Travel Itinerary: St. Louis

Gateway to the West has a rich history spanning four centuries of architecture and culture

“Meet Me in St. Louis” was the city’s official tune in the months leading up to the 1904 World’s Fair, but it’s still a fitting proposition today. After all, the town is home to Eero Saarinen’s Gateway Arch; outdoor spaces such as the sprawling Missouri Botanical Garden established in 1859; and world-class theaters, museums, and jazz and blues clubs, as well. But that’s just the beginning.

Founded by French fur traders in the 1760s and established as the “Gateway to the West” after President Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory, St. Louis truly is awash in history. The Old Courthouse downtown was site of the first two Dred Scott trials, and when the Eads Bridge was completed in 1874, it was hailed as a feat of engineering. In 1852, Anheuser-Busch Brewery cemented St. Louis’s reputation as a world-class beer town when it set up its headquarters there. Complimentary tours of the historic facility are available today.

And of course, there’s the storied World’s Fair, which brought millions to the city’s 1,371-acre Forest Park and introduced the ice-cream cone to the world. Today, you can see traces of the exposition, which
marked the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase, at the Saint Louis Art Museum, housed in the fair’s Fine Arts Palace, as well as the flight cage at the Saint Louis Zoo.

There’s plenty for the history lover to see and do in St. Louis, and to find some of its hidden gems, Preservation spoke with three St. Louis history buffs:

    • Chris Naffziger, who has been chronicling the city’s historic architecture on his popular blog, stlouispatina.com, since 2007
    • Steve Trampe, a native St. Louisan, principal of Owen Development, and author of The Queen of Lace: The Story of the Continental Life Building
    • Michael Allen, director of the Preservation Research Office, a historic preservation and architectural research organization, and president of the board of Modern STL, a nonprofit group dedicated preserving and advocating for the city’s modern architecture

Eat

No trip to St. Louis would be complete without a stop at Crown Candy Kitchen, Naffziger says. The old-fashioned soda fountain celebrates its 100th anniversary next year and still offers classics such as grilled cheese sandwiches, ice-cream sodas, and its famous World’s Fair sundaes, plus homemade chocolates and candies. Or get caffeinated at The Mudhouse on Cherokee Street or Sump Coffee on South Jefferson, both bringing new life to their neighborhoods’ historic storefronts.

“It’s a little off the beaten path, but go to Fountain on Locust,” Trampe says. The restaurant is located inside a 1916 auto showroom and features a whimsical Art Deco interior with antique fixtures and a menu of homemade soups, sandwiches, and an extensive selection of ice creams.

Allen recommends three microbreweries that, in addition to continuing the city’s rich history of beer brewing, offer great food in historical settings: Square One Brewery and Distillery, a cozy watering hole in an 1883 structure, with salvaged fixtures and a popular brunch menu; Six Row Brewing Co., inside the 1911 building that once housed Falstaff Brewing’s headquarters; and Urban Chestnut Brewing Company, where you can sip pints inside the renovated 1920s garage or outside in the beer garden.

Stay

Vacant for years, the 1910 Morgens Brothers Cleaning & Dyeing Company building, in what is now the St. Louis arts district, was recently transformed into Hotel Ignacio, a chic boutique hotel with themed rooms and, Trampe says, a prime location near the 1929 Fox Theatre and picturesque St. Louis University, founded in 1818.

“Imagine you went to an English manor house, and that’s what being in The Cheshire feels like,” Naffziger says. The Tudor-style hotel has been a St. Louis fixture since it opened in the 1920s as a
restaurant, and although it was recently renovated, he says it retains original details that lend to its kitschy charm. Naffziger also recommends the grand Marriott St. Louis Union Station, in the city’s landmark 1890s train station.

Allen steers visitors to the 1922 Chase Park Plaza Hotel, which has hosted presidents, royalty, and celebrities throughout its 90-year history. “It still has that elegant feel of the 1920s jazz age,” he says. This Art Deco property, along with the 1913 Omni Majestic Hotel, is part of the Historic Hotels of America, a program of the National Trust.

Do

“Just drive around the city and look at the architecture,” Naffziger recommends. He suggests exploring the recently revitalized 14th Street pedestrian mall in Old North St. Louis, or the Victorian houses in Lafayette Square, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. Peruse the antiques stores, galleries, and restaurants occupying 19th- and early- 20th-century storefronts along eclectic Cherokee Street. While you’re there, stop by the 1860s Lemp Brewery, at one point the largest brewery in the city, and the 1860s Lemp Mansion. Along Delmar Loop, you can enjoy a hamburger and live music at quirky local landmark Blueberry Hill, or see an independent film at the restored 1924 Tivoli Theatre. And don’t miss the Carondelet neighborhood in southeastern St. Louis. “You’ll feel like you’re in a small 1860s town,” he says.

For a dose of Modernism, Allen suggests exploring suburban communities such as Oakland, which has several midcentury Harris Armstrong structures, or Craigwoods, a 1950s subdivision in suburban Kirkwood. (Find downloadable walking tours at modern-stl.com.) “And the Clayton suburb is full of midcentury office buildings that are very intact, down to the door hardware,” he says. Allen also recommends strolling through Tower Grove Park, a 289-acre Victorian park established in 1868 that he considers “one of the most remarkable parks in the city.”

Trampe recommends visiting Bellefontaine Cemetery, established in 1849, which has a collection of Gothic Revival, Romanesque Revival, and Egyptian-style mausoleums, like the Louis Sullivan–designed
Wainwright Tomb. And head to Soulard Farmers Market, located in a historic French neighborhood. One of the oldest continuously operating farmers, markets in the country, it offers fresh produce and baked goods year-round. For something truly unique, Trampe advises, go to City Museum, a former shoe factory turned indoor-outdoor play place for kids and adults. He says, “It’s unlike anything else in the country.”

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