1994: Halfway To Now – The LSRC At 25

Jim Heidenry at Park House – 1994

1994 represented the 25th year of existence for the Lafayette Square Restoration Committee (LSRC), a group chartered to save the neighborhood backwhen the threats to it were truly existential. I searched through our archives for that year, trying to identify the themes that preoccupied the Square. 

The LSRC president was Jim Heidenry. At the time, there was no distinction made between neighborhood and Lafayette Park. An ongoing project was the replacement of thousands of spear points on the park fence. They had to be purchased, welded to the fence, brushed, primed and top coated with a black linear polyurethane paint. The paint’s benefit was much like its main drawback – once it was on something, it was near impossible to remove, to the volunteer painters dismay.

By February, new points had been welded onto fence spears from Mississippi Avenue to Benton Place. By March it was 80% complete. This must have been cold work. 

Today the neighborhood is fairly dependent on its semi-annual house tours for revenues. In 1994, there was a little more balance. Note the fundraising activities as the year progresses. One event took the form of a spring auction  in the boathouse (later renamed the Kern Pavilion) that April. It proved a hit, generating $5,200 toward the park fence effort. In May, a grant from Union Electric (now Ameren) provided another $750. The fence rehab was a costly and extensive project; the LSRC had spent $50,000 over the preceding four years on fence restoration. Each spearpoint cost $5.00 and $2.00 more to weld to the fence. 600 were ordered in May and another 1200 newly cast points arrived in September. That news caused mixed emotions for Sandy McGuigan who had taken the lead in scraping and priming them. 

They were still at it as late as November of that year. The spearpoints project accelerated, and thanks were expressed to Jane Blackwell, Tom Coughlin, and Dave Harvey, who apparently struggled in brushing and priming with he unremovable paint. The linear polyurethane topcoat paint was durable stuff. Ward Buckner reported that it was generously donated by U.S. Paint Company a few years earlier. A ten man crew from Man2Man volunteered to prime the several thousand remaining points. This group was fast, as they had developed a method of some men brushing the street side while others painted the park side. By early 1995, the city, thanks to the persistent encouragement of alderperson Marit Clark, agreed to complete the painting. 

Some statistics from Wardwell Buckner in 1994 – the park fence is 9/10 of a mile long and has four large gateways, four medium entranceways, and one small gate. By the end of November 90% of the fence remained to be repainted. He estimated that the super paint would last 30 years under ideal conditions (not those to be found in St Louis). Ward made the suggestion that volunteers concentrate on hand painting points and posts near the gates to prevent errant paint from city sprayers hitting the limestone pillars. 

As Lafayette Park formally falls under the heading of city park, St Louis City Parks Department also undertook the task of repairing the fence foundations that had failed with time.  

Alan Doede

The swan house in the park was being rebuilt for the large pond, as a memorial to Alan Doede. Al was one of the first people to renovate and restore a home in Lafayette Square. In addition to running a lumber  company in St Louis, he was chairman of

The Doede Memorial Duck House

CASA, president of the Board of Directors for the Mercantile Library, and very involved in the LSRC.  He died at age 43 during a racquetball game, and it was a shock to the community. His memorial in the park was begun a year later. The original one cost $152.53 to build around 1874. The replacement was expected to cost nearly $6000.  A social held by Dave Tarr raised $3000 in one evening, speaking to the popularity of both Alan and the idea of a new swan house. 

Another fund raiser of note, chaired by Ray Brodzinski, was Opera Promenade V. This was the first time this popular event was held in the Square. The gala occupied Benton Place in mid-May of 1994, and had to turn some music lovers away as it sold out. Tickets were $11.00 and six Benton Place homes were open for the event. Singers from the St Louis Opera Theater delighted the audience. Ray, perpetually busy in the mid-90’s, also chaired the Concerts in the Park series that summer.

Later in the year, a night of celebration and fundraising was held in the Lafayette Park boathouse. It featured fare from Park Ave Confectionary, entertainment by a light jazz ensemble and a cash bar provided by Addisons on the Square. There were raffles for 5, 10 and 15 year anniversary house tour posters. Tickets were $15.00. 

1994 House Tour Poster

The spring house tour poster for 1994 was “The Mantles Of Lafayette Square”. This photo overview of historic and artistic fireplaces was shot and assembled by resident William Stage. 

A quick review of the merchants of Lafayette Square in 1994 included The Edge, Kilabrew’s, O.T. Hodge Chili Parlor, Park Avenue Chop Suey, Ricardo’s, Tooley’s Park Avenue Confectionary, Cumberworth’s Fine Flowers, John R. Greene Realty, Park Avenue Showroom Design, LaSalle Plumbing, McAvoy Realty, Austral Gallery, Dr. Dexter Jines, DMD, Frontenac Dry Cleaners, Schwartz Taxidermy, and Lafayette Square Travel. 

Jim Heidenry wrote in his president’s letter accompanying the 25th annual spring house tour that the neighborhood renewal began with “a handful of people led by Dr. Albert Montesi in 1967”. Heidenry estimated that 95% of the housing in the Square had been restored. In the 10 years leading to 1994, the Park House had been twice renovated, the fountain in the park repaired, the fence 85% restored, and the Betsy Cook pavilion built. The rock garden was also rehabilitated. A group of 20 residents, led by Maureen Redig laid down 4 tons of slate and gravel for this floral pathway. 

