Distilled History

A Drinking Blog with a History Problem

Archive for the ‘Parks’ Category

September 23rd, 2015 by Cameron

Compton & Dry in Color

No Color in Plate 42

Well, that map is still driving me crazy.

Compton and Dry’s 1875 Pictorial St. Louis, the same map that led me on an exhaustive brewery hunt earlier this summer, has completely derailed my summer plans once again. I can’t say that’s actually a bad thing, but it does mean that a dozen or more potential Distilled History ideas have to take a back seat once again.

(Note: If you aren’t familiar with Compton & Dry’s epic map, click here. Or, get to the Missouri History Museum as soon as you can.)

For a history nerd who dreamed of being a cartographer as a kid (seriously), this map infatuation of mine explains why Compton and Dry’s opus is easily my favorite item or “thing” in St. Louis history. I think about it every single day, a result of its use as my iPhone wallpaper and its prominent placement on my living room wall. It is also the most referenced source material in just about every history-related project I undertake. And what gets me in trouble is that each time I look at it, I can’t help but think up new ideas in which to have fun with it.

Like this one, which drifted into my head several weeks ago:

"Hmmm. I wonder how long it would take to color that map?"

Looking back on that moment now, I probably should have taken a moment to think about what I had in mind. Hand coloring the Compton and Dry map, all 110 plates of it, is a monumental task for a throng of artists, let alone an individual non-artist. But before I had an idea of what I had taken on, a cocktail was poured, Photoshop was open, and a gigantic map beckoned.

Anthony & Kuhn's Brewery on Plate 27That’s when the real delusions of grandeur began. In only fifteen minutes,I had the finishing touches applied to a single building, a brick brewery drawn on Compton & Dry’s Plate 27. A post on social media followed, and the horde of “likes” that flooded in had me instantly convinced that I was about to strike St. Louis history gold. I even convinced myself that I could finish the project in a year, maybe two.  So I dove in further, determined to soon have the 110 plates of Compton & Dry’s map in full-color glory for all to see.

Before I get to the what happened next, I want to mention that I’m well aware that I’m not the first person to “colorize” Compton and Dry’s map. I’ve seen other attempts, most notably an unknown artist who took a crack at Plate 42 with watercolors many years ago. I think it looks fantastic, but many of the buildings, homes, and roofs are painted with just a few different shades of brown and gray. I’ve also never seen examples of the technique applied to any of the other plates. I wanted to try adding color to the map (in intricate detail) using a full spectrum of color.

Fast-forward about eight weeks and here I am. After countless hours of zooming, coloring, erasing, shading, and tweaking, is my plan to color the Compton and Dry’s map in two years possible?  The answer is simple: Absolutely not.

Watercolor Colorization of Plate 42

However, I’m happy to say that I have completely finished one of the 110 plates to my satisfaction. And I am really happy with how it looks. I’m sure I missed a pixel or two, but I really did my best to make sure every single building, house, tree, sidewalk, fencepost, and blade of grass had color. I added stained glass to church windows, added sunlight to trees, and used at least thirty different shades of brick. When possible, I even tried to accurately match a few structures to the colors they wore in 1875.

Vignettes from Plate 42

But at times, it became an overwhelmingly daunting task. The first plate I chose to color contained so many trees, so many chimneys, and so many roofs. Looking back, it was the roofs the stopped me after one plate. Roofs are boring to color. But in the end, I do think it was a fun project to work on. It gave me something to (mindlessly) do as I watched a ballgame, filled in crossword puzzles, and sipped cocktails. I’ll also say that coloring is very relaxing. It’s made me realize that I few cranky people I know could use a box of crayons.

Christ Church Cathedral on Plate 42

Like my watercolor friend of the past, I chose to begin with Plate 42. It’s where my beloved Campbell House is drawn, and my office (the “real job” office) sits in a building at the northwest corner of 18th and Washington in a building constructed after the map was drawn. But Plate 42 is also crammed with tons of great history. I can’t even begin to do it justice here, but plate 42 shows us Washington University at its original location (southwest corner of 18th and Washington), the future site of City Hall (Washington Park), and the future site of the magnificent Central Library (Missouri Park). Just behind the Campbell House, the city’s first public high school (known simply as “High School” in 1875) can be seen at the corner of Olive and 15th. Finally, two long structures known as the Lucas Market can be seen running right down the middle of Twelfth Street. That market is gone today, but it serves as a reminder why Twelfth Street (now called Tucker Boulevard in that part of the city) is one of the widest streets in downtown St. Louis.

