27 June 2011

Hyde Park update!

During our second week working with the kids in the Urban Expressions program, we organized the kids in teams to share the cameras we have available. We headed north from their school along Blair Avenue, visiting sites (and looking at and seeing sights) along the way. The range of conditions to be found in the span of a few blocks runs the gamut.

Brick rot

Across the street from the school is a wonderfully restored home with a beautiful cornice. Its fenced yard to protected by several fierce-sounding dogs which coming running as we head up the sidewalk. We smile as we see three cute, curly-haired mutts arrive at the fence.

Next door is a house presently undergoing renovation. Sweaty men are busy hauling debris from its dark, boarded-up interior.

Cornerstone Cafe

At the corner of Blair Avenue and Salisbury Street is the Cornerstone Cafe. The owners are a wonderful family with deep roots in the community. They serve inexpensive, delicious sandwiches. Their patrons range from kids just learning to walk to older men who fondly recall the "good old days". The kids take photos around the simple cafe: the homemade mural of collaged faces, the mounted deep water ocean catch and the patron and servers. Before we leave, the owner offers the kids suckers.

Cornerstone Cafe wall collage

Diagonally across from the cafe is the historic firehouse which has been lovingly restored. It's beige bricks contrast with the dark reddish bricks that comprise most of the neighborhood's buildings.

The old Salisbury Hardware store stares blankly across the intersection encrusted with a patina of texts, graphics and graffiti that suggest something of its history. We're told that renovations of the building should be starting sometime soon.

Salisbury Hardware

A few doors down, there's a solid old duplex being completely restored. Masons have been repairing and tuck pointing the brickwork for several weeks. Windows have started to be installed.

Duplex under restoration

A little farther down the street, a similar structure is missing much of its facing bricks and most of its windows marking a clear contrast to the newly preserved duplex.

Facade with missing bricks

These homes face the historic square green landscape of Hyde Park, one of St. Louis' 19th century open spaces which was originally built in the village of New Bremen, before the area's incorporation into the City of St. Louis. Stories suggest that the open space was named for London's Hyde Park. While some residents believe the park was originally named Bremen Park (after the German city from which many of the area's early residents emigrated), the aerial views prepared by Compton & Dry in 1875 show it as named "Hyde Park".

Pictorial St. Louis -- Compton & Dry, 1875

Their belief that the name was changed from Bremen seems to be based upon the anti-German sentiment that developed during the two world wars. While that story is apocryphal, some of the Cornerstone Cafe regulars recall seeing Nazi's parading through the streets with flags and National Socialist regalia during WWII.

While the park is green and open with mature trees, playground, pavilion and other amenities, it seems underutilized.

Turning on Bremen Street, we find an empty burned multifamily structure that had years ago been painted blue next to a series of vacant lots that appear to have been relatively recently cleared. In the far corner, piles of mulch and compost suggest the existing of a garden in this unlikely locale.

Blue house

We're delighted to find rows of planting in various states of growth and then pleased meet its owner and caretaker, a slender woman with a broad gardeners hat capping her long flowing hair. She patiently answers the kids' rapid-fire questions.

Julie Longyear

"Did you make this garden?"

"Do you really live here?"

"How old are you?"

"Why do you have gray hair?"

"Where's the lettuce? Spinach? Melons?"
She calmly answers them all and even shows us how she hand pollinates the plants she keeps wrapped in lightweight fabric as a barrier to insects. She uses only organic methods in maintaining and developing her garden.

Julie demonstrates pollenating by hand

Hoses are strewn across the alley and around the planting beds to facilitate watering. The start of a circular bed of ornamentals edged in irregular limestone edging is beginning to take shape nearby.

As the heat of the afternoon sun starts to bear down on us, a large black dog barks at us from across the alley signaling our time to leave.

While some of the kids profess an inability to make it all the way back to the school, we do arrive as a group three blocks back toward the south under the shadow of the Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church.

Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church


  1. "The old Salisbury Hardware store... We're told that renovations of the building should be starting sometime soon."

    That is great news! I've been worried about this gorgeous building for a while now. Any idea who is renovating or what for?

  2. My source for this information is the owners of the Cornerstone Cafe who have a GORGEOUS historic photo of the building in its prime decked out for the 4th of July.