St. Louis, Missouri, Is Rebounding From A Long Decline By Focusing On Its Historic Heritage
Don’t think for a moment that the city fathers of St. Louis didn’t think of the Parisian Arc de Triomphe, Berlin Brandenburg Gate, New York Statue of Liberty or the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco when they erected their 630-foot high arch . If icon is an overused word these days, none applies better to the Arch, which was completed in 1965.
I remember seeing its graceful shape in the distance when my wife and I were driving through America in 1977, and my son remembers the threatening sight when he made the same drive in 1998. Now there’s a huge new visitor center and museum in The Base in the midst of beautifully landscaped grounds (they buried a freeway that used to run through the site) offers you everything you need to know about the design and construction of this Midwestern wonder of the world want.
Discover St. Louis
Although St. Louis only has 320,000 residents, it feels like a larger city that stretches along the Mississippi, is briefly married to Missouri and Illinois, and is criss-crossed by four highways with 79 designated districts.
This is the city featured in the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis, which centered on the opening of the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition (though shot on MGM’s property) the same year the Summer Olympics were held so lovingly highlighted.
The city dates back to the fur trading days founded by the French in 1764 and acquired by the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. In 1818 steamers operated on their rivers, and three years later Missouri became a state.
Like all expanding Midwestern cities, affluence brought culture, and today St. Louis is a hub for some extraordinary museums and attractions – most of them open to the public for free. Some are located in Forest Park, the site of the exhibition and the Olympic Games, which attracts 12 million visitors each year. Much larger than New York’s Central Park, it includes the Missouri History Museum and one of America’s largest cultural institutions, the St. Louis Art Museum. On a recent trip there, I was not only impressed by the total of its 34,000 holdings, from ancient American and Pacific art to Medieval and Renaissance rooms, Islamic exhibits, stunning Asian ceramics, and modern art (with any of the following) largest collections of the German artist Max Beckmann), but with its perfect, soft lighting both in galleries and in open spaces.
Elsewhere in St. Louis are the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum. The city’s symphony dates back to 1880 and now performs in the beautiful and opulent Powell Hall. The National Blues Museum has become both a main attraction and a music venue in the downtown area.
Discover St. Louis
The Missouri Botanical Garden covers 79 acres and is the oldest of its kind in the United States. It features an indoor rainforest, waterfalls, tropical birds, a serene Japanese garden, and an educational area for children, all of which are connected by a tram.
I’ll be writing about the city’s culinary offerings in the coming articles, but I can’t help but mention that St. Louis is a historic and important beer producer for visiting huge breweries like Anheuser-Busch (now owned by Belgians) are required, along with brewing companies visiting craft and microbreweries across the city.
One of the most enlightening aspects to me about a tour of the city’s busy Delmar Loop in the University District was the sidewalks decorated with bronze stars commemorating St. Louis native sons and daughters, including actors Betty Grable and Vincent Price. Authors TS Eliot, William Inge, Marianne Moore, Maya Angelou, and Howard Nemerov; Sports characters like Yogi Berra, Jimmy Connors, and Sonny Liston; and a number of musicians including Josephine Baker, Tina Turner, Albert King, Chuck Berry, and Scott Joplin. Probably the most famous citizen was the man who flew the plane, which he named after the town of Charles Lindbergh.
Not all of these natives loved their hometown, and many left as soon as they could. “I ran away from St. Louis,” said Josephine Baker, “and then I ran away from the United States because of this terror of discrimination.”
After the war, St. Louis was not without its urban problems. There is a lot of decay in the city center, gray stretches of dirt roads, and vacant lots littered with trash. In fact, 100,000 fewer people are living today than in 1950 when a flight to the suburbs began. Only Detroit and Youngstown, Ohio have seen such steep declines. The city had to fight its image with the highest homicide rate per capita in the United States
But infusions from Asian immigrants in recent years – the Chinese in the Central West End, the Vietnamese in Dutchtown – and Latinos have enriched the city’s ethnic base, which is now nearly 50% African-American. A lavish casino helped revitalize downtown, and the city’s sports teams – the Cardinals and the Blues – do it very well. The city’s main industries are solid, and its colleges and universities are highly regarded. Ten Fortune 500 companies are based there. Boeing employs 15,000 people on its campus north of the city, and like so many Midwestern cities, the medical sector is a technology and employment leader. Washington University’s medical school is in the top ten in the United States
Symptomatic of both this decline and the current boom is one of the city’s most extraordinary architectural pieces, the landmark St. Louis Union, once the largest and busiest train station in the world, with 100,000 passengers a day arriving or departing on 22 lines , a true crossroads of America. It opened in 1894 and thrived until airlines bankrupted passenger rail lines, with no more trains entering or exiting this majestic station in 1978. Those who come to St. Louis now do so through an adjoining cabin.
Discover Sy. Louis
The landmark terminal’s rescue demonstrated the resilient spirit of St. Louis in the 21st century. After a $ 150 million renovation, the station has been transformed into an upscale hotel several times, now run by Hilton
Today, a spectacular laser light show can be seen in the 65-foot-tall Grand Hall and stained glass windows that proudly recall St. Louis as the center of the American heartland.