Time-lapse Video (with background music)

Most significantly, plate 42 is where the Lucas Place neighborhood appears on Compton and Dry’s map. The height of residential luxury in 1875 St. Louis, Lucas Place can rightly be called St. Louis’s first suburb, an inescapable aspect of the city today. Planned and developed by a man named John H. Lucas in the 1840’s, it was the first neighborhood to be deliberately built at a distance from  the city’s congested riverfront.

Lucas Place was at its apex when Compton and Dry drew it on their map in 1875. Along with the Campbell family, Lucas Place was home to many wealthy and prominent figures in 19th Century St. Louis. The list includes William S. Harney, one of the longest-serving Generals in American history, Henry Hitchcock, a co-founder of the American Bar Association and the first dean of the Washington University’s Law School, and Trusten Polk, a former Governor of Missouri and former United States Senator. Lucas Place on Plate 42

What’s depressing about plate 42 today is how much of it has been erased. Of the hundreds of homes, schools, churches, and buildings drawn on plate 42, only four structures remain today. Along with the Campbell House, only three churches drawn on Plate 42 still stand today: Christ Church Cathedral, Centenary Methodist Church, and St. John the Apostle Catholic Church. It’s a blunt reminder that St. Louis has literally wiped much of its history right off the map.

Finally, I wanted to mention something I couldn’t stop (humorously) thinking about the more I stared at the map. After spending countless hours looking at it, it became impossible not to notice how absurdly neat and tidy St. Louis looks in Compton and Dry’s version of it. I didn’t find myself coloring in piles of animal manure, drunken men stumbling out of saloons, or puddles of fetid water, all of which St. Louis had plenty of in 1875. I also looks nearly void of people, with only a few loitering on random corners. I know Compton and Dry drew their map to make St. Louis look pretty, but it would have been fun to color in a bank robbery or maybe some roaming livestock.

Vignettes of Plate 42

Despite my determination to get Plate 42 fully colored, I’m done with Compton and Dry for a while. My dreams of having a full-color version of the map by 2017 have been laughed off long ago. However, I’m sure I’ll pick up the pen again before too long. think I’ve kicked off a fun hobby I’ll have for years to come, and I’m sure I’ll use a bit of color here and there to support future blog posts.

But enough with all that. Let’s get to the color.

Full Image

Plate 42 in Color

Before/After Image Slider – Move (hover) the mouse left and right to view before and after versions. (Update: This plugin doesn’t seem to play nicely when viewing on mobile devices.)

Image Loupe – Drag the mouse pointer to zoom in parts of the final image.

The Drink

Saloons on Plate 42

Follow this blog, and you’ll know that each post ends with a drink that relates directly to the subject matter of the post. But Plate 42 doesn’t offer many drink options since the dozens of saloons that once dotted it are all long gone.

But the Campbell House, one of four still standing tall from Plate 42, has given me an opportunity to not only get a drink, but to give a few away.

On Friday, September 25 (tomorrow), Distilled History is teaming up with the Campbell House Museum for our annual #DrinkupTweetupSTL event. I blogged about last year’s event, and we have even more fun lined up for this year. Typhoon Jackson will be back to provide live music, free beer will be provided by Schlafly and Urban Chestnut, and free food will be provided by Caruso’s Deli. The house will be open to take a look at, and I’ll have a bunch of fun Victoria-era drinking history on hand. We’ll also be raffling off a bunch of great prizes, including a brewing history tour (led by me) and our annual grand prize, a chance to do a shot of whiskey out of a silver cup once owned by President Ulysses S. Grant.

I’ve even got a few additional perks. First of all, I’ll have a 4×5 foot enlargement of Plate 42 in full color on display for everyone to take a closer look at. I’ll also be passing out samples of my “Campbell Beer Series” and my own version of bathtub gin. This year also marks the debut of “Gus and Mary’s Answer the Bell Ale”, a new addition to the Campbell beer family honoring the many servants that worked and lived in the home during its eighty-four year run. Please consider joining us!

Campbell Family Beers
September 10th, 2012 by Cameron

The St. Louis Motordrome

St. Louis Motordrome Racer Wells Bennett - Photograph by J.R. Eike, courtesy of Thomas Kempland

One of the joys of starting this blog is how I sometimes just bump into the hidden past of St. Louis. These days, when I bike to work, drive around, or explore new parts of the city, I’m always on the lookout for something new. This city is filled with history. As a result, I have started filling up notebooks and blog drafts with ideas and topics that I plan to investigate at a later date.

