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Poll: Thoughts on the former Sportsman’s Park

ABOVE: Grand & St. Louis Ave one block from the former Sportsman's Park

Sportsman’s Park had two addresses: 3623 Dodier St. (Cardinals) & 2911 N Grand Blvd (Browns). Yes, St. Louis’ two major league teams played at the same ballpark on North Grand until the Browns became the Baltimore Orioles in 1954.  The last game at the ballpark was played 45 years ago today, May 8, 1966. That day the Cardinals lost to the San Francisco Giants 10-5 (source).

Many in St. Louis enjoyed games from the Grand Stand for decades, others not as long:

[Dateline: May 4] 1944 – Blacks were allowed to buy grandstand seats for the first time in St. Louis history. St. Louis was the last of the major league clubs to integrate seating. Blacks had been restricted to the bleachers. (Source)

The last to integrate? Hmm, not surprised.

ABOVE: 1909 Sanborn map of Sportsman's Park

I personally feel it was a mistake to relocate what had been renamed Busch Stadium to a razed section of downtown (see Urban Renewal Destroyed St. Louis’ Early Chinatown, Hop Alley). Baseball was first played on this site in 1866! A field does remain as part of the Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club.  I wonder what Grand & St. Louis Ave would be like today if the Cardinals had remained on the site of Sportsman’s Park. Would it be a diverse & bustling neighborhood or would the surrounding neighborhoods have been razed for surface parking?

ABOVE: Sportsman's Park showing flats next to Grand Stand, click image for source

I realize the 1960s were a turbulent decade. The 8th Inning of Ken Burns’ Baseball series looked at this period. It starts with the razing of Ebbets Field, vacant after the Brooklyn Dodgers became the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Ballpark after ballpark was razed in this decade as baseball fought for fans, many interested in football.

The poll this week, upper right of blog, is about Sportsman’s Park.

– Steve Patterson


Happy 45th Birthday to the Mansion House Complex

Looking north on Memorial Drive from Pine
Looking north on Memorial Drive from Pine

Forty-five years ago today the three towers of the Mansion House complex on North 4th Street opened, representing the latest in urban planning in an era of Urban Renewal. Unfortunately, the architects didn’t read The Death and Life of Great American Cities by the late Jane Jacobs.

Center tower is set back behind fountain
Center tower is set back behind fountain

The buildings turn their back side to the Arch. Sure the towers have great views but sidewalk life was destroyed facing east.

ABOVE: looking south from Gentry’s Landing (north tower) on the promenade level

A 2nd floor outdoor “promenade” level was designed as a retail area removed from the street, the vision was people could leisurely stroll between all three towers. Ended up being too removed from regular pedestrians to succeed.

But the buildings have changed and evolved over the last 45 years. One example is at the corner of 4th & Pine, the lobby for the Crowne Plaza hotel.

Northeast corner of N 4th & Pine
Northeast corner of N 4th & Pine

This modern box is not original to the complex.  No, this corner was vastly different in 1966. Planners & architects at the time loved the notion of developments trying to incorporate everything. They knew they had destroyed blocks of authentic (but messy) urban life so they wanted to recreate it, just in an orderly fashion. So what was on this corner in 1966?

ABOVE: drawing of NE of N 4th & Pine from 1968 Sanborn map, courtesy of Landmarks Association

A filling station! The above Sanborn map from 1968 shows this, with a small structure at the corner. Interesting the drawing labeled Memorial Drive simply as “outer road.”

Thanks to Andrew Weil of Landmarks Association for finding & scanning this Sanborn map. Also. thanks to architects Fred Powers & Bill Bowersox of Powers Bowersox Associates, who told me of the former gas station.

– Steve Patterson



Parking Garage Dwarfs Urban Building

Macy's parking garage next to Charlie Gitto's on 6th Street

This view of Charlie Gitto’s with an big parking garage on the left and a surface parking lot on the right exemplifies everything that went wrong with urban planning. On this city block, only one other building dodged the wrecking ball.

