Saturday, October 29, 2005

Urban Hiking, mostly on the Southside

Urban Hiking, mostly on the Southside

Great weather like we've had lately is an excellent time for urban hiking.

When you can integrate that hike into your commute to/from work, so much the better.

So, last night I walked from the downtown area to my house. Rather than heading down the more direct Tucker Blvd. viaduct, I decided to give the Busch Stadiums (both "old" and new) a look before the landscape changes forever. At least one security guard was patrolling the sidewalk across 7th, which I used. I guess after the Jack Buck bust was vandalized, they're a little antsy.

I continued down 7th, now relocated to where 8th Street should really be, under Highway 40 and around the bend through the vast wasteland of parking lots that is the south end of downtown. After passing under the railroad overpasses, I took a slightly illicit shortcut via the former MacArthur Bridge on-ramp - now used by Purina for parking - to cross Chouteau at roughly where 8th Street used to be.

After one block on Chouteau, I headed south on the bizarrely wide South 9th Street into the LaSalle Park neighborhood. This gateway is decidedly non-urban, thanks to the 1970s urban renewal efforts championed by (Ralston) Purina. One corner is marked by a Purina day care center in a very suburban-looking building; next to it is the rather brutalist Security Armed Car offices. Across the way is the back end of St Raymond's Maronite Catholic Cathedral.

Continuing down 9th we pass the infamous Lohr Distributing Company, where "On Strike" signs are still posted, and the back end of the LaSalle Park Village public housing complex. At Hickory, I cut through a rather sad looking little park, with no playground equipment and only a small little stage of sorts, probably rarely used; to the unkempt-looking S. 10th St. Pedestrian Mall, which forms the border between the rehabbed historic houses to the east and the public housing complex to the west.

The historic house blocks are, of course, quite attractive. For a detour, since the pedestrian mall is not particularly appealing, I went back over Morrison to 9th, then 9th to Park.

At the 10th St Mall and Park, is the meeting hall of the St. Louis Quakers. The address is currently 1001 Park Avenue. However, the building where they meet is a very old church at what was originally 1000 Rutger Street; this section of street, of course, no longer exists. Public records claim the church was built in 1860; it has been variously used as a Presbyterian church, a Presbyterian mission, and then as a Lutheran chapel. Presumably, the Society of Friends has occupied the building since sometime in the 1970s, with the 1001 Park address coming when a parking lot was added along Park, next door to the St Raymonds Apartments for senior citizens.

From Park, I headed south-by-southwest on 10th, Julia, Menard, Lafayette, 11th, and (unmarked by any street sign and with no houses remaining) Emmet St., roughly paralleling I-55, until Tucker at Emmet.

The rest of my walk home was via the decidedly less interesting and more industrial Gravois Avenue corridor, at least until my street, Oregon Ave. Ok, sure, there are a number of interesting buildings; but the traffic is so heavy and there are lots of turning movements, so when it's dark you can't really safely stop and look at the architecture very much. Nevertheless, I love the old Jefferson-Gravois Bank building (although Bank of America has filled-in the original name carved into the stone and closed off the old drive-thru inside the building); and of course St Francis de Sales Catholic Church.

This morning, meanwhile, I walked a very different route, from my house to the Grand MetroLink station. I took a very zig-zagging route from my house, via Oregon, Wyoming, Nebraska, Juniata, Pennsylvania, then diagonally across Gravois at the Penn/Arsenal/Gravois junction, and up Minnesota into Tower Grove East.

This section of TGE is a great example of the block-by-block nature of many St. Louis neighborhoods. Several blocks are quite rough indeed, including the section of Minnesota behind the long-closed Grant School (currently being renovated into senior citizen apartments). Other blocks are much, much more attractive and pleasant.

Thus I continued my zig-zagging, from Minnesota to Pestalozzi (past the Buying Group of St. Louis food co-op building), to Michigan, Halliday, Compton, Magnolia, Virginia, Sidney, and Louisiana, reaching Shenandoah next to Shenandoah Elementary School.

