Sunday, April 13, 2014

Washington Square Park

Washington Square Park is one of a series of six parks along Market Street in the Downtown West Neighborhood.  Working west from Tucker Boulevard and Market Street you have Poelker Park, Washington Square Park and Kaufmann Park, then Memorial Plaza Park (including Eternal Flame Park and the one across from the Park Pacific which is not listed on the city website), Aloe Plaza and Aloe Plaza West.  The beautiful and peaceful Soldier's Memorial Military Museum is also part of this stretch of land and I will include that in a separate post.


According to the city website, the park is 13.45 acres and has been around since 1840; this is clearly not the case today as the park is simply a narrow strip of land between Market Street and the northern edge of City Hall and another strip between City Hall and The Municipal Courts building.  I believe the 13.45 acres references the entire property of City Hall which since 1893 has been here:
The location of the City Hall was acquired by the City about 1840 and, for many years, it was used as a park called Washington Square. By 1890, municipal functions had outgrown the old "City Barn," as the old City Hall at llth and Chestnut Streets was popularly known. (source)
Washington Square Park holds the distinction of being one of the oldest substantially sized parks in the city:
Parks were another necessity for the complete urban life. The City had made some provision for the recreation of its citizens from its early days, when one of the first blocks in the village was known as La Place Publique or Public Place, bounded by the river, Market, Main, and Walnut Streets. The first public market was erected in this square in 1811, this being the reason for Market Street being so named. The present site of the Old Courthouse was set aside as a public square in 1816. During the subdivision of the old City commons in the 1830's, several small tracts were set aside for perpetual use as parks. These included the present Laclede, Mount Pleasant, Gravois, and Benton Parks, the latter being used as a City cemetery until 1866. The first large park within the city limits was Washington Square, where the City Hall is now located. It was acquired by purchase in 1840 at a cost of $25,000. (source)
Today, Washington Square Park serves as a nice outdoor space for employees and visitors of City Hall to relax, eat lunch, etc at one of the picnic benches.

The beauty of living in a city of such historical significance, there are stories that unfold in nearly every part of the city, this park proved to be no exception when I started researching it.

There are a couple statues on the property, one commemorating the 18th President and Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant, victorious, after the Battle of Lookout Mountain, Chatanooga, Tennessee in 1863.  The statue is a beautiful 9 foot 10 inch bronze of Grant in Union uniform atop a 10 foot pedestal of Missouri granite.

There is a bronze relief of General Grant on horseback at Lookout Mountain.


The fascinating back story to this monument is that of how it came to be.  A group of local politicians and dignitaries called the Directors of the Grant Monument Association assembled at the St. Louis Club in September, 1885 to discuss the matter of a monument to honor Grant in St. Louis where he spent a good amount of time.


No other than General William Tecumseh Sherman, who declared total war against the Confederacy and served under General Grant in the Civil War.  After snuffing Southern war efforts and accepting the surrender of all the Confederate armies in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida in April 1865, he had one last mission before his death in 1891.  Sherman was asked to be president of the Association to lead the effort to commission a monument to Grant in St. Louis.  


William Tecumseh Sherman

At said meeting, General Sherman replied briefly, stating that after "mature deliberation" he had decided to do whatever he could to advance the interests of the association. (source)

But just don't ask him to raise any damn money:



The effort was a success as the sculpture was erected in 1888 by artist Robert Porter Bringhurst (1855-1925).  Today it stands proud at the corner of Tucker and Market:




But there's more.  There is another sculpture to no other than the founder of St. Louis, Pierre de Laclede Liguest.

This statue, the junior of the two, dates back to 1911/12 and has a 10 foot 6 inch bronze of Laclede atop a 20 foot Barre granite pedestal.

There are four etched inscriptions on each side of the pedestal:

north face

south face

east face

west face

The statue was commissioned by the St. Louis Centennial Association and was sculpted by artist George Julian Zolnay (1863-1949) and architect Isaac Stockton Taylor (1851-1917).





And of course I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention City Hall itself:
An architectural competition for the design of the building was won with the French-styled plan that was inspired by the Hotel de Ville or City Hall of Paris. Its ornamental dormer windows and its former towers also recall architectural elements of the Chateau de Chambord on the Loire River in France. The design was selected after a national competition of 37 entries. 
Its central interior feature is a white marble rotunda, about 100 feet square, with a colored glass skylight above and a marble grand staircase opposite the main entrance. In 1896, a temporary wooden convention hall was erected on the south lawn of City Hall. It housed the Republican conclave which nominated William McKinley for his first term as president. 
Construction began on July 19, 1890 and was completed on November 5, 1904. No bonds were issued to finance its construction, which is why it took 14 years to complete the building. The budget was limited at $2 million, but the final cost was only $1,787,159.16. 
The exterior of the first story is Missouri pink granite that contrasts with pink-orange Roman brick on the upper floors and buff color sandstone trim located in an irregular pattern around the window openings. The roof is burgundy-red clay tiles. 
The building has four floors and a basement level. It was considered fireproof by 1904 standards. It contains 150 rooms: 26 in the basement; 34 rooms each on the first, second, and third floors; and 22 rooms on the fourth floor. 
When City Hall was designed, St. Louis had a bicameral form of government similar to the Missouri Legislature. The building originally had chambers and meeting rooms for the House of Delegates and the City Council. The 1914 City Charter eliminated the Council and changed the House of Delegates to the Board of Aldermen. The room that once housed the Council is now the Board of Public Service Chamber, and the Board of Aldermen occupy the House of Delegates chamber and committee rooms. The Mayor´s office remains in its original space on the northeast corner of the second floor. 
The clock above the main entrance on Tucker was installed in 1906 and renovated in 2001. The lantern-like central tower, about 80 feet tall, above the Tucker Boulevard entrance and the two smaller spires, each about 19 feet in height, on either side of the tower, were removed in 1936. In the process of reroofing, the structural steel frame of the towers was found to be so corroded that the tower had to be taken down with great care, piece by piece. The public was outraged that the tower was demolished and Mayor Bernard Dickman promised to build a new tower when the city had the money. The replacement cost at the time was estimated to be $10,000. A campaign was started in 1946 to replace the tower and a study was done. It was found to be too expensive and the project was dropped. 
The words "City Hall" were engraved in the stone above the doors on the Market, Tucker, and Clark Street entrances. This was done only after the City Art Commission refused to allow Mayor Dickmann to put a neon "City Hall" sign in red, white, and blue above the door. (source)
I would've loved a neon sign.

Anyhow, here's our aged beauty:



St. Louis is old, beautiful, and brimming with stories and history around every corner.

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