Sunday, February 16, 2014

Lafayette Park

Lafayette Park is the nearly 30 acre centerpiece of one of St. Louis' most beautiful neighborhoods:  Lafayette Square.


The park was named in honor of the Marques de Lafayette (1757-1834), a French statesman who served as a volunteer under General George Washington in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. (source)

The park is bordered by Park Avenue to the north, Lafayette Avenue to the south, Mississippi Avenue (just like the river) to the east and Missouri Avenue (as the rest of our state lies) to the west:



This is one of the special places among the 108 city parks.  The neighbors have fully embraced this park by creating the Lafayette Park Conservancy, a group tasked with forming and implementing a master plan for this gem of the city.

Their website is a wealth of information:
Lafayette Park was set aside from the St. Louis Common in 1836 and dedicated in 1851 as one of the first public parks, and by far the largest of its era, in the City of St. Louis, Missouri. It is considered by many historians to be the oldest urban park west of the Mississippi. 
The late 19th century saw the heyday of Lafayette Park. Victorian visitors to the park enjoyed strolling, picnicking, cruising the main lake in Swan Boats, and listening to concerts at the Music Stand. A typical weekend saw daily crowds in the thousands and the Park House was established as a police station to ensure that order was maintained.
Throughout the first half of the 20th century Lafayette Park served primarily as a neighborhood park. Various park features were updated or converted to more modern usage. The West Lake was transformed in 1916 to a Lily Pond and then in the 1940s to a wading pool. In 1943 the Park House was converted to the grounds keeper's residence.
After World War II, the neighborhood along with the park fell into a prolonged period of decline. The West Lake was filled in, possibly during the Polio epidemic of the 1950s. The music stand was torn down in 1951, and by the late 1960s the Park House had fallen into disrepair and been boarded up.  
The park's first renaissance occurred in the 1970s, when Lafayette Square residents and the city, prompted at least in part by the upcoming United States bicentennial, began focusing on park restoration. The iron fence surrounding the park was repaired and partially restored, and residents mobilized to renovate and restore the Park House. In 1976, as part of the bicentennial celebration, the Park received as a gift from the people of France a second treasured sculpture by Houdon, a bust of the Marquis de Lafayette, which is displayed in the Park House.
The year 2001 marked not only the 150th anniversary of Lafayette Park's dedication, but the beginning of the current public effort to restore the park to its original grandeur. The Lafayette Park Conservancy, a non-profit organization dedicated to restoring and preserving the park and its historic legacy, was formed to raise funds and plan improvements. In 2003-2004, Lafayette Square residents, the City of St. Louis. the Conservancy and other interested parties joined together to create a Master Plan that guides park restoration and development.
No group of photos can fully depict how beautiful this park is in all four seasons.  Although, this is one of the most photographed parks in the city (along with Forest Park and Tower Grove Park) so there are beautiful professional photos to enjoy all over the web and elsewhere.  This is one of those parks that is meant for a stroll and that is truly the best way to take it in.

Well heck, where do you start?  I guess I'll say the homes that surround the park are outrageously cool.  Few cities have this kind of architecture...we almost lost this part of town to boarding houses and fires and the suburban vacuum.  Luckily some urban pioneers rooted down, chased out the negativity/haters and have a very, very special place.




 find the new construction...



Much of the fence and gates that surround the park are original.



 I'd love to see new cast iron gates on the northwest corner entrance




There are walking paths throughout the park.  Entering on the northwest corner, you can walk 40 yards and turn around and look north at the multi-purpose field used by, among others, a vintage baseball league.
The Saint Louis Perfectos are a Base Ball club playing by the rules and customs of the 1860's. It is the goal of the club to spread the game of Vintage Base Ball and to provide an entertaining and fun atmosphere for all. As a member club of the Greater St. Louis Base Ball Historical Society, players of all ages (over 18) and skill levels are welcome to join the club.

I photographed a game back in 2010:





opposite field

The south east side of the park has the beautifully restored and maintained Park House:







Per the Lafayette Park Conservancy website:
The Park House, built in 1867 for use as a police station, now serves as an office for the Lafayette Square Restoration Committee and a police sub-station for the City of St. Louis. It may also be rented for private events. (source)
There are a couple statues within the park, one commemorating Thomas Hart Benton, the other George Washington.



Dedicated in 1868 by Harriet Goodhue Hosmer, the first professional female sculptor, was the first public monument in the State of Missouri (source).  





Just one of our parks may have more history and significance than entire swaths of the staid suburbs...consider living amongst it.

The other statue is for our first president, George Washington:



Again from the LPC:
Erected in Lafayette Park in 1869, this statue is one of only six bronze castings made from the striking marble statue of George Washington that stands in the Virginia State Capitol. The original work was created from life by the renowned French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon in 1788 and is the only likeness for which Washington ever posed.
Then you have the playground complete with new water fountains and sculptures from the late great Bob Cassilly:



 Lafayette Park likes rules and trying to maintain peaceful settings



Kids also love climbing all over the three canons in the park just west of the playground.  




Here's the story from the LPC:
These ship's guns, relics of the Revolutionary War, were originally mounted on the 28-gun British frigate Actaeon. They lay underwater in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina from the time that ship was scuttled in 1776 during the Battle of Sullivan's Island until the late 19th century. At that time they were raised and purchased by a group of St. Louis veterans who donated them to Lafayette Park in 1897.
The neighborhood loves this park and they deserve accolades at maintaining it, and improving it and raising money for it...countless volunteers hours are required by an effort like this...cheers.  Nice parks just don't happen, they have to be embraced by the people who live around them.







Volunteers and private donors are largely responsible for the park's renaissance, but you can't discount the city's involvement.  They are forced to take care of this park due largely to urging and insistence from the hood, and do a good job with mowing, maintenance and the public building just recently received a new tile roof that looks amazing.  I wish there was an urbanist poker club in this place where I could drink whiskey and deal seven card stud with portable tube amp vinyl playing from the corner and natural breeze carrying the cigar smoke and laughing along with the wind:




Thanks park's dept for doing bare essentials

What next?  How about the stone urn from the 1870's:



Come back in Spring-Autumn and you'll see this beautifully landscaped by volunteers.

Lafayette Park is one of the most popular wedding photo places in St. Louis.  Among the spots chose are the Elizabeth Cook pavilion, the 3rd in this same spot.



And then you have the gorgeous, most serene section of the park (in my opinion) at the Rockery, built in 1866. One of two iron bridges remains as one was lost in the tornado of 1896, but volunteers have owned this and dedicated beautiful plantings and benches to this awesome space.








Come back in the early Spring or Autumn and this scene will blow you away.

If I could fix one thing, it'd be to help bring the 1876 Music Pavilion back to life.  It's been battered by time and the elements, destroyed by a tornado in 1896, rebuilt...but fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1951. Only the original base currently remains today:




There is a lake in the park with swans, geese, ducks, etc. and a replica swan house.  This is a popular resting and relaxation part of the park with perfectly situated benches to take in the birds.






This is a part of St. Louis that most city lovers use to validate their argument that we live in one of the most perfect, beautiful American cities in the Union.  Enjoy and be part of this special place.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I had no idea there was so much in this park. What is the status of renovating The Boathouse?