The Secrets of St. Louis

By Carin Shulusky

St. Louisans often say, “St. Louis is our best kept secret.” We know what a great city it is, but it is often overshadowed by larger, better promoted cites like our neighbor to the north, Chicago. But St. Louis is full of secrets you will want to explore when you’re here for the ATSI Convention and Expo June 18-21. You may know St. Louis as the home of the 2006 World Champion Cardinals, but did you know it is also the home of Chuck Berry, Scott Joplin, and Anheuser-Busch? If that isn’t enough, St. Louis has the third largest zoo in the country, the largest and oldest outdoor theater (the Muny), the tallest manmade monument (the Gateway Arch), one of the largest city parks, over thirty-five museums, more than twenty music venues, and five grand casinos. If all this seems a little overwhelming, here are some sights you should not miss, all within five miles of the convention center.

We’ll start with St. Louis Union Station, site of 2008 ATSI Convention and Expo. From its magnificent sixty-five-foot barrel-vaulted ceiling in the Grand Hall to its Victorian-engineered train shed (with more than eleven acres), this is one of our nation’s true architectural “gems.” Built in 1890, this impressive historical building once served over 100,000 rail passengers a day in the largest single-span train shed ever constructed. Don’t miss the famous Allegorical Window. It’s in the Grand Hall above the station’s main entryway and is handmade of Tiffany glass.  The window features three women representing the main U.S. train stations during the 1890s: New York, St. Louis, and San Francisco. One the second floor, you will find the Memories Museum, which will tell you more about St. Louis Union Station’s great history. Today, after a $150 million renovation, it is a shopper’s paradise with ninety unique shops and restaurants featuring everything from high fashion to one-of-a-kind gifts.

Just four miles from Union Station is Forest Park, one of the largest urban parks in the United States. At 1,371 acres, it is approximately 500 acres larger than Central Park in New York City. The 1904 World’s Fair drew more than 19 million visitors from around the world to Forest Park. Within Forest Park you will find many of St. Louis’s best attractions: the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Saint Louis Science Center (with more than 700 exhibits), the St. Louis Zoo, Jewel Box greenhouse, Missouri History Museum, the Muny theater, the 7.5-mile biking, jogging and skating path, the skating rink, and lakes. The best way to see Forest Park is on the Segway tour offered through the Science Center.

The St. Louis Zoo, set in the rolling hills, lakes, and glades of Forest Park, is truly one of the most beautiful zoos anywhere. It is home to more than 22,805 exotic animals, many of them rare and endangered. These 800 species represent the major continents and biomes of the world. The Penguin and Puffin Coast and the Fragile Forest, summer home of the great apes, are two of newest and best exhibits. Of course, you may also want to see the lions, tigers, and big cats in the Red Rock section. The Zooline Railroad can help you see it all. In June, the St. Louis Zoo will be featuring sixteen lifelike dinosaurs that move, roar, and spit. You don’t see that in every zoo!

Just two miles east of Union Station is the Mississippi riverfront, highlighted by the majestic Gateway Arch. More than four million guests each year visit the arch which stands 630 feet above the river. A tram ride will take you to the top, or you can visit the Lewis and Clark exhibit in the museum below the arch.

If all this culture is too much for you, the St. Louis Riverfront also holds three floating casinos. The newest and brightest is Lumiere Place, a hotel, casino, and entertainment complex that lights up the riverfront. It holds seven signature restaurants, exciting nightlife venues, the Four Season’s Hotel, over forty-five Las Vegas-style table games, and thousands of new slot machines.

If you’re looking for music, you should visit one of St. Louis’s famous blues clubs. Two of finest are located just a mile and a half from Union Station: BB’s Jazz, Blues and Soups, at 700 South Broadway; and Broadway Oyster Bar, at 736 South Broadway. BB’s building dates back to the mid-1800s and has a colorful history. A recent renovation added a balcony with more sitting room. Both clubs serve fine southern and Cajun/Creole cuisine that fits the music. Broadway Oyster Bar’s kitchen also has a wide variety of oysters, of course. On any given night, you can find local favorite blues bands or nationally known performers. Check their websites for listings.

Less than a mile from Union Station is one of the most unusual museums you will ever find, the City Museum. This is a place to let your imagination run wild. Housed in the 600,000 square-foot former International Shoe Company, the museum is an eclectic mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel made out of unique, found objects. The brainchild of internationally acclaimed artist Bob Cassilly, a classically trained sculptor and serial entrepreneur, the museum is constructed from the very stuff of the city, including old chimneys, salvaged bridges, construction cranes, miles of tile, and even two abandoned planes! On the second floor is the World Aquarium, a 13,500 square foot aquatic waterworld with sharks, stingrays, and seahorses in an underwater adventure. The City Museum is easy to find – just look for the building with a bus hanging off its roof!

Just four miles away is a haven for garden lovers. Founded in 1859, the Missouri Botanical Garden is a National Historic Landmark with seventy-nine acres of scenic landscaping and elegant structures. Don’t miss the Climatron tropical rain forest, Seiwa-en Japanese garden, and founder Henry Shaw’s Victorian home. You can even have an elegant lunch in the garden.

While all this is less than five miles away from the conference, just imagine what you might find if you travel ten or twenty miles. We have not touched upon the famous Children’s Museum in suburban Kirkwood, the Butterfly House in Chesterfield, Grant’s Farm (the home of President Ulysses S. Grant) in Afton, the Opera Theater in Webster Groves, or Six Flags in Eureka.

Carin Shulusky, a native of St. Louis, is president of Marketing Alliance, a firm she created after twenty-five years in marketing. Carin’s career includes both client and the agency positions. Carin has a BJ (Bachelor of Journalism) degree from the University of Missouri, Columbia, and has earned a CBC (Certified Business Communicator) certification from the Business Marketing Association. She is a past president of BMA St. Louis and has received their Lifetime Achievement Award. She is a member of the National Association of Press Women and serves on the board of the Special Education Foundation. Contact Carin at 636-225-5350.

[From Connection Magazine May 2008]