Saturday, May 30, 2009

A walk down memory lane.....

I'm a sucker in the bookstore. Everything looks interesting to me when I walk through the aisles. I usually succumb to some purchase every time I go into a bookstore. Friday was no exception.

I had business to do in the college bookstore on the campus where I work. It was a small job that had to be done in the printshop, and it took about 15 minutes. While they were working on my project, I was browsing. Among the backpacks and college t-shirts, I found a motherlode of books on local history. I found a couple of titles that I already own, and then I spied a small book on "St. Louis Hills". Now, I don't live in St. Louis Hills, nor do I live anywhere near it, but it was a very big part of my youth days in grammar school.

I'm a WWII baby, and in the city of St. Louis, the return of the men from the war led to that post-war baby boom, and also the building boom of the fringes of St. Louis city limits. In the southwest corner of the city, an open space was developed that was named St. Louis Hills. My parents bought their first house in a tract of homes near there, in a much more affordable neighborhood. But I knew St. Louis Hills very well, because I spent much time there.


What a trip down memory lane I took as I devoured the contents. In about an hour, I relived so many memories of the past by seeing places were I had walked, played, visited, eaten, and stayed with relatives, and went to grammar school.

I had two aunts who had lived in St. Louis Hills at different times, and my uncle's mother was a realtor there. My grammar school opened when I was going into 3rd grade, so I spent 6 years of my life going to and coming from St. Louis Hills as I went to school.

The centerpiece of St. Louis Hills was a large 60 acre tract of land that was set aside as a park, called Francis Park, named after the former Mayor of St. Louis, and director of the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, David R. Francis. The streets surrounding Francis park were laid out in very neat blocks, and contained high quality housing stock, where brick, stone masonry, glass blocks and clay tile roofs were the building materials. Each home, apartment building or duplex was different than the next. Each used a combination of Art Deco, Gothic, Modernistic, Tudor styles, to make these homes very distinctive.

I remember one home my aunt lived in for about a year, it was a duplex, with a huge footprint. Her mother-in-law lived downstairs, and she and her husband lived upstairs. It sat alone on a large lot at a wedge crossroads near the edge of St. Louis Hills. I remember that place as if it were a palace! It certainly seemed like one to me. But I was only 4 at the time!

Then another aunt married and she and her husband moved a couple of blocks away, across the street from Francis park, in a 4 family flat that was anything but ordinary. I remember the round turret-like entry way, and the beautiful finish of the inside of her apartment. Not that big, but very nice! When I visited her, I thought I was a little princess!

As I said before, my grammar school was built in St. Louis Hills Estates. It was a Catholic church and school, St. Raphaels. We had a very large class, 51 of us at 8th grade graduation, and we all coexisted through those grades in the same classroom! It was crowded to say the least! How the sisters ever managed to teach that many kids at once, I'll never know. In those days, rulers were not out of the question to be used on UN-RULE-Y kids, and although I never felt the sting, I'm sure others did.

The book showed some sights of Francis Park itself...including the drinking fountain that I decided to hurdle one day, and quite unsuccessfully. Since I didn't make it over, I skidded about 10 feet on my right elbow, which even today, 50+ years later, still bears the scar! I went to Girl Scout day camp in that park, I played tennis in that park, we hung around in that park--many memories of my youth were made in that park.

The funny thing was, Francis Park and my school were not near my home. You see, we lived on the "other side of the tracks", which weren't tracks at all, but the River Des Peres. Somehow, in cutting out geographic areas to include in St. Raphael's boundries, they decided to include a couple of neighborhoods across the river. We were close as the crow flies, but not by road. You could swim across the river, or walk around many blocks to the overpass. So, to get to Francis Park, we walked quite a distance. The day I hurt my elbow, I remember walking and walking with a bloody sleeve, couldn't wait to get home to get it bandaged up and stop the gushing flow! It took about 45 minutes to get home, because we had a pretty long walk to get there. And without cell phones or even a dime to call mom, we had no other options!

The other thing I remember about St. Louis Hills Estates is that very near our school were some of the biggest, most expensive homes built in the city at that time(late 1940's-1950's.) These were huge ranch homes, on very large lots. Several of the kids in my class lived in these homes. Many of the well-known St. Louis Cardinals lived in this neighborhood and their kids went to our school. Stan Musial's kids went there, and Musial's partner in the restaurant business, Garagnani (known as Biggie) lived there, and his son was in my class. Red Schoendeist, Joe Garagiola and other sports players lived there also. I remember several class parties we had at these homes, 50 kids were all gathered in the family room for a class party the night Elvis Presley was on the Ed Sullivan Show which we watched ON THEIR COLOR TV! (Do I date myself for sure?) And the room was big enough for all of us to fit into it! Quite the palace, to be sure!

We ate at the local joints, Steak n Shake (burned down -- too much grease, I suppose!), White Castle (remember when those sliders were $.10 each--torn down to make a Target parking lot), Velvet Freeze Ice Cream (long gone). We bowled at Stein Bowl (now a bank) , bought our groceries at Bettendorf's (largest grocery store in the city, later bought by Schnucks) J.C. Penney (may be still there), and the fabulous Kresge's 5 and dime (where I did my Christmas shopping with $2 that my Aunt gave me). And later, when we were in high school, the Cardinal players built another very modern bowling alley, called Red Bird Lanes, where much of our high school PLAY time was mis-spent! It's gone now, and there is a Walgreens on that property!

And, for those of you who know St. Louis by one of its icons, Ted Drewes Frozen Custard stand is right on the edge of St. Louis Hills. Funny thing, I don't remember going there as a kid, it must have been some other type of business, I think it was a watermelon stand. Now, you can't come to St. Louis for a visit without going to Ted Drewes, it's a MUST SEE!

I had my fun for sure from this book. If anyone is interested in reading on this topic, the book is called "St. Louis Hills" by Ann Zanaboni, published by The Reedy Press, PO Box 5131, St. Louis MO. 63139. ISBN 978-1-933370-31-6. It's a hoot for those among us who walked these streets and formed MANY GOOD memories there.

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