Saturday, March 1, 2014

Lucas Gardens Park

Lucas Gardens Park is a 1.07 acre park in the Downtown West Neighborhood.  The park was gifted to St. Louis in 1857 by James H. and Marie E. Lucas in memory of Honorable John B. C. Lucas (source).


John Baptiste Charles Lucas (August 14, 1758 – August 17, 1842) was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania.
John B. C. Lucas was born in Pont-AudemerNormandyFrance. He attended the Honfleur and Paris Law Schools, and graduated from the law department of the University of Caenin 1782. He practiced law in France until 1784, when he immigrated to the United States, settled near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He engaged in agricultural pursuits. 
Lucas was a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1792 to 1798. He served as judge of the Court of Common Pleas in 1794.
Lucas was elected as a Republican to the Eighth and Ninth Congresses and served until his resignation in 1805, before the assembling of the Ninth Congress. He moved to St. Louis(then part of the Louisiana Territory), having been appointed district judge for the District of Louisiana (which became Missouri Territory in 1812), and served from 1805 until 1820, when he resigned. He also served as commissioner of land claims of northern Louisiana from 1805 to 1812. He resumed agricultural pursuits and died near St. Louis in 1842. He was buried at 
Calvary Cemetery. 
While in Missouri he donated land in downtown St. Louis in 1816 for a courthouse that is now part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. When courthouse was abandoned in 1930 as the court functions relocated to larger quarters, his descendants fought unsuccessfully to get the courthouse back. The Gateway Arch arches over the courthouse. Five of Lucas' sons were to die violently, including Charles Lucas, who was killed in a duel with Senator Thomas Hart Benton. (sources)
The park is located in the shadow of some of St. Louis' most beautiful buildings, the Shell Building and the Central Library that recently underwent a $70M renovation.



You just can't talk about the Downtown and surrounding neighborhood parks without addressing the homeless issues.  I'd not be telling an honest story if I avoided this sensitive subject.  Sadly, the city has chosen to concentrate its homeless services right in the heart of the fastest growing neighborhood and central business district.  This concentration of homeless takes its toll on the city's front door step reputation.  I get that St. Louis is the leader in addressing homelessness for the REGION.  But, why shouldn't the County (where many, many of these homeless are shuttled in from) step up and help dilute the issue as opposed to concentrate it in one area?

Unfortunately, Lucas Park is in the shadow of one of the worst properties in the entire city...Larry Rice's NLEC.  Herein lies a problem...decent, tax paying, caring citizens now living amongst a mess of a homeless shelter with an exploitative and irresponsible landlord. Now we have a group standing up and opposing the poor property conditions and lack of respect for the neighbors and neighborhood that is widely known at NLEC.  This is a sea change for the area...a group finally caring and trying to uplift a place instead of dragging it down and treating the city like a toilet and campground.  

And the haters are going to hate and try to fight the positivity...as evidenced on my visit as someone cut the wires on the lights.


This park is a prime case of the word gentrification.  For years this park didn't have middle class residents around it.  It was trashed.  The fountain was used by the NLEC folks as a toilet/bathtub.  This story was told to me a resident upon my visit.  The fountain has since been filled with dirt to put and end to this.



We can't have nice things just yet, I guess.  Too bad, because the fountain was a beautiful complement to the park before it was allowed to go to pot.

But it's on its way back.  We're not there yet...but, the park looks better than it has in decades largely due to the residents in DTW who give a damn and want a decent, positive place that adds to the neighborhood as opposed to detracting from it.

The Friends of Lucas Park have organized and are being good stewards of the park...remember, the city and park's dept. is not interested in improving the parks, they simply maintain and do the bare minimum.  If you want a nice park, the people have to advocate and volunteer and work hard.

The fruits of the Friends of Lucas Park's labor are showing.

Handsome landscaping is evident.


 If you like Thai food, go to Sen Thai (in the background)...among the best in town






A dog park for members exists.




Playgrounds and an outdoor exercise area exist.







Signage point out the fact that you have to act decent to be in the park.  And you have to be/have kids to be on the playground.



The people I spoke to said there is a small charter school, Lafayette Preparatory Academy, that uses the park for an outdoor rec/classroom area for their kids.  I love it, so big city!  They said they are great partners for respectful use of the park and positivity in the area.
In 2010 several like minded St. Louis city residents started dreaming of a school that would serve their children and the city.  Today that dream is becoming a reality:
Lafayette Preparatory Academy opened in August 2013 as a K-2 charter school. We will expand to K-5 and eventually add a partnering middle school and high school.  The schools will serve two populations.   The first are often referred to as the “at-risk” population, who have historically received inadequate public education and have never had the resources to consider moving to areas with better schooling or pay for private education.  The second consists of young, middle- to upper-middle class families who have recently regained an interest in living in downtown St. Louis but refuse to stay without good schooling.  If downtown St. Louis is going to thrive, both populations must be provided with a great education.  In doing just that, Lafayette Preparatory Academy honors people from all spectrums and unites them under a common purpose.  Lafayette Preparatory Academy believes strongly that together we can build something that would be unattainable by any one group by itself.  And our students will reflect that vision.  Not only will they be inclusively reflective of our world, together our students will become harbingers of positive change. (source)
The fountain has been filled with dirt and turf was laid.  Hopefully that will change and we'll be back to the park's original splendor in the years to come.


The park hasn't looked this good in years.  And it is a complement to the area as opposed to a place you want to avoid.

Congrats to Friends of Lucas Park, keep up the good fight, your work does not go unnoticed.  Thank you.  I love eating at Sen Thai and looking out the windows at a diverse set up people hanging out with strollers and dogs and kids running around.  Never thought I'd see that at Lucas Park.

Follow Friends of Lucas Park on Facebook and visit their blog to learn more.

4 comments:

Steven said...

Thanks for pointing out another school option Mark! Eventually people will realize you don't have to vacate the city when your children turn 5.

Michelle R. said...

Thank you for the review of my neighborhood park and spotlighting my daughter's school, LPA! We are downtown loft dwellers and love living down here.

Kevin B said...

Thanks again for all these posts, Mark! They've really opened my eye up to more of the City.

A couple of quick anecdotes about Lucas Park.

1) Working downtown a few years back ('08 maybe?), I witnessed a homeless woman take off everything but her underpants and clean either herself or the clothes in the fountain. It was...not attractive.

2) Back in October last year, I had my girlfriend in town and we were walking around. We hit 13th Street past the Library and this cacophony of screaming, giggling children hits us full on. It was the Lafayette Prep kids taking in an afternoon recess.

Now as someone who's struggling daily to convince the girlfriend St. Louis is the place for us, I think that this -- more than any of the culture/arts, restaurants, history, etc I show her -- made more of an impression on her than anything. And me too, frankly.

Her biggest holdout is that she couldn't see raising a family here; and then, right smack in the middle of downtown, she sees happy youthful activity and a safe setting.

Thanks to the people building a better Lucas Park. Keep it up!

anthony schiller said...

Yeah I used to walk by this is the summer and so many homeless sleeping in it...i just started to refer to it as 'bum park' but i'm glad they re-did it.