Fox Park Neighborhood

Traffic Calming Efforts in South City - Prioritizes People Over Cars

Traffic Calming Efforts in South City - Prioritizes People Over Cars

OMG, St. Louis is prioritizing people over cars in some of the South City neighborhoods including Compton Heights, Fox Park, Gate District, Tower Grove East and Tower Grove South. Can you believe we are actually headed in the right direction in parts of our fair city? Some quick thoughts on the traffic calming efforts we noticed recently.

Sidewalks and Pedestrian Infrastructure - Worth the Investment?

Sidewalks and Pedestrian Infrastructure - Worth the Investment?

Curb appeal has been on my mind now that the weather is nice and the dogs are getting walked more often. What are the variables in the equation that makes up something as subjective as “curb appeal”. It’s complicated for sure, but our sidewalk and lack of street tree issues might just top the list. Some quick thoughts and examples from my neck of the woods.

Abandonment, Neglect and the Cost on our neighborhoods

Abandonment, Neglect and the Cost on our neighborhoods

The loss of another corner building to trespassers and firebugs is a punch to the gut. We have to demand better from property owners in this city. This post is an exploration of my neighborhood of the last seven years. I drove around and took photos of every board-up and researched the ownership profile and recent history. It's easy to surmise that suburbanites and out of state "investors" do not have neighborhood/St. Louis pride on their resumes. We...WE...residents of St. Louis need to take our city back.

Three Quick Things To Like About Fox Park

1. I opened up the latest version of St. Louis Magazine with the cover "101 Best Restaurants" issue to find the first page listing

Lona's Lil Eats

and

Milque Toast Bar

. I will add

the Purple Martin

to the mix with these two and say just how important a business and a

place

can be to help make a neighborhood livable.

Lona's activated a sleepy corner of the neighborhood in the best of ways. I live three doors down and can say it has likely been one of the best thing to happen to Fox Park in the five years I've lived here.  The smells, the crowds, the employees, the food, the outdoor seating...but most of all the good vibe and the kindness of the owners and employees. I mean, they let my kids walk over there after school and just hangout and drink soda's. So kind.

And that's what St. Louis Magazine said too

:

"Vibe: the embodiment of a feel-good neighborhood establishment." 

True. Add to that, the tiniest of spaces just across Jefferson, Milque Toast  Bar. This place is a gem and adds to a strip of businesses including a barber shop,

Fritanga Nicaraguan

restaurant,

Peat Wollaeger's Gallery & PopShop

 and 

South Jefferson Mid Century Modern

all adding original, walkable places in the 2200 block of South Jefferson, which is a tough street to take a chance on...it's like a highway and people drive that way due to the overly wide road. But walking across the street to

the McKinley Heights neighborhood

to visit these places just makes me happy.

2. There's reasons to be hopeful for our aging/abandoned building stock. There are a few brick beauties I feared would succumb to the elements and squatters; but they are seeing new life.

Here are a few:

 2800 block of Magnolia Avenue

2800 block of Magnolia Avenue

2800 block of Magnolia Avenue

2100 block of Oregon Avenue

There are even some recent examples of new construction that are far better than previous attempts:

2800 block of Magnolia Avenue

Dumpsters and building permits are on display on a few others that make me hopeful that there will be more investment in the neighborhood:

 2100 block of Oregon Avenue

2600 block of California Avenue

3. The largest of several community gardens in our neighborhood is at Russell and California. It's called "Fox Park Farm" and it's one of those spaces that you can't appreciate by just driving by. For the neighbors that garden here, the space is a serene, pastoral kind of place. You can kind of escape here. It's strange. But, I'm not alone in this thought,

Gateway Greening recently wrote about this garden which is one of the oldest in St. Louis

:

"It is a green oasis nestled in the urban landscape."

Thing is, the place looks better than it has in the five years I've lived here. Cheers to the current group of hard workers. And apparently the bounty is plentiful:

Feels good to watch this neighborhood evolve. Here's to more positivity and investment in this important part of our fair city.

Street Trees And Re-establishing An Urban Canopy

In part one of my posts related to curb appeal and environmental sustainability, I discussed a "Milkweed for Monarchs" project undertaken by the Fox Park Neighborhood Association in 2015.

In this post, I will share my personal connection to a street tree project recently completed in the same neighborhood. I joined the Fox Park Neighborhood Association for a one year term through 2015. The board was looking for projects to bring to the general membership that would benefit the neighborhood in a meaningful way.  Several proposals were weighed including the median project mentioned previously, a sidewalk replacement project and finally a street tree replacement project.

The neighborhood had been seeking upgrades to the medians for years, so that was a no-brainer. The other two options took some research.

It started with some simple observations of the neighborhood.  Walking the streets and auditing the sidewalk situation and the largest contiguous stretches of streets without trees.  The sidewalks were ruled out after receiving a couple cost prohibitive bids, so we focused on street trees.

Why are trees an asset to the neighborhood?  Well, the benefits to the public, property owner and pedestrian along the sidewalk are indisputable and well documented.  One of my favorite reads on the subject is from Dan Burden's "22 Benefits of Urban Street Trees" published in 2006.  Burden is a Senior Urban Designer at Glatting-Jackson Architectural and Design Firm in collaboration with Walkable Coummunities, Inc.

In short, here's the list of 22 reasons urban street are a benefit to any city:

  1. Reduced and more appropriate urban traffic speeds. 
  2. Create safer walking environments
  3. Trees call for placemaking planting strips and medians,
  4. Increased security
  5. Improved business
  6. Less drainage infrastructure.
  7. Rain, sun, heat and skin protection
  8. Reduced harm from tailpipe emissions
  9. Gas transformation efficiency
  10. Lower urban air temperatures
  11. Lower ozone
  12. Convert streets, parking and walls into more aesthetically pleasing environments
  13. Soften and screen necessary street features such as utility poles, light poles and other needed street furniture
  14. Reduced blood pressure, improved overall emotional and psychological health
  15. Time in travel perception
  16. Reduced road rage
  17. Improved operations potential
  18. Added value to adjacent homes, businesses and tax base
  19. Provides a lawn for a splash and spray zone, storage of snow, driveway elevation transition and more
  20. Filtering and screening agent
  21. Longer pavement life
  22. Connection to nature and the human senses

Pretty impressive, eh...there is something on that list for everyone from the environmentalist to the staunch libertarian.  As I said, these benefits are pretty universal and many are backed by empirical data vs. subjective or academic reasoning, which adds to the rock solid line of evidence that street trees are a benefit to all.

Take for instance #6:

"Trees absorb the first 30% of most precipitation through their leaf system, allowing evaporation back into the atmosphere. This moisture never hits the ground. Another percentage (up to 30%) of precipitation is absorbed back into the ground and taken in and held onto by the root structure, then absorbed and then transpired back to the air. Some of this water also naturally percolates into the ground water and aquifer. Storm water runoff and flooding potential to urban properties is therefore reduced."

