Saturday, February 15, 2014

Penrose Park

Penrose Park is 1 of 108 St. Louis parks located in the Penrose Neighborhood.  This 51.22 acre park was placed into ordinance in 1910 and is located just south of Interstate 70 at Kingshighway Boulevard:

This is a beautiful park that has seen some recent investment including a jogging path with exercise equipment, trees and a really nice pavilion with BBQ grills.

This park has a great feel and is split into an east and west section by Kingshighway Blvd. NE.  There is a building on the park property whose roof is in severe disrepair.  It would be great to see this beautiful building restored and available for park events.

The west side of the park is largely devoted to sports with basketball courts, ball fields, tennis courts (in unplayable condition) and handball courts with a nice pavilion to provide shade and comfort for players.

 cracks in tennis courts

 basketball court is in great condition

handball courts in the background of pavilion

There are playgrounds and new park benches from local donors:

It'd be good to re-do this area as the majority of structures have been destroyed/removed.

The homes that abut the eastern edge of the park are typical St. Louis classics and appear to be in good to great condition.

So this is a nice park, right?  But there's more.  Maybe the coolest thing about the park can be seen in the low lying area right in the northwestern edge of the park right by the Interstate.  That my friends is a velodrome.

A velodrome is a banked track used for cycling (both training and racing).

According to USA Cycling, there are 29 velodromes in 21 states and the District of Columbia.  We are lucky to have this structure and need to make it a destination place.

Here's some history on the track from the Penrose Park Velodrome website:
One of only 27 velodromes in the U.S., Penrose Park was built on land donated by the City of St. Louis in 1962 after the Forest Park Velodrome was dismantled to make room for Highway 40/64 on the south end of Forest Park. Designed by Olympic Cyclist and Schwinn Bicycle Designer, Frank Burlando, Penrose Park is an outdoor track measuring 1/5 mile and featuring 28 degree banking. Immediately after opening in 1962 in its current location, Penrose Park Velodrome hosted the prestigious U.S. National Track Cycling Championships. In the 1970’s, a sewer collapsed under one of the banked turns on the track. Multiple repair efforts were made with a more complete resurfacing finished in 1984 and again in 2005. The surface of Penrose Park Velodrome still retains some of blacktop bumps and undulations from its many years of use and repair, thus earning it the nickname “Mr. Bumpy Face.” The most recent resurrection of the track in 2005 was due to the organizational work of Bill Howard and the financial support of Michael Staenberg / THF Realty. There are current efforts by track supporters, participants and the City of St. Louis to rebuild the track at its existing location as an outdoor, concrete track to be completed by 2014-15. Please visit our “Support the Track” page for more info.

The immediate surroundings of the velodrome have huge potential as well.  There are weed trees and plants blocking the railroad tracks forming a southern wall.  This area could use some beautification and native plantings to shield the tracks and provide some interest to track users.

The velodrome is in a recessed area that I've never really noticed from the Interstate.  A sign providing visibility from Kingshighway and I-70 would be a big step in raising awareness of this unique structure.

If you want to follow the Penrose Park Velodrome activities, you can do so through Facebook  or the website:  Penrose Park Velodrome.

Congratulations to the cycling community who are working hard to bring this track back to life and make another place in St. Louis special once again.

And if you'd like to volunteer or make a donation to support resurfacing the track, click HERE.


  1. Hi Mark, WashU student here who reads your blog avidly. How about those brick swastikas under the windows in that last house photo? Very interesting reminder of our not so distant past. Glad to see the houses still standing.

  2. Chris,

    Good eye, but I'm not sure there's any connection with the past that I think you're talking about. The one on the left has the orientation adopted by the Nazi party, but the one on the right doesn't–it's the mirror image. Besides, the swastika has ancient origins that predate the Nazis by several thousand years. It's also just a relatively easy geometric shape to make out of bricks. I wouldn't read too much into it.

  3. The park of my childhood! This was near my grandmother's house and we played there all of the time. Matthew Dickey's Boys Club is nearby (if its still in operation).

  4. Oh, yeah, apologies Adam, I thought that comment might have come off as kind of vague -- I was referring to how the symbol was widely used in architecture (among other things) in the early 1900s, before it took on the association with Naziism. The little details that subtly indicate the age and historic legacy of these buildings and this city -- that's what I was trying to point out.