Visiting and Touristing in St. Louis
Our next stop was in St. Louis to visit with Tom’s niece, two nephews, and their families. We had spent a week in the St. Louis area in May, staying first with his brother (who was unfortunately on a trip while we were there this time) then his niece and finally, one of his nephews. This time we only had a few nights before we were due in Kansas City so we stayed with his niece and her family, though we did get to visit with both the nephews.
Nancy and Tim and their kids are awesome. Like, they knew we were coming so they went to the vegan bakery especially for me to get a brownie and a cupcake. And when we were there in May they acquired vegan cake! I must tell you that my taste buds went crazy eating that brownie – I think I moaned audibly. It was the first brownie I’ve had in years – the first since being vegan – and it was completely amazing. Anyway, enough about my brownie experience. As I said, we also had the chance the spend time with both of Tom’s nephews, first having dinner at nephew Dan’s new restaurant, The Wood Cask, with his (other) nephew David, his wife Gina, and their son. Two nights later we went over to David and Gina’s house for a barbecue and spent time with the rest of their children as well as their in-laws.
We had a fantastic time with Nancy and Tim as well. They took us on a tour of some historically-interesting and gorgeous St. Louis neighborhoods – more on them later – on our way to downtown, where we first stopped at The Old Courthouse. A component of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, the judicial building is one of the best examples of classical 19th century architecture in the United States. The Renaissance-style dome capping the rotunda is the crown jewel of the structure, but the Greek Revival interior columns, monumental frescoes, and the cast iron winding staircase are merely a few of the many touches that make this building spectacular.
The Old Courthouse is not just worthy of preservation for its architectural qualities however; the building houses the courtroom where Dred and Harriet Scott sued for their freedom based on the fact that they had been transported to and resided in two free states. Following the Missouri law that slaves held in free territories had to be released, they were originally granted their freedom, but after multiple appeals the case made it’s way to the Supreme Court where in 1857 it was reaffirmed that as slaves they were property, not people, and had to be returned to bondage. This decision of course was a major catalyst to the Civil War. The courtroom where the Scott trials were heard in 1847 and 1850 freedom was later remodeled but the East Courtroom in which they were released according to the request of their new owner in May 1857 still stands and has been returned to it’s appearance ca. 1880. Hundreds of other slavery cases were held in the courthouse in the 1840s and 50s, and in 1859 Ulysses S. Grant even brought his single slave here to be manumitted. In addition, another case brought before the Supreme Court by began here when Virginia Louise Minor sued the county registrar over for the right to vote.
Leaving the courthouse we crossed the street to the famous Gateway Arch, designed by renowned architect Eero Saarinen and built as a memorial to westward expansion. The 630 foot high structure, constructed between 1963 and 1965, was an engineering marvel, requiring ridiculously precise measurements and novel workarounds to enable transport of both workers and materials during construction and to ensure the two freestanding legs would meet at the top. In order to accomplish the latter, each of the 142 triangular stainless steel segments had to be carefully fitted and welded in place, filled with concrete, and secured using post-tensioning rods in a very exact manner so as to not alter the trajectory of the arch. The result is impressive, the stainless steel body far more spectacular seen in person than the innumerable images I’ve been exposed to in my lifetime.
Access to the observation deck at the apex is via tram, lovingly called “eggs,” which remain horizontal during the 6 minute ascent and 4 minute descent in much the same way ferris wheel cars do so despite moving in two dimensions around the wheel. The somewhat-jarring adjustments to the small orb while ascending were enough to raise an eyebrow, particularly since the six of us felt crammed in the already-tiny capsule, but it’s really a pretty cool ride and one I’d endure even if tight spaces bothered me. The view from the top is definitely worth the trip, providing sightlines up and down the Missisisippi, across to Illinois, and down on the St. Louis downtown area including a fantastic aerial view of Cardinal Stadium. We were on the observation deck in time to watch the sun drop behind the St. Louis cityscape – which was fantastic – but I’m sure the extended visibility of a daytime visit would be amazing. I’d also love to see it again when construction of the park below is finished. A final note: Should you visit the arch, I highly recommend the 30ish minute documentary on its construction. It is seriously fascinating.
The next day while Tim and Nancy were at work Tom continued the tour of St. Louis from the night before. We parked near Lafayette Square, one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city that features French architecture, wrought iron fences, beautiful public spaces, and Victorian painted ladies – brightly colored historic houses. After we walked through the park we toured some of the posh cul de sacs and walked a few miles up and down the streets of row houses. Impressive and beautiful, I couldn’t help feeling a but like an interloper while walking in Lafayette Square.
We then continued towards the Mississippi to Soulard, an historic French neighborhood of brick row houses, bars, and restaurants, accented with colorful painted door frames and windowsills. With wrought iron balconies and narrow alleys, the charm of the neighborhood is undeniable. I was enthralled by the combination of gorgeous brickwork and French accents – balconies reminiscent of New Orleans, ornate framing of windows, Mansard roofs, and the fleurs de lis on buildings and flags. The neighborhood is a model of architectural harmony, unified and defined by the solidity of brick. Clusters of row houses – more elegant in their simplicity than the ones in Lafayette Square – mix with shops, bars, and converted warehouses in Soulard, accented with churches and the occasional freestanding house.
Our final stop in St. Louis was Reservoir Park, which contains retaining walls, stairs, and fountains and constructed in the manner of an Italian villa. The park is arguably more known for it’s French Romanesque stand pipe water tower, which conceals the 130 foot stand pipe that helped maintain pressure and offset surges during its use from 1898 through its retirement in 1929.