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Preparing Bellefontaine Cemetery For The Next 100 Years

Who doesn’t love Bellefontaine Cemetery? Bellefontaine’s narrative, a fascinating read, begins:

The story of Bellefontaine Cemetery begins in the early 19th Century when an international movement began to transform burial practice in America. Up until that time, the dead had been buried in churchyards, on family property, or in small vacant lots. As cities flourished, however, the land set aside for the dead grew increasingly valuable. When developers claimed these urban graveyards for the growth of cities, those interred there had to be moved elsewhere.

“The first interment at Bellefontaine took place on April 27, 1850” and the new cemetery was dedicated on May 16, 1850. In those days the main entrance was on the east side, facing an unpaved Broadway.

ABOVE: Entry to Bellefontaine Cemetery off W. Florissant Ave
ABOVE: Bellefontaine's original Broadway entrance, although these gates came later

In my 21+ years in St. Louis I’ve been to Bellefontaine many times, often taking out of town guests on a drive through the winding roads to see some of the notable structures. You’ve probably done the same thing.

ABOVE: Bellefontaine contains many beautiful mausoleum, such as the Wainwright Tomb, click image for more info on this structure

At the Compton Heights Home Tour this year I happened to meet Bellefontaine’s new landscape architect, Earen L. Hummel.

ABOVE: Bellefontaine Cemetery's Director of Landscape Design Earen L. Hummel reviews the master plan

Before I get into Hummel’s role I’d like to review what Bellefontaine is, and isn’t. The quotes below are from Bellefontaine’s FAQ page:

Bellefontaine does not have an owner – it is a non-profit, non-denominational cemetery. Our mission is to provide high quality service to people of all faiths; to preserve and protect the history and stories of our families; to protect and enhance the beauty of our landscape; and to ensure that the cemetery is well-cared for, far into the future.

The cemetery’s large endowment is professionally managed to ensure future financial needs are met:

Bellefontaine is very fortunate to have a large endowment that helps pay for the not insignificant costs of maintaining a 314 acre property that has many buildings and 14 miles of roads. 

While Bellefontaine contains important historical figures such as author William S. Burroughs, architect Theodore Link and brewing magnate Adolphus Busch, most of those interred are just regular folks like you and me.

Bellefontaine buries people of all faiths and walks of life – the cemetery was founded to serve all the citizens of St. Louis. In the mid-1800s, many cemeteries in St. Louis were faith based and buried only members of their congregation or others of the same faith. As the population grew exponentially, cemeteries were filled up. Others were sold to developers, eager for land in the expanding city. City leaders at the time conceived of Bellefontaine as a cemetery for everyone, large enough that it would have land available for the citizens of the city far into the future, and far enough away from the downtown that there would be no demand from developers for its land.

Note that it said “buries” in present tense — Bellefontaine is far from being full:

Bellefontaine still has over 100 acres of open land, which means that the cemetery will be available for interment for generations to come. In fact, we have so much land that we are planting some of it in prairie and woodland, which is beautiful to look at, and provides habitat for many birds and animals.

Who knew? Personal story, I knew and in the days before my stroke I called Bellefontaine to get plot information after discussing the with a friend about being buried in such a beautiful cemetery. The information came while I was comatose in intensive care.

Hummel gave me a personal tour of the cemetery, including the open spaces.

ABOVE: Some of the space available for burial today

Hummel was part of a consultant team that worked for a year on the master plan for the next 100 years.  After the team finished their work Bellefontaine’s board created a new position and hired Hummel to oversee the implementation of the new plan. It’s an exciting plan too!

More green options will be offered, though they’ve always permitted a simple green burial:

those who wish to minimize their environmental impact (and often reduce their costs too), unlike many cemeteries we do not require outer burial containers, often called vaults, which surround the casket. And if you wish burial in a simple pine coffin or even a shroud, that is fine with us too. We call this “traditional” green burial: it is what our forbearers did for hundreds of years.

Want to be greener yet?

