Friday, January 1, 2016

New Medians, Curb Appeal and Other Updates in Lafayette Square

It's been fun watching the Lafayette Square Neighborhood going through a monumental upgrade of their infrastructure along Lafayette Avenue from Jefferson Avenue to Truman Parkway and Park Avenue from Mississippi Avenue to Truman Parkway as well as in the park.

Per the Lafayette Square Restoration Committee (the non-profit neighborhood association) several improvements to the streets and sidewalks were planned:
Starting mid-2015 SWT Design developed plans for five areas:

Lafayette at Jefferson
Park Avenue at Truman Parkway
Park Avenue at Vail / Plaza Area
Dolman at Lafayette
18th Street at Lafayette
Design focused on slowing traffic, pedestrian safety, and beautification.

As noted above, the plan is from SWT Design, a firm located in the suburbs west of St. Louis.

I'll share the images of the original plans as well as some of my photos of the progress along the way. As of publishing, the new columns being installed do not have the globes on top, I assume they will eventually be installed to match the original columns around the park:


Park Avenue at Truman Parkway:


Decorative pavers and concrete work at the intersection of Park and Doleman including ADA accessible corners:


It's hard to believe the beautiful brick building, a former mop factory circa 1910 has remained undeveloped. Back in July, 2012 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that a developer had proposed a renovation to apartments and offices.

Opposition to this project was loud and clear from the neighborhood, as the proposal included 42 income-restricted apartments. This aspect of the story was reported by NextSTL in August, 2013.
Now, one of the city's marquee neighborhoods is set to vote up or down a proposal for a complete historic renovation of the long vacant Zittlosen building. If approved, the 1910 Zittlosen Manufacturing Company building fronting Park Avenue at Dolman (1322 Dolman address) would be renovated to the stringent specifications of the Lafayette Square Local Historic District Code. So what's not to like? The project would produce 42 income-restricted apartments. If chatter from the Lafayette Square neighborhood listserve is a true reflection of neighborhood sentiment, the project doesn't stand a chance. Neighborhood support is helpful and public notice is requred for the project to receive the full package of tax credits being sought. In practice, this means the proposal likely needs support from the mayor, local alderperson and neighborhood to bolster chances of success.
Then, per meeting minutes from the Lafayette Square Restoration Committee's November, 2014 meeting, demolition was considered:
Richard Stockmann presented a resolution which stated that the LSRC would entertain the proposal of demolition of 1322-32 Dolman so long as there would be new construction to replace the existing building on the site. A discussion about the resolution included understanding that the LSRC would entertain a proposal to demolish and construct as opposed to just “demolish.” Mr. Stockmann proposed that the resolution be adopted with the omission of a partial sentence. The motion was seconded. A comment was made to table the motion to allow time to review and consider all options - President Negri allowed a motion to table the resolution until the December membership meeting (source).
Presumably, there will be decorative fencing connecting the columns at the corners of Park and Truman. As of publishing, these sections appear incomplete.

 columns on the southwest corner of Park and Truman

                    columns on the northwest corner of Park and Truman

Park Avenue at Vail Plaza:


Impressive rain gardens, easement plantings including perennials and trees and new crosswalks and pavers were part of this section:






Lafayette Avenue at Doleman Street:


The plantings on the easement by Lafayette appear to be bald cypress trees and the cul-de-sac will have perennials.
 bump outs provide protected parking spaces along Lafayette

 new trees

no sign of fencing at date of publishing

I can't figure out what these are, but I'm curious.



Lafayette Avenue at 18th Street:


Pedestrian bump outs to ease with crossing traffic lanes and allowing for trees and perennial plantings.

 clump river birch and perennial grasses in the median

 planted bump-out near the I-44 exit from Lafayette

 columns being installed

 upgraded cross-walks

 bump-outs providing protected parking lane

 cul-de-sac near Clementine's Creamery

 bike lanes and crossing made much safer at Lafayette and I-44 exit


Lafayette Avenue at Jefferson Avenue:


medians have grass sod vs. mulch at publishing

 grass at time of publishing

 massive bump-outs widened the sidewalks


protected parking lanes now exist

As you can see the execution is a bit different from the SWT plans posted on the LSRC website. There appears to be no addition of a column south of Lafayette at Jefferson, and no plantings nearest Jefferson. The design at publishing simply has a large concrete and composite bump out and widened sidewalk with no tree or perennial plantings.

