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St. Louis weekend
Satisfy everyone’s interests in the Gateway City

Published: Mar/Apr 2002
By Don Redman

The Old Courthouse with the Arch in the background, as seen from Kiener Plaza./ St. Louis CVC photos
I love architecture, my wife enjoys the fine arts and the children would rather mow the lawn than be stuck inside a boring museum. We found that all our passions and interests could be more than satisfied in St. Louis.

Our first order of business, however, was to visit the Gateway Arch (Jefferson National Expansion Memorial). I normally shy away from tourist attractions, but the Gateway Arch was something I couldn’t avoid. The Arch is a true architectural marvel and I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to see it in person. The boys were simply excited by the prospect of riding a tram 630 feet to the top of the Arch.

The trams, located in the left and right legs of the monument, leave every 10 minutes, but the lines are usually long, so, budget at least an hour for a round trip. To fully appreciate the Arch, watch the documentary “Monument to the Dream,” which is shown every hour in the park’s underground museum.

Other notable attractions circle the Arch

Near the base of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial is the Old Cathedral, the Basilica of St. Louis the King. Officially dedicated as a cathedral in 1834, the building sits on the site of an earlier log chapel first erected in 1770, and is the oldest Catholic cathedral west of the Mississippi River. The church maintains a museum on the grounds containing countless religious artifacts.

Also located within walking distance of the Arch is the Old Courthouse, part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Featuring a magnificent dome, the courthouse, built between 1839–62 in the Greek Revival style, served as the legal backdrop in the 1847 trial of Dred Scott, a slave who sued for his freedom. The courthouse also houses a St. Louis history museum, gift shop, restored courtrooms and observation area. An event commemorating the 145th anniversary of the Dred Scott decision will be from 9 a.m. to noon on March 9 at the courthouse.

Laclede’s Landing, a nine-square block historic district on the St. Louis riverfront, is located north of the Arch. The trendy district with cobblestone streets, iron street lamps and 19th-century warehouses was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and is one of the city’s premiere entertainment districts. Family attractions on the Landing are the Laclede’s Landing Wax Museum and the Dental Health Theater.

Grand Center: center of arts district

One of my favorite destinations in St. Louis is an area of town known as Grand Center–the heart of the performing arts district. Located along North Grand Boulevard just north of Saint Louis University, Grand Center a 10-block neighborhood that has become a cultural mecca offering art galleries, symphonic music, dance and theater, plus outstanding architecture, such as:

• Powell Symphony Hall, 718 N. Grand Blvd. Home of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Powell Hall was originally built in 1923 to house the St. Louis Theater;

• Grandel Theater, 3610 Grandel Square. The Grandel Theatre originally was a Congregational Church built in 1884 in the Romanesque Revival style. It is now home to the St. Louis Black Repertory Company;

• Fox Theatre, 27 N. Grand Blvd. On the National Register of Historic Places, the Fox Theater opened in 1929 as one of the country’s most distinguished movie palaces. Today, it hosts touring Broadway shows, concerts and other performances.

Baseball, bowling and fine dining

With tickets to see the St. Louis Cardinals in hand, we walked from our hotel, the Hampton Inn Union Station, to St. Louis Union Station and caught the MetroLink to Busch Stadium. A boarding station is located at the rear of St. Louis Union Station, once the largest and busiest passenger rail terminal in the world. Today, it is a shopping mall with a 10-screen movie theater and a Hyatt Regency Hotel. Architecturally, the 108-year-old National Historic Landmark towers above any other shopping center I’ve seen.

The boys were thrilled beyond words when they found out that the visiting Major League team was staying at the Hyatt Regency. They snagged a couple of autographs and I believe we could have gone home that minute and they would still have considered this the best vacation ever.

Across the street from the Busch Stadium is the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame. The bowling museum covers the sport’s 5,000-year history, from ancient Egypt to modern times, and also houses the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum.

For a unique perspective of Busch Stadium, and the entire city for that matter, I suggest dining at the rotating restaurant atop the Millennium Hotel St. Louis. Although the meals are a bit pricey, the 360-degree, panoramic view of St. Louis and the surrounding area more than makes up for it. If you go during baseball season, you may be treated to fireworks bursting right outside the window as the Cardinals celebrate a home run.

Countless treasures in Forest Park

The Missouri History Museum in Forest Park
Forest Park, which encompasses 1,000 acres, is one of St. Louis’ most treasured sites. Founded in 1876, Forest Park was host site for the 1904 World’s Fair.

The park now plays host to a number of events and free attractions. Highlights of the park include the St. Louis Zoo; St. Louis Art Museum; Missouri History Museum; St. Louis Science Center with the newly reopened planetarium; The Muny (Municipal Opera Theater), which hosts several outdoor performances during the summer.

Take a blanket, pack a lunch and spend the entire day at Forest Park. But I assure you, one day is not enough time to fully appreciate the park’s many treasures.

Thrills, spills and more

We rounded out our vacation by traveling about 30 miles west of the city to Six Flags St. Louis, an amusement park in Eureka, Mo. I thought the stop would be one just for the youngsters, but to my amazement, I found a number of interesting architectural wonders, like The Boss, a fantastic wooden roller coaster; the Colossus, an 18-story Ferris Wheel; and the Ninja roller coaster. Not only were these rides nice to look at, they were even better to ride.

We are looking forward to a return trip to St. Louis because the city offers so much that it is impossible to appreciate it all in one visit. Whether you’re looking for a family vacation or a romantic excursion for two, St. Louis definitely delivers.

Don Redman is associate editor of AAA Southern Traveler magazine.

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