Imagine for a moment a museum, an amusement park and a kitschy, discount department store, merged within a circa 1920s warehouse.
The result would be “an eclectic mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel made out of unique, found objects.” Which is exactly how St. Louis’ City Museum describes itself on its website.
Upon researching the City Museum, I read numerous guidebooks and websites, all extolling its virtues. Some referred to it as an amusement park for adults. Others said it was a museum with a playground. In reality, I found it was all of the above and much more.
Situated inside a derelict former shoe warehouse in downtown St. Louis, Mo., the City Museum is part playground, where children and adults alike run freely through a labyrinth of mazes and caves while climbing such random objects as a school bus dangling off the roof of the building and decommissioned airplanes. The incredible rooftop Ferris wheel and climbing structures, both not for the acrophobic, allow for a marvellous view of the city.
As the name implies, it’s also part museum. The building houses an impressive collection of pieces focusing on local history via architecture, entertainment and sports memorabilia, all of which is complemented by an over-the-top décor.
After experiencing this marvel, I hoped the rest of St. Louis would measure up. I wasn’t disappointed.
This city of nearly 500,000 has a long, illustrious history. Founded in the mid-18th century, it became part of the United States following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
Long viewed as a gateway to the West, St. Louis became a shipping and railroad centre for a country looking to expand westward. By 1904, when the city hosted the World’s Fair, St. Louis had experienced tremendous growth and was the fourth largest U.S. city.
Opened in 1967, the world famous Gateway Arch downtown was built to commemorate this storied past. Part of the larger Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, the arch has come to symbolize St. Louis.
Visitors are taken to the pinnacle of the architectural marvel in a slightly cramped egg-shaped tram. The stunning, panoramic views from the top include the entire metropolitan St. Louis area on one side, and the majestic Mississippi River and Illinois on the other.
Across the street from the arch, and frequently overlooked by visitors, is the Old Courthouse. Opened in 1828, the courthouse saw the admittance to the bar of famed Jewish lawyer Louis Brandeis. In 1847, the landmark Dred Scott case was brought to trial within its corridors. The history of the court case has been preserved in several rooms.
Located a short drive from downtown St. Louis is serene Forest Park. Nestled within the urban landscape, this 1,500- plus acre park provides a refuge for area residents and visitors alike. It’s also home to numerous exciting local attractions such as the St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis Art Museum and St. Louis Science Center. And unlike many others cities, these attractions all have free admission.
Just across the Missouri River sits the equally historic city of St. Charles. Home to the first Missouri state capitol, the city was first settled by French-Canadians during the mid-18th century. It later became the western point of departure for famed explorers Lewis and Clark in their quest to reach the Pacific Ocean. Numerous sites along the riverbank point visitors to this remarkable past.
In the early days of the city’s community, many Jewish residents came to St. Louis following the great Chicago fire of 1871. Bereft of their homes and livelihoods, and lured by booming commerce in the city, Jews made up nearly 10 per cent of St. Louis by the 1904 World’s Fair.
Today, St. Louis’ Jewish residents remain a vital element of the larger populace. The community is primarily centred in the suburban University City area, within close proximity to renowned Washington University.
Located in the heart of the city’s Orthodox neighbourhood, the Young Israel of St. Louis has been led by Rabbi Moshe Shulman since 2007. Formerly the rabbi of Toronto’s Shaarei Shomayim synagogue, and occasional CJN columnist, Rabbi Shulman has overseen dynamic growth since his arrival.
With several day schools and numerous synagogues and kosher resources, the St. Louis Jewish community has cemented its future for years to come.
Michael Stavsky acknowledges the assistance of the Missouri Division of Tourism in arranging his family’s trip to St. Louis.