You can read up on all 22 reasons HERE.

Anyhow, here is how we went about our project. Each year the various wards throughout the city are allotted funds that can be spent largely at the discretion of the elected alderperson. In our case, we have a great working relationship with the alderperson, Christine Ingrassia, and she helped fund a street tree audit of the city's sixth ward. This will go a long way in understanding where to invest in trees in the future. We asked Ingrassia to help us navigate the system and make contact with the correct departments in the city.

For this particular project, the neighborhood association had some funds saved up from various fund raising campaigns and we wanted to show our commitment to getting Fox Park back in the tree game by making a purchase of trees directly from our organization's treasury.

Next we had to do some homework to bring a plan to the Board and then to the general membership for a vote.

We started by investigating available species. We went to the Missouri Botanical Garden's wonderful website to select species that are low maintenance, drought resistant and have low pedestrian trip-causing debris (e.g., acorns, gumballs)

The city also has a list of trees that they recommend:

We narrowed it down to three species including the ginko, Freeman maple and blackgum. Ginko's were voted down on the off chance that female trees (you only order males) could find their way into the supply chain and females produce the 

butyric acid-laden fruits which are quite foul smelling (that doesn't stop my dog from eating them like Skittles).

So we set a meeting with the city's Forestry Department to share our intentions and develop a game-plan to help us identify the species, associated cost, locations within the neighborhood and the logistics of ordering the trees and getting them planted.  So, our alderperson, the head of Forestry, the Urban Forester and two other certified arborists on staff were kind enough to sit down with us in April and talk trees and help plot out our path. We had the following questions:

1. species availability

2. height and trunk diameter available

3. planting instructions/location suggestions within Fox Park

4  what is needed from us?

5. next steps and other feedback from forestry

Turns out the arborists liked our choices for species and said either would work. We decided upon the blackgum as it is a hearty native that does well in clay soils and has colorful fall foliage and  has very little debris.

Blackgum:

 Nyssa sylvatica 

Per the Missouri Botanical Garden, blackgum are a "plant of merit" and categorized as low maintenance and "tried and trouble-free".  The species selection was a go.

Forestry explained the process. They would be responsible for:

  • site assessment
  • recommendations for any box cuts (taking a saw and cutting ~6 inches off the sidewalks) to create more space for the tree
  • receiving and holding the trees from the nursery until time for planting in late 2015
  • planting

The cost for each 2-2.5 inch diameter tree was $140.00, all above labor included.

Forestry agreed to send out a staff arborist to help us identify ideal planting locations.

Now that we had an understanding of the process and associated costs, we took the details back to the board who agreed to propose the purchase of 20 trees to the neighborhood's general membership for a vote.

We then took the plan to a neighborhood meeting for a vote. The general membership voted unanimously in support of the project.

We were on our way.

In July, on what must have been one of the hottest days of the year, we met with one of the city's arborists to walk the neighborhood and select some good sites.

There was some heavy construction throughout some parts of the neighborhood, including Oregon Street and Magnolia Avenue, so we avoided those areas.  We also had to avoid some obvious obstacles such as utility lines.

We expresses an interest in having this first planting be in a high profile, high traffic zone. We wanted a large contiguous stretch that currently had NO trees to help make the biggest impact of a planting. The 2700 block of Russell Boulevard immediately came to mind as this is likely one of the most traveled east-west corridors in Fox Park.

Dan the arborist made his recommendations, a small group of board members concurred and we marked twenty planting sites with orange spray paint for the next step in the process: box cuts.

Depending on the width of ground between the street and the sidewalk, cutting the sidewalk could be necessary to give the trees enough space to grow.

This work was carried out by the city:

Then, we just had to wait for the weather to cool off, typically around October or November.

Well I was lucky enough to be on Russell and Ohio the day the Forestry Dept. workers delivered our trees to get some photos and thank the guys that did the truly hard work...the digging.

Here's the result of their hard work and the dedication and support of our local alderperson and neighborhood association.

Hopefully the neighborhood has shown that we are committed to reaping the benefits that urban street trees provide and we'll see the next generation of neighborhood leadership continue this worthy pursuit.

And if you were one of the lucky neighbors to have a tree planted in front of your abode, please consider helping establish these beauties by providing plenty of water.

Cheers, Fox Park! You are better looking and healthier today than you were a year ago.

Curb Appeal and Milkweed for Monarchs in the Fox Park Neighborhood, St. Louis, Missouri

I was lucky to be part of two recent beautification and sustainability projects in the Fox Park Neighborhood and I wanted to share them here for your consideration.

While the aim of both projects was to improve the curb appeal of one of the interior neighborhood's most traveled east-west streets, Russell Boulevard, there is also the bonus of promoting environmental biodiversity and sustainability in an urban setting.

One project was the return of street trees to the 2700 and 2800 blocks of Russell Boulevard and the ~2100 block of Ohio Avenue (just south of Russell) which have become alarmingly de-forested over the years.  I will describe this project in full when the tree plantings are completed.  Stay tuned.

The second project, which was completed on October 25th, 2015, is a series of Milkweed for Monarchs gardens that will grace the end caps of the medians along Russell Boulevard between Ohio and Oregon Avenues.

Per my sources (a longtime Fox Park resident and a former police officer in this district), the medians were part of an effort to calm traffic and put an end to drag racing during the Schoemehl administration. It worked for the most part, but the medians were installed in a haphazard manner.  They were built right on top of the street without breaking up the asphalt beneath, providing only ~8 inches of soil for anything to grow.  They were filled with Missouri clay which is literally hard as a rock and not amenable to water absorption nor proper drainage without amendments of organic materials (compost) to enrich the soil.

Over the years, neighbors have attempted plantings in the medians with mixed results.  The 2600 and 2900 blocks are fully planted and well cared for.  Yet, the 2700 and 2800 blocks remained rather barren with several dying trees and sparse, non contiguous plantings on display.

I've heard neighbors complaining about the appearance of the medians for the ~5 years I've lived here.  The time seemed right to do something about it.

Enter an acquaintance of mine Cody Hayo, owner of Pretty City Landscaping, LLC.

Cody reached out to me to discuss his interest in collaborating with neighborhoods on gardening initiatives.  He wanted to offer his  time, expertise and skills in landscape design and implementation to assist neighborhoods trying to plant sustainable gardens in urban settings.  We met over a beer at the Royale in Tower Grove South and discussed our intentions and common goals of improving the city.  I am optimistic that this next generation of St. Louisans, devoted to the city, are the ones with a chance to really make a positive impact on our future, and Cody is one of those small business owners who falls into that bucket.  We hit it off and parted ways with the goal of future collaborations.

The Russell medians immediately came to mind as a perfect candidate for some professional assessment and much needed TLC.

I went back to the Fox Park Neighborhood Association with a plan to engage a landscaping professional to help us design something interesting, affordable and sustainable for our medians.

