest almost to Arkansas. He resigned his judgeship in 1834, and retired to the private practice of law until his death on March 31, 1851.   
Per this source, Judge William C. Carr, in 1813 built the first brick dwelling in St Louis.  

Many refer to St. Louis as "the Red Brick Mama", does this mean William C. Carr is "the Red Brick Papa"?

One last thing about Mr. Carr, before I get back to the park.  Carr School, named for Mr. Carr, one of the first St. Louisans to push for high quality public education in the city is crumbling just north of Loretta Hall Park.

This is Paul McKee's building now and it looks worse than ever.  I've been photographing this place for nearly 10 years and it has declined so greatly under McKee's ownership, you wouldn't believe it.  If you want to explore this building, it easier more now than ever as the upkeep has gone to zero and there are wide open entry ways in a couple different areas.  It is no longer boarded up and secured.  If one desired, you could walk right in and take a look for yourself.

a map of McEagle Properties, circled is the area around Loretta Hall Park

I went to a recent talk McKee gave at Vashon and Carr School was one of the key properties in his NorthSide plan; he and his wife Midge said it will be the "job center" of their NorthSide project.  The St. Louis American reported this as well back in June, 2013:
McKee said he also plans to mentor and grow minority- and women-owned businesses to meet the project’s 25/5 percent goals on minority- and women-owned business participation specified in the Mayor’s Executive Order. He said his team is currently working on transforming Carr School, at 1421 Carr St., into an incubator for start-up businesses. (source)
I don't want to be overly critical of this suburban developer, because he is trying hard and I don't believe he is just an evil capitalist/opportunist.  This and the Walnut Park areas of St. Louis are the most challenging from all angles.  I want to believe everything this guy McKee says, but I'm highly suspicious of his methods.   His track record as a property owner is deplorable.  He has let this building degrade to near collapse by doing NOTHING to the windows, doors, walls and most importantly, the roof.  This lack of action doesn't back up his talk, and that, I think is why many who live here and love St. Louis are skeptical of his actions.  The city meanwhile follows his suit and does nothing in return.  They are just happy to deflect blame to somebody else.

As it stands today, McKee's two middle fingers are held high in the air to the people of St. Louis and the legacy of William Carr and William B. Ittner, the architect that designed this beautiful work of art that was in use from 1908 -1983.

Here's a couple photos from Built St. Louis in 2001 and 2007 that will help illustrate the lack of upkeep and care over the years:

 2001, entry ways secured

2007, the path to failure and neglect in full view...

And here's some from February, 2014:

 board haven't been replaced since the early 2000's

 Come on in, McEagle Properties welcomes you

there's still some metal for scrap boys, come on in and get you some

Mr. McKee this is why the people who live in St. Louis (I know you choose not to) are suspicious of your actions to date.  I remain optimistic of your plans and the sweet talk, but if high winds take this down, you will have failed the people of St. Louis who love this place and our history.  Why not do SOMETHING to secure your most significant properties?

Geez, our history is left in the hands of suburban developers who don't seem to give one care for the legacy of our forefathers.  And, the city sits there with eyes turned with no fines or penalties while honest home owners get cited for peeling paint in our good neighborhoods.  This is why the city government does not get taken seriously.  They are soft and weak.

Back to Loretta Hall park, or is it Coretta Hall park?

You'll find softball fields, a basketball court in excellent condition and a playground.

It was nice to see some new amenities like recently planted trees and benches.

Upon my visit there was a ministry group handing out free food.  The homeless were the target audience, but no one was denied a free meal.  Young, able bodied men were driving up, getting out of the car, getting a plate of food and hopping back in the car and taking off.

I've seen church groups feeding the homeless all over downtown's parks.  I make it a point to talk to them and ask if they have permits and until today, they say have said no.  I ask them where they are from, they've always been from the burbs, until today.

The group today was from St. Louis and said they have a permit to do food service in the park.  I will not mention the name of the ministry in case they don't.  Their hearts are in the right place, but it just doesn't seem like a church should be feeding people in a public park on city property.  Why not do this on church property?  This seems like a good case study for the separation of church and state...a key principle of our democratic American society.  I shook the man's hand who was in charge of the food line, and thanked him for caring.  I don't have the answers for what can be done to de-concentrate the large number of homeless shuffled toward downtown's neighborhoods from the ENTIRE region, including the burbs.  It worries me and saddens me that the city chooses to concentrate the homeless in and near downtown...and, this group feels the same yet is actual doing something even if it isn't the right thing to do for the long term.