At Shenandoah, the zig-zagging ends, because Compton Heights very deliberately interrupts the street grid. So I just headed west along the north side of Shenandoah to Grand. Unfortunately, there is no marked crosswalk at Shenandoah and Grand on the north side of the intersection. The only crosswalk is on the other side of Shenandoah. Nevertheless, the new medians make it pretty easy to cross Grand there, when there's a break in the traffic anyway.

Remarkably, walking up the west side of Grand from Shenandoah to Shaw is pretty easy, because there are basically no cross streets! Sure, Russell still goes into the Shaw neighborhood for a block, but otherwise, they're all closed just slightly west of Grand. Shaw Blvd., of course, is open to traffic, but it's not particularly heavy.

The hard crossings come later, at the I-44 off ramp (AKA DeTonty Street) and on ramp (AKA Lafayette Avenue). Lafayette is probably the worst, with drivers turning left from NB Grand, right from SB Grand, or coming straight across from WB Lafayette itself. I'm really surprised there aren't more accidents there. But, eventually, you can dash across there.

After that, it's pretty easy. The next two streets, McRee and Blaine, are closed off in the Tiffany neighborhood. 'New' Park Avenue is not really high-traffic, and of course 'Sunshine Way' is not a street; nor even an entrance to Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital. That facility has turned its doors away from Grand entirely, towards its internal parking areas instead.

Meanwhile, where no hospital visitors coming by car would ever see it, in a small courtyard next to Grand close to Vista on the back side of Cardinal Glennon, is the statue of Christopher Harris, the 9-year-old boy killed in a gun battle between two drug dealers when used as a human shield by one of them, in the 4400 block of Gibson Avenue in Forest Park Southeast, during the bloody summer of 1991.

That statue, created from guns melted down that were sold to the Police Department during the early 1990s gun buyback program, was controversial. Originally, it was to have been placed in "Rainbow Park", a small playground on the same block where the shooting happened, at South Taylor and Gibson. Neighbors protested, so the Cardinal Glennon site was picked instead. It was dedicated, finally, in 1997 by then newly-elected Mayor Clarence Harmon.

Anyway, after noting that reminder of mortality, I continued north on Grand, past St Louis University Hospital which, also, has no entrance on Grand. The same is true of the SLU Anheuser-Busch Eye Institute further south. The entryways are only from side streets - Vista and Shaw, respectively. This despite both buildings clearly used to have grand entryways facing Grand, pun intended.

After crossing the one last treacherous intersection of Chouteau, and hiking along the never-ending and never-pleasant Grand viaduct, I reached the MetroLink station.

I rode MetroLink for only 6 minutes, then disembarked at Forest Park station. Again, I thought - the weather's nice, I'll just walk to my destination. That was even more pleasant, of course, because I got to stroll past all the big fancy houses on Lindell. I highly recommend strolling on the sidewalk by the houses; the dual-path system inside Forest Park paralleling Lindell is just too hectic for me. Besides, I'm not going in a circle; I'm trying to use walking as a means of transportation rather than purely just exercise.

Looks like the gargantuan mansion at Lindell and (what's left of) Des Peres that Mike Roberts spent most of the 1990s building, is up for sale by the current owner.

Address: 6023 Lindell Blvd.
Price: $2.5 Million

The place apparently cost $1.5 Million to build, give or take. Must be nice.

Anyway, then I headed across Skinker at the always-busy 'temporary' traffic signal, and across the sea of parking at WashU. Once I got into the core of the campus, I found the place surprisingly active for a Saturday noontime. I guess nice weather really brings people out - especially since it might not last much longer.

Meanwhile, I get to spend my afternoon in a computer lab. At least I get paid $10.50/hour to do it - and I can still blog and/or write papers at the same time. Not a bad gig really.

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