In anticipation of Pope John Paul II's visit to St.Louis, Mo, in January 1999, a prestigious NewYork City newspaper called the St. LouisConvention & Visitors Commission to requestphotographs of local churches for an upcoming article.The images were overnighted immediately. The nextday, a bright young editor, who was unaware that themost glorious church architecture west of theMississippi is found in St. Louis, called the Convention& Visitors Commission with a photography problem.
"The newspaper wanted shots of St. Louis churches,"the editor explained.
"I get it," said the director of public relations for thecity, "you wanted photographs of white-painted clapboardchurches, with perhaps a cow tied outside."
"Exactly," she responded.
America the Beautiful
If it weren't so confident, St. Louis (800-325-7962;www.explorestlouis.com) could argue as RodneyDangerfield does that it "don't get no respect." It's not ona coastline, so it doesn't have the glamour of SanFrancisco. It's on a famous river, but New Orleans downstreamgets more ink. It's not a financial center like Dallasor an airline hub like Chicago. However, it's one of themost historically important places in the United States.
Its position as the portal to the Louisiana Purchase,the World Fair it held in 1904 to commemorate thatevent, the local businessmen who financed Lindbergh'scelebrated plane in 1927, and its famous 630-footGateway Arch (www.stlouisarch.com), all add to a citybrimming with history. It took courage to put upthe Arch in 1965, which is the tallest monument in theNational Park system—it's more than twice the height ofthe Statue of Liberty. A tram ride to the top allows apanorama for 30 miles.
If you stand facing east in Kiener Plaza downtown,you'll sense in one fell swoop the impact of this historiccity. Beyond William Zorach's sculpture ,which was commissioned by 1904 Olympic track teammember Harry J. Kiener, rises the Old Courthouse. In1859, Ulysses S. Grant came to the Old Courthouse tofree his only slave. At the base of the Gateway Arch isthe magnificent Museum of Westward Expansion, andbehind the museum wanders the great Mississippi River.
Of course, it was a different scene 200 years ago,when Meriwether Lewis and William Clark came to theeast side of the river. Peering across the Mississippi, theycould only see a foreign city on a limestone bluff and theunknown land that lay beyond it. A mere 37 years old,St. Louis was a village of about 180 stone and log houses,whose villagers were primarily traders, trappers, anddrifters hoping to make a fortune in the fur trade.
Lodgings and Lessons
Visitors will find a wide selection of hotels in St.Louis, and they all share one thing in common: a past.The downtown Drury Plaza (314-231-3003; www.druryhotels.com) was once the International Fur Exchange.Inside the lobby you'll find sculptures of the explorerswho literally put the city on the map. Other hotels with apast include the Westin St. Louis (314-621-2000), whichwas once a railroad factory, and the Sheraton City Center(314-231-5007), whose spacious rooms and broadbandInternet access make it difficult for guests to imagine thatthis hotel was originally a JC Penney warehouse.
The architects in this celebrated city know thatanswers to the present are often found in the past. Forcurious visitors who want to unlock the past, theMissouri History Museum in Forest Park (800-916-0040; www.mohistory.org) is an ideal destination. Infact, the museum recently hosted Lewis and Clark:The National Bicentennial Exhibition (www.lewisandclarkexhibit.org). The exhibit displayed hundreds ofcarefully collected items from the explorers, such asLewis' telescope and Clark's elk skin-bound journal.