Bandstand In Happier Times

One of Lafayette Square’s favorite on again, off again projects, the rebirth of the Park bandstand was back to finance a rebuilding. The submission was essentially the update of a study done in 1986 by resident and architect Philip Cotton. This grant application was unsuccessful, which led Bob Cassilly to declare that the restoration of the bandstand could be accomplished by him for about $150,000. Later in the year the LSRC again applied for a bandstand grant. Cassilly & Cassilly submitted a bid of $150,000 to rebuild the pavilion. This was $100K less than a previous bid by an architectural firm. It was deemed important to rebuild the pavilion before the 100th anniversary of its destruction back in 1896. No word on what became of the Cassilly submission, but the bandstand ruins remain 25 years later.  

Another thing cooking was new activity in the code committee, led by Dick Stockmann. The development of a new set of revised historic codes was several years and much labor in the making. Dick, along with Marit Clark and Phyllis Young, ward alderwomen, were also busy with specifications and funding for the gates now at the intersection of Jefferson and Park Avenues. The LSRC put in $5000 for the project. Marit worked to get the remaining $80,000 from the city.

We’ve often heard that what the neighborhood really needs is a bodega style store like larger urban neighborhoods sport; a place to walk to for a sandwich or bottle of Tylenol. We had a shot at it with the introduction of  the Park Avenue Confectionary. It offered coffee, muffins, newpapers, soups, sandwiches and salad, antiques and toys, and desserts. They also carried a few convenience items like bread, milk, soda, cigarettes and toiletries. It’s an open question why this concept didn’t last, or wasn’t  picked up by another enterprising party. Its location at 1910 Park Avenue is now part of the pocket park near Mississippi Avenue.

September 24th was a full day of entertainment in the Square, featuring a “Fair On The Square”, hosted by the Business Association. This event included a dog parade and contest, food samples, drinks, live music, story tellers, clowns, jugglers, face painting and antique car show. It coincided with a seven hour Lafayette Square yard sale, with residents using their own yards to monetize their “treasures”. 

Later that fall, Mosell Stewart addressed the board, in search of approval for a hand car wash at the corner of Lafayette and Jefferson. It was then zoned residential, but it seemed unlikely that a house would ever be built there. Stewart presented his plan to the LSRC membership meeting, with proposed hours of business. He emphasized that he would run a quiet place and wouldn’t allow drinking on the property. Interestingly, this was the same property that had become a rallying point for the LSRC in the early 70’s. At that time, Shell wanted to take advantage of the Jefferson exit from I-44 to build a super station. The neighborhood turned out in force to protest the plan, and local media gave it enough attention that Shell foresaw better community relations in building elsewhere. This was a win in advance of federal historic district status, and cemented the LSRC’s ability to affect development plans. A smaller station eventually went in on the corner, but was empty by 1994. Mose eventually got his way, with the blessings of the board, and the car wash operated for a number of years. It stood until being purchased by the Church of Scientology as part of their larger deal for the old German House. As there was bound to be a parking shortage, this was to be their primary lot, but it sits undeveloped today, as the Scientologists have pared back their plans.

Ever noticed the lion statue near the corner of Jefferson and Park Avenues? AIDS was not just a trending topic in 1994, but, according to the New York Times,

Lion On Park Avenue

had become the leading cause of death among Americans age 25-44. Antiretroviral treatments were still in the clinical trials  phase, and there was stigma and social isolation attached to the disease. This is the kind of thing that Lafayette Square has shown it can rally for, and that is to its long-term credit. The Marquis reported that in late-October, volunteers went door-to-door collecting soap, tissues, paper towels, toilet paper, and other consumables for new residents of Jefferson Park, the new group house just opened by Doorways, an interfaith AIDS residence program. It located at Jefferson and Park Avenues, and Bob Cassilly provided the courageous lion out front at his own expense. The community door to door event gathered two full pick up truck loads and nearly $300 in cash donations for the center.

Lafayette Square’s concern was also manifested in other ways. The lagoon in the park was, in 1994, to be designated a memorial to AIDS victims. A landscape artist began working on design and a small plaque. 

And finally, in this snapshot from 25 years ago – who hasn’t heard enough about the St Louis Rams? The first glimmer of new hope for an NFL team arose seven lonely years

Y’know

after Bill Bidwell took his ball and struck it rich in the desert. As part of a new courtship with the league, a proposal was floated by busy resident Ray Brodzinski. He solicited letters of support for the Los Angeles Rams (soon to relocate to St Louis) moving into a facility to be built on the site of the old City Hospital. Approval for the letter passed an LSRC vote unanimously, and a further discussion focused on enlisting the support of surrounding neighborhoods for the idea of razing the hospital and building a stadium. Eventually the plan failed, but the Rams came and it all worked out pretty well for Bidwill, as Stan Kroenke too bailed out on St Louis. By doing so, he displaced Bidwill as St. Louis’ public anathema number one.

Time is a river, and this is just a dip into that stream. It’s instructive to look back at what it was like to be halfway between the beginning of the LSRC, and today. New folks step in as needed, and somehow it has, nearly magically, sustained the restoration begun a full 50 years ago. It has been well worth the extended effort,  made possible by a number of good people before us who brought this grand place back against long odds. 

 

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