Monday, November 10, 2014

A Walk in Saint Louis

OK I Was Wrong.....

Over the years I have visited Saint Louis two or three times. One of those trips I was probably about 8 years old, so maybe that trip doesn't count. 

On subsequent visits I "had" to be there for a conference or client meeting. Those visits were planned by others and when we took time to go "see the city" we'd always wind up at the Gateway Arch, take a quick "car windows" tour of downtown and (sooner or later) land at a riverboat casino or some loud brewpub.

Between my previous trips and recent headlines concerning racial issues I have had the general impression that there really weren't many reasons to visit Saint Louis.

In fact for many years I have kind of gone out of my way to avoid trips to Saint Louis.

But every time I have badmouthed the city someone more familiar with it seems to tell me I've got it all wrong.

Well recently I returned to Saint Louis for another conference. But, this time I set aside a few hours to burn some shoe leather and see what it was that I had been missing.

And, OK I admit it, Roadboy had missed a lot.

In fact 3+ hours of walking on a sunny Friday barely scratched the surface.

OK....Here goes. I was wrong, Saint Louis is a truly marvelous city. 

Actually, my first impressions started to change as soon as I landed at Lambert Field and realized that TWA's former home airport was sure looking spiffy with its beautiful new copper roof and light filled ticket halls.

After collecting my bag I went to catch the light rail to my downtown hotel. Right there at the ticket machine a light rail rep was there to answer questions, offer me a city map and run through a first timers guide to buying my fare. I found Saint Louis' light rail to be clean and efficient. It connects both terminals to downtown for only $4 (the return fare is only $2.50)!

Once downtown another rep saw my confused look and offered walking instructions to my hotel.

Saint Louis soon became a customer service revelation.

At my hotel (the Hilton at the Ballpark) I met some of the friendliest and most professional staff anywhere. They introduced themselves and appeared whenever I needed them.

I began my walking tour at the hotel with its postcard view of the old courts building in front of Eero Saarinen's iconic arch (celebrating Saint Louis' role as the gateway to America's Western Expansion). Useful Note: Do you suffer from claustrophobia? Then stay the heck away from the arch tour. 

The old courthouse is now part of the Jefferson Expansion National Park. The original western court building was the site of the infamous Dred Scott citizenship case. Later the building was expanded to include an eastern wing and a dome.

The Old Courthouse and The Arch

The next landmark was the spectacular new CityGarden Sculpture Park. Here you will find 24 wonderful world class sculptures that invite you to touch and engage them.

Eros Bedato (Eros Bound)
Igor Mitoraj 1999 

The Garden Looking West

Two of my favorites sculptures were Big Hands by Jim Dine and Kindly Gepetto by Tom Otterness. There is a Cafe entitled Death in the Afternoon, a Spray Plaza to delight kids during Saint Louis' hot summers and a video wall (that was playing old Looney Tunes cartoons when I strolled through the evening before). 

Outside the garden to the west one encounters the massive Richard Serra Sculpture "Twain". As amazing and complete as the City Garden is, the Twain site is a perfect mess. Serra's concept for lighting, benches, and shade trees was never implemented and Twain's rusting core-ten panels now provide concealment for transients and are a magnet for graffiti and urine. This was the saddest place I found in an otherwise immaculate downtown.

The next building I came to was the deco infused and pyramid topped 1930 Civil Courts Building. This one is a masterpiece.

The 3 Story Guardians at the Civil Courts
Across the street is the massive Federal Courts building circa 1933. This WPA era buildingis a solid  block of monumental Federal architecture.

Moving west across Tucker Avenue is the French Chateau City Hall. This was the winning entry in a 1898 design competition. The building was supposed to be built in 2 years, but the City never authorized bonds and just kept dribbling out money piecemeal extending the construction to something like 14 years. 

Saint Louis City Hall

From here I walked past the ScottTrade Arena to Saint Louis' Union Station. This is not just any train station. Opened in 1894 and, at its zenith, was the world's largest and busiest train station serving 22 different train lines. It was expanded in 1904 to serve the Saint Louis Worlds Fair. and closed to rail traffic in 1978. It was rebuilt into a festival market / mall and hotel in 1985. The mall is now pretty dated with most of its shops sitting vacant.

But the spectacular Terminal Hall still delivers a sense of awe to any visitor in possession of a heartbeat.

Union Station's Main Terminal Hall

Stained Glass Over the "Whispering Arch"

Clocks and Lantern Bearers

The terminal hall hosts an amazing evening light show that should not to be missed. See a preview  video of it here: Technomedia Union Station Projection (be sure to turn the volume up and go full screen)! Then, of course, click your return button to come back to Roadboy!

From here I walked to the amazing City Museum. I'm convinced there no place like it anywhere else in North America. City Museum is equal parts outsider art and fantasy. It is part repository for architectural fragments and part fun house. In front is a big old airplane and ball park for kids to play on. On the roof is a Ferris wheel and a precariously perched school bus. Inside there are indoor skate(less) parks, slides (one 4 story and another 10 story), an aquarium, and a circus zone (where aerial skills are honed). All built (and constantly expanded) in an old shoe factory.

Please, do not miss City Museum.

Airplanes, A Rooftop School Bus and Ferris Wheel

Terra Cotta Relics


And More Architectural Fragments

From here I realized my stroll time needed to come to an end and I quickly made my way past (sadly no time to enter) the Main Library and The War Memorial.

I loved the Turtles Supporting the Library Light Standards

The War Memorial

I passed beautiful churches, deco skyscrapers, and Adler and Sullivan's 1894 Wainwright Building. 

My take away?

I was wrong about Saint Louis and I will plan a return trip.

Next time I'll explore its neighborhoods, Forest Park (home to Saint Louis' History and Art Museums) and its Fox Theater.

In the meantime I sure hope Saint Louis is able to take some positive steps to repair its racial problems. A house divided cannot stand.

PS: If you get a chance go eat Peruvian at Mango at 11th street and Lucas. Yum!

Roadboys Travels © 2014

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