Sweet Home, St. Louis: A Returning Traveler’s Pictorial

Interesting fact: I haven’t had a car for five years now. No, I’m not particularly environtmentally-minded nor was there some horrific accident that turned me off of personal transportation. I just haven’t had a car. My old ’89 Bonneville shuffled loose its mortal (motoral?) coil and I just didn’t feel inclined to get another.

Considering I’ve lived exclusively in Illinois and worked primarily in St. Louis, you’d think this is a huge hindrance, but it really hasn’t been. It just puts your planning skills to work. And it definitely teaches punctuality! The big benefit of going car-less is that I have to take the Amtrak train (or the Megabus) when I go to or from Chicago, which I do often. In case you haven’t done this yourself, you should — long distance train travel is convenient and a nice throwback to a different time. The trip itself is great, mainly because I don’t have to drive myself five hours each way on a straight, boring stretch of Interstate 55.

The best part of my Amtrak trips is always the return. You hit the Alton station stop, travel for another twenty-five minutes, turn a corner and there, looming in the hazy late-day distance is the Gateway City and its iconic Arch. It really is inspiring and no matter how many times I see it, it still gives me an emotional stir.

I recommend doing it yourself, but if you won’t, here’s a pictorial of the unique views you get as you circle and enter St. Louis via train:

As you clear the industrial lots and trainyards northeast of St. Louis, the train starts it southern arc past the river. And no, I don’t know what that thing is on the ground. I’m going to say ‘wet cardboard.’

A very cool picture – if I were one for deep, meaningful metaphors I might wax on about the turbulent relationship of nature with industry or where we are vs. where we came from. Fortunately, I won’t do that. This picture does, however provide a strong counterpoint to the we-need-more-downtown-greenspace proponents. There’s plenty just across the river! Manicure it, promote it, visit it and – boom! – Forest Park East (with actual forests!).

Here, almost directly east of downtown St. Louis, the trees open up for a direct line to the East Riverfront. I can see this corridor as an important part of the City+Arch+River plan. Depending on current track usage, perhaps a trolley could be brought in, bringing visitors from locations further east to a new, attractive east riverfront destination?

The track (and subsequently the train) begins curving westward toward the MacArthur Railbridge.

View from the MacArthur Bridge. As you can see, the south riverfront is currently home to a barge landing. Ideally, this port could move slightly south, freeing up space for the relocation of either the Becky Thatcher or Tom Sawyer. It actually wouldn’t be too bad to build a little marina here where personal and tour small-engine/speed boats could be loaded/unloaded and docked.

The view of the open space between the flood walls and 1st Street that will (hopefully) become home to a new Chouteau’s Landing riverfront retail/dining/entertainment/art district. Read my previous story ‘The Mississippi (1.2) Mile — Part 1’ for more details on this transformative idea.

An elevated view of the twin Grunden Martin Manufacturing Company buildings. Also, one of the few examples of St. Louis skywalks that actually makes some functional sense. Doesn’t look half-bad either.

Downtown St. Louis, rising proudly (but modestly) as the center of the region.

Interstate 55/70 leading to/away from Memorial Drive and downtown St. Louis. What will be its function five years from now when St. Louis has a new bridge, a reconnected archgrounds and the possible (cross your fingers!) removal of I-70 downtown.

A view of 4th Street where renovation and revitalization has already started as part of the new Chouteau’s Landing development plan. Behind, you can see Powell Square which, amazingly, still stands and will now get a second life as an arts center. And what will happen to Peace-Man Bandana Beard (as I affectionately call him) in the bottom-left? He’s a 4th Street mainstay!

With the potential to be an iconic St. Louis image, the southern facing of the Sheraton is the welcoming sign for inbound train-travelers. It signals your arrival (if the Arch didn’t already), boldly stating the city’s name above while recreating the recognizable “Apotheosis of Saint Louis” below, proudly displaying the uniqueness and history you’ll encounter here during your stay/life.

Welcome to St. Louis.

__________

That’s it as far as my pictures go. I had more – mainly on the lead-up to the Amtrak station – but I deleted them when Yet Another St. Louis Blog was still just a twinkle in my eye. I am a strong supporter of train travel – for the bond it represents to our country’s original veins of travel and industry and for the ease of travel it provides. Also, the random conversations/acquaintances you make along the way are fun too.

As I mentioned at the start, our city truly does have a phenomenal skyline and seeing it rise above the trees as the train approaches opens the eyes of every person on-board – whether a first-timer or a life-longer. In every trip I’ve had, at least a couple people always snap some pictures, ask questions or simply marvel at the scene.

On this most recent return trip, I imagined the cityscape filled with all the great ideas and images that I, you and others have proposed for improving our city, and let me tell you — it looked good. Damn good.

I would recommend Amtrak to everyone here, if only so you can experience the scenes I just showed you. Train travel, just like downtown/urban living, is coming back strong and as each movement grows, innovates and integrates, the resulting experiences will only become more eye-opening and inspirational.

And please, remember to leave lots of comments. Your thoughts tell me you’re reading it and your criticisms help me fine-tune it for you. Let me know your own Amtrak travel stories or just tell me your thoughts on the ideas and pictures presented.

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