THE FINAL VERSION OF THIS PAPER WILL BE POSTED SOON!!
April 6, 1998
Hon 203--Cities and the Environmental Crisis
Prof. Dennis Judd, Ph.D.
Research Project Progress Report and Precis:
Forest Park--A Park is for the People
Forest Park is the largest city park in St. Louis, Missouri. Since its creation in 1874, its development has been the topic of many controversies and discussions. It is today home to several prominent cultural institutions, as well as recreational facilities, and is surrounded by dense urban development. Joe Frank.
Public interest in Forest Park has been substantial, at least since the 1890s when streetcar access to the park enabled many people to use it for the first time. As the site of the 1904 World's Fair, it is a significant part of the cultural identity and mythology of St. Louis. Many other historical events in the St. Louis area also have had connections to Forest Park. Forest Park is an urban park attracting visitors from throughout the St. Louis region. Joe Frank.
The development and use of Forest Park has been an ongoing controversy in St. Louis. If this debate has focused on plans which conflict with the peaceful, serene image of a large urban greenspace, then it has relevance to all residents of the St. Louis area, because Forest Park can be an oasis, a haven both for wildlife and for people. Joe Frank.
The Importance of Forest Park
Forest Park is an integral part of metropolitan St. Louis, of the City of St. Louis, and particularly of the west end of the city. "St. Louisans care about Forest Park. For more than a century they have used it, loved it, and argued about it. The park has been a part of many of the city's major achievements and problems" (Loughlin and Anderson 1986,
p. 1). Joe Frank.
The establishment of Forest Park was part of the city beautiful and parks movements of the late eighteenth century. Many major cities in the United States and Europe developed huge parks in this period; the model for many was New York's Central Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and completed in the 1860s. "These new city parks were designed to give the laboring classes some breathing space and to cultivate civic virtue through exposure to nature improved by landscaping and art" (Corbett and Miller 1993, p. 84). These parks also included the Olmsted-designed "Prospect Park in Brooklyn, the Golden Gate Park at San Francisco, Riverside at Chicage, Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, and Franklin Park . . . at Boston" (Whitaker and Browne 1971, p. 22). Joe Frank.
Meanwhile, in St. Louis, Hiram W. Leffingwell and his associates "had a vision," for such a park in St. Louis, immediately west of the Kings Highway in what was then largely forests and farmland almost two miles beyond the city limits, with "no streetcar connections . . . and no paved roads" (Visit St. Louis Committee 1943, p. 5). The development of this vision "probably began when . . . Olmsted . . . visited St. Louis in 1863 as Secretary of the U.S. Sanitary Commission . . . In 1864, the Missouri legislature authorized St. Louis voters to approve a central park for their city, created a board of commissioners and instructed them to select a site" (Goell 1991, p. 8). The voters soundly rejected the proposal. Joe Frank.
But in 1870, Leffingwell, "a real estate man who had been instrumental in the founding of Kirkwood and the establishment of Grand Avenue," announced his plan for a 2754 acre St. Louis Park (Wayman 1978, p. 11). This park was to encompass roughly the entire area of today's Forest Park, plus much of the Dogtown, Cheltenhamm, and the Hill neighborhoods to the south, and areas as far west as present-day Big Bend Blvd. This plan was proposed to the legislature in 1871, and it too failed. "Hard-headed taxpayers affirmed that the land might be used for truck farms or something equally practical" (Visit St. Louis 1943, p. 6). The site was "a forty-minute carriage ride from downtown, making the transportation cost well beyond the reach of the ordinary citizen. Additionally, the proposal for Forest Park put its size at three times that of New York's Central Park, which struck many St. Louisans as excessive" (Fox 1995, p. 122). Joe Frank.
Nevertheless, Leffingwell continued to promulgate his vision, and in 1873, "finally gained support from two holders of major tracts in the site, William Forsyth and Thomas K. Skinker. By reducing the project's size to 1380 acres, with assurance to these owners that only part of their tracts would be acquired, with resultant increases in the value of [the rest], the bill was successfully steered through the legislature in 1874" (Wayman 1978, p. 11). The 1874 act also concurrently established Carondelet Park and O'Fallon Park, partly to placate protests by residents of north city and south city about the excessive size and inaccessibility of Forest Park. At the time, the property for Forest Park was within St. Louis county; thus the March 25, 1874 act "established a public park 'for the people of the county of St. Louis,' " and authorized issuance of $1.3 million in bonds to finance the purchase of the land and park improvements (Loughlin and Anderson 1986, p. 10). Several prominent landowners in the area still sued, but the Missouri supreme court ruled the act constitutional, purchase proceedings and development began, and the park was formally dedicated in 1876. That same year, the City of Saint Louis officially divorced itself from Saint Louis County; the boundary was drawn just west of Skinker Road in order to include Forest Park. Joe Frank.
Now the development of public transit access to the park was the chief problem; it was solved relatively quickly. The St. Louis, Kansas City and Northern Railroad held a right-of-way through the northeastern part of the park, the same right-of-way today used by MetroLink. The line "was completed in 1876 and was the railroad used by thousands on opening day" (Loughlin and Anderson 1986, p. 15). Yet no depot was ever constructed. The two trolley companies which, in 1885, developed access to the park were thus required by the city to construct pavilions, the first public-use buildings constructed inside Forest Park. The Lindell Pavilion, near the DeBaliviere at Lindell entrance, was built in 1892; and the Laclede Pavilion at West Pine and Kingshighway was built in 1893. "By 1896 the seven streetcar lines that served Forest Park carried a total of more than 2.5 million parkgoers a year" (34). Joe Frank.