The board approved of the plan first and then the general members of the neighborhood association voted in favor of the project...we were off running.

Cody donated his time and expertise (pro bono) and helped us research grant options, plant species, site selection and an overall design for our medians.

We met with Cody and longtime Fox Park resident, and all around great guy Chris Barton, to assess the current landscape.

Chris (left) and Cody

Cody went back to the drawing board and designed a plan that would transform the four end caps of the medians.  The first 20 foot of each end cap were chosen as a reasonable amount of work for a volunteer group to plant and maintain as well as to fit within the confines of a "Neighbor's Naturescaping" grant program offered by invaluable local entity Brightside St. Louis headquartered in the Southwest Garden Neighborhood.

One of the unique aspects of this program is a collaboration with the "Milkweed for Monarchs" program within the City of St. Louis:

"In partnership with Mayor Francis Slay’s Milkweeds for Monarchs, Brightside is encouraging Neighbors Naturescaping applicants to consider planting a butterfly garden. Many plants on the STL Monarch Mix plant list will be available on Brightside’s recommended plant list."

This is the route Cody recommended and the path we chose.  The design was set, the local alderwoman signed on in support, the neighborhood association voted again in favor and the plan was in motion.

So we filled out the grant application, including the well-researched plans from Pretty City, made a couple modifications on species based on reviewer feedback, attended a community workshop and a couple months later were deemed the proud yet humbled recipients of a $1,500 grant including the donation of 280 Missouri native plants:

  • 80 Prairie Dropseed grasses (Porobolus heterolepis)
  • 48 Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
  • 48 Bee Balm (Monarda bradburiana)
  • 48 Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • 24 Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata)
  • 24 Goldenrod (Solidago missouriensis)
  • 8 Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia missouriensis)

Compost and mulch were provided by the city.

Now comes the fun part...the planting.

Over the course of three weeks, we loaded up personal vehicles with plants and planned three separate plantings.  My lovely wife and kids provided much of the free labor, moral support and back rubs necessary to pull this off.

We loaded compost and mulch in the beds of my kindest of neighbors' trucks. The multi-talented and creative Chris Barton rigged up two 55-gallon rain barrels with a sump-pump, hose and watering wand in the back of his personal truck to feed the Missouri native plants with much needed water to establish themselves before the onset of winter.

With pick axes, post hole diggers, shovels and pitchforks in hand (and no shortage of strong will) we hacked through the densely packed clay soil to overcome the conditions to get our gardens established.

I can't tell you how thankful I am to know such hard working people willing to donate their precious weekends to something like this. Residents along Russell and Oregon saw us working and joined in to help.  But it was the core group that showed up week after week to complete the process.  The work was not easy but we overcame.

Thanks friends and neighbors for sharing the desire to uplift the long-neglected corners of our great city.

Yes, thirteen year olds do work hard...

 Two of my dearest friends and the best St. Louisans you will ever meet

 Ain't no labor like retired guy labor...

 The usual suspects, always there to lend a hand under the toughest of conditions

One down, three to go...

Alright, now the hard work was completed so let's share a couple before and after pics:

 before

after at California Avenue

 after at Oregon Avenue

 before

after

Now the easy part.  We registered our garden with the City's 'Milkweed for Monarchs' program and became the 188th garden toward the city's goal of 250 total.  There are many gardens north to south and east to west.

map source

Not too shabby, eh St. Louis?

Now what does this all mean, and why should we care?  Well, monarch butterflies are one of the most easily recognizable (read: loved by humans) beneficial insect species on the planet.  They are gorgeous, serve an important role as pollinators and millions of them migrate throughout North America, from Canada to Mexico.  Entomologists and climate change scientists concur that declines in milkweed, habitat loss and climate change are contributing to lowered numbers of monarchs.

The Mayor's office advocated for St. Louis to be included as a city on the cutting edge of monarch education and habitat reclamation:

On Earth Day 2014, Mayor Slay launched Milkweeds for Monarchs: The St. Louis Butterfly Project to foster the connection between people and urban natural resources where they live, work, learn and play. Milkweeds for Monarchs (overview document here) aligns with the City of St. Louis Urban Vitality & Ecology Initiative, is an effort that advances objectives in the City of St. Louis Sustainability Plan, and carries out a priority in the Mayor's Sustainability Action Agenda. The Mayor led the effort by having the City create 50 monarch gardens in 2014; most of these gardens are located at fire houses and City parks across the City. The Mayor challenged the community to plant an additional 200 monarch gardens to celebrate the City's 250th birthday. The program was expanded in 2015 to reach further into the community and to schools. (source)

This is not just talk, as St. Louis was awarded several substantial grants through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to establish the city as the "St. Louis Riverfront Butterfly Byway". (source and source).

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) today announced a first round of grants totaling $3.3 million from its recently launched Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund (MBCF). The 22 grants, which will be matched by more than $6.7 million in grantee contributions, will support the restoration of up to 33,000 acres of habitat in areas identified by experts as key to monarch recovery. “NFWF and our partners acted very quickly to launch this new competitive grant program, and we were delighted to have drawn such a large number of excellent proposals,” said Lila Helms, NFWF’s executive vice president of external affairs. “The grants we announce today will fund on-the-ground projects that will quickly contribute to a healthier, more sustainable monarch population.” Monarch butterflies are found throughout most of the United States, and a majority of the population migrates up to 3,000 miles to overwinter in Mexico. Over the past 20 years, the North American monarch population has plunged from 1 billion to fewer than 60 million, due to many factors, including loss of critical habitat. These beautiful, black-and-orange insects depend not only on nectar-producing plants throughout their range, but also milkweed — the primary food source for monarch caterpillars. (source)

Others in the area are taking note of this movement including a consortium of Universities and  other concerned institutions who are dedicated to researching the latest issues that affect the monarch.

Monsanto Company (headquartered in nearby Creve Coeur, MO) jumped in providing much needed funding to the cause (source):

"The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and Monsanto Company announced today a commitment to partner in support of NFWF’s Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund. As the first company to contribute to NFWF’s Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund, Monsanto will provide $3.6 million over three years to match funds provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal agencies that will support habitat restoration, education, outreach and milkweed seed production to benefit monarch butterflies."

