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Historic Buildings commission expresses strong opposition to Sylvan Springs Park sale

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon - St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley gave his full support last week to using Sylvan Springs Park to expand Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.

But not everybody is excited about the idea.

Jane Piper Gleason — a member of the St. Louis County Historic Buildings Commission — sent a letter to each member of the St. Louis County Council last year asking them to oppose any sale of the park in south St. Louis County. The commission is the county’s statutory advisory body on issues of history and preservation.

"Never before has the county’s own administration decided to sell one of our own historic resources with, so far, no public debate, as is happening now with Sylvan Springs Park," wrote Gleason, who last year was chairwoman of the commission. 

Dooley expressed support last week to using Sylvan Springs Park to expand Jefferson Barracks cemetery after a presentation from several veterans during the county council's public forum. Maryland Heights resident Mike LeBlanc said that the cemetery will eventually reach capacity in 2025.

But Gleason wrote last year that "while some people think that respect for our military veterans requires us to give up the park," the commission "feels that this action would actually be a disservice to veterans in two ways."

For one thing, Gleason contended that Sylvan Springs Park already possesses a unique military heritage. During World War II, Gleason wrote, the park was the site of performances by "all the great USO entertainers, including, for example, Judy Garland."

“Because it was already in use as a park, it became the second park in the St. Louis County system in 1950," Gleason wrote. "Selling the park would destroy or compromise this heritage."

Gleason also wrote that selling Sylvan Springs Park "would be enabling the Veterans Administration to further postpone the inevitable long-term solution to its problem, which is a large new cemetery capable of serving the St. Louis region for a century or more."

"The longer this action is postponed, the more difficult and expensive it will be to find such a site," Gleason wrote. "And in the meantime, Sylvan Springs will be filled up and gone forever."

Asked about the commission’s stance against the turnover, Dooley said on Monday that “there might be some opposition” to using the park to expand the cemetery.

"But I’m a veteran myself, quite frankly. The veterans gave much to this great country," said Dooley, who served in the Vietnam War. "That’s the least that we can do for veterans in our state. And Jefferson is a very much-used site as far as burials are concerned. Second only to Washington, D.C. So I think we have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to our veterans to secure this site and make sure it goes on for years to come."

Asked what the timetable would be to hand over the park, Dooley said "it depends on when they actually need it and when they actually have to do it."

"So that’s not an issue,” Dooley said. "St. Louis County has 12,000 acres of parkland. This is a small acreage of it. It won’t make a large impact on us at all. And there’s plenty of park space left."

"We’ll wait to see what the need is right away. I’m in favor of it 100 percent," he added. "But I’m also trying to figure out when do they actually need it. And then we’ll do it at that time."

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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