Carondelet Fire Parks

Building a New Bandstand

by Michael R. Allen

The Soulard Blues Band plays on the bandstand, summer 2010. Photograph by Tom Lampe.

Unfortunately, wood is both a common architectural material and highly combustible. These traits were apparent Wednesday when the beloved Carondelet Park bandstand, which was built after 1916, was destroyed by fire. All that remains of the bandstand are the concrete piers, ash and charred pieces of the historic structure. The bandstand was totally lost. Or was it?

The Parks Department is proposing that the structure quickly be replaced by a “fire resistant”” version of what was lost. The phrase “metal and fiberglass that looks like Victorian-style structures” even appeared in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article this week, followed by the notion that other wooden structures in Carondelet Park be coated with fire-proofing.

Certainly, the way forward is a dual look at the past and the future, but the Parks Department is looking the wrong ways. For starters, the lost bandstand built in St. Louis’ fruitful City Beautiful period and fifteen years after Queen Victoria’s death is far from a “Victorian” structure. The bandstand was an elegant, purposeful and picturesque structure set deliberately into Carondelet Park’s romantic landscape. The landscape was developed starting in 1876 following principles of landscape architecture that were indeed Victorian, but the bandstand came in the era of City Beautiful park planning and was a monument to St. Louis’ early 20th century development of public amenities and park improvements following the publication of our first Comprehensive Plan in 1907.

Thus the bandstand married the ideals of its time with those of earlier era. That is exactly what its replacement should do. A good architect will be able to join the setting in Carondelet Park with the needs of a 21st century bandstand as well as the aspirations of St. Louis today. The Parks Department should be looking for that good architect instead of rushing to build a replacement structure that would be hasty and anachronistic. Few people’s depiction of the modern character of this city would include the words “fiberglass” or “Victorian.”

As for fire-proofing other wooden structures, that is a troubling proposal. Coated wood may not burn easily, but it will trap moisture that will lack a way out. The parks department might find that flash fires are not as expensive or common a problem as slow rot of wooden structures coated with inappropriate and impermeable materials. After all, the Carondelet Park bandstand – may it rest in peace – stood strong for over 90 years.

This post appeared yesterday on

AIA Green Space JNEM Parks

AIA St. Louis Supports Design Competition for Arch Grounds

Last week the St. Louis Chapter of the American Institute of Architects sent the following letter to Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Superintendent Tom Bradley:

Dear Mr. Bradley,

On behalf of the architectural community, we wish to thank the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial for the opportunity to participate in St. Louis community open houses. We believe that the new management plan for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial presents new challenges, new possibilities and new dreams; an embodiment of the pioneer spirit seeking a better future.

Unlike other memorials preserving an historic event or an American leader(s), this national park is a tribute to change, a tribute to action and a tribute to energy. We can only image the spirit of the early pioneers as they began their westward trek for a better life. We must continue to learn from, and be inspired by, the bold spirit of the pioneers moving to a better life.
The late Architect Sam Mockbee of Auburn University (AIA Gold Honor recipient, 1995) charged architects with his mantra, Proceed and Be Bold in their work and in their lives. AIA St. Louis now forwards this mantra. We ask that the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Proceed and Be Bold.

To that end, then, we recommend that an international design competition be held to determine how the grounds can better connect to the city on the north, south, west and the river. A design competition will bring the park to the city, and the city to the park. A design competition can explore expanded programming. We found the proposals at the open houses only beginning to touch on solutions.

The Arch founds its future and its voice from an international design competition in 1947. From that competition, a wise jury selected Saarinen’s Gateway Arch. Saarinen’s program was never completed, and today the grounds and surrounding present new challenges that can be met with a design competition.

We understand that the Danforth Foundation may fund such a design competition and ultimately fund the award winning design. This opportunity must be seized with great vigor and with boldness by the entire St. Louis community. We look to the National Parks Services for bold leadership to meet this astounding opportunity.

Thank you again for the opportunity to opine. Please know that AIA St. Louis and its members welcome you to our community and we are hoping to develop a strong and collaborative relationship with you and your office.

Downtown Green Space JNEM Media Parks

Post-Dispatch Editorializes on Arch Grounds

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch today editorializes on the discussion about the Arch grounds in an oddly-named article entitled “Top Shelf.” What’s most interesting is that alongside the Danforth plans the editorial discusses the merit of Rick Bonasch’s plan for remaking Memorial Drive, with nods to Steve Patterson and myself (at least in the online version). Once more, grassroots urbanism trickles up. Usually, the ideas get the nod without their source named.

The best part about the editorial is that while welcoming Danforth’s leadership it also calls for inclusion of different vision: “In short, there’s still time for sharp thinkers and innovative ideas. But they must get into the process. And they should be welcomed.”

We must be doing something right.

Downtown Green Space JNEM Parks Planning Streets

Time to Revise Memorial Drive

In my latest commentary for KWMU, I join what is becoming a bandwagon call: “Time to Revise Memorial Drive”.

Kudos to Rick Bonasch, whose STL Rising blog post “The Case for a New Memorial Drive” served as my inspiration.