– Steve Patterson


Poet Eugene Field Was Born 160 Years Ago, At Start Of Dred Scott Case

Eugene Field’s father filed the lawsuit to win freedom for slave Dred Scott.  Soon after (1850) his wife gave birth to a son, Eugene.  He was born at the family home at 634 South Broadway, now the Eugene Field House & Toy Museum.  Eugene Field went on to write children’s poetry in his short 45-year life.

ABOVE: The Eugene Field House stands alone -- the only structure on the block.
ABOVE: the brick sidewalk & shutters are very authentic
ABOVE: the brick sidewalk & shutters are very authentic
ABOVE: walled garden next to the Eugene Field House
ABOVE: walled garden next to the Eugene Field House

The house has a lush green garden to the north and south (above) surrounded by a brick wall.  Roswell Martin Field was an attorney so it is fitting they would live well.  But looking at the house today gives you a false picture of South Broadway in 1850. But before I go back let’s start with the present conditions.

ABOVE: 634 S. Broadway is shown in the center.  Image: Google Maps
ABOVE: 634 S. Broadway is shown in the center ("A"). Image: Google Maps

Of course the highways and ramps didn’t exist, nor did the acres of surface parking.  But neither did the lush walled garden you see today!

ABOVE: In 1908 a corner store was to the south and to the north more flats. Image: Sanborn Fire Insurance map via UMSL Digital Library
ABOVE: In 1908 a corner store was to the south and to the north more flats. Image: Sanborn Fire Insurance map via UMSL Digital Library

I don’t know the exact conditions in 1908 but I’d guess not much different.  City records indicate the house was built in 1845 – five years before Eugene Field was born. Very likely the area was all new at the time.  By the time the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map was created in 1908 the house was 63 years old  — equal to a house built in 1947 relative to today.

By 1958 all the other houses in the area had been replaced by industry and I-55 was built to the east.

ABOVE: 1958 aerial of 634 South Broadway

By 1971 the industrial buildings were gone and highway 40 was now in place.

So much has changed in St. Louis over the decades it is important to peel back the layers to see how the city has evolved  — devolved

– Steve Patterson


Growing Up In Sprawl

Our driveway was three cars wide by three deep, plus room for two more in the garage. We didn’t have sidewalks, when I was older I biked to stores — without a helmet. At times I got glimpses of older neighborhoods.  Our family doctor was located in an older commercial district just south of downtown Oklahoma City, known as Capitol Hill.   As a kid the area was likely in transition downward.  There were vacant department stores and storefronts but there was a clear grid of streets — with sidewalks.

ABOVE: Steve Patterson on the big wheel recieved on his 5th birthday
ABOVE: Steve Patterson on the big wheel received on his 5th birthday

My father would occasionally do carpentry work at our doctor’s house.  When he did I always wanted to tag along because our doctor lived in a big old house in the Heritage Hills neighborhood. When I’ve returned to Oklahoma City over the last 20 years I drive through these areas. They weren’t where I spent my childhood, but where I would escape to once I turned 16 and started driving. If a bus system existed I knew nothing of it.

I racked up a lot of miles for a high school kid with a new license, exploring areas that had long been written off or destroyed by Urban Renewal schemes. I preferred the remains of urbanism to the newness where I lived.

I’m curious why I desired a more urban environment? Most of my friends from high school have done as most people did and just locate in newer versions or sprawl further away from the center. Was it the used brick as the veneer on our frame house that got me curious about old brick buildings? The house next door was veneered with a pink brick made of concrete, it looked as bad as it sounds. Was it the fact I’m gay? I hadn’t read any manual on how to be gay.

Why some people have a strong need to break out of suburbia while others are quite happy fascinates me. My two older brothers were about 7 & 16 when they moved into our custom built new home, less than a year before I was born.  They had both experienced older homes before the move to the new home, in the new subdivision, near the new shopping center.  One has traveled the world with the Navy and he appreciates walkable urbanism. My other brother prefers drivable sprawl.

Does the urban gene skip the middle child?

– Steve Patterson