Here's the respectable list of research institutions within the consortium working hard to understand some very complex issues facing the monarch:

  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation: Monsanto will match the initial $1.2 million pledge from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund and provide $2.4 million additional funding to match commitments from federal agencies over the next three years. This support will be targeted to provide habitat restoration, education and outreach and milkweed seed and plant production.
  • Monarch Watch: A nonprofit education, conservation, and research program based at the University of Kansas – focuses on the monarch butterfly, its habitat, and its spectacular fall migration. This grant will enable Monarch Watch to produce and make available milkweed plants free of charge for landscape improvement, including buffer strips on farm-lands, roadsides, rights of way, parks, public lands and demonstration plots along the monarch’s migratory path – which stretches from Mexico to Canada.
  • Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium: The grant will help drive research to create quality habitat, develop guidance and demonstrations for farmers to cost-effectively improve and expand habitat, and monitor milkweed and adult monarch populations to track progress. The Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium can serve as a model framework for other state-level initiatives planning to implement monarch conservation.
  • Pheasants Forever: The grant will lead to the planting of monarch and pollinator habitats at more than 70 Monsanto research and manufacturing sites and facilities located in the monarch breeding range. This includes the creation of three Learning Center programs to demonstrate how to establish sustainable monarch and pollinator habitat, which is also the same habitat critical to upland birds. These programs engage, enroll and educate farmers and communities to contribute to a resilient monarch population.
  • University of Guelph: The grant will help to understand migration patterns and identify priority areas for milkweed restoration in the United States and Canada so that investments in habitat improvement are more successful.
  • University of Illinois at Chicago,Energy Resources Center: Researchers will use these resources to identify and prioritize available public and private lands for monarch habitat improvement using geo-spatial analysis. This information will support the success of restoration programs by considering habitat location, quality and cost across diverse landscapes.

Now the Fox Park Neighborhood of St. Louis is a tiny part of this monumental effort.  We are on the list to get an official sign marking our gardens:

So a sincere thank you goes out to Cody Hayo at Pretty City Landscaping and Mary Lou Green, et al. at Brightside St. Louis for sharing their expertise and resources and for the support of the Fox Park Neighborhood Association and the Alderwoman of the 6th Ward.  But most of all, thanks to the small group of volunteers who are willing to heave a pick axe, lug wheel barrows filled with compost and mulch and spend multiple hours during their precious weekends to support improving a long neglected corner of our fair city.

It is you guys that make living in Fox Park fun.

Cheers to Chris Barton, Beth Conroy, Beth Stelmach, Dale Thuet, Rob Moreland (and wife), Shannon Groth and the kids and the new neighbors I met for the first time who came out to help.

In the spirit of transparency, I am a current member of the Fox Park Neighborhood Association and a 21 year employee of Monsanto Company.

New Life For A Former Auto Dealership in Fox Park

Walk up Jefferson Avenue, just north of Gravois in the Fox Park Neighborhood, and you may notice something new and exciting at the corner of South Jefferson and Victor Street. Most recently, the building at 2501 Jefferson housed a music club/performance space called "the Warehouse" which closed not too long ago. Per city data, 2501 Jefferson was built in 1921.

Here's an idea of what the building looked like during its "Warehouse" years.

screen capture from Google Streetview

You may not recognize the building if you looked at it today. There is a major storefront and interior renovation taking place that hearkens back to the building's days as an auto dealership for the Riefling-Vigar Automotive Company who sold Fords and later Nash Ramblers.

Frank Joseph Riefling became the president of Riefling Auto Company. He was born in St. Louis in 1877 and died in 1946. He was laid to rest in the Mount Hope Cemetery in the small town of Lemay, MO just south of St. Louis.

photo sourced from: "Find A Grave"

Per an advertisement in "The St. Louis Lumberman" from September 15, 1917, The Riefling - Vigar Automobile Company once occupied the 2333-2341 buildings along Jefferson (now a car wash and gas station/junk food shop):

And here's a billboard advertising the dealership:

But, back to 2501 Jefferson...the folks behind the current restoration are the Larson Financial Foundation (LFF), a 501(c)3 non-profit philanthropic entity under the Larson Financial Group, a financial adviser focusing on the needs of physicians.

One of the ventures of LFF was to convert this former Ford/Rambler showroom to house LFF offices as well as a cleaning company called Wellspring Cleaning (currently in Creve Coeur, MO) and a startup furniture and woodworking shop called Narrative Furniture:

Their's is a very interesting story:

"Narrative Furniture Inc. is the expression of a vision to reclaim and realize the power of story through custom furniture design and economic development. Our legacy quality furniture company is built upon the forgotten manufacturing roots of St. Louis.

St. Louis was once a major manufacturing hub back in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. Whether it was beer, carburetors, bricks, shoes, or Corvettes, St. Louis made it. Unfortunately, the Great Depression and the years to follow dealt a crushing blow to our budding town. While some industries were revitalized during the 1950’s, particularly the automobile industry, manufacturing in St. Louis had long since reached its peak.

But, we’ve got a legacy to uphold. We have planted our roots in a building that was once filled with Fords and Ramblers, in the historic Fox Park neighborhood, and we’re here to stay. We have seen the industrial spirit of our town thrive and die, and we could not be more thrilled to take part in remaking this spirit." (source)

As part of their vision, they are currently undergoing the expansive renovation of the building and a reclamation of the storefront to honor the Riefling - Vigar Auto Company history.  Here's the full story from the LFF website:

"Located on the city’s south side, South Jefferson Avenue was home to a thriving automobile industry in the first half of the 20th century. Like many of the older industries upon which St. Louis was built that have either moved on or closed down, the industry has left a number of large warehouse buildings as monuments of a previous era. One such building is located at 2501 S. Jefferson, built between 1919 and 1921 for Riefling-Vigar Automobile Co as a Ford dealership. During the post depression decades, Ford distribution was dramatically reduced in St. Louis, and Riefling-Vigar began selling and offering maintenance for the Nash Rambler automobile from the site. The building has served a number of purposes since the dealership went out of business over half a century ago, and now will serve as home base for LFF domestic initiatives in St. Louis City.

The 2501 S. Jefferson building is located on the southeastern edge of Fox Park, a historic neighborhood on the city’s south side that has seen a massive industry exodus in the decades following the Riefling-Vigar closure. LFF desires to be a part of the revitalization that is already taking root in the neighborhood. In addition to moving its offices to the building, LFF will move its two social enterprise ventures, Wellspring Cleaning and Narrative Furniture, into the building immediately. With plans to set up a full-scale wood shop in the basement, we hope to facilitate training and employment that will impact the surrounding community for the long term. LFF also plans to work with the Facade Program, part of the St. Louis Development Corporation, to restore the building to its historic architecture and aesthetic. In addition, LFF’s work with the Facade Program will create shared work and an incubation space for social enterprise in Fox Park, which we anticipate will evoke community pride in both the history and the potential innovation that is represented.

LFF closed on the building on August 13, 2014, has begun renovation work, and plans to move into the space in the fall of this year." (source)

To learn a little more about my new neighbors, I contacted John Peters and Andy Kim, directors of LFF to get their perspectives on the building and the work they've undertaken. They were kind enough to invite me to their offices and show me around.

The main level was the automotive showroom where cars were once driven in from street level off of Victor Street:

They exposed the original stained glass on the storefront and are keeping the amazing tile floor.

The brick walls were exposed and the fold out windows are fully functional, and in use on my visit, providing a pleasant cross breeze.

