Catalpa Park (renamed the Gwen B. Giles Park in 1986), in the Cabanne Neighborhood, sits basically at the intersection of the old Hodiamont Streetcar line’s Right of Way and North Skinker Blvd.
I have driven past this park many times on Skinker and have always wanted to visit the unique, fortress-like playground that makes up its North-Western portion.
Upon actually walking around the park (which was completely deserted on this beautiful Friday afternoon), I found what would have been my dream park as a child. I can’t even imagine the variety of games that could be played here.
Objects that invite climbing are scattered all over the two bridge-connected hills which make up the main play area. Unfortunately, in addition to all of the wonderful objects of play are discarded beer cans and soda bottles, fast food and snack wrappers, cigarette boxes and liquor bottles (along with broken glass as accompaniment). The modern looking bathrooms here are boarded shut and the entire park just seems abandoned. Even the water fountains have been removed. One corner of the park includes a sculpture of a seal which has clearly seen better days.
Basically, this park is just like too much of our city. Beautifully planned and put together but doomed to fail at the same time. As far as I can find out online, this park was most recently renovated (at least the playground and “comfort station”) in 1980 as part of a park rehabilitation project, so when it was renamed for Gwen B. Giles (a local civil rights activist and Missouri’s first female black Senator) in 1986 it may have been in pretty good shape. I personally believe however, that the real fate of the park was the 1966 last run of the Hodiamont Streetcar and the 1969 “construction of the Skinker Parkway from Maple to Page,” both of which occurred when the park was very young (it was established in 1959). Seeing the park/city in its current shape is pretty depressing, but its existence symbolizes the incredible potential for the infrastructure we have inherited from our Great City’s past. Turning the park around could really be a simple as adding a couple of trash cans (there are only two on opposite sides of the park) and bringing out the community one weekend for cleanup. See more photos I took of the park here.