Between East and West
The city of St. Louis in Missouri is a bridge between the east and west of the United States, and offers history, culture and arts, commerce and one of America’s most advanced auto industries, as well as the world’s largest beer brewery and authentic Jazz and Blues music
By: Ilan Shchori, St. Louis, USA
There are several very good reasons to visit St. Louis, located in the state of Missouri, situated at the junction of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, on the eastern edge of the state, only 500 kilometers to the south of Chicago and to the north of Memphis. St. Louis was visited by tens of millions in recent years, especially its Lambert airport, that serves as a bridge between east and west, but anyone who decided to stay for a few days was not disappointed.
This is a cosmopolitan city, with a rich history and cultural heritage and European atmosphere. Two of the greatest American geniuses of the 20th century lived here – the poet T. S. Eliot and the musician Chuck Berry. Located nearby is the city of Hannibal, the birthplace of Mark Twain.
St. Louis is a large industrial center, the only city in the US where 6 types of basic metals are processes: iron, lead, zinc, copper, aluminum and magnesium, and serves as a key center for the chemical industries – the second most important automobile production center after Detroit. But St. Louis is also a city of museums, culture, numerous tourist attractions, and mainly the city in which various styles of blues and jazz music developed, immediately after they were created in nearby Louisiana and New Orleans, and before they continued to develop and spread to Chicago and New York. Dozens of jazz and authentic American music clubs are scattered throughout the city’s center and environs, in addition to numerous bars where every night blues-rock and Reggae music contribute to the city’s unique character. And don’t forget that St. Louis is also the home of the largest beer brewery in the world – Anheuser-Busch.
Despite its somewhat lackluster image, this is a real tourism city, with dozens of hotels offering more than 10,000 hotel rooms in the city center alone. Next May, St. Louis is scheduled to host the annual conference of the American tourism industry – Pow Wow, when 8,000 American tourism industry executives and leaders will attend their conference, in addition to thousands of additional tourism professionals who will come to meet them. This event ensures a sharp increase in the number of internal and external tourists for the next several years. At least that was the result 15 years ago, when the city first hosted the Pow Wow conference in 1977.
Preparations for the tourism conference, which will be held on the 17th of May 2003, are currently in full swing, but St. Louis is also celebrating several additional events, such as the 75th anniversary of the opening of highway 66 that links the east and west – one of the most famous highways in the United states, connecting Chicago to Los Angeles, passing through the center of St. Louis.
St. Louis was founded in 1764 by a French fur merchant named Pierre Laclede, but mainly developed during the years under French and Spanish rule. Numerous immigrants streamed to the city after it was sold to the USA as part of the Louisiana purchase deal. Back then, St. Louis was considered a very important gateway for the pioneers on their way to the west. St. Louis is currently a living memorial and museum for the history and development of American settlers.
St. Louis’s famous symbol is its huge arch – the national memorial site for Jefferson and the settlers. Jefferson was the American president who negotiated the Louisiana purchase, thus opening the gates to the American west. The large arch constructed on the banks of the Mississippi in the center of the city, known as the Gateway Arch, was designed by the Eero Saarinen, and completed in 1965. The arch is an enormous symmetrical parabola 195 meters high, made of stainless steel. Construction of this huge arch is one of the city’s crowning achievements, as part of a project to renovate and develop the riverside area, which began to deteriorate during the sixties. Located on each side of the arch are staircases and steep tram tracks. These trams can carry up to 40 passengers on a 4-minute climb up to the top of the arch, to an observation deck with thin windows is located. Visitors can sometimes even feel slight vibrations caused by the wind.
Gateway Arch is St. Louis’s leading tourist attraction, but the city offers quite a few additional sites of interests, such as the wharf district next to the riverbank that has recently developed into a unique nightly entertainment center. This is a 2.5 kilometer-long granite stone paved walkway, which once housed commercial warehouses and small factories. The wharf district now includes antique shops, boutiques, offices, restaurants, and music clubs. Permanently moored in the docks are various boats and ships that serve as museums, theatre halls and gambling houses.
Located close by is the Old Courthouse museum, a majestic building built in the neo-classicist style. For many years this building served as an arena for the sale of slaves, and in 1847 was the site of the trail of Dred Scott, a black slave who petitioned the judges to free him of the shackles of slavery. Now, part of the building houses the Museum of Westward Expansion, describing the history of settlers in documents, paintings, photographs and additional items. Situated next to the Courthouse is Union Station – a huge Romanesque style building at the center of which is a 70-meter tall clock tower.
St. Louis’s cultural heart, and especially its theatre and museum center, is located in a beautiful park area named Forest Park, which is larger than New York’s Central Park, and is cock full of interesting attractions and sites.
On a hill next to the park is the St. Louis Museum of Art, an impressive French style building. Close by is the St. Louis zoo, where animals are not kept in cages but in natural habitats. The zoo complex also includes a historical museum exhibiting old photographs of St. Louis, highlighting Charles Lindbergh’s flight from New York to Paris in 1927, in a plane funded by the city’s aviation industry.
A visit to St. Louis is not complete without a tour of the Anheuser-Busch brewery. Tens of thousands of German immigrants arrived in St. Louis in the middle of the 18th century, settled mainly in the Southside region, specializing, to this very day, in the preparation of beer. Of all the breweries built, only one is left, but it is the largest beer brewery in the world. This brewery is responsible for the production of a major share of the 1.1 billion crates of beer produced by the company, including Budweiser beer.
Another colorful district of St. Louis is the De Hill neighborhood, an area where roofs and stores are painted in red, white and green – the colors of the Italian flag. This district, is of course, a small and beautiful Italian quarter that covers 30 blocks. At the center is the Saint Ambrose church, with a statue of a group of Italian immigrants. The church is surrounded by small, unique bakeries covering the area with a scent of fresh bread, as well as small grocery stores and dozens of restaurants.
Another popular tourist site is the ice-cream shop on highway 66 – Ted Drew’s Frozen Custard, which is an American legend. The lines are long but service is quick.
St. Louis also has a vibrant Jewish community and is one of the largest centers of Jewish life in the US. More than 80,000 Jews live in the city and its suburbs. The community has created an extensive system of religious and community centers, including a Mikve, Yeshiva, and magnificent social and sports center. Operating in the city are several Kosher restaurants. Most Jewish activity is centered around the Jewish Federation House, that unites all the Jewish communities in the city. A few years ago, a museum was opened in the Federation House in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, with a special corner for the relatives of Jewish families from St. Louis. The leaders of the Jewish community report that more than 2000 people visit the museum every month, including students from schools throughout the city.
Ilan Shchori is the editor of "The Israeli Tourist Guide magazine" – a weekly travel magazine – for the Israeli Trade – The biggest one.