Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Chambers Park

Chambers Park is a 6.31 acres park in the near north St. Louis neighborhood of JeffVanderLou.  It was dedicated in 1966 and is located between School Street, Cardinal, Franklin and Compton Avenues.



The park has been named in honor of the late Jordan W. Chambers (1896-1962), a prominent black civic leader.  
Chambers was active in politics for many years. He worked in Ward 19 to organize precinct captains to ensure that all in his ward got out to vote. He organized the Young Democratic Club. Chambers owned the Peoples Undertaking Company in St. Louis--his political headquarters were next door. He was elected Constable and Democratic Committeeman of the 19th Ward in 1963, making the first Black Committeeman in St. Louis. He worked to get the Black vote for Harry S. Truman. Chambers worked tirelessly for better jobs for Blacks & was instrumental in the integration of the Circuit Court & the St. Louis Housing Authority. He owned Club Riviera--a meeting place for many big name stars and prominent politicians. He never retired from politics or civil rights work and when he died, Governor John Dalton gave the eulogy. President Kennedy and Vice-President Johnson sent telegrams of condolence. (bio by: Connie Nisinger)
Jordan W. Chambers was laid to rest in the small suburban town of Normandy, MO at St. Peters Cemetery.



By the way, I love the Find A Grave website.  It has quality bios and pictures.  A fantastic resource while doing these park and school profiles.

Did Chambers own the same Club Riviera once at 4460 Delmar where legend has it that Miles Davis first heard bebop played?
It was at Club Riviera in St. Louis that Miles heard Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie play, the two most talked-about jazz musicians at the time with their revolutionary bebop style. He had heard their recordings, knew every note and had come to idolise “Diz and Bird”. During the session he was even invited to join the band as third trumpeter, an experience which showed him the light, now destined to move on and develop his own music-making. (source)
The bummer is, most of the legendary jazz and nightclubs of the past are long gone as no one recognized the importance of these places before they disappeared just like nothing important happened here.  Here's the current street view of 4460 Delmar (empty lot):


Fascinated by Jordan W. Chambers, I started reading more.  This entry from Jordan Chambers: Black Politician and Boss by Mary Welek published in The Journal of Negro History Vol. 57, No. 4 (Oct., 1972), pp. 352-369 was very interesting and gives another perspective on local black leadership views on the potential negative implications of blacks integrating with whites:


Anti-integration with whites to maintain black voting power?  Very interesting approach.  I guess history played out in Chamber's favor because the entire northern half of the city is nearly 100% black; only mid and south neighborhoods are integrated in modern St. Louis.  Anyhow, he has a park named after him.




The park is surrounded by new homes to the west, an old church and several empty lots, shuttered former churches, etc.  




The park is the first I've visited with a swimming pool.  It appeared to be in really nice condition and it was good to see.  Moms with kids in tow ranging from little ones to teens were present cooling off on a typically scorching July St. Louis day.  There was a lifeguard and security guard on duty and this pool is free to all St. Louis residents. 






There is also a playground, tennis courts (covered in spent firework trash and broken glass bottles), obviously not used.  Basketball courts (in great condition) and some newish lighting (some broken out/destroyed).







Softball fields were in poor to unusable condition; there is evidence of benches recently being destroyed by park goers.






There is a really nice pavilion, which was being used for a grill-out upon my visit.  Unlike most parks, folks drive their cars into the park center and set up PA speakers and blare music throughout the park (whether you like their selections or not).  I'm not gonna directly trash people I meet in parks, but I had a couple bad experiences here.  Let me just say racism is alive and kicking.  And, on the north side it is worn on sleeve and vocalized without filters or decency.  For what it is worth, I have to be fair and say this kind of thing is the exception and not the rule.  Most of the time, people are civil, curious, courteous or hilariously protective when they see a white guy with a camera in north city.




Chambers Park and JeffVanderLou in general have a long way to go until these areas could ever be considered integrated.  Maybe history says that is by design.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy reading all of your blog. I think the park project is a great idea! I'm sorry you experienced some rudeness on your visit to this park. However, I think it is so important that racism, racial division is addressed when talking about our city. It is really the greatest impediment to creating a better, whole city. I would love to see you write a post about that topic.