On a recent trip to St. Louis, my husband, Jerry, and I were trekking eastward up Market Street not far from the Gateway Arch, seeing the city where we had lived in the 1960s. Our plan was to reach Union Station at 18th Street, but the heat and humidity slowed our usual quick pace. We got as far as Eighth Street, then almost decided to do an about face and return to the parking garage near the Arch.
Suddenly though, we came upon Citygarden; it was a joyous discovery.
The three acres, bordered by Market, Chestnut, Eighth and 10th streets, have been transformed into a space that begs to be explored and enjoyed. It offers an ideal spot to people-watch because it draws folks of every sort to its three wonderful water features; the trees, shrubs and flowers that represent the three geographic and ecological regions of the area; and the public art.
This wonderful urban oasis opened July 1, and it was clear, on this hot August day, that it was a hit with residents and visitors.
Perhaps the most fun are the water features. We surveyed families that obviously had their expedition to Citygarden planned; they came prepared with picnics, towels and bathing suits, and the kids were loving every wet moment in the fountains and waterfalls.
Others, like us, had serendipitously discovered the park and had spontaneously jumped in the water to enjoy the cool pools or the roaring waterfalls.
If you don’t go in for total immersion, you can head over to the “splash plaza,” a paved field of 102 vertical jets that project water to a height of 10 feet. The fun is that you never know when a sharp stream of water is going to emerge from the pavement and squirt you wherever.
The origin of Citygarden was in the master plan for downtown St. Louis, presented in 1999. During the next several years, the area “experienced a dramatic revival,” according to the Citygarden Web site. “Lofts and apartments were created in old warehouses and industrial buildings, dozens of new businesses opened, and the population roughly doubled.
By 2006, the city saw a need to develop public, recreational space before it was too late. Fortunately the space existed. It was there on the Gateway Mall, a large piece of land extending east for many blocks, set aside as public space. (According to one resident, city officials have been arguing for years about the fate of this land, and it appears that things have finally started happening.)
So just two years ago, the city got busy, and with $450,000 grant from the Gateway Foundation, the work on Citygarden began. Many believe this unique space will “catalyze the development of more commercial and residential space along the perimeter of the Gateway Mall and elsewhere downtown.”
On the day we were there, Citygarden appeared to be a complete success.
Every corner was busy with activity, and it was gratifying to see so many children climbing waterfalls and running among the plantings and grassy areas. Grownups sat in the shade of the many trees and at the Terrace Café in the northeast corner. I’m guessing they were enjoying a cold Budweiser while surveying the activity.
Many of the 23 larger-than-life sculptures appeared to be popular, too, especially the ones just right for climbing or nesting. The children may not care why artists created the overgrown Pinocchio, the oversized white bunnies or the giant head laying on its side, among others, but they delighted in scaling the sculptures while parents created digital images by which to remember the day.
We’d be in the same neighborhood again the next day, watching the Padres fall to the first-place Cardinals in the grand and new Busch Stadium.
Oh well, vacations are seldom perfect.
E’Louise Ondash is a veteran, award-winning journalist who was an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Times Advocate and the North County Times. She has written travel features for The Coast News since 2003.