I truly hope McKee has success in tackling these insanely complex social ills and legacy of neglect that exist in this part of St. Louis...from his seat in O'Fallon, Missouri.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Interco Plaza

Interco Plaza, located in the Downtown Neighborhood is 1 of 108 St. Louis parks.

The 0.71 acre park was placed into ordinance in 1977 and is just south of the Post-Dispatch and north of the St. Patrick Center (homeless services).

 St. Louis Post-Dispatch 

St. Patrick's Center

The park is right along the newly rebuilt Tucker Boulevard (12th Street) between Washington Avenue and the new Stan Span.

New street trees along Tucker

Today the park was being used exclusively by the homeless who let me know they didn't like my presence...what did I do?  Whatever.

The park is really just a concrete and paver surfaces in a varied pattern with patches of grass and a few trees.  There are cool looking stone benches and a monument dedicated to local politicians.

You can't help but think this plaza is a dead space, although it looks well maintained (e.g., someone paid for a sprinkler system for the turf).  The sad thing about this newly redone Tucker Blvd. north of Washington Ave. all the way to the bridge is the massive amount of surface parking lots and dead zones around the road.  It is not an urban corridor by any means and the only development so far is a typical suburban fast food drive through restaurant.  Hopefully we'll see that change in the near future, but Interco Plaza doesn't add much interest from the street or sidewalk.

The classics from our forefathers to the south and west of Interco Plaza are beautiful and have seen new life as they've been redone or converted to residential, retail, etc. in the past 20 years.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Lafayette Park

Lafayette Park is the nearly 30 acre centerpiece of one of St. Louis' most beautiful neighborhoods:  Lafayette Square.

The park was named in honor of the Marques de Lafayette (1757-1834), a French statesman who served as a volunteer under General George Washington in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. (source)

The park is bordered by Park Avenue to the north, Lafayette Avenue to the south, Mississippi Avenue (just like the river) to the east and Missouri Avenue (as the rest of our state lies) to the west:

This is one of the special places among the 108 city parks.  The neighbors have fully embraced this park by creating the Lafayette Park Conservancy, a group tasked with forming and implementing a master plan for this gem of the city.

Their website is a wealth of information:
Lafayette Park was set aside from the St. Louis Common in 1836 and dedicated in 1851 as one of the first public parks, and by far the largest of its era, in the City of St. Louis, Missouri. It is considered by many historians to be the oldest urban park west of the Mississippi. 
The late 19th century saw the heyday of Lafayette Park. Victorian visitors to the park enjoyed strolling, picnicking, cruising the main lake in Swan Boats, and listening to concerts at the Music Stand. A typical weekend saw daily crowds in the thousands and the Park House was established as a police station to ensure that order was maintained.
Throughout the first half of the 20th century Lafayette Park served primarily as a neighborhood park. Various park features were updated or converted to more modern usage. The West Lake was transformed in 1916 to a Lily Pond and then in the 1940s to a wading pool. In 1943 the Park House was converted to the grounds keeper's residence.
After World War II, the neighborhood along with the park fell into a prolonged period of decline. The West Lake was filled in, possibly during the Polio epidemic of the 1950s. The music stand was torn down in 1951, and by the late 1960s the Park House had fallen into disrepair and been boarded up.  
The park's first renaissance occurred in the 1970s, when Lafayette Square residents and the city, prompted at least in part by the upcoming United States bicentennial, began focusing on park restoration. The iron fence surrounding the park was repaired and partially restored, and residents mobilized to renovate and restore the Park House. In 1976, as part of the bicentennial celebration, the Park received as a gift from the people of France a second treasured sculpture by Houdon, a bust of the Marquis de Lafayette, which is displayed in the Park House.
The year 2001 marked not only the 150th anniversary of Lafayette Park's dedication, but the beginning of the current public effort to restore the park to its original grandeur. The Lafayette Park Conservancy, a non-profit organization dedicated to restoring and preserving the park and its historic legacy, was formed to raise funds and plan improvements. In 2003-2004, Lafayette Square residents, the City of St. Louis. the Conservancy and other interested parties joined together to create a Master Plan that guides park restoration and development.
No group of photos can fully depict how beautiful this park is in all four seasons.  Although, this is one of the most photographed parks in the city (along with Forest Park and Tower Grove Park) so there are beautiful professional photos to enjoy all over the web and elsewhere.  This is one of those parks that is meant for a stroll and that is truly the best way to take it in.

