Monday, September 2, 2013

Fairground Park

Fairground Park is 1 of 108 parks in St. Louis.  It makes up 131.46 acres of the total 2,956 acres of park land.


Established in 1908, the park borders the Fairground Park Neighborhood, the Greater Ville, O'Fallon and Jeff Vanderlou.

The park is bound by Natural Bridge Avenue to the south, N. Grand Boulevard to the east, Fair Avenue to the West and Kossuth Avenue to the north.  Prairie Avenue also goes through the park:


From the city website:
"In 1855, a group of public spirited citizens decided to form an association of agricultural and mechanical interests and thus, founded the "St. Louis Agricultural and Mechanical Association". It was decided to hold an annual fair beginning in 1856. Prominent citizens founded the venture which was not intended to pay dividends, all profits going to expand and beautify the enterpriseThe fair was an immediate success and soon became noted all over the country. It was, in reality, a gigantic country fair. The first buildings erected were the amphitheater, mechanical hall and agricultural hall. In addition to the exposition halls, a race course, grandstand and jockey club were built. During the hay day of the racetrack, some of the finest racing horses in the country appeared. 
The last official fair was held in 1902 after which it was abandoned while preparations were under way for the opening of the "World's Fair"."
More from wikipedia:
Fairground Park is a municipal park in St. Louis, Missouri, that opened in 1908. It was originally a privately owned facility, used by the St. Louis Agricultural and Mechanical Association for the St. Louis Exposition from 1856 through 1902, though interrupted by the Civil War when the Fairgrounds were used as a Union encampment known as Benton Barracks. The annual exposition ceased in 1902 as preparations for the 1904 World's Fair began.  Another blow to the fair's revival after 1904 was the abolition of horse racing in Missouri in 1905.
In 1908, after a protracted political debate, the abandoned 132-acre (0.53 km2) fairground was purchased from the association for park use by St. Louis for $700,000. The park was dedicated on October 9, 1909. 
All of the former fair structures and zoo buildings were removed except the bear pits of the old zoo and the amphitheater. In 1912, the amphitheater was removed and replaced by the city's first municipal swimming pool, then said to be the world's largest. This was replaced by a new pool in 1958 as part of the 1955 bond issue program, which also provided lighted ball diamonds and hard surface tennis courts.
Fairground Park is the home of the first municipal swimming pool in St. Louis opened in 1912.  In 1949 the pool was opened to black folks in a response from a Federal court procedure saying it was against the 14th amendment to disallow people from public pools, golf courses, etc based on race.
Ms. Boudreau did two other stories on Fairground Park that are a wealth of information:
Upon my visit, the park was bustling with activity.  There were fishermen and women ranging from kids to old timers at nearly every section of the beautiful lakes.  Catfish was the catch of the day.










Some thought was put into tree species selection as river birch and bald cypress were planted on the edges of the lakes.  The "knees" of the trees form beautiful banks and are good sinks for wildlife.




People were skating on the roller rink, folks were setting up for a large festival, picnicking under trees and playing tennis.  All parts of the park had activity.



It was great to see the park in such heavy use.  It was very obvious that this is an important park and a magnet for the surrounding neighborhoods.  This is what a park should be!






Furthermore, the park was in excellent condition and is being cared for and invested in.  The basketball and tennis courts are in excellent shape.  






There are several ball fields and I believe two separate football fields, one complete with a set of freshly painted bleachers:








There are new trash cans and benches installed throughout the park (some burnt, but most not). 





And the grand old trees are being cared for and pruned.  



The walking path is in excellent condition and was in use by stroller pushers, joggers and walkers upon my visit.  The paths are wide enough for bikes too.





Investment and care is evident in the small bathroom and storage buildings which are in excellent exterior condition; while some are still unusable as bathrooms.






Today, the pool is hard to photograph, as I don't believe it is in use as it was empty on August 30th.  There is also barbed wire surrounding the entire pool.  But man, the building itself is a Mid-Century Modern classic worth preserving:








The remnants of the bear pits still exist today.

From this:

To this:









The pits are currently used for Park's Dept. storage.



It's too bad the park historical markers were removed or stolen:




The homes and churches that line the western edge of the park are beautiful and well cared for.





Many of the buildings on the southern edge are gorgeous and in various conditions ranging from well maintained to boarded up.





The suburban planning has hit this part of the city hard stripping it of its character.


The homes to the north are in pretty bad shape.



Fairground Park is an active park serving the surrounding neighborhoods, as it should.  I commend the investment and care that is taking place to keep this the gem that it is.

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