Best Public Park - 2005
The most low-key and crime-free of the city neighborhoods is St. Louis Hills, and Francis Park is its 60-acre emerald. While very much the neighborhood's social spot (Christmas tree lighting, bulb plantings and Easter egg hunts are yearly traditions), Francis graciously welcomes visitors with all the sports and playground amenities expected -- plus two water fountains, two restrooms and four ever-stocked Mutt Mitt stations. The park is bounded by Eichelberger Street on the south, Donovan Avenue on the west, Nottingham Avenue on the north and Tamm Avenue on the east. Once around the perimeter is 1.2 miles, and with a church on all four corners and a large variety of residential architecture to absorb, it's a cakewalk. Wandering the lazy, rolling hills into the core of the park reveals hidden treasures. The work of the St. Louis Hills Garden Club is simply gorgeous. The little stone footbridges crossing tiny streams are utterly enchanting. The focus is the Lily Pond promenade, feeling much like an informal stroll on palace grounds. In center court, placidly reading a book, is Her Majesty Francine the Mermaid, flanked by two dragon thrones, mosaic sculptures by artist Robin Murez. This royal whimsy is the soul of the place, and homespun urbanity is the heart. Francis Park is not about getting lost; it's a respite. It's not Splendor in the Grass but Leave It to Beaver. And if a concrete reason to visit is needed, it's walking distance from Ted Drewes.