Well heck, where do you start?  I guess I'll say the homes that surround the park are outrageously cool.  Few cities have this kind of architecture...we almost lost this part of town to boarding houses and fires and the suburban vacuum.  Luckily some urban pioneers rooted down, chased out the negativity/haters and have a very, very special place.

 find the new construction...

Much of the fence and gates that surround the park are original.

 I'd love to see new cast iron gates on the northwest corner entrance

There are walking paths throughout the park.  Entering on the northwest corner, you can walk 40 yards and turn around and look north at the multi-purpose field used by, among others, a vintage baseball league.
The Saint Louis Perfectos are a Base Ball club playing by the rules and customs of the 1860's. It is the goal of the club to spread the game of Vintage Base Ball and to provide an entertaining and fun atmosphere for all. As a member club of the Greater St. Louis Base Ball Historical Society, players of all ages (over 18) and skill levels are welcome to join the club.

I photographed a game back in 2010:

opposite field

The south east side of the park has the beautifully restored and maintained Park House:

Per the Lafayette Park Conservancy website:
The Park House, built in 1867 for use as a police station, now serves as an office for the Lafayette Square Restoration Committee and a police sub-station for the City of St. Louis. It may also be rented for private events. (source)
There are a couple statues within the park, one commemorating Thomas Hart Benton, the other George Washington.

Dedicated in 1868 by Harriet Goodhue Hosmer, the first professional female sculptor, was the first public monument in the State of Missouri (source).  

Just one of our parks may have more history and significance than entire swaths of the staid suburbs...consider living amongst it.

The other statue is for our first president, George Washington:

Again from the LPC:
Erected in Lafayette Park in 1869, this statue is one of only six bronze castings made from the striking marble statue of George Washington that stands in the Virginia State Capitol. The original work was created from life by the renowned French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon in 1788 and is the only likeness for which Washington ever posed.
Then you have the playground complete with new water fountains and sculptures from the late great Bob Cassilly:

 Lafayette Park likes rules and trying to maintain peaceful settings

Kids also love climbing all over the three canons in the park just west of the playground.  

Here's the story from the LPC:
These ship's guns, relics of the Revolutionary War, were originally mounted on the 28-gun British frigate Actaeon. They lay underwater in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina from the time that ship was scuttled in 1776 during the Battle of Sullivan's Island until the late 19th century. At that time they were raised and purchased by a group of St. Louis veterans who donated them to Lafayette Park in 1897.
The neighborhood loves this park and they deserve accolades at maintaining it, and improving it and raising money for it...countless volunteers hours are required by an effort like this...cheers.  Nice parks just don't happen, they have to be embraced by the people who live around them.

Volunteers and private donors are largely responsible for the park's renaissance, but you can't discount the city's involvement.  They are forced to take care of this park due largely to urging and insistence from the hood, and do a good job with mowing, maintenance and the public building just recently received a new tile roof that looks amazing.  I wish there was an urbanist poker club in this place where I could drink whiskey and deal seven card stud with portable tube amp vinyl playing from the corner and natural breeze carrying the cigar smoke and laughing along with the wind:

Thanks park's dept for doing bare essentials

What next?  How about the stone urn from the 1870's:

Come back in Spring-Autumn and you'll see this beautifully landscaped by volunteers.

Lafayette Park is one of the most popular wedding photo places in St. Louis.  Among the spots chose are the Elizabeth Cook pavilion, the 3rd in this same spot.

And then you have the gorgeous, most serene section of the park (in my opinion) at the Rockery, built in 1866. One of two iron bridges remains as one was lost in the tornado of 1896, but volunteers have owned this and dedicated beautiful plantings and benches to this awesome space.

Come back in the early Spring or Autumn and this scene will blow you away.

If I could fix one thing, it'd be to help bring the 1876 Music Pavilion back to life.  It's been battered by time and the elements, destroyed by a tornado in 1896, rebuilt...but fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1951. Only the original base currently remains today:

There is a lake in the park with swans, geese, ducks, etc. and a replica swan house.  This is a popular resting and relaxation part of the park with perfectly situated benches to take in the birds.

This is a part of St. Louis that most city lovers use to validate their argument that we live in one of the most perfect, beautiful American cities in the Union.  Enjoy and be part of this special place.