Thus the early history of the park set the stage for future developments. Forest Park, through the past 100-plus years, has been the subject of great controversies about who should get to use it and in what ways. These debates have involved such diverse issues as the use of the western half of the park for the 1904 World's Fair, expansions of park institutions, proposals for Arena parking and Children's Hospital expansion encroaching on park land, and the recent proposals contained within the Forest Park Master Plan. These controversies will make up the bulk of this paper; because from the beginning, the story of Forest Park has been a story of debate, trade-off and compromise. After all, " 'Every citizen of this city and everybody who lives within a hundred miles who ever uses [Forest Park] thinks this is his park' " (188). Joe Frank.
The work done so far has involved much reading of scholarly books, both for a contextual understanding of Forest Park in the world, the city, and the neighborhood; and for specific information about the development of the park. Further research will involve the exploration of sources relevant to general context and, primarily, specific information about Forest Park and the various controversies involving the use of the park land. This includes searching for and reading journal articles and books about the nineteenth century parks movement and the city beautiful movement. Also, the many books written about the 1904 World's Fair, officially called the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, may provide some useful information, since the use of about half the park's land area for the fair did cause some debate at the time. Joe Frank.
Literature on the development of the interstate highway system may also be relevant, since substantial acreage in the park is taken by Interstate 64/U.S. Highway 40, which separates Forest Park from neighborhoods and institutions to the south. This was begun well before the interstate system, in the 1930s, as the Express Highway. However, the road was subsequently expanded, which caused some controversy. Joe Frank.
Numerous books and articles about Forest Park and about the histories of St. Louis and of the neighborhoods adjacent to Forest Park, particularly the Central West End, have provided insight into controversial development proposals for the park. Planning documents of the City of St. Louis, including the 1993-95 Forest Park Master Plan, the 1982 Forest Park Plan, and other such documents which may be available from the Community Development Agency (CDA) or the Parks, Recreation, and Forestry Department might also be useful if they can be obtained. Joe Frank.
On the Internet, more exploration is warranted of a few particular sites. The official City of St. Louis site (http://stlouis.missouri.org) has information about the Parks, Recreation, and Forestry Department and about the neighborhoods adjacent to Forest Park. The Forest Park Forever web site (http://www.slfp.com/SLFP-FPFE.htm) includes information and updates on the current Master Plan implementation process. The larger site of which it is a part, the St. Louis Front Page (http://www.slfp.com), also has information about Forest Park and its particular institutions. Joe Frank.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch daily paper web site and its online archives (http://www.stlnet.com) are a potential source for news articles dating to 1988 which need to be investigated further in order to understand some of the events surrounding the Forest Park master plan process. The West End-Clayton Word, formerly the West End Word, newspaper has a web site (http://www.iwc.com/wordpub) with some archives dating back to 1996. Also, the clipping files and photo archives of the former St. Louis Globe-Democrat daily newspaper may have some useful articles. Those archives are located at the St. Louis Mercantile Library, currently in downtown St. Louis, and may warrant a deep exploration. Joe Frank.
Individuals with whom an interview would be helpful include Dan McGuire, current director of the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Forestry; and John Hoal of the Washington University School of Architecture. Both of these individuals have been contacted and hopefully interviews can be scheduled soon. Community organizer and Forest Park Master Plan committee co-chair Kathryn Nelson, and Jim Mann, executive director of Forest Park Forever, could also provide some insight if they are available. Alderman Joe Roddy of the 17th Ward (including eastern Forest Park), Alderwoman Lyda Krewson of the 28th Ward (including most of Forest Park), the Forest Park Forever office, and the Forest Park Director's office might also lead to more information. Neighborhood organizations, such as the Skinker-DeBaliviere Community Council (SDCC), the Central West End Association (CWEA), and the Forest Park Southeast Housing Corporation (FPSHC) could possibly provide some context for understanding the relationship of their respective neighborhoods to Forest Park. This also needs more exploration. Joe Frank.
So although much research already has been completed, a more thorough and detailed analysis is necessary, with particular attention to the controversies attendant with proposed changes and non-park uses of Forest Park land. The ultimate intention is to understand and to communicate the significance of Forest Park for all St. Louisans, because it is an integral part of the lives of so many. Joe Frank.
Corbett, Katharine and Howard Miller. Saint Louis in the Gilded Age. St. Louis: Missouri Historical Society Press, 1993.
Fox, Tim, editor. Where We Live : A Guide to St. Louis Communities. St. Louis: Missouri Historical Society Press, 1995.
Goell, Suzanne. The Days and Nights of the Central West End. St. Louis: Virginia Publishing, 1991.
Loughlin, Caroline and Catherine Anderson. Forest Park. St. Louis: Junior League of St. Louis, 1986.
Visit St. Louis Committee. Forest Park and its History. St. Louis: St. Louis Chamber of Commerce and the City of St. Louis, 1943.
Wayman, Norbury. Central West End. History of St. Louis Neighborhoods series.
St. Louis: Community Development Agency, 1978.
Whitaker, Ben and Kenneth Browne. Parks for People. New York: Winchester Press, 1971.
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