St. Louis City Remnants Are Brought Up To The Surface

LIDAR has been a key tool for archeologists around the globe. For example, radar or laser surveying tropical rainforests has led to the discovery of many new Mayan ruins. Google Satellite images are a great resource for me here in St. Louis. It sometimes shows shadows from the past and clues to areas of the built environment that have been destroyed or rebuilt later. Recently, I discovered something interesting in Fairgrounds Park at the corner of Grand Boulevard and Natural Bridge Avenue. Because the summer heat had caused the grass to die, there was a large circular shape in the otherwise straight lines of turf at the southeast corner.Fairgrounds Park, which was opened in 1856, was owned privately and was used for fairs and expositions. Even a small, primitive zoo existed in the park’s southeast corner. The last traces of it can be found in the bear pits that are now used for maintenance. The grass’s rounded outline is a nod to the once-great circular racetrack. This Harper’s Weekly woodcut shows that thousands of people would have gathered in the arena to watch horse races long before safety standards were established.

Louis Lemp raced the prize-winning horses at Fairgrounds Park from 1907 to 1908. The tracks were then closed and sold to St. Louis for $700,000. The park was officially opened to the public at a packed dedication ceremony on October 9, 1909.

After examining the satellite image, it became apparent that the shape of Fairgrounds Park’s giant circular pool is still visible in the landscape. Today, there is a new pool at the site, which was built in 1957 and is nowhere near the size of the original. It is still used today as a neighborhood attraction. An article in the St. A St. Louis Post-Dispatch article about the grand opening of 1957 lists the pool’s specifications: 500-bather capacity, 11 feet deep, rising to 2 feet at the shallow end; two diving boards; and a “butterfly roofing” above the locker room. It is not mentioned that the pool’s predecessor died.

In the last weeks of June 1949, the crisis reached that first pool as St. Louis and other Americans dealt with the aftermath of the victory over Germany. The terrible events of June 21 are detailed in newspaper reports. John O’Toole (director of public welfare) quietly declared that all pools would now be open to everyone, regardless of race. A dozen children of African descent gathered at Fairground pool’s gates around 2 p.m. A mob made up of young white teens attacked. It took over 12 hours to restore order and 400 police officers. One time, a police officer jumped on top of an African American boy to stop the mob from hurling more stones at their victim. A white teenager and an African-American man were both stabbed in the riot. Other victims were also hospitalized. A July 4, Life Magazine published this haunting photo of an African American lying on the ground with the rest of the crowd looking ghoulishly at the camera. It makes me wonder what these teenagers are doing today.

Even though there were no incidents at Marquette Park Pool, Dutchtown, which was also desegregated in South Dakota, Mayor Joseph Darst reversed the decision and resegregated all City pools. As a consolation prize, Darst proposed that a new pool be built using funds left over from a bond issue. Here is the end of the 1949 story. Read more about the Fairgrounds Park riots. The story of how the African American community in St. Louis rose to the occasion and fought back is what is missing.

George W. Draper III was an African-American civil rights leader in St. Louis and a lawyer. He rose to prominence in 1950 when he and others opposed segregation at Fairgrounds Park. It was clear that African Americans paid for the maintenance of the park’s swimming pool. Therefore, they should be permitted to use it. Not to mention that the 14th Amendment guarantees all residents equal rights. Draper and other African Americans confronted Superintendent Louis Fiererer at Fairgrounds Park pool’s entrance. They were refused admission. Rose E. Taylor filed a lawsuit against Mayor Darst, and other City of St. Louis officials on Draper’s behalf on June 22, 1950. PostDispatch article dated July 12, 1950, states that the City tried to appease the judge by arguing in favor of gradual desegregation and pointing out the construction of a Vashon High School pool.