You have to give credit to the successful, organized neighborhoods driven to improve their neighborhood.  The designs are welcoming and add some much needed sidewalk improvements and curb appeal to passers by and neighbors alike. The pedestrian experience is improved and the green elements of porous concrete and native plants will likely abate runoff and provide interest to the street.

Undeniably, these upgrades are a major step change for the curb appeal and pedestrian experience in several high profile parts of the neighborhood; yet, it misses on one critical and probably highly controversial element:  permanent street closures and removal of the rectilinear street grid at Doleman and Lafayette and 18th Street and Lafayette.

Doleman has not been closed for long, there is still evidence of when it was a through street, but as time marches on, it is easy to forget this part of the neighborhood was accessible and not a dead end cul-de-sac.

former entry from Lafayette, now a cul-de-sac

We pay for streets as a city to help get from one place to another, to connect different places, not too isolate them.  But, it is a common occurrence here in St. Louis, even in the wealthiest, most stable places to develop cordoned off spaces vs contiguous, flowing spaces.  See St. Louis University's recent attempt to close Laclede Avenue between Grand and Spring.

Reopening the streets is a tough nut to crack.  Neighbors think it will bring increased crime, auto traffic and higher speeds on residential streets.  There are enough old timers here to remember the days when drug dealing was still big in this part of town and the street closures were meant to curtail the drive thru dealer situations.  Lafayette Square is by no means the only neighborhood investing in permanent street closures.  The Shaw Neighborhood has doubled down on their street closures to isolate them from the neighborhood to the north, Botanical Heights (formerly McRee Town).  See the Slay balls recently installed at Thurman Avenue and DeTonty Street as an example (a slight upgrade from the Schoemehl pots that previously existed).

Slay balls: no passage

Schoemehl Pots: image from Google Streetview

The neighbors who have lived in these areas remember when this part of the city hit rock bottom with McRee Town and Peabody Darst Webbe bringing some real problems to a part of the city they were investing in. So, their voices continue to be loud and the streets remain closed in an era where those problems of the past have largely subsided.

An interesting question:  who owns the road, who paid for it and who gets to decide how it is used?  I think in my utopian city, streets would be meant to get you from one place to another providing flow.  Not dead ends and cul-de-sac's creating a maze of dead ends and one ways making navigation frustrating and confusing, nowhere is this more evident than in the Skinker-Devaliviere Neighborhood.

Alas, so it goes.

All that aside, the investment in Lafayette Square is appearing in other parts of the neighborhood as well. There is plenty to be optimistic about.

The park itself, which I documented back in February, 2014 is seeing some major upgrades. Largely through grants and fund raising, the Lafayette Park Conservancy has proposed the following projects:
Historic 1869 Fence Restoration  
The 4,100 foot long iron fence with its large stone gate posts and massive iron gates is the most distinguishing feature of the park. Its spear point was chosen as the symbol of the neighborhood and the Lafayette Square Restoration Committee. The list of its problems with the fence is very long. There are many broken, wobbly and missing fence posts, parts of the 15 foot long fence sections are broken or missing, fourteen gates are missing and weather has damaged the stone gate posts. Missing and broken fence posts must be replaced and the anchoring system has failed. “Saving the Fence” will be the Conservancy’s major project for the next few years. 
UPDATE: The Conservancy has selected Robinson Iron of Alexander City, Alabama to undertake the test phase of the fence restoration project. Robinson Iron will take six sections of the fence from the southeast corner of the park to their workshops where they will be taken apart so patterns can be made to replace broken and missing parts.
The "mending fences" project is underway with a section nearest Lafayette and Mississippi removed now and posts and fences being reproduced to match the Victorian era fencing.