As mentioned above, at Bellefontaine you do not need to be embalmed, have an outer burial container, or even a traditional coffin. Old-fashioned pine, wicker or other bio-degradable materials are perfectly acceptable. This is better for the earth, and can also significantly reduce your costs. We will also soon be offering even “greener” options in our woodland or prairie areas, such as in-ground scattering of cremated remains or burials with simple, natural monumentation.

Within a couple of years they hope to have areas that will be free of pesticides.

ABOVE: The ruins from an old service building will become a walled garden
One of several new prairie areas being created
ABOVE: Open land along Florissant Rd

I planned to include one image from the master plan but I couldn’t pick just one:

ABOVE: Artist rendering of future visitor's center off new entrance at Florissant & Shreve Ave
ABOVE: Planned trail network, click image to view larger version
ABOVE: Artist rendering of a stream side path
ABOVE: Artist rendering of a hillside trail

It’ll take all of 20 years to implement the master plan. I look forward to watching it happen.

– Steve Patterson


Excellent Urban Infill: North Sarah Apartments By McCormack Baron Salazar

It was by chance that I discovered the North Sarah Apartments under construction on May 11, 2012.   Photographing the Hodiamont ROW for a post last month (link) I saw new construction a block north and had to check it out.

ABOVE: Storefronts face Sarah at the new North Sarah Apartments development, click image for aerial in Google Maps

Developer McCormack Baron Salazar describes the project:

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.

Located in the North Central area of North St. Louis City, North Sarah is anchored by key St. Louis neighborhood assets on its edges, including Grand Center to the east, the Central West End to the west, and nearby Saint Louis University to the south and east. In the community’s core, a number of new civic, educational, commercial and residential developments have created nodes of reinvestment. However, despite this progress and potential, a number of blocks in the North Central district, including those targeted for the North Sarah development, remain heavily disinvested, preventing the neighborhood fabric from being “knit” back together as desired under the North Central Plan. The North Sarah development is a key connector in bridging current gaps in revitalization and catalyzing further reinvestment in the area.

The architecture of North Sarah celebrates the historic character of the community while featuring modern amenities and sustainable (“green” technology) to improve both the marketability and energy efficiency of the units. Specifically, the development is designed in accordance with Enterprise Green Communities criteria.

North Sarah also benefits from a creatively structured and capitalized Human Capital Planning and Implementation Program lead by Urban Strategies in collaboration with key community stake holders. The development will staff a community liaison that will assist with the coordination of supportive services and implementation of resident activities. (McCormack Baron Salazar)

Here are some of the pictures I took that day:

ABOVE: Streets have been narrowed at intersections, ramps are directly in the path of travel
ABOVE: Storefront spaces facing North Sarah, hopefully entrepreneurs can open shops and serve the needs of local residents
ABOVE: The buildings along North Sarah vary, you don’t see block after block of the same thing
ABOVE: The side streets (W. Belle Ave, C D Banks Ave, Finney Ave) have a nice feel to them
ABOVE: The buildings, facades and materials help give the appearance of private buildings rather than being part of the same apartment development
ABOVE: The spacing between buildings is good relative to the width of the buildings

The development isn’t perfect, someone thought it’d be a good idea to use the impervious concrete on some of the sidewalks on North Sarah even though it’s a rough surface. Time will tell how the project does but from a design perspective this is one of the best infill projects I’ve seen in the city. The inclusion of storefronts along North Sarah sets this apart from so many others that force residents to leave their neighborhood for goods & services.

Kudos to McCormack Baron Salazar and everyone involved for making this a reality!

– Steve Patterson


Then & Now: Racial Segregation

A century ago whites went to great lengths to keep out non-whites, including deed restrictions:

On February 16, 1911, thirty out of a total of thirty-nine owners of property fronting both sides of Labadie Avenue between Taylor Avenue and Cora Avenue in the city of St. Louis, signed an agreement, which was subsequently recorded, providing in part:

‘* * * the said property is hereby restricted to the use and occupancy for the term of Fifty (50) years from this date, so that it shall be a condition all the time and whether recited and referred to as ( sic) not in subsequent conveyances and shall attach to the land, as a condition precedent to the sale of the same, that hereafter no part of said property or any [334 U.S. 1 , 5] portion thereof shall be, for said term of Fifty-years, occupied by any person not of the Caucasian race, it being intended hereby to restrict the use of said property for said period of time against the occupancy as owners or tenants of any portion of said property for resident or other purpose by people of the Negro or Mongolian Race.’

