Whenever you speak with individuals from the St. Louis area who are into U.E., one of the first locations anyone brings up is Carondelet Coke Plant. It is easy to see why. This 40 acre plot of land located at the confluence of the Mississippi and River Des Peres is one of the most amazing forgotten sites that St. Louis has to offer. Recently I returned to this spot, easily one of my favorites, and as always was awestruck by it's immense scale and eerie beauty.
Located in the economically depressed area of Carondelet in South St. Louis, Carondelet Coke was a carbon gasification plant until it's abandonment in 1989. Barges unloaded massive quantities of coal using the immense crane located along the river, sending it through underground tunnels on a conveyer to the plant, where it was super-heated and turned to gas. The ground all around the plant seems to be blanketed in a black coal powder; this may be why the city has had such a hard time attracting companies to redevelop the site. I read a news release in December, however, stating that certain companies are submitting proposals to the city. If an agreement is reached, this site may not be around for too much longer. That's why you should come to St. Louis soon, White Rabbit.
My partner in crime for the day, SoccerMom, had never seen the plant before, and I recently realized after viewing pics on the web that there is a network of catwalks I had missed on previous visits. How did that happen? There was a fair amount of activity in the industrial area around Carondelet as we walked to the plant, but residents of this small neighborhood seem to be used people hanging out there. On previous visits, I have run into people dumping large pieces of trash, scavenging for trinkets, playing paintball, and fishing along the river at one of the few sites available to residents of South St. Louis. The area is a strange garden of debris, burnt out cars, and broken refridgerators. As I knew she would be, SoccerMom was immediately impressed by the site. So impressed, in fact, that she kept wandering off to take pictures. I reminded her sternly that it wasn't a good idea for her to wander off alone, and that my Tae-Bo skills were all that stood between us and possible doom.
We slowly worked our way through the many buildings on the premises, finally arriving at the two main buildings. It is amazing how much of the original machinery is left, I wish I knew what more of it was used for. Finally, we found the staircase to the catwalks at the top of the plant. They really do take you ALL the way to the top! I scolded myself quitely for being so careless and missing this on previous trips. The view of the river and surrounding neighborhoods was breathtaking. I took my time wandering the catwalks, admiring the plant below me and taking as many pictures as I could. Even after I had taken countless photos, I still didn't want to come down. Eventually I realized that we still had more to see, so SoccerMom and I headed to the river to explore the unloading crane.
The last time I visited the Coke Plant, I thought I was a pretty brave guy since I climbed all the way to the top level of the crane when Matt decided that being that high wasn't for him. I am definately not afraid of heights, but on that day, the massive abandoned crane swaying in the strong river winds was enough to get my adrenaline pumping. On this occasion, as I was busing taking pictures, I heard SoccerMom yell my name. She had climbed out onto the farthest portion of the crane, suspended hundreds of feet above the Mississippi! She may be a girl, but she obviously has huge metaphorical balls, whatever that means. So, of course, I had to follow suit. The view was unmatched. The arch was just barely visible in the distance. There were some curious barge workers that seemed to be wondering what the hell I was doing up there, so I just waved. Or maybe I did air-guitar, I don't remember.
Carondelet Coke always seems to provide me with something new and interesting, and I guess that's what keeps me coming back. I could spend days wandering the site and still not see it all. If the city does decide to raze the plant, I hope they use the land for some kind of public access. It would be a shame for such a great riverfront site to be turned into just another industrial complex. Unfortunately, I'm sure that's where it is headed. I know this won't be my last trip to the Coke Plant....there are still so many people that I need to share it with.