The basement is where the woodworking action will occur, with several saws, planers, etc. that will be used to create some of the most beautiful modern designs of furniture, kitchen cutting boards, succulent pots, etc. I've seen. Much of their offerings are created from reclaimed wood. More details will emerge on the work and offerings of Narrative as they approach launch and scale up of the business...right here in Fox Park. Here are some examples of their work:

photo source:

Narrative Furniture

                                  photo source: Narrative Furniture

Speaking of wood, the original freight elevator still exists in the building.  It's floor, walls and grates are all made of wood and are apparently still functional and will be maintained by the latest owners to keep the historical context alive.

The second floor is the real charmer. It was designed to house John and Andy's offices as well as meeting space and practical uses like storage and restrooms.

The skylights were freed up and restored to provide a tremendous amount of natural light and the modern glass and sleek lines of the furniture and hardware chosen to accent the offices adds a tremendously good vibe to the space.

nautical cleats formed as door handles

natural light from the restored skylights

Several relics from the automotive days were shared, including a numbering system painted on the 2nd floor which was most likely used for a parts inventory system, a section where spray painting and body work went down and an advertisements and paper weight from the Riefling-Vigor days.

Upon completion, Larson has offered their space to host neighborhood meetings and community gatherings and look forward to being part of the community and part of the city's bright future.

Here's to another historic brick building seeing a new chapter in its life, and a very intriguing and ambitious new neighborhood business in Fox Park.

Fox Park East Immigrant Housing Project

After reading the

story that NextSTL broke

on the Fox Park East Immigrant Housing Project last week I wanted to provide some personal perspective from someone who has lived in the neighborhood for ~4 years and how I feel this project will play an important role in an extremely important section of the city.

Actually, two separate low income housing projects were proposed by two separate groups that have the potential to make a huge impact on this key area in South St. Louis:  Fox Park, McKinley Heights and Tower Grove East.  These burgeoning areas are the ultimate bridges between Tower Grove Park, Shaw and Tower Grove South to the west, Soulard to the east, Lafayette Square to the north and the Benton Park areas to the south.

I love this part of the city and think it is going to continue to see investment as Shaw and Soulard and Lafayette get "built out".

Both projects proposed would utilize state and federal low income tax credits and both will target low income tenants as to provide quality affordable housing to an under-served population.  The first is the Fox Park East Immigrant Housing (FPEIH) project, the second is Southside Homes by C. F. Vatterott.

Today I'm  focusing on the first of the projects, FPEIH, which spans the Tower Grove East and Fox Park neighborhoods.  I'll do a separate post soon sharing my thoughts related to the Vatterott proposal to build new homes on LRA and Vatterott-owned lots in Fox Park and McKinley Heights in the near future.

The FPEIH venture will be a historic rehabbing project and will involve a non-profit called

RISE

, Wagstaff Urban Werks and Messiah Lutheran.  You may recognize Wagstaff Urban Werks, as they have designed the "Ritz Park" that was recently completed on South Grand (

source

).

RISE too has experience and a proven track record for respectful historic rehabs in Old North St. Louis and, closer to home, Forest Park Southeast with the Park East Homes project; take a look:

Photo source:  

risestl.org

  Photo source:  

risestl.org

Not too shabby, eh?

Here is their mission statement:

"Rise's mission is to work in partnership with community-based and other organizations to redevelop and strengthen neighborhoods and communities. By providing capacity-building assistance, housing development services and access to financing, we make the connections between non-profit community organizations, financial institutions and government that make successful neighborhood revitalization possible."
(source)

Messiah Lutheran is a South City church in the Tower Grove East neighborhood and is the principal sponsor for this project. Following is a summary of their mission:

In a classic “middle neighborhood”, Fox Park and Tower Grove East provide the perfect blend of resources and revival to suggest the proposed development will be a success. What would seem to assure success is the genesis of this proposal. Messiah Lutheran has enjoyed the recent emergence of a refugee population in their congregation. Ethnically Nepalese, a significant population of Bhutanese refugees has made the greater neighborhood around Messiah Lutheran’s South Grand Church home. Having “adopted” this population, the congregants of Messiah Lutheran have become acutely aware of the needs of their new friends and neighbors. Often characterized by single households made up of extended families, these families are often under-housed, rent burdened and living in substandard housing. Still assimilating, the population has frequently been victims of street crime in the neighborhoods where they initially settle. On many occasions these families, most of whom have no automobiles or a single car for an extended family, have expressed a desire to live in a more stable neighborhood and closer to the church and the resources it provides.
 The circumstances seem to be preordained. The recent relocation of the International Institute to 3401 Arsenal Street (in the heart of the proposed scattered site development) brings significant resources into immediate proximity to the proposed development. The refugees and their families will have the regular support needed in order to develop the skills and cultural understanding needed to thrive in a new home. In addition to affordable housing, limited commercial space in one of the centrally located buildings will be made available to local non-profits and financial industry volunteers to provide the targeted population with a variety of services including financial literacy, jobs counseling, credit building, and other important services. In keeping with MHDC’s stated goals, the proposed housing is a short walk from major public transportation stops, shopping, cultural resources, employment opportunities and entertainment. 

All three organizations involved in this project are St. Louis City entities.  This project will target 10 separate buildings for historical rehabilitation, including six in the Fox Park neighborhood and four in the Tower Grove East neighborhood.

Here is a map of the rehab projects proposed by FPEIH:

And here's the proposed property list by address:

Now let's take a look at these bruised brick beauties that may be coming back to life:

2801-2803 California Avenue (front)

 2801-2803 California Avenue (rear)

2625-2627 Texas Avenue

2833 Magnolia Avenue

2850 Magnolia Avenue

2128-2130 Oregon Avenue

2644 Accomac Street

3114 Sidney Street

3152 Arsenal Street

3114-3116 Arsenal Street

3110 Magnolia Avenue

In a recent public meeting held in Fox Park, the neighbors in attendance had overwhelming support for the project.

Adding density, ethnic diversity, stable tenants, support of immigrants as well as sensitive historic preservation of vacant homes are all things I look forward to with this project. And these values are the ones that I really enjoy about living in this part of St. Louis. I personally feel that this project will be a success and will increase the quality of life in this amazingly happening part of town.

Fox Park-The Park

This is a long, long, long winded post.  There is a lot going on in Fox Park, and I have a ~2.5 year story to tell.  If you don't get through this, please let me begin by asking for your support.  If you would like to volunteer for our Park Committee, email me.  We always need help manning our weekend gardening hub, Spring and Fall planting projects, fire hydrant painting, grant writing and getting a dog park going.  If you have skills in these areas and want to be part of an up-and-coming neighborhood, let me know.  This is my pet project so to speak, so I can't be shy when it comes to drumming up potential support.  People always say we need more doers and less talkers in St. Louis.  I concur; but, I say we need both.  This is my "doing" project and the talking, well, you know I just can't shut up when it comes to my favorite city.

For those familiar with Fox Park (the park) you may have noticed some very significant changes.  Starting this spring, you are about to see more substantial changes.  It is an exciting time.

