The City Museum in  Saint Louis - Re Revisited

The City Museum in Saint Louis - Re Revisited

Another classmate & friend, who lives in St Louis, generously retuned to Elsah to bring us back into the city, where we had a reservation for our last evening’s hotel…’just across the street from our favorite museum, which we’d planned to visit after making an exploration of the city’s famous Botanic Gardens. Because it was a hot day we happily found shady benches near the Buckminster Fuller geodesic domed tropical greenhouse… the Climatron. There Stephen could comfortably check into a scheduled weekly Zoom call & I could catch-up with my mail after the busy time at the reunion.

Nearby was a Jacques Lipchitz sculpture, which interests us for another connection…
We have a Lipchitz drawing from Helen & Otto’s collection hanging in our stairwell. He’s not a particular favorite, but we enjoy