(If you just want to see the pictures, skip down to the bottom)
When I was in 7th grade in St. Charles, in the gifted program in my school district we did a unit on architecture, which sparked my ongoing interest in the topic. The unit culminated in building a house model, a task I very much enjoyed, even installing lighting in the form of Christmas lights, creating a stucco like finish, and using AstroTurf for the lawn, which put my house model well past the card stock construction that was the assigned building material. The only part I didn’t love was the roof, which ended up being a hipped roof because the teachers restricted the amount of supplies I could use.
But the part of the project that had a more lasting impact on me was looking at slides (as in film slides from the 70s) of architecture around the St. Louis area. Of all the fascinating architecture we saw, the examples I was most fascinated by were the two water intakes in the Mississippi River and the three standpipe water towers. Visiting the water intakes would be impossible, but when I got home from class, I told my parents about them and how cool they were on the slides, and cajoled my dad into driving me into St. Louis from St. Charles.
All three towers are located on or close to Grand Blvd, two in the College Hills neighborhood up North, and the third in Compton Heights just south of Midtown. The towers looked a bit more weathered in person in the late 90s when I first saw them compared to in the slides from the 70s we viewed in class.
We started up North in College Hills. The Grand Avenue Water Tower, the oldest of the three, is designed to look like a massive Corinthian column. The white paint was starting to chip off and show through the red bricks it was constructed with. The Bissell Street Tower just a couple blocks away, was also made of red brick construction but had not been painted over. Then we drove down Grand to see the Compton Hill Tower, which has a nice park built around it now (probably did back then too, but I can’t remember.
Of the three, only the Compton Hill Tower actually still serves as a water tower, though a reservoir in the park actually supplies the water to the surrounding area.
My curiosity was satisfied, and we returned home to St. Charles. I continued with the project as I described at the beginning of this post. The water towers slowly receded into the back of my memory until I rediscovered them again during college on what was to become one of my favorite websites: Built St. Louis.
In 2013, Shannon got us Rams tickets as a Christmas present, and we went on a little driving tour of the city since she had never been before. In addition to going up in the Arch, watching the Rams unexpectedly stomp the Saints, and enjoying the Imo’s pizza and toasted ravioli, we checked out the towers that I had last seen more than 10 years prior. I later looked online and found that a Water Tower and Park Preservation Society dedicated to restoring, preserving, and promoting the Compton Hill water tower, and tours were permitted a couple times per year. I was determined to go up in the Tower.
I got my chance in October 2014. I went to stay with my Grandma in St. Ann for the weekend, and she and I met up with my sister to check out the Jewel Box and Korean War Memorial in Forest Park, then headed down to Compton Heights. We got there a little before the tower was open to the public, so we milled around the park for a bit, taking in the Naked Truth statue and the reservoir area, which had some interesting fountains. There was a pretty decent view of Downtown from right near the reservoir, and we could also see Clayton off in the distance.
Finally the tower opened, and we climbed the 198 spiral stairs to the top. The view from the top was amazing, and I was able to see many buildings and landmarks I’d been studying on Built St. Louis and elsewhere from up top. It was definitely worth the climb, and I highly recommend any St. Louis lovers, architecture lovers, history lovers, or cardio lovers to check it out for themselves. Pictures below.
The inscription reads in part: “As German-Americans and leaders of their compatriots in public life it ever was their lofty aim and steady purpose to prove true to the land of their adoption and to serve it faithfully and well. Independent characters striving with ardent zeal for everything that is great and beautiful in life, they brought with them the precious treasures of Germania’s culture and placed them a blessing for all coming generations, in Columbia’s keeping…”
For more and better pictures of all three water towers, check out the Water Towers section of Built St. Louis.