Historic Preservation Parks Penrose Preservation Board

Preservation Board Will Consider Demolition of House in Penrose Park

by Michael R. Allen

The house on June 20, 2005. Photographs by Michael R. Allen.
Built in 1902, the house at 4961 Penrose Avenue is located inside of Penrose Park and is slated for demolition in favor of road and park improvements. The design of this house is an uncommon blend of Queen Anne and Arts and Crafts tendencies; the slate jerkin-head roof and side entrance add variation to what otherwise may have been a common red-brick period house. The demise of the house is predicated on its supposed separation from the surrounding parts of the Penrose neighborhood, but it actually is less than a half-block from the nearest occupied house.

Although the house had been put into use at the residence of the Keeper of Penrose Park as early as 1906, enough of the surrounding neighborhood remains to give it a visual relationship to the neighborhood. Across the street is Scullin School, and to the southeast are mostly intact blocks of brick and frame houses and two-flats. In fact, with widespread demolition in north city, a passer-by would likely assume that the space between this house and the next one to the south are simply vacant lots produced by demolition. This is not far from the truth — houses did stand there, forming a street wall in which this house was located. The cleared lots and this house became part of park, though, which seems to be making the difference in the Board of Public Service’s drive to tear it down.

Road improvements to nearby Kingshighway are in progress and did not entail demolition, although the work is creating a road between this house and others on its side of the street. A planned amphitheater on this site could be re-designed to let the house stand.

Perhaps when the city’s last park-keeper moved out in the 1980s, the city should have returned the house to the neighborhood by selling it. The time is not too late for the city to make the right move now. If the house does not sell, perhaps some park-related function could be found for the house. Park houses are a valued part of south side city parks, and the city does not push to demolish them.

Consideration of the Board of Public Service’s demolition application by the Preservation Board in May 2006 led to a vote in favor of a one-month deferral. Staff from the Cultural Resources Office recommended approval of the demolition on the condition that documentation be made. This position stemmed from the seeming hopelessness of trying to save a building supposedly isolated and in the way of public works projects. However, memebers of the Preservation Board led by Luis Porrello seemed posed to deny the permit until member Richard Callow moved to defer a vote one month, to the June 2006 meeting. Callow wanted staff to photograph the interior so that the board could more thoroughly assess the potential for reuse.


At its June 2006 meeting, the Preservation Board again heard the matter. A staff member from the Board of Public Service attended, waived his right to have a quorum hear the matter, and then proceeded to merely endorse the staff recommendation to approve demolition instead of actually providing testimony. Michael Allen, Steve Patterson and Claire Nowak-Boyd provided testimony on the re-use potential of the building as a cultural centerpiece of Penrose Park. Commissioners John Burse, Richard Callow and Anthony Robinson all voted to deny the permit.

View to the southeast down Penrose Avenue.

Green Space Northside Regeneration Parks

A Bigger Picture

by Michael R. Allen

While I do not approve of the lease of 12 acres of Forest Park by behemoth BJC HealthCare, I do not oppose the possibility that the lease funds would not be exclusively for the upkeep of Forest Park. Certainly, our city’s largest park deserves a guaranteed future of maintenance, but what about Penrose Park or Carondelet Park? Or, for that matter, Jackson Park or Sister Marie Charles Park? The city has 105 parks, all with maintenance needs. Some of these parks, like Fairgrounds Park on the northside, have considerable needs for the sort of rejuvenation that Forest Park has received. They are not as likely to receive the attention that Forest Park or Tower Grove Park have received, and without an infusion of funds may end up in serious disrepair. (Some would argue that this is already the case with a few of the city’s parks.)

The loss of part of Forest Park, no matter how disconnected it appears from a motorist’s perspective, is an affront to the Forest Park Master Plan. Now that the Planning Commission has approved the lease, I suppose that it’s a done deal barring an uprising. This impacts the lives of people in Forest Park Southeast and the Central West End, who will lose tennis courts and a playground. Replacing these facilities before they are demolished needs to happen. Elected officials should try to getting more money each year than what is currently proposed . If BJC is getting its way, make it pay! Some talk of “fair market value” but since BJC is getting public land, the rules of the real estate market don’t apply. The fair price is one that is democratically decided by all citizens through their government.

However, just as all citizens have a stake in Forest Park they have a stake in the other city parks. With the city’s revenue low, city residents need to work together to make sure that no one loses their neighborhood park or its quality. That many people don’t know or care about their stake in other parks should be changed. If the lease money gets distributed to the entire city parks system, that would be a great step toward rejuvenating all of the city’s parks and getting people to think about their future, which is as important as that of Forest Park.

(Incidentally, BJC is chaired by Paul McKee, whose name has appeared in this blog before.)

Demolition Downtown Parks

Bleeding Red

by Michael R. Allen

Some people look at the red-dyed water in downtown’s fountains this week and see the color of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, currently ending its last season is lovely old Busch Stadium.

Others swear that the red in the fountains comes from deep within the city, and that it may be the blood of the wrecked buildings that once stood where the fountains now jet. Does that red water in the US Bank plaza at Seventh and Locust not look like the life-stuff of the fallen Ambassador Building?