Kind readers, this is your chance to follow the work that's been taking place in Fox Park over the last two years or so.

First a little on Fox Park the neighborhood:

Fox Park is a south city neighborhood located between some of St. Louis' greatest neighborhoods.  With boundaries of I-44 to the north, Nebraska to the west, Jefferson to the east and Gravois on the south, the neighborhood is embedded amongst the swanky Compton Heights and Lafayette Square neighborhoods on the west and northeast and shares borders with the comparable up-and-coming neighborhoods of Tower Grove East, Benton Park West and McKinley Heights.

The 2010 U.S. Census data counted 2,632 in Fox Park, a 17.1% decline compared to 2000 counts.  Racially speaking, the neighborhood is 61% black, 32% white and 5% Hispanic/Latino.  Those numbers are basically unchanged from 2000 to 2010.

This is a key area of the city that must continue to improve to stabilize the southside.  This part of the city has seen a lot of changes in the last 50 years.  In talking to neighbors, it probably hit rock bottom in the crack epidemic years of the late 1990's.  The entire city and nation as a whole really had a rough time when crack hit the streets and the murders spiked:

(source)

However, things have calmed down since the 1990s.  The police deserve a lot of credit here.  Also, renovation really picked up and gentrification started to take hold in the early 2000's.  Now, after living here for over 2 years, I would say this is a bona fide up-and-coming neighborhood with tremendous potential.  I am raising a family here, making friends here and we honestly love it here.  But, it's not Shaw, Benton Park or Tower Grove South just yet...it's rougher around the edges.  There is very little walkable business and nightlife compared to those previously mentioned neighborhoods.  We have some work to do...but there are people here willing to put in the sweat equity to help make it happen.

In many ways the park from which the neighoborhood takes its name is a good representation of the neighborhood and area itself.  Years of deferred maintenance, dis-investment and blind eyes turned/no-snitch societal norms have made the park a not so nice place.  Destructive activity by unsupervised kids and local adults who have been binge drinking, fighting, selling/smoking weed and crack here for years has taken its toll.  It's so obvious, you'd have to be a fool not to notice how unchecked this area has been for years.  With the bad guys doing business right out in the open under the pavilion on Shenadoah.  Long time neighbors and decent residents don't go to the park for this specific reason.  How do I know you might ask?  Well, outside of good old street smarts and conventional wisdom, we have some data as well...our former (excellent) alderwoman Kacie Starr-Triplett organized a door to door canvasing of the residential blocks immediately surrounding the park to get a feel for what people like and don't like about the park, and what they want to see in the future.  The idea here was to attempt to engage the people who live around the part to be part of the solution and not the problem.  We informed people about how to get involved and attend neighborhood meetings (which are advertised publicly with signs throughout the neighborhood).  Sadly, we did not get anyone to volunteer their time as a result of this effort, but we did get some good feedback.  The overwhelming response from residents was that they were scared to go to the park because it's ghetto and the dealers and large groups of people drinking, etc was intimidating and violent.  Fact.  All this is now being addressed head on...full on...there's no quitting this time...this cannot go on in a public place where little kids and decent people should feel welcome and safe.

Shenandoah right by the pavilion is the favorite dealing spot for these guys who seek to "own" the park and did not get asked questions from the decent neighbors and residents for years, in fact many of these guys are neighbors.  All afternoon-long and into the night binge drinking parties took place on the Victor side of the park by the old time residents and visitors, again unchecked by the neighborhood.  This has been going for years if not decades, say the long time residents.  This was not a nice, feel good block party-like scene.  A group of people standing, yelling, fighting, hassling passersby, at times blocking the street is not a healthy public park.

What decent person regardless of race or class or upbringing wants to be subjected to this at a park where little kids are running around and playing?  It was embarrasing and a black eye for the neighborhood.  It had to be addressed.  Now was the time.

Fast forward to a Gateway Greening community garden tour where I met someone from Fox Park (my new neighborhood at the time).  This person I met just so happens to be an urban pioneer with her partner in the Fox Park neighborhood.  Turns out they rehabbed the building next to our house and have done the same to other homes and own some other property in the neighborhood.  To say the least, they are invested and really, really care.

We hit it off fantastically and are now good friends and co-leads of the Fox Park Park Committee.  Her name is Beth Stelmach and she is one of the urban pioneers that has put her unending dedication to this city and specifically, this neighborhood, on display.  She is a super nice person, but a bulldog on issues that need frank discussion and straight talk.  She is a woman of kind and measured action.  She brings people together in ways that inspire me constantly, and I guess I'm just blessed and fortunate to have met her.

Beth has tirelessly led the reincarnated Fox Park Park Committee for over 2 years.    Her accomplishments and no-quit attitude are on display in the park today.  We have ridden this emotional rollercoaster together through the thick and thin.  Making positive change is an uphill battle sometimes.  The best way I can sum up my experience working in Fox Park so far has certainly been "two steps forward and one step back".  I'll share examples in a moment.  Through all the adversity and crime and harassment we've dealt with, it's been Beth and her partner who have given my family and others the resolve and strength and encouragement to never stop.  I'm a very simple man who thinks positivity and love can always flush out negativity and hate.  Given that I'm drafting much of this post on MLK day, I'll share one of my favorite quotes of his:

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."   Martin Luther King, Jr.

Back in 2004 the Fox Park Neighborhood Association and then Alderwoman Phyllis Young worked with a local firm (H3) to draft a Masterplan.  The masterplan was developed based on a thorough canvassing of the neighbors around the park to get their input on what the neighborhood wanted the park to be.  Here's the product of that endeavor:

Key elements of this plan included new landscape, trees, a dog park, a new basketball court, playground and spray pool.  There was no money set aside for this work, it was just meant to serve as a template for future improvements.

One key element of the plan was implemented shortly thereafter in 2009.  The open field area along California Avenue on the western edge of the park was graded and seeded at a cost of ~$9,840; the Fox Park Neighborhood Association paid for this.  Longtime residents tell me this part of the park used to be a small grocery store which became a big problem property when it became a spot for the local dealers and thugs to ruin for everyone else.  The building was demo'd and buried in the foundation making planting in this area a struggle.

Another key element of the masterplan that took place during Alderwoman Young's tenure was the installation of new playground equipment:

please forgive my shoddy cell phone camera photos

The original plan was to have the playground extend to the east as well per the Masterplan and the following design:

The area circled in blue and green never happened, and we got a scaled down version of the above design circled in red including the swingset to the north.  The city paid for this nice new playground equipment and swing set out of Aldermanic capital funds.

As I mentioned before, when a neighborhood which has been dominated by negativity and neglect is faced with a new influx of positive activity and investment, the bad guys tend to react immediately as they are scared that their place of business and hang out is threatened.  I will provide proof of this at every step...not in an attempt to be a downer, but to keep it real and let people know that this is the fight that must be waged in order to have decent, safe public spaces for ALL to enjoy.  Haters and thugs are amongst us here and they have tried to fail nearly all attempts at improvement.  I want to tell that side of the story as well.

