St. Louis: A Forgotten Cultural Hub
The 1904 World’s Fair took place in St. Louis. There “more new American foods were invented … than at any other event in history. The list includes the hamburger, the hot dog, peanut butter, iced tea, the club sandwich, cotton candy and the ice cream cone. “Guests would take the tram to the fair using a huge system in St. Louis that is perhaps as impressive as any other in the country. It was this event that inspired the famous Judy Garland flick “Meet Me in St. Louis”.
Grand Basin at the 1904 World’s Fair
In the years around the World’s Fair, St. Louis was an imperial city. It proudly proclaimed itself the “Fourth City” (for its population rank) and was the center of American expansion to the west in the 19th century. In St. Louis, Anheuser-Busch began his ascent to the brewer’s throne in 1852. In St. Louis, marvels such as the Eads Bridge, the first steel truss bridge, were realized.
When St. Louis opened its Union Station in 1894, it was the busiest train station in the world. It was Washington Avenue in St. Louis that claimed more shoe manufacturers than any other street in the world, while the city was the second largest apparel manufacturer in New York City. When the automobile became an integral part of American life, St. Louis was the second largest automaker after Detroit. The Corvette was made in St. Louis. American history is incomplete, or perhaps even abstract, without understanding St. Louis.
Union Station in St. Louis
From the now-vanished Deep Morgan neighborhood, Henry Brown played the piano, while Chestnut Valley (now the home of the St. Louis Blues Hockey Arena) became the centerpiece of ragtime music with artists like Scott Joplin. Miles Davis built his career in Gaslight Square in St. Louis, another vanished neighborhood reminiscent of a collection of pillars. Chuck Berry became the father of rock and roll here in St. Louis, and Nelly had a middle-class tradition of revolutionary music when he published Country Grammar. Smino recently emerged from the St. Louis scene before moving to Chicago. And the underground music scene is one of the most respected among connoisseurs.
World Wide Magazine – Fred Willard visits – Pete shows Fred Willard on the remains of Gaslight Square in 1994
Gaslight Square (demolished)
Performing arts, zoos and museums
The St. Louis Symphonic Orchestra is among the best in the world. Museums are free for everyone in the city. That makes a trip to the art museum easy and frequent. The various history museums help promote civic pride and knowledge. The zoo is also free and is recognized as a top institution every year. The Muny is a 100 year old open air theater that offers free tickets to every show. The arts are strongly promoted across the region.
Nextstl – Saint Louis Art Museum opens new east building by architect David Chipperfield
St. Louis Art Museum
St. Louis’ literary footprint is not easy to take either. Tennessee Williams, TS Eliot, and Kate Chopin were all heavily influenced by their experiences in St. Louis, and their writing reflects this. Eliot once wrote: “It goes without saying that St. Louis has affected me more than any other setting ever before. I feel like having spent your childhood next to the great river is something that is not communicable to those people who haven’t. I consider myself lucky that I was born here and not in Boston, New York or London. “Maya Angelou once called St. Louis and lived in a brick house in The Gate District. Walt Whitman often visited St. Louis, where his brother was the water commissioner, and read to the kindergarten teachers.
Left Bank Books with a bust of TS Eliot in front
St. Louis is also the perfect sports city. The Cardinals are second in the World Series titles after the Yankees. There is a unique pulse in this city on a Cardinals game day. The team is a common denominator between those who usually don’t have common interests. In addition, the city has a significant place in the history of Negro League Baseball, which Major League Baseball recently posthumously recognized as Major League. A HBCU (Harris-Stowe) baseball team is currently located on the former grounds of Stars Park, a Negro League stadium in the heart of the historic Mill Creek Valley district that was flattened by urban renewal in the 1950s. The stadium is currently being renovated in partnership with the St. Louis Cardinals.
St. Louis is a city that has won a championship in every major sports league in addition to the MLS (but also won an MLS team for the game to start in 2023) and even then has a history-steeped football history that few other cities have can reflect. When the Blues won the Stanley Cup last year, audience estimates soared into the millions. I waited in line for over an hour to buy a Stanley Cup blues jersey before getting on a plane to fly back to Seattle. Maybe you can prevail as the Darkhorse in the NBA Expansion Sweepstakes.
Nextstl – The eight past stadiums of St. Louis
The newest phase of Ballpark Village recently concluded with a beautiful square
Like any major cultural center, St. Louis has many foods that are unique to the city. Roasted raviolis are perhaps one of the greatest Italian-American inventions of all time. The St. Louis style pizza isn’t for everyone (the less sophisticated ones find it uncomfortable) with its thin crust of cheese and crackers, but it says something about the city that it dared to create a unique style of pizza, which has proven itself test of time. St. Louis has a good to great BBQ scene. French food is popular here thanks to the city’s heritage, and Cajun dishes are pretty common with the city’s connections with New Orleans. Gooey Butter Cake is a popular dessert with the masses. For particularly unique meals, you can find Bosnian food such as Pide from the Balkan Treat Box and Ozarkian eats in Bulrush.
While many cities are known for their fine dining, St. Louis is perhaps the Mecca of working-class American cuisine. It’s affordable and very popular for the masses. But that doesn’t mean that St. Louis is ignored when it comes to awards. There are regular James Beard finalists in town. Last year there were eight.
The late Charlie Gitto celebrates the Stanley Cup with roasted ravioli
The architecture here can also compete with the best in the country. This is true for most cities. Our cities are architectural galleries, especially in the business corridors. Historic buildings line the streets of the St. Louis business corridor. The Wainwright Building is one of the first recognized skyscrapers thanks to its steel frame. The new 100 Above the Park (whose rental prices would be average in superstar cities like Boston or Seattle) is across from the 1,300 acre Forest Park, which has all the recreational activities you could hope for.
Two basilicas (most cities only have one if they’re lucky) stand proudly in the city: one in Gateway National Park and the other in the Central West End.
But it’s residential architecture that sets St. Louis apart. Beautiful brick houses line the streets across the city and you can’t help but admire each house on an evening stroll. Every house really feels like a work of art and a love work. And there are few cities where it feels like that. St. Louis has lost more beautiful homes than many cities have ever lost, yet it has retained an incomparable charm.
Painted ladies in Lafayette Square
St. Louis has an energy that flows with the consistency of its great rivers. It is a deeply cultural city that has been forgotten and dismissed by much of America. But that doesn’t mean the culture has died. But on the contrary. And the pride of the people here when it comes to St. Louis culture is second to none.