Recently, I found records of a St. Louis structure that I had never heard of before. I was clicking through some St. Louis websites looking for ideas, and I stumbled upon a webpage filled with a fascinating collection of old photographs.

The collection contains about 100 photographs taken by a man named J.R. Eike between the years 1914 and 1917. They come from a collection of glass plate negatives recently rescued from the trash heap by a St. Louisan named Thomas Kempland. Knowing he had quite a find on his hands, Mr. Kempland took the time to digitally scan the plates and post the images on the Internet for others to enjoy.

Even better, I was able to track Mr. Kempland down and get his permission to use them for this post. The images in this post are copyrighted and are not public domain. I am grateful to Mr. Kempland for allowing me to share them on this blog.

The photographs provide a fantastic look at St. Louis nearly 100 years ago. Included are images of Forest Park, random street scenes, parades, and various church groups. It also contains noteworthy images such as the aftermath of a tornado, construction of an Anheuser-Busch Brewery, and the opening of Bevo Mill. Back in his day, Mr. Eike was obviously a prolific photographer.

The images that really drew my attention were a series of photographs of men posing on old-time motorcycles. As I looked them over, I also noticed the peculiar track they were posed on. One particular photograph, taken on September 6, 1914, shows the track from above. The word “Motordrome” is written across the image. I had never heard of a “motordrome” before, but the steep banking curve in the photograph looked completely insane. People raced motorcycles on tracks like this? And one existed in St. Louis? I had to find out more about this structure.

The St. Louis Motordrome

After a bit of research, I was able to find more information about motordromes. It turns out they were arena-like structures built for a popular sport during the the 1910’s and 1920’s called “Board Track Racing”.

Board track racing evolved from the European velodrome, on which bicycles would race on circular or oval tracks with banked curves. Eventually, unique structures for motorcycle racing were built with higher banks that enabled faster speeds. They were made entirely of wood, which made them cheap to construct. Even the track surface was made of 2×4 wooden planks, hence the name “board track racing”. In time, the wooden structures came to be known as “motordromes”.

And St. Louis had one of the most remarkable motordromes of them all. It was located in Priester’s Park, an amusement resort that was located at the intersection of Grand and Meramec in south city. Priester’s Park is also noteworthy in that it was the first park in St. Louis to host hot air balloon racing competitions. That tradition continues to this day in St. Louis, notably with the Forest Park balloon races that are held each year. In this early plat drawing, the St. Louis Motordrome can be seen as a circular 1/4 mile track. It was twenty-four feet high and could hold fifty thousand spectators.

St. Louis Motordrome Map

(plat image courtesy of carlylehold)

Today, no trace of Priester’s Park or the St. Louis Motordrome remains. Over the years, several houses and businesses have been built on the triangle-shaped corner of Grand and Meramec. The image below looks toward the general area where the motordrome once stood.

(Update: A friendly reader took a close look at the map above and pointed out that I had identified the wrong corner where Priester’s Park was once located. Turns out he was exactly right! As of September 6, 2013, I have updated this post with a new photograph below displaying the correct corner.)

Corner of Grand & Meramec Today

The first motordrome in the United States was built in 1909 in Los Angeles. The banking curve of that track had an angle of about twenty degrees. As the sport grew in popularity, tracks started being designed with steeper banks in order to increase speeds and give racers an easier time handling a motorcycle. The person (or should I say “maniac”) who designed the St. Louis track gave it a banked curve with a whopping sixty-two degree angle. It was the steepest motordrome banking curve in the world. On such an angle, racers could “ride the boards” at speeds over one-hundred miles an hour. To make it even more interesting, the motorcycles didn’t have a suspension, clutch, throttle, or brakes. It was simply full-go. To slow down or stop, racers had two choices: 1. Use a kill switch to stop the engine and coast, or 2. Crash.

It was an extremely dangerous sport for competitors and spectators. Faster speeds brought higher casualties. Deadly crashes became common since racers wore minimal safety equipment. Even if a crash was avoided, racers had to worry about being impaled by splinters or hitting loose nails. Fans watched board track racing from above and looked down on the action. If a rider lost control, it usually resulted in a motorcycle and rider flying off the track and into the crowd. Unfortunately, St. Louis was not immune to such tragedy. Here are two clippings from St. Louis newspapers at the time depicting horrible crashes.