In this part of town there are some "gangs" of kids, teens and longtime residents known as the 27 Mac and ACG.  Everyone knows they exist and this has been going on for years as my neighbors who have been here for much longer than I have have educated me.  Tagging is one of their favorite pastimes, and here's their immediate contribution to the new playground equipment right after it was installed:

Let it be known that if normal people go to the park with their kids, these knuckleheads will make some noise, denegrate themselves and move on.  They don't like people who will call them out on their behavior and will leave until the decent people leave and then they return.  They also put on display their feelings for women and the "n-word" in the freshly poured concrete.  They also burned holes in the slides and the rubber surface.  Thanks guys, way to go.  2 steps forward, one step back.

Fast forward to the new park committee formed by Beth.  We started by walking the park together and talking about what needed to be done immediately.  We removed graffitti and gang signs.  We picked up trash.  We made a list.  We contacted the alderwoman to introduce ourselves and hopefully get her support.

Our first set of goals were:

Remove the dead and dying trees throughout the park; we identified the ones that needed to be cut down and the city forestry and park's dept did a good job of removing the trees and grinding the stumps.  The Cardinal's 2011world series victory gave the city some extra money and we were told the tree removal was a result of that windfall:

dead pines surrounded the basketball court

dead deciduous trees lined Victor Street

We now needed new trees to provide shade and beauty and replace the ones that were dead or dying.  We were told there were no mature trees available from the city, so we had to get creative.  We wrote a grant to Missouri ReLeaf Communitree and got 40 + trees in 3 gallon pots.  We got a crack group of volunteers to help plant these trees throughout the park.  We rented industrial grade augers and planted 20 tulip poplars, 10 serviceberry and 10 eastern red bud in addition to some extras that we purchased through the neighborhood association.  We put in hours and hours of digging, mulching and watering these trees to have them only survive until the following spring when the unsupervised kids and park partiers pulled them out of the ground and threw them up by the pavilion, or simply snapped them off.  We lost > 75% of the trees we planted.  They didn't stop there, they also destroyed several large trees the city planted that were ~3' in diameter.  We photo documented all destruction and negative behavior so we could build a case to the city and anyone else who would listen that we have a problem on our hands.

We didn't stop there, we wrote another grant in the fall of 2012 for trees that were 3 times larger in an attempt to make it a little harder to destroy.  We planted 3 vernal witchhazel, 3 northern red oak and 3 blackgum.  They still stand as of now, but we'll have to keep an eye out come warmer weather. 

The park goers were littering the park with trash empty beer cans and gin bottles, we needed to get more trash cans.  Drive by the park today, you may notice the cheesy white plastic trash cans.

Kind of ugly, right? All other city parks have the metal ones. We can't have those because our old ones were stolen for scrap. We got new metal ones from the city, those were stolen too. Thanks again assholes, I guess we have to stick with the plastic ones for now until we can quit being the target. Metal trash cans are all over the city, these were targeted by people who are pushing back at the positivity  We got a grant from Gateway Greening for 4 beautiful large plastic trash cans designed for parks. These will have to be installed in concrete requiring more hours, expertise and money from the park committee and neighborhood association.  Here's a photo of the nice new cans to be installed in 2013: 

The old crappy and unsafe basketball court that exists near the right field of the ballpark had to be addressed.  This area had several dead and dying trees surrounding it and the roots eventually destroyed the surface.  The people that have lived here for years have not demanded better conditions, and they proceeded to destroy the rims, backboards etc.  This was one of the former hotspots for intimidation, binge drinking and public weed/crack smoking.  It was insanely prevalent and not a welcoming site...of course, right next to our playground.  Here's what it looked like:

^ notice the grown men drinking Bud-Ice 40's right next to the kids playing

We set up a meeting with our new alderman Kacie Starr-Triplett whose ward now covered the park after redistricting.  We shared with her our ideas about implementing the long-shelfed masterplan and getting a new basketball court was a big part of that.  Moving it to the spot at Victor/Ohio was a key element of the adopted masterplan.  We were able to establish a great relationship with Kacie and one of her advocates, Christine Ingrassia, then Director of Community Outreach - 6th Ward at Jeff Vanderlou Initiative.  This budding relationship turned out to be a game changer for us...more on that later in the post.

Kacie said the basketball court project "spoke to her".  We wanted to set ourselves apart from Lafayette Square and many other neighborhoods surrounding Fox Park that got rid of their public basketball courts when they became havens for thugs and other assholes that make the parks uninviting, loud and violent.

We got funds through Kacie to get the old court removed and a new one built per the masterplan.  We got a seat at the table in City Hall to meet with the capital improvement project liaison who put together the plans and dimensions and asked for our input.  Come spring, 2013 ground will break on the first new basketball court in this part of town in years.  This is extremenly exciting and we invite any and all to join us shooting hoops at the new court.  If you want to set up a league, send me a note.

I know what some of you are thinking, this is not going to turn out well.  Why are you rewarding the same people who have destroyed the current court and shit all over the park every night/weekend?  I've heard that argument, but I disagree.  We may need help from the police and cameras, but we will not let this court go to pot and become a place where kids and others will be intimidated.  We have to continue this fight.  Fox Parkers deserve a court for decent people to enjoy.  We will have that now.

Furthermore, there was a delapidated 8 foot fence that was in disrepair along the right field line along Shenandoah.  This fence was installed to presumably keep people out of the park???  It had to go.

holes in the fence

stay out of this park!

4' silver and 8' green fence didn't match at all...shoddy

The fence was removed by the park's dept and we now have an open view of the beautiful maple trees and this side of the park is much more inviting to the residents of the neighborhood and has much better curb appeal.

The park committee thought we needed more positive activity in the park.  We worked with Gateway Greening to establish Fox Park as a South City garden hub.  A hub garden is basically a "home base" where gardeners throughout the city can come to borrow tools for their gardens/landscape projects, buy inexpensive fruit, vegetable, herb seeds and get good gardening info and advice.  Gateway Greening gave us a lawn mower, weed wacker, rotor tiller, hand tools, etc. to loan out for a small deposit for anyone to use.  We have a dedicated but small set of people who volunteer a couple hours on Saturdays to open the hub up to all.  People come from all over the city to buy seeds, plants and loan out tools.  GG installed all the tools in our pavillion and all this stuff was secured behind locked doors.  Continuing on my two steps forward, one back theme, the assholes who saw us using the pavillion broke in and stole everything except the rotor tiller which was rented out.  They took everything except the seeds.  Thanks again guys.  One morning, someone accidentally left out some sidewalk chaulk and the thugs took to tagging the pavilion with 27 MAC stuff, their calling card.  Thanks again guys.  We got new locks and new tools that were donated to GG from kind folks in their network.  Guess what thugs, we aren't going away.  In fact we got a great sign to establish the pavillion as a garden hub.  Furthermore on the 2 steps forward, 1 back theme, this sign was pulled out of the ground once and torn off the sign post another time.  Thugs hate positivity.  I installed it once more this time with the best hardware I could get.  It stands as of today, and we'll keep putting it back up.  The thugs especially hate this because this is the drive up window for drug sales during warm months.

