One of the largest projects defined by the Lafayette Park Master Plan was the renovation and expansion of the Boathouse by the Main Lake, providing signature event space complete with catering facilities and updated restrooms. The Boathouse, which is near the middle of the park, was originally built in 1908 as a shelter and comfort station, but came to be called the “boathouse” because of its proximity to the large central lake.
Phase 1 of the restoration project replaced the entire roof structure which was structurally unsound. It restores the original look of this historic structure, replacing standard roofing shingles with Spanish clay tiles as the weather layer and decoratively scalloped rafter ends. Also included was state of the art insulation, so that the vaulted interior ceiling can return to its original look. The restoration of Phase I was completed in June 2012.
Phase 2 of the project involved reworking the entire interior to include all-weather restrooms available to the public, a caterer’s kitchen, new lighting, HVAC systems, and new insulated windows and doors. Phase 2 was completed in 2014. The Boathouse was renamed the Kern Lakeside Pavilion to honor Max Kern, the great park superintendent who transformed the park into its present configuration in the 1860s. The Kern Pavilion is an event space and is managed by the St. Louis Parks Department.
The perimeter sidewalk was in need of repair for decades. Sections raised by tree roots and broken sections made using it difficult for the constant stream of walkers, runners and dog walkers who use it every day. The entire Lafayette Avenue sidewalk was replaced in 2014. Individual sections along Mississippi, Missouri and Park Avenues and the corner at Park and Mississippi were also replaced. Brown gravel aggregate was mixed into the concrete so the new sections would blend with the old sections.
The monumental bronze statue of Thomas Hart Benton, Missouri’s first senator, as well as its granite pedestal, stone base and steps, had deteriorated over the years from the effects of neglect and the weather to the point that they required major conservation. The urns that originally stood on the four corners of the base are missing and its decorative plantings have become overgrown. An estimate of the cost to return the entire monument to its original glory is approximately $160,000. A gala held in 2008 raised approximately $24,000 for the first phase of the project_removing oxidation and restoring the bronze’s original gold patina_and that phase was completed in August, 2011 at a final cost of $54,000. The next phase will begin when funding becomes available.
Saving countless hours of manual watering, an automated irrigation system was installed in the Rock Garden on the western side of the park in 2010, thanks to matching grants from St. Louis Master Gardeners and Flora Conservancy, plus many generous donations from park supporters. We’re now looking forward to many more years of beautiful flowers, with less time spent watering and more spent planting, dividing, mulching and weeding this glorious and tranquil spot.
Thanks to federal grants and matching city funds totaling approximately $150,000, a major playground update including swings to replace those damaged by a storm was installed in August 2007. Final project completion, including minor repairs to the original playground, potential color and safety modifications, and planting of new shade trees, was completed in late 2010.
Fifteen new park benches have been installed, and five older benches completely refurbished, from 2007 to 2016, primarily near the grotto area and around the main lake. The Conservancy plans to purchase and install additional benches annually.
Begun in 2008 and completed in 2009, the spirea and rose shrubs were replaced with disease-resistant boxwood and other perennials and a permanent sprinkler system was installed to make watering much easier to accomplish. Four peripheral beds were replanted in 2010 with weeping cherry trees (a tribute to Washington!) and colorful summer annuals.
The Lafayette Square Restoration Committee funded a massive project to dredge decades of accumulated sludge from the Grotto Lake and to improve the drainage system. In the process, a large sinkhole was discovered, which required excavation and extensive in-fill.
Constructed in 2009, the gazebo attached to the Park House evokes one that once graced the same spot early in Lafayette Park’s history. Hats off to the Lafayette Square Restoration Committee, who raised the necessary funds and managed the construction project. In addition to providing a shady respite from St. Louis summer heat and extending the event space available at the Park House, the gazebo provides ground-level ADA access and further enhances the visual impact of this southeast corner of the park.
Thanks to private benefactors, two handsome urns were installed at the head of the steps leading down to the grotto area in 2008, complementing the ones installed earlier on the grotto bridge and enhancing the overall look of this beautifully planted area that is frequented by photographers and artists of every stripe.