St. Louis Motordrome Crashes

(images courtesy of carlylehold)

The most notable board track racing tragedy occurred in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1912. Eddie Hasha, dubbed the “Texas Tornado”, was racing at about ninety-two miles an hour when he lost control of his machine. As a result, he rode directly into the upper rail surrounding the track. His machine struck a post, throwing Hasha into the grandstands and killing him instantly. At least five spectators were also killed, most being teenagers who had leaned their heads over the rail to watch the crash. While Hasha flew out of the track, his motorcycle kept going. It dropped back down onto the racing surface and collided with another racer. That racer was knocked unconscious and died four hours later in a hospital. Several people suffered broken bones and wounds from the panic of the crowd as it attempted to get out of the way. It was such a tragic event that it made the front page of the New York Times. Many point to that crash as the beginning of the end of board track racing in the United States. The shorter 1/4 and 1/2-mile circular tracks (such as the one in St. Louis), were quickly nicknamed “murderdromes” by the media. Soon after, the national organization that oversaw motorcycle racing banned tracks shorter than one mile.

Another reason board track racing fell out of favor was the high cost of maintenance. Since motordromes were made of wood, the tracks needed constant upkeep. Adequate weather proofing was not available at the time, so continuously putting in new wooden tracks became expensive. By the early 1930’s, board track racing in the United States all but disappeared. Although board track racing is no longer a competitive sport in the United States, it still maintains a fanbase in Europe, particuarly Germany.

The St. Louis Motordome is long gone, but thanks to the efforts of people like Mr. Kempland, we have some great photographic records of the track and the racers that competed on it:

Board Track Racer Wells Bennett

Unknown Bicyclist at St. Louis Motordrome

Unknown racer at St. Louis Motordrome

Group photo at St. Louis Motordrome

St. Louis Motordrome Racer Paul Schmidt

Board track racer John B. Hoefeler

Board track racers at St. Louis Motordrome

Unknown Racer outside St. Louis Motordrome

Unknown Racer at St. Louis Motordrome

The Drink

The Feasting Fox

Finding a drink for this post was a piece of cake. On the opposite corner of what was once Priester’s Park now sits one of the most noteworthy eating and drinking establishments in St. Louis. Built in 1913, Al Smith’s Feasting Fox in St. Louis was originally built and operated by the Anheuser-Busch brewery.

The Feasting Fox was originally known as “Busch’s Gretchen Inn”. It’s a distinct building with a timber and stucco construction. It has a steeply pitched roof and a unique corner turret. It looks like it was plucked out of Bavaria and dropped in south St. Louis. The style reflects the early German population of St. Louis and the Dutchtown neighborhood it sits in.

Bush’s Gretchen Inn and Bevo Mill were built in an effort by Anhueser-Busch to show that beer could be served in respectable family establishments. At the time, alcohol was generally served in seedy saloons filled with ruffians and drunkards. It was places like these that gave the prohibition movement momentum.

In 1920, the 18th ammendment was enacted, prohibiting the sale, manufacturing, and transportation of alcohol. Anhueser-Busch was able to stay in business by selling a range of non-alcoholic products. As a result, its two restaurants in St. Louis city also remained open. However, when prohibition was repealed in 1933, new anti-trust laws forbade breweries from operating drinking establishments. The restaurant was leased to a man named Al Smith, who changed the name of the restaurant to “Al Smith’s Feasting Fox”.

Tasty Dopplebock

The Feasting Fox evolved over the years. It had some ownership turnover and even sat empty for several years in the 1980’s. It was purchased and rehabbed to its current condition in 1993. It’s a striking when one drives towards in on Grand Avenue. And despite my years of poking through the corners of St. Louis, I had never been inside. Since it once sat in the shadow of the St. Louis Motordrome, it was time to get a drink at the Feasting Fox.

I visited the Feasting Fox in the late afternoon on a Saturday. It had just opened, so the few customers inside made it seem like a relatively quiet tavern. The inside decor is eclectic, historic, and inviting. The bartender (a very friendly fellow) identified me right away as a Feasting Fox rookie. After learning that I was doing a little research, he recommended a Weihenstephaner dopplebock. Due to the Anhueser-Busch origins, getting a beer at the Feasting Fox seemed far more appropriate than a cocktail. Along with a variety plate of tasty German sausages, I kicked back and enjoyed a few beers.

I look forward to heading back to the Feasting Fox with some pals. It’s historical and it’s cool to think that you are drinking in the same building where motordrome racers and spectators would throw a few back after a day of racing (and if there was a crash, they probably needed more than a few). It doesn’t seem to be a place to go for cocktails, but it’s a definitely a unique place to bring out of town guests for a few beers and some German food.

The Feasting Fox

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