Sunday, June 29, 2014

Turner Park

Turner Park is 1 of 108 St. Louis parks.  This 1.4 acre park, placed into ordinance in 1937, is located just southwest of the intersection of C.D. Banks Avenue and N. Sarah Street in the Vandeventer neighborhood.

The park was named after J. Milton Turner a leader in the areas of African American education, civil rights, and foreign diplomacy during the decades after the Civil War.

Here's a summary of Turners life from the State Historical Society of Missouri:
Born into slavery in St. Louis County in either 1839 or 1840, James Milton Turner and his mother, Hannah, were freed in 1843. His father, John Turner, was a free black who shoed horses. During the late 1840s and early 1850s, young James was educated in secret schools in the St. Louis area. An 1847 Missouri law prohibited teaching blacks.
After attending Oberlin College in Ohio, Turner returned to St. Louis in the late 1850s. He worked as a porter until the Civil War began. During the conflict, he acted as a body servant for Madison Miller, a Union colonel. 
Turner quickly gained prominence as a black politician after the war ended, becoming known for his speaking ability. He became involved in numerous activities to advance the rights of African Americans in Missouri and the nation. He worked for the Missouri Department of Education, establishing over thirty new schools throughout the state for African Americans. He also helped gain support for Lincoln Institute (now Lincoln University). 
In 1871 President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Turner as the U.S. minister to Liberia, making him the first African American to hold that position. Established in 1820, Liberia was founded by free blacks and former slaves from the United States. While serving there, Turner became convinced that African Americans should not return to Africa in great numbers. He did not believe they would be able to adapt to the climate. His views were not popular with other blacks. 
After returning from Liberia in 1878, Turner’s influence continued to decline. Like many other black leaders of the time, his status as an educated black alienated him from lower-class African Americans. Despite his loss of power, Turner remained committed to advancing black causes and seeking equality with whites. He helped provide relief for blacks fleeing the South. Later he became an advocate for former black slaves of the Cherokee who had land and oil claims in the Oklahoma Indian Territory. 
About a month after being injured in a tank-car explosion, James Milton Turner died from blood poisoning on November 1, 1915, in Ardmore, Oklahoma. While Turner had not been in the public light for a number of years, many African Americans remembered the important contributions he had made to advance racial equality. Large crowds attended his funeral in St. Louis to pay respect. A junior high school and an office building near St. Louis in Kirkwood, Missouri, are named in honor of him. (source)
This park, not unlike the rest of Vandeventer has seen better days.  But, the future could be very, very bright.  This part of North City could be brimming with activity simply due to its location near Grand Center and the Central West End.  Turner Playground has that most important asset in marketing and real estate:  "location, location, location".  Turner Playground sits right on the outskirts of a recently blossoming part of town.  The nearby North Sarah Apartments built by McCormack Baron Salazar:
North Sarah, a multi-family, mixed-use development, consists of 120 mixed-income rental units in garden apartments, townhouses, three mixed-use buildings (approx. 7,000 SF of commercial/retail space) and a fourth mixed-use building that includes management/community space (approx. 4,900 SF). This development represents a critical component of the North Central Redevelopment Plan that was developed over several years and completed in 2000 by the City of St. Louis, community stakeholders and residents.
Take a look at how well these fit in:

An honest assessment of the retail spaces shows very little occupancy to date.  However, one of the bright spots is Diversity Gallery, a boutique/salon, that moved from the Delmar Loop to occupy a storefront in North Sarah.  It was quite active upon my visit.

The original homes surrounding this fantastic new development range from falling down to fully rehab-ready, to just needing some TLC.

The park itself needs some attention and investment; but, the size and overall park layout is ripe to become a positive space helping to activate this part of town.

The bones are there with a charming stone bathroom house, playground and mid-Century pavilion.

I truly hope the community embraces the park and gets volunteer groups and civic money to help the park bounce back from those who sought out to destroy it and make it a negative space.  Gang tags:

Its really easy to do.  Tear down the fence.  Plant trees for shade.  Get rid of the softball field (ever see kids playing softball?).  Poll the neighborhood on what they want here.  I bet it is not a concrete volleyball court, or horseshoe pit or softball field...all of which are long gone anyhow.  Get a masterplan and run with it.  Turner Playground could be the impetus toward making this part of town even more livable and dignified.

 run down softball field

former volleyball court???

                                         former horseshoe pit???

I hope the neighbors make Turner Park a source of pride in the coming years.

I anyone comes across this who is truly interested in making Turner Park as asset to Vandeventer, feel free to contact me.  I have experience in working in a park that has similar issues.  I would be happy to help.

Mark Groth:  groth_stl@hotmail

Friday, June 27, 2014

Parkland Park

Parkland Park is 1 of 108 St. Louis parks.  Located at the intersection of Hamilton and Maple Avenues in the West End Neighborhood, not far from the city/county border.

