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Design for Lucas Park Unveiled 110 Years Ago Today

March 26, 2018 Featured, History/Preservation, Parks No Comments

It was one hundred ten years ago that St. Louis first saw plans for the Lucas Park sunken garden that sorta remains today: From STL250:

This Day in St. Louis History, March 26, 1908:
Plans unveiled for Lucas Park

North of the proposed Central Public Library, plans were unveiled for a “sunken garden” of rich green foliage. The site, along with the site of the Central Library, had formerly been occupied by the massive St. Louis Exposition and Music Hall, which was the premiere space for large scale events in St. Louis from 1883-1907. It had hosted the St. Louis Symphony, three national nominating conventions, and was one of he first buildings in the United States to have electric lights. When it was razed, the entire site had been left below ground and the idea for a sunken park space was developed. Lucas Park still occupies this space, just north of the Central Library at Olive Street between 13th and 14th Streets.

“This photo shows Lucas Park as seen in 1920, with Christ Church Cathedral and the rear of the St. Louis Public Library to the right. The large sign that says “Velvet” is now the site of the curving Shell Building. Missouri History Museum Archives. Swekosky Collection.”

 

The 1908 plans were not the first public park on the site, from an old city website I saved:

Lucas Garden was the site of a brick house built by Judge Lucas in 1820 facing the present St. Charles Street or King’s Road, as it was called. There is still a flowing spring in the Public Library basement that was the water supply for the Judge’s home.

“Desirous of contributing to the ornament and health of the City of St. Louis and at the same time to establish a permanent monument to the memory of his ancestor (father) the late Honorable John B. C. Lucas, in the shape of a public square bearing his name,” reads the deed signed by James H. and Marie E. Lucas on March 24, 1857, giving the block of land immediately north of the St. Louis Public Library to St. Louisians. The deed states further that, “This conveyance is however made with the express condition, to wit: that said public square shall forever be maintained as a public promenade for the inhabitants of the City of St. Louis.”

On the same day in 1857 that he signed the deed on Lucas Garden, James H. Lucas sold the block where the Public Library now stands to the city for the sum of $95,000.

In 1859, a board of improvement for the park was created and its development started.

Its layout caused Locust Street to be closed at 13th and the park was given an asymmetrical plan with a bandstand near the foot of Lucas Place. Sale of the buildings at the southwest corner of the park was authorized by Ordinance in 1872. From the time of the first appropriation in 1858 to 1877, $41,465 was spent on it.

The entire 6.25 acres was named Missouri Park and provided popular downtown breathing space until the erection of the St. Louis Exposition and Music Hall in 1883. Licensed to a private corporation for a period of 50 years, the ground was restored to use as a park in 1907 and designs for the Italian Renaissance inspired library building were drawn up by the famous architect Cass Gilbert. The library was completed in 1912.

Locust Street was reopened behind the Library from 13th to 14th Streets and the present sunken garden with its fountain was developed. (source)

The 1875 Compton & Dry map shows the park 8 years before the St. Louis Exposition and Music Hall was built on the block.

 

Since the formal 1908 plan the park has retained the original feel, but lost considerable detail.

1960, source unknown

For example, the reflecting pool & fountain were recently filled in.

Lucas Park March 2014

Hopefully we’ll eventually put back lost details like the center fountain, I’m not holding my breath though…

— Steve Patterson

 

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