The entire district described in the agreement included fifty-seven parcels of lamd. The thirty owners who signed the agreement held title to forty-seven parcels, including the particular parcel involved in this case. At the time the agreement was signed, five of the parcels in the district were owned by Negroes. One of those had been occupied by Negro families since 1882, nearly thirty years before the restrictive agreement was executed. The trial court found that owners of seven out of nine homes on the south side of Labadie Avenue, within the restrit ed district and ‘in the immediate vicinity’ of the premises in question, had failed to sign the restrictive agreement in 1911. At the time this action was brought, four of the premises were occupied by Negroes, and had been so occupied for periods ranging from twenty-three to sixty-three years. A fifth parcel had been occupied by Negroes until a year before this suit was instituted. (Source)

The above was part of the majority decision of the US Supreme Court on May 3, 1948 when they ruled it was unconstitutional for the state to enforce such deed restrictions.

ABOVE: This house at 4600 Labadie was at the center of the case Shelley v Kraemer. Click for map.

Today the situation is reversed, some African-Americans are trying hard to keep whites out of north St. Louis.

In March the BBC did a video report on the dividing line:

Delmar Boulevard, which spans the city from east to west, features million-dollar mansions directly to the south, and poverty-stricken areas to its north. What separates rich and poor is sometimes just one street block. (BBC)

I was recently told that whites shouldn’t be involved north of Delmar because it’s not their community. Whites that move north of Delmar are gentrifiers. North St. Louis is sparsely populated and and incomes are substantially less than south of Delmar.  Clearly more people with higher incomes are needed in north St. Louis to reduce this disparity.

When I was in real estate I had a middle-class African-American family looking to move from St. Louis County to the city but they made it clear to me — they didn’t want to live in the ghetto. I represented them in the purchase as  a fully renovated home in McKinley Heights. We did look at property in north St. Louis, but only for rental purposes, not for them.

Some see whites as a threat, gentrifiers that will cause rents and sale prices to go up.  Maybe, but more people with greater income will mean more jobs as businesses spring up. Some of the new entrepreneurs  could be current African-Americans.

My interest in St. Louis doesn’t stop at Delmar. My interest in the region doesn’t stop at the city limits. If a white person wants to live north of Delmar then go for it.  It was wrong last century for whites to attempt to exclude nonwhites and it’s wrong today for African-Americans to attempt to exclude whites from the same area.

I didn’t like being told to butt out of areas north of Delmar.

– Steve Patterson


Power Wheelchairs Aren’t Vehicles

I use a power wheelchair when I go out for a long “walk” or if I’m using mass transit. In doing so I stick to the sidewalks and crosswalks as best I can, I know this is safer for me. But others seem to think their chairs are vehicles. I’ve posted before about wheelchair users in the street. Recently I saw one in the street that had me and everyone on the bus in shock:

ABOVE: This guy came from Page Ave and went north on Kingshighway between the lanes
ABOVE: Close up we can see an oxygen tank on the chair

Really? Maybe he needs help understanding how to get around safely? He probably used to bicycle against traffic. I just don’t get it, I can’t think of a more dangerous place for him to be.  The sidewalk in that part of Kingshighway is fine for use.

– Steve Patterson



LED Street Lighting Is Impressive

Thursday evening I was waiting for the #4 MetroBus at Natural Bridge and Newstead (map) when I looked up and noticed the streetlights were LEDs.

ABOVE: Looking west on Natural Bridge from Newstead

I don’t know anything about the fixtures themselves or when they were installed but I like the coloring of the light — not yellow like the one old fixture still in front of the Julia Davis Library. Apparently these are part of a test program.


Per the above story a “fixture and bulb for LED lighting can cost more than $600 or five times as much as the city spend on a street light right now” but potentially cut our electric bill in half.

– Steve Patterson