This 2.35 acre park was placed into ordinance in 1968 and it totally has the feel of a late 60's early 70's park.  The park is across Hamilton Avenue from a massive surface parking lot formerly serving the shuttered 1960's era Cook Elementary school, now occupied by West End Mount Carmel Community Services.  This school was closed in 2004 leaving another gap in an increasingly abandoned part of the city.

The neighborhood was built with beauty in mind, and some of the homes are holding on and being maintained.  Others are not.  The homes that have not been demo'd on Parkland Place, overlooking this park, are beautiful and if the neighbors and community have the desire, drive and initiative, this can be a really nice park setting.  But that will take work and commitment, something not evident in the park today.

Sadly, the park is another example of user abused and community and the city/parks dept. abandonment.  It is falling apart.

I hate being a messenger of bad news and photos, but I invite you to take a visit to the park and come away with a different conclusion.

The 1960s elements of the park include 2 cannons and somewhat "fort-like" concrete walls that create a private, fortified feel at ground level, and double as a place for kids to walk along the tops of the walls.

These are in really bad shape and are structurally degrading.

There is a modern playground too, this one in pretty good shape, but the park goers have destroyed the benches and no one has taken it upon themselves to get them repaired.

A park usually reflects the condition of the neighborhood, Parkland Park is no exception.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Taylor Park

Taylor Park is 1 of 108 St. Louis parks.  The city website claims the park is 0.03 acres and was placed into ordinance in 2008 and that this is in CWE and Forest Park Southeast.  It is not in Forest Park Southeast and I doubt it is 0.03 acres.  The park is actually on Taylor Avenue between Lindell Boulevard and Maryland Avenue in the city's Central West End neighborhood:

This is one of the city's newest parks.

Previously it was a grass field.  Per a 2010 article by Sarah Fenske in the Riverfront Times, Taylor Park was formerly the CWE Dog Park.  The city obtained development rights of the site as part of a recent deal that allowed Barnes Jewish Hospital to take over Hudlin Park, which was technically part of Forest Park, but located across Kingshighway Boulevard to the east.  You may remember the park that included tennis courts and playground equipment. (source)

Per Niki Dwyer's "Niki's Central West End Guide" blog, construction started in 2010:
When budgetary constraints forced reconsideration of the design originally intended for the site, Bowood Farms was enlisted to collaborate with the Parks Department and the Board of Public Service on developing a new, simpler plan that could be constructed this year within the budget. 
The result is a heavily landscaped urban oasis, intended to offer a peaceful refuge for the enjoyment of residents and visitors of all ages, in all seasons, individually and in groups.

Niki's Central West End Guide

As depicted on the site plan shown above, the new park will be a fenced "courtyard" surfaced in natural stone and enclosed by graduated banks of trees and shrubs. Additional features will include a multi-tiered fountain at the center, surmounted by an impressive dome-shaped iron trellis. Plans also call for a meditative labyrinth to be etched into the surface of the stone, and for benches, chairs and tables to be located throughout the space. There will be provision for bicycles and strollers, and soft lighting for nighttime aesthetics and safety.
Lighting is by Randy Burkett Lighting Design, the firm responsible for lighting the Art Museum, the Arch and Citygarden. Gateway Contracting was the General Contractor. (source)
The park really delivers on being a beautiful, peaceful, private space just off the sidewalk of a very busy area.  

The park's setting is an urban pocket park in every sense of the word.  Buildings of various sizes and eras frame this amazing spot.

The natural pavers are beautiful and have a labyrinth pattern engraved to form a path to walk the park's interior:

Site construction photo Sarah Fenske, Riverfront Times, 2010

There is a sign describing the intent of the labyrinth design within:

It reads:

"Engraved into this pavement is a single-path labyrinth pattern.  Follow the path to the center and out again.  You may walk the labyrinth as a form of meditation or prayer, to express an intent, to spur creativity, to seek guidance and for many other reasons.  Traditionally, labyrinth walking encompasses three steps: 

Releasing: walking in, shedding unwanted thoughts and feelings
Receiving:  sitting in the center, open to new possibilities
Returning:  going back into your life, perhaps a bit changed from having walked a labyrinth"

The center has a tiered fountain.

There are benches and metal picnic tables on the outside of the round courtyard.

The tall hedges provide privacy and peace from the bustling streets and densely populated neighborhood.  The entire space is surrounded by a small metal fence, and there are stations for storing bikes and strollers for visitors.

Some mourned the loss of the dog park and grassy field.  I personally think it complements the high-end neighborhood quite nicely.  Even the sidewalk on the western edge of Taylor Park is fancy, with paver stones and landscape buffering park goers from the busy street.