The Forgotten Highway Fight that Saved Tower Grove Park

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“I think that I shall never see a highway as lovely as a tree…” This is the caption of an editorial cartoon that caught my attention as I looked through clippings in a binder marked A Bit of Shaw History from 1958-1971.

With funds budgeted in a bond issue approved in a city-wide election in 1955, the City of St. Louis pursued building a depressed highway linking Tower Grove Avenue and Morganford Road. The mayor at the time, Raymond R. Tucker, said the proposed road was an important link in the city’s master street plan developed by the City Plan Commission and would make it more accessible for visitors.1,2

Quote1_TG Highway

The goal was to relieve traffic, and allow for commercial vehicles to travel through the park. At the time the city’s population was 750,0264 and apparently north-south travel allowed on Grand and Kingshighway was not enough. Based on a report by Shaw resident, Philip C. McGrath, at a meeting hosted by the neighborhood, it took only five minutes to drive around the park.5

The proposed highway would have extended road at Morganford and Arsenal, curve northeast around the tennis courts and playground, and rise to surface level at the intersection of Tower Grove and Magnolia avenues. The new highway would be fenced off and at least one vehicular and pedestrian bridge would be built. As an alternative solution, the Landmarks Association proposed that the city build a partial or complete tunnel.2

Quote2_TG HighwayMany cautioned against the decision to expand the road through the park and open it to commercial traffic.

In addition to protests from Shaw, Oak Hill, Compton Heights and other neighborhood associations and residents, provisions set forth in Henry Shaw’s will posed a challenge for the city. When Henry Shaw donated the land to the city in 1868, he stipulated that it was only to be used for a park. If the land ever ceased being used as a public park, it would revert to the Missouri Botanical Garden.1,5, 7-10

Beginning in 1960, the City of St. Louis sought a favorable court judgment that would rule the highway appropriate and within the provisions under which Henry Shaw had deeded the park grounds. Defendants in the suit included the board of trustees of the Garden and the commissioners of Tower Grove Park. This was not the first time the merits of similar proposals were discussed. According to an article in the Globe Democrat, the consideration of a north-south drive that would be open to commercial vehicles had been before the park’s commissioners for more than 45 years (i.e., since at least 1914).1

Quote3_TG HighwayThough it was speculated that the $325,000 in bond issue funds would be inadequate for the project, the city pursued a court decision in their favor for five years. On September 13,1965, the Missouri Supreme Court held that the City of St. Louis had no power or right to construct a highway through Tower Grove Park. Though the central road was eventually expanded, the city never fulfilled its proposal for a “highway.”11

SOURCES
1 1960, OCT 3. CITY TO ASK COURT OK TO BUILD ROAD. ST. LOUIS GLOBE-DEMOCRAT.
2 1962, AUG 22. LANDMARKS GROUP URGES TUNNEL FOR TOWER GROVE PARK HIGHWAY. ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 3B.
3 1962, JUL 25. TUCKER BACKS TOWER GROVE PARK ROAD PLAN. ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH.
4 US CENSUS BUREAU. (2003). POPULATION OF THE LARGEST 75 CITIES: 1900 TO 2000. ACCESSED SEP 2014 (HTTPS://WWW.CENSUS.GOV/STATAB/HIST/HS-07.PDF” target=”_blank”>PDF)
5 1962, SEP 14. CITY PLANNER BOOED OVER PARK HIGHWAY. ST. LOUIS GLOBE-DEMOCRAT.
6 1962, SEP 15-16. TOWER GROVE ROAD COST FIGURES DOUBTED. ST. LOUIS GLOBE-DEMOCRAT.
7 1962, SEP 6. TOWER GROVE PARK ROAD ROLE TO BE DECIDED BY SHAW GROUP. ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH.
8 1962, DEC 11. TOWER GROVE PARK HEARING: OAK HILL ASSOCIATION TO ENTER CASE. ST. LOUIS GLOBE-DEMOCRAT.
9 HILLIKER FT & HARRIS RL. 1963, AUG 19. ERODE THE TRAFFIC (LETTER TO THE EDITOR). ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH.
10 1962, JUL 20. SUIT BY CITY SEEKS RIGHT TO BUILD HIGHWAY IN TOWER GROVE PARK. ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH.
11 1965, SEP 13. HIGH COURT SAYS CITY CAN’T BUILD TOWER GROVE PARK HIGHWAY. ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH.
ARTICLES ARCHIVED IN ST. LOUIS PUBLIC LIBRARY-CENTRAL’S ST. LOUIS ROOM WERE INVALUABLE FOR THIS POST.

*this post first appeared on the excellent Historic Shaw St. Louis site – check it out for more on one of the city’s great neighborhoods

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  • Stephanie H

    Completely agree with Alex. I am curious if anyone predicted the significant decline in the city’s pop during this time. Most of the arguments I read in the newspaper articles centered on the purpose of the park and whether or not they should cater to cars (and particularly commercial traffic).

  • Cathi

    Steve Kuhn is accurate in his assessment of how well the crossings work in Central Park – the buses that cut through the park help connect the East and West sides and help create the dynamic energy of the park.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Yes. If STL were a city of 1M, it would maybe be seen as an asset. But too many things were demo’d or built on the premise that the city was headed to new heights.

  • Brian Guy

    How appropriate then that the most ridiculously wide street in Downtown was named after this highway-happy mayor. Tucker would surely be proud, too, if he could see his street becoming even more of a highway, thanks to its auto-focused conduit to and from the new river bridge.

  • Mike F

    The management of this City is even stoopider than I feared. From this to CAR, and the worst possible choices conceivable: the MVVA plan, and the complete and utter rejection of the Interstate-to-Boulevard scheme.

    • Ryann

      A boulevard replacing 44 from the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge all the way to Poplar Street Bridge would be an amazing start, but I also think that 64 should be a boulevard from Kingshighway to the Poplar Street Bridge and use Market Street starting at Vandeventer all the way to Broadway as that boulevard.

      • Mike F

        I like that.

  • Presbyterian

    Sometimes obstructionism is a good thing. Not everything labelled progress is progressive. I had never even heard of this case!

  • Steve Kluth

    This isn’t much different conceptually from the crossings of Central Park at 65th, 79th, 85th, and 97th Streets. I think that given the present state of the city it would suck and I would hope it would be removed. But had St Louis continued on its early 1900’s trajectory to become a smaller NYC, this would have only been an inconvenience in a dynamic park in a greater city – at least in its proposed partial tunnel configuration. (It would suck completely if it had been kept at the surface like the Prairie Avenue Fairgrounds Park crossing.) It wouldn’t be great. But I would trade it in a heartbeat for a St Louis with a more dynamic mass transit system, fewer empty blocks, less segregation, and more commitment to keeping its history alive.

  • jhoff1257

    From a city planning perspective, Raymond Tucker was one of the worst mayors in St. Louis history.

  • Brian

    It is amazing how ridiculous these ideas appear in hindsight.