As part of our grant from GG, we also got 2 brand new picnic tables which we wanted to go between the maple trees along Shenandoah.  We had a very generous neighbor who spent 2 days staining them with 3 coats of varnish.

The picnic tables became a nuisance to the neighbors as they attracted large, loud, rude crowds who didn't pick up and left the areas completely trashed.  We heard a lot of complaints from people who live on Shenandoah and Armand.  It looked bad from the streets as well.  So, we moved them to the California side.  The thugs and haters didn't like the move and splashed cans of paint all over the tables.  Thanks again asshole.  Our now neighborhood prez and vice prez cleaned up the paint.  We aren't going to quit.

We knew we could update and refresh the signage in the park as well.  There was a rather aged shadowbox type sign at California and Shenadoah.  It was meant for people to post notices, park info, etc, but it was never used.  We decided to move this shadow box to the pavilion to post upcoming events and ask for volunteer support and help keeping an eye out for safety and calls to the police to report ghetto behavior.  This was also an attempt to inform those that are destroying our work to help pitch in and have a voice in the park.  That has not materialized to date.

GG lent us the services of a dedicated and skilled employee who drilled into the brick and installed this awesome sign under our pavillion.  Thanks GG!  Of course, the thugs tore down all the flyers we had placed in the sign to talk about the new basketball court and watching out for new trees in the park, etc.  So Beth bought and installed locks to the sign.

When we opened up one of the doors in the pavilion, we discovered 3 unused signs just lying in wait for some TLC.  We worked with an artist who lives in the neighborhood to design a font and make lettering for the signs.  We got bids for installation and went with a local business in Old North St. Louis who did great work.  We got $ from the neighborhood association to execute the job.  And the signs are standing proudly at California/Shenandoah, Victor Street and Shenandoah Avenue.

The areas around the signs will be the site of much landscaping work to be completed in 2013.

We took a look at the tired and beat up fire hydrants around the park.  Something had to change.  We worked with a talented artist, Grace McHammond who has done many of the murals in the Grove.  She was awesome to work with and drafted up a couple designs.  We chose this one and now you'll see these around the park.

We kicked off an "adopt a hydrant" campaign to get all hydrants in the neighborhood painted with this.  Click HERE to be part of that campaign.

More good fortune was upon us.

As mentioned before we struck up a professional relationship with Christine Ingrassia, who tirelessly fought for us and listened to our complaints.  She commisserated with us and a lot more...she went to work grant writing for funds for a children's spray pool as per the Mater Plan.  She got the support of local city leaders all the way up to Senator Claire McKaskill and got us a ~$160,000 grant wiht the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a children's spray pool directly south of the pavilion leading to the playground.  You should see ground breaking on this in 2013.

Christine didn't stop there.  She worked with then alderwoman Triplett, to get us a meeting with the Park's Department, Police and Police Athletic League which "runs" the baseball field.  Thankfully, the alderman and Christine attended the meeting with us.  Let me just say we got some push back on our efforts and not all invited parties could be characterized as professional.  That being said, a lot of good came out of it.  We got access to the ballpark for neighborhood events.  PAL does not "own" the park and we can now use it.  We held a Spring youth t-ball league organized by Ms. Ingrassia.  It was open to all and it was a great time.  Christine also organized a fall festival to get neighbors together in the park.  Good times were had by all.

We also got help from the police.  They got tough, issued some tickets, made some arrests and cracked down on the ghetto behavior.  They got rid of the parties on Victor.  I mean gone...to this day, it's cleaned up.  Also, they made some busts on the playground, basketball court and at the pavilion.  They parked the armored police vehicle with cameras there for over a week.  It was awesome.  The police were ON IT.  And things got better for awhile.  It was a message we could never have given on our own.  Thanks to the SLPD for the dedication and support. The dealers are still around, they are just scared for now, but they will be back in the warmer weather.  We won't quit though.  A new Capt. was assigned to our district, so we are very hopefull that we'll have their full support in protecting our investments in the park.

Thanks to all the great people I've met in Fox Park.  You are the ones on the front lines of St. Louis' streets making this a city we can love as opposed to one we're embarrassed to bring our friends and family to.  These are the grass roots that truly make change on the urban landscape.

This year, we are convening to discuss our plans for 2013.  We hope to start a fundraising campaign for a dog park and walking paths throughout the park to encourage dog walkers, stroller pushers, joggers, etc to use the park for exercise. 

The park has gotten exponentially better.  I have no doubt it will continue to get better, and as goes the park goes the neighborhood.  If I didn't believe we have the right group in place to make this happen, I wouldn't be spending my time on this.  Believe me, we will make Fox Park just like Shaw and Tower Grove.  It just takes time.

Keep up the love yall!  Drop me an email if you want to be part of this action-oriented group.

Cheers, Mark

We Are Putting the Fox back in Fox Park...You Can Help!

Hello readers and friends.  Fox Park is making tremendous progress as an "up-and-coming" neighborhood.  This part of the city is clearly on the rise.  Part of making a vibrant city is to embrace public art.  Someone driving or walking by will notice the creativity and life that artwork brings and think, wow this place is organized and happening.  Think of the many signs and murals along Manchester in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood between Vandeventer and Kingshighway.  The place is eye-catching and alive.

Some in Fox Park have taken notice of the Grove and other like parts of town and contacted the very talented artist that creates many of those beautiful murals.  She came up with a design for Fox Park that was met with much love from the majority in the nabe. 

The park, for which the neighborhood gets its name, is undergoing a major renovation.  I will be posting a comprehensive story on that in the coming days.  The fire hydrants around the park were tired and rusty and faded, so we sanded them down, primed them and dressed them up with the new logo. 

From this:

To this:

This change was met with positive feedback from the park users and neighbors.  So we are taking it to the next level...and you can help.

The neighborhood was walked and we located each and every hydrant in our small neighborhood.  There are a total of 80 hydrants...let's paint them all!

Here are the locations of the hydrants:

You can be a part of the remaking of a small part of our city by "adopting" a hydrant for a mere $50/hydrant.  The cost will go to wire brushes, paint/supplies and paying the artist to paint the fox design...the remainder goes to our dog park fund raising campaign.  The donation is tax deductible and you will get a receipt.  Just click

here

 to learn the details.  So pick your top 3 locations and send in a donation to the following address:

Fox Park Hydrant Campaign

P.O. Box 58718

St. Louis, MO 63158

Help a critical part of St. Louis shine like it should! 

Thanks for your consideration, Mark.