You can donate to this project by clicking HERE.
Revolutionary War Guns 
The second of the three guns from the British warship HMS Actaeon, sunk in the Charleston, SC harbor in 1776, is set to be restored in 2015-16.
Grotto Bridge Handrail 
The grotto bridge was built around 1900 by the Koken Iron Works. It replaced a rustic wooden bridge built over the Grotto in 1865. That bridge was blown away in the Great Cyclone of 1896 which devastated the park. In time, the Koken bridge became unstable. The bridge would shake to such an extent that some of us feared a large wedding party posing for photographs might collapse into the lake below. Delahanty Construction Services LLC stabilized the bridge in 2012 and Steve Coffey, AIA, was the architect for the project. The project entirely consumed a generous $75,000 grant awarded to the LPC by the Whitaker Foundation intended for pathway renewal. The original handrail would be too low and open to meet the standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The LPC consulted Classic Metal Craft and they have designed a handrail which would satisfy the requirements of the Act and be elegant and appropriate for this bridge. 
Pathways Renovation 
About one quarter of the pathways in the park were resurfaced in 2012 thanks to a grant from the Darden Foundation. The year before the Grotto Bridge was reconnected to the pathway system for the first time in decades thanks to a grant from Alderman Phyllis Young. The gravel surface had become worn and uneven. The smooth asphalt surface was instantly popular with the persons who use it most frequently: walkers, children on bicycles, parents pushing strollers and dog walkers. Just hours after the Grotto Bridge was connected to the pathway system a wheelchair was seen on the bridge. This would have been nearly impossible before then. The LPC asked Steve Coffey, AIA, to prepare a set of detailed drawings on ways to upgrade the rest of the pathway system and his plans have been delivered to the Parks Department. The Board of Public Service will select a contractor and construction should begin in mid-2015.
Music Stand 
Preliminary drawings are complete and a bid of $500,000 has been received to recreate the 1876 Music Stand in the spot where the original base now stands near the center of the park. When completed, this music venue will support larger music groups than the Elizabeth Cook Pavilion. currently used for summer concerts, in addition to providing a distinctively Victorian centerpiece that can be easily seen by motorists passing the park on Lafayette Avenue. The Conservancy is currently seeking grant providers or other lead donors as it begins raising funds for this high-impact project.

Today, all that's left of the music stand is the crumbling foundation.


Here's a picture of what it looked like in its heyday:


Also of note are the re-striped dedicated parking lanes, bike lanes and angled parking along Lafayette.

parking spaces, bike lanes both east and westbound and a single traffic lane on Lafayette Avenue

dedicated bike parking station off of Park Avenue

Angled parking in front of the 1928 German cultural center called Das Deutsche Haus

As reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2010, this vacant building where the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra recorded in the 1950s was slated for renovation by the Church of Scientology, but that fell through. So dreams of Beck and Juliette Lewis coming to town for the silver shovel photo opp were all for not.

New construction is underway at Lafayette and Mississippi with the addition of a new home on a former vacant lot:


The stringent new construction guidelines make for some high-end, nicely matching buildings, as evidenced by a recent new home near Park and Mississippi:

New left...old right

And at the southeast corner of Mississippi and Lafayette, a new location for a charter school is in the works. In March, 2015 NextSTL reported on the ~$2.1M project to convert the former Lafayette Baptist Church to a 20,000 square foot school for Lafayette Preparatory Academy, a public charter school currently operating in the Downtown West Neighborhood.  The school conversion is managed by impressive local firm UIC and is slated to open in 2016, accommodating ~270 students in grades K through 5.
UIC image of planned renovation

Progress at publishing

These are good times for the Lafayette Square Neighborhood. Go check it out!

1 comment:

Warren said...

Love your post. Can't resist nudging you on the question of street closures however. I think the obsession with "traffic flow" is very American. In many European cities, obstructions to traffic flow are the norm not the exception. Cul-de-sacs, streets so narrow that they're effectively one-way or semi-impassable, whole neighborhoods of windy twisty "irrational" streets that go nowhere.

What's so terrible about that?

I've lived on two different streets in Skinker-Debaliviere. The neighborhood is peaceful, quiet, and has the strongest identity that I've seen anywhere. I'm not sure we'd live here if we were a pass-through for folks driving from Delmar to Forest Park or Debaliviere to Skinker.

The only disadvantage I see for us is that it makes the thru-streets into big heavy-trafficked thoroughfares.