Thanks to generous private donations, the four long-missing historic urns that originally graced the ends of the grotto’s iron bridge were re-created in 2007 using a mold hand-sculpted from photographs to replicate the original urn design. The replicated urns were cast and finished, then mounted on the original pedestals at the corners of the Bridge, which were also restored and re-piped.
This interior renovation project, completed by the LSRC in early 2007, included restoring deteriorated and water-damaged walls and ceilings, replacing flooring and light fixtures, and reconfiguring the second floor to create a more flexible meeting and working space. The interior decoration has been reinterpreted using appropriate historic themes, and the Park House now hosts many meetings and other events throughout the year.
The Lafayette Square Restoration Committee obtained a matching grant of $25,000 from the Whitaker Foundation, fulfilled through generous support from the City of St. Louis and the LSRC itself, to help fund the restoration of the historic Park House at the Southeast corner of the park. The LPC especially appreciates the support of Alderman Lewis Reed, who was instrumental in securing the funds from the City, along with the sponsors of the LSRC Winter and Spring Home Tours, proceeds of which contributed greatly to the Park House improvements. R. G. Ross Construction implemented the restoration with extraordinary results. The project included replacing the deteriorated asphalt shingle roof with an historically accurate slate roof, replacing the rectangular and round windows with authentic replicas, installing copper gutters, tuckpointing the brick exterior and painting the exterior trim. The Conservancy completed the project by redesigning and replanting the decorative landscaping surrounding the Park House.
Improvements to the under-utilized athletic field at the northwest corner of the park have made the space more inviting for activities like kite flying and frisbee throwing, while maintaining an expansive field for casual softball, soccer and football games. St. Louis’s own 1860s vintage baseball teams, the St. Louis Perfectos and Cyclone, claim the Park as their home field. Members of those teams have been instrumental in implementing the changes recommended by the Park Plan, including removing the deteriorated backstops and benches and replacing the dirt infield with a continuous expanse of grass lawn.
Restoring the three guns raised from the wreckage of the HMS Acteon, a British Man of War sunk in Charleston Harbor, SC during an attempt to seize Charleston in June, 1776, has been project of the Conservancy since 2008. The first gun was fitted to a new carriage made of long-lasting Ipe wood from Central America and placed on a brick and concrete platform built by the LPC. The second gun was fitted to its new carriage and installed on the platform in November 2016. The third gun, a carronade, was conserved at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory in Ft. Leonard, MD, and restored to the park with a new carriage in November 2017.
The grotto bridge was built around 1900 by the Koken Iron Works. It replaced a rustic wooden bridge built over the Grotto in 1865. That bridge was blown away in the Great Cyclone of 1896 which devastated the park. In time, the Koken bridge became unstable. The bridge would shake to such an extent that some of us feared a large wedding party posing for photographs might collapse into the lake below. Delahanty Construction Services LLC stabilized the bridge in 2012 and Steve Coffey, AIA, was the architect for the project. The project entirely consumed a generous $75,000 grant awarded to the LPC by the Whitaker Foundation intended for pathway renewal. The original handrail would be too low and open to meet the standards set by the Americans With Disabilities Act. The LPC consulted Classic Metal Craft and they have designed a handrail which will satisfy the requirements of the Act and be elegant and appropriate for this bridge. The LPC nominated this project, along with perimeter sidewalk repair and pathway renewal, to be funded by the sale of Park Bonds, and the Parks Department agreed. The handrail was installed with minor design changes in Summer 2016.
About one quarter of the pathways in the park were resurfaced in 2012 thanks to a grant from the Darden Foundation. In 2011, the Grotto Bridge was reconnected to the pathway system for the first time in decades thanks to a grant from Alerman Phyllis Young, and the smooth asphalt surface was an instant hit with park visitors. The LPC asked Steve Coffee, AIA, to prepare a plan to upgrade the rest of the pathway system, and when funding became available in 2015 from a sale of Park Bonds, the Board of Public Service let a contract for additional paving. Many square yards of excess asphalt paving surrounding the 1876 Bandstand were removed by the LPC in December 2016, and replaced with seeded soil. This will allow for lawn seating once the Bandstand renovation is complete. In 2017, the final section of pathways were repaved using funds from the Arch/Park bond issue.