Monday, October 17, 2005

Remembering the #96 Walnut Park Bus

Remembering the #96 Walnut Park Bus

Back in 2001, Bi-State Development Agency (now DBA Metro) eliminated a whole bunch of bus routes, many of which I mentioned in a previous post.

One of those I remember in particular was the #96 Walnut Park, which ran about every 45 minutes - and often late - through a variety of neighborhoods in north St. Louis City.

It was actually a pretty old bus line; according to one history, the #96 Walnut Park started out as the People's Motorbus Company #15 route, on November 30, 1924. The route number was changed to 96 on February 18, 1934 after St. Louis Public Service Company, the main streetcar and bus company in the city, bought out People's.

After 77 years, the #96 Walnut Park disappeared on October 1, 2001. Because of community protest, a small portion of the route was retained as the #195 Carter Shuttle.

When I used it occasionally in the 1995 to 1997 period, the #96 Walnut Park was still a pretty busy route, especially during the 3 PM to 6 PM weekday time frame. Its outer terminus was Northland Shopping Center. Within Jennings, the route then traveled southeast on West Florissant Avenue, then south on Jennings Station Road. Both those major streets still have much more frequent bus service via the #74 Florissant and #16 City Limits routes.

The #96 then made a rather hazardous turn east onto Lillian Avenue, a residential street 1/2 block north of I-70 in Jennings and Walnut Park West. At Riverview Blvd., the route turned south, to pass under I-70 (on eastbound trips) and onto eastbound Bircher Blvd.

Bircher, however, is pretty much an I-70 frontage road, so the only way to access the eastbound #96 from the Walnut Park East and Mark Twain neighborhoods was via the pedestrian overpass near Thrush Avenue, or via the Union Blvd. and Kingshighway Blvd. overpasses. The #41 Lee provided and still provides much more convenient service to the interior of the neighborhoods, currently via Lillian, Emerson, and Thekla.

At Kingshighway, the #96 turned south across the viaduct on Kingshighway, then turned east onto Lee Avenue, entering the Penrose neighborhood. This is where the current, very limited service #195 Carter Shuttle route begins. From there, it followed Lee (where the #41 Lee, of course, also operates) one block to Euclid, heading north on Euclid until its terminus at Bircher Avenue.

It turned east again onto this eastern section of Bircher, but only for one block; then jogging via Shreve to eastbound Carter Avenue. It provided service along Carter in the rather hilly northern portion of the Penrose neighborhood, with a major stop at North Newstead Avenue, the Prince Hall Family Support Center.

That's where I usually caught the #96 eastbound. I was a member of the City of St. Louis Mayor's Youth Advisory Board from November 1995 to May 1997. At that time, the (now defunct) City of St. Louis Office of Youth Development which advised the board (headed by Ms. Jamala Rogers) had its office at Prince Hall.

The #96 continued east on Carter; the #195 that operates today does not, but instead heads up to the bus transfer center at North Broadway and East Taylor, also known as the North Broadway Loop.

The #96 served a pretty dense residential area in the O'Fallon Park neighborhood, up until about Carter at Warne Ave. Incidentally, when I was on jury duty a couple years ago, I was the foreperson in a civil case involving a two-car accident at the four-way stop at Carter and Warne. So, I was actually a little familiar with the location.

East of Warne, in the Fairgrounds Park neighborhood, there are a lot of vacant lots along Carter, and the route is only one block south of the more frequent #74 Florissant on West Florissant/North Florissant Ave.

The stop at Grand and Carter was usually pretty well-used, since at Grand and Carter / Grand and North Florissant there's a shopping center, which then contained an Aldi and the Grace Hill Water Tower Health Center. The Aldi has since moved to a new building at Grand and Natural Bridge; I think there might be a Family Dollar there now. Across the street is the North Grand branch of National City Bank (at that time, Allegiant Bank; and originally North St. Louis Trust Co.).

The #96 continued east on Carter, very close to North Florissant, until running into it at the awkward intersection also shared by Grove Street and Ferry Street. Here is located the now-closed Eliot Elementary School, 4242 Grove St., built in 1898 as the first of the St. Louis Public Schools buildings designed by renowed architect William B. Ittner.

At this awkward corner, the #96 turned northeast onto Ferry Street in Hyde Park. This narrow residential street goes uphill pretty steeply. I remember MSD was doing some sewer rebuilding at the time which made it nearly impossible for the bus to pass through. After four blocks on Ferry, the bus turned again, southeastwardly, onto Blair Avenue. The section on Blair Avenue used to also have evening service via the #74 Florissant, since the #96 didn't run very late. That occasional service has also been dropped from the #74 Florissant. Thus, there is no longer any bus service into the historic core of the Hyde Park neighborhood; now it's only along North Florissant.

On Blair, the #96 passed the little-known Windsor Park, Newhouse Ave with Friedens Haus one block west (I think the last time I rode the #96 was in 2000 on a trip to Friedens Haus), and the neighborhood's namesake, Hyde Park itself.

The #96 continued south on Blair all the way into Old North St. Louis. At Warren Street, I believe, adjacent to the 14th Street Mall, it jogged east toward 13th, where it would usually pick up several workers from the Grace Hill headquarters. Then it headed south on 13th Street, a corridor now served by the #30 Soulard. Unlike the #30 Soulard, however, I think it jogged again, taking North Market with its anachronistic grassy median for one block east to Hadley; then passing Webster Middle School on Hadley, turning east again for one block to Madison Street, and then picking up N. 11th Street (another I-70 outer road).

I believe it then passed under the old elevated interurban streetcar tracks near I-70 and Tyler Street, and instead of turning south onto 11th, continued southeast until 10th Street. Then, the route would have followed 10th Street south all the way to Cole Street, passing Cochran Gardens public housing and Patrick Henry Elementary School.

At Cole, the route started its downtown loop, which was probably something like Cole, Tucker, Clark, 9th, exiting downtown via N. 9th St.

Often, I would get off the #96 on Tucker at the stop between Olive and Pine, transferring to the #17 Oakville Express (now the #240x), for the second leg of my trip home, all the way out to Telegraph Road.

I'm sure very few other people made that transfer! But, for me, it was very convenient. On occasion, it even happened the Oakville Express came right behind the #96! No crossing a street or walking necessary.

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