Sunday, November 3, 2013

Gwen B. Giles Park

Gwen B. Giles Park is 1 of 5 parks within the West End Neighborhood in the Near North Side of St. Louis (although the city website claims 6 parks in West End, Greg Freeman Park is actually in Skinker-DeBaliviere, not the West End).


1 of 108 parks, Gwen B. Giles Park makes up 5.35 acres of the total 2,956 acres of park space in St. Louis.  The park was placed into ordinance in 1959, it was formerly known as Catalpa Park named after the elegant tree with the long seed pods and large heart shaped leaves common in these parts and native to a very small area in Southern Illinois/Missouri/Arkansas/Kentucky and Tennessee along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. The Catalpa to me is one of the most quintessential Midwestern American trees truly native to this  center part of the country, and has since spread throughout the Eastern U.S.

native zone of Catalpa speciosa

Science dork will shut up now...but dang it, I like this tree and think it deserves a park name, especially when it borders Catalpa Street right on the western most edge of the city boundaries:


But names come and go, heck google in a momentary bout of dyslexia thinks the park is called Owen B. Oilts Park (see above screenshot).  Anyhow, the park was renamed in 1986 for Gwen Giles:
The park named in March 22, 1986 in honor of Gwen B. Giles, the first black and first woman to serve as City Assessor. (source)
Gwen B. Giles was much more than just the City Assessor as the city website chooses to tell the story...she was a local civil rights leader in the turbulent and pivotal late 1960's, and the first black woman to serve in the Missouri Senate.



Tragedy struck her life in 1984 when her 2nd husband murdered her daughter and shot and killed himself while she was at the Democratic National Convention.  Her life was cut tragically short by lung cancer at the young age of 53.

So now I get why one of my favorite trees was replaced in honor of the pioneering and righteous Mrs. Giles.  Read all about her courtesy of the Historical Society of Missouri.

After my visit to the park today, my gut tells me either this park has been completely abandoned or is in a major state of transition.  Speaking to the few people that I came across, nobody knows what is going on, but they did offer to sell me some cell phones and iPods.  

Here's proof of the park that is NOTHING but mowed weeds:




I found an EXCELLENT post from a newly discovered blog (EXPLORING ST. LOUIS) and got permission from the writer if I could post his photos here.   Thanks to the hard work and curiosity of bloggers/photographers exploring our city, the history is being documented in unprecedented ways.  Here is the incredibly cool stuff that was lost:




Read the entire post HERE.  And I urge you to explore the additional photos the author posted HERE.

A damn shame we lost maybe the most unique park fixtures in the city.  A wooden fortress, cannons, a concrete seal, 1960/70s-esque climbing structures and jungle gyms....this cool stuff which reminds me of Mrs. Giles heyday has been stripped and likely trashed. 

There is evidence of the park being seriously abused and trashed.  The park is a reflection of the lack of care and investment in the homes that surround the park.



I realize that when the local citizens seek to destroy the park and make it a negative place unsafe for kids and dignified families, the knee jerk reaction is to wipe it clean, let the negative activity move somewhere else and then try again with new stuff.   That is the short-sighted response.  But, that is sadly what you get when the Park's Dept is not a functional entity with a holistic vision for the parks.  The Park's Dept in St. Louis does what the aldermen tell them to, and I can only guess that the massive clearance of the historic park structures was the idea of the alderman.

2 comments:

Jeff Wunrow said...

Hi Mark,

I stumbled on your blog this weekend and wanted to tell you how much I appreciate the resource. I've decided to visit all city parks this summer. I'm posting a few pics and a brief impression on Facebook. (#112parks112days) I just linked to this post (I hope you don't mind) and will turn to your research again as I continue my journey this summer.

Thanks much!

Mark Groth said...

^Jeff, that is awesome! The more attention and press we can get for the parks, the better. More eyes on the ground, so to speak. Can't wait to read about your findings.
Cheers,
Mark