The Tortured Land Around Lambert Airport

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I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say, “Hey guys, let’s go hang out around the airport!”  But surprisingly, the site of Lambert was once a cottonwood marsh known in French as Marais des Liards, which was also the original name of Bridgeton, whose original site lies under the new runway.  Nowadays, this land is perhaps the most aesthetically displeasing quadrant of St. Louis County.  It is a loud, desolate and barren landscape shaped by humans for over two hundred years, not always for the better.

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If you look closely above on the Pitzmann map from the 1870’s, you can see the little street grid of Bridgeton, which was originally settled by the French in the late Eighteenth Century.  Natural Bridge Road, as well as the infamous Coldwater Creek, both used to go right by the settlement.  Natural Bridge was rerouted to the south, while Coldwater Creek flows through a culvert under the airport.  The airport was originally Kinloch Field, and I suspect the flat terrain of the former marsh was perfect for the flat site needed for runways.  Interestingly, some things never change; the rail line that runs from east to west above the present airport is still in operation and probably serves Boeing.

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This aerial view of Lambert from the 1940’s is illuminating; already two of the major runways that are still in use today have already been platted, and Natural Bridge is already going around the airport.  On the far left, decades before the new runway, the sleepy hamlet of Bridgeton is visible.

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Here is the original settlement of Mariais des Liards today, completely annihilated by the new runway.  Down at the end of this road, now called Navaid Road but what I suspect was the original alignment of Natural Bridge, are two remnants of the French Catholic-inspired street grid of Bridgeton: St. Andrew and St. Thomas Lanes.  They are now part of the maintenance buildings’ yard; no traces of original buildings remain.  Below, I snapped a picture of the now horribly dilapidated and vacant hangars viewable in the upper portion of the historic aerial view along Banshee Road.  I’m curious about the name of the road; perhaps the roar of McDonnell-Douglass’s jets reminded an observer of the mythic specter famous for her scream?  This whole area is surreal…

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Backtracking to the south, there is this little stretch of what Google calls Long Road, but what once continued to Bridgeton; to the west is an abandoned section of Lindbergh Boulevard in its original alignment.

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I feel a little like Rip Van Winkle when talk turns to the construction of the W1W runway in the last decade; I lived on the East Coast through all of the destruction and controversy, and only moved back after Lambert’s flight schedule had been decimated.  Surely many of my readers can provide more information and recollection of what was demolished around here.  Carrollton’s demise was well documented by 56 Houses Left.  I vaguely remember some hotel being demolished called the Henry VII or something like that.

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Heading through the ridiculous and seemingly overly long Lindbergh Tunnel, I arrived at the exit of Coldwater Creek from its culvert under Lambert along Banshee Road.  Further up, you can see the site of SLAPS, ingeniously named by some Army Corps of engineer as “St. Louis Airport Site.”  You’ll recognize the spot at the intersection of Banshee Road and McDonnell Douglass Boulevard because there’s an out of place Corps flag in the middle of a green field.  If an out-of-town guest asks you to show them some historical site that is unique to St. Louis and world history, this is the perfect place to take them; it is where the radioactive ore from Mallinckrodt’s uranium enrichment program during World War II was illegally dumped.  Supposedly that waste is from the uranium processing that produced the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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Just think, in 400,000 years this could be valuable land again!

 

8 Responses

  1. mark

    06/07/2013, 01:23 pm

    I believe Banshee Road is named after the Banshee Aircraft manufactured by McDonnell Douglas in the 50s(?)

    Reply
  2. Amy in StL

    06/07/2013, 01:53 pm

    Banshee was an aircraft built by McDonnell. Although no-one hangs around the airport now, for decades people did go there to watch flights land and take-off. Blue lights is what my generation called the parking lot at the end of the runway; but my mom’s generation just called it the airport viewing lot.

    Reply
    • Sue Stanis Castro

      06/08/2013, 10:49 pm

      I was one who went to the airport to not only watch the flights take off and land, but to have lunch, and sit at the Braniff gate waiting room, and just overall enjoy the atmosphere of the airport. I was 11 when I started hanging out there, in lieu of school, and did so for about 3 years until I discovered I could take the bus to either Northland or River Roads Shopping Center and have a more productive day (buying stuff.) This would have been around 1967. Since I lived in Normandy, I would just hop on a bus.

      Reply
  3. Broadwing

    06/07/2013, 04:05 pm

    Furthermore, Mr. McDonnell’s penchant for the occult was legendary. The Banshee was one of their first big breaks in the industry, but there was also the Phantom (and Phantom II/Spectre, which kept St. Louis in military contracts for a good long time), Goblin, Voodoo, Demon, and so on.

    A bit amazed a St. Louis historian didn’t know that. Also, just focusing on the bad around the area? The Engineering Campus and the IBM IT building are pretty nifty in the area – the former’s pretty nicely mid-century.

    I miss the hell out of the spotter’s lot along the old route of Lindbergh. They were *supposed* to replace it, but of course they didn’t. Of course, I’m not in the area anymore, but I really liked that lot.

    The airport waste site is interesting. I slightly debate ‘illegal dumping’ – it was probably just fine at the time, though appalling today. They even went back later and extracted MORE Uranium from the waste pile, once they had better methods. At least it’s not as disturbing (or land-scarring) as all the stuff they did at Weldon Spring.

    The hotel was indeed the Henry VIII. Silly faux-olde-English facade and all. I had a coworker that was caught up in the buyout. He always felt it was more or less fair, though agreed with me it was silly to do it after American basically destroyed the St. Louis hub. I heard at the time that American was basically keeping JUST enough infrastructure at Lambert to make it plausible they could make it a fortress hub again, just to keep others from moving into what should be an excellent hub airport.

    Reply
    • Chris Naffziger

      06/11/2013, 06:08 pm

      Ah yes, I was sitting on the train going to Chicago, separated from a computer, when it dawned on me what the Banshee was.

      Perhaps this post is a bit negative, but it is a statement on how humans have destroyed their natural and historic environment.

      Reply
  4. Christina

    06/07/2013, 08:28 pm

    I grew up watching the planes take off and land at the airport viewing lot. During the spring and fall, my parents would load up all of us kids, in the station wagon, on a Saturday evening with a picnic dinner and watch the planes until late in the evening. Ahhh such good memories!

    Reply
  5. Tom Maher - Kirkwood

    06/09/2013, 04:00 am

    Going to the airport in the the immediate post-WWII years was a staple weekend trip for many parents, just to “watch the airplanes take off.” Back then, the prop planes taxied right to the tarmac where you were standing, separated from you by only a low chainlink fence. OH! The romance when they would turn around and you would be hit by the prop wash. And the terminal building had the most marvelous popcorn; the “operator” said the secret was using coconut oil in the kettle (dunno if true, but after 60+ years I recall the heavenly taste – much better than us popping the corn in the shakedr on top of the stove).

    And in HS in the late ’50s, it was common to take a date to the NEW terminal to “watch the JET planes take off.” Ahh, how simple it was… My grandkids just shake their heads (at so many of my memories…).

    Reply
  6. Chris Naffziger

    06/11/2013, 06:10 pm

    Everyone’s memories of visiting the airport are very interesting; unfortunately, it is not a pleasant place for a picnic anymore–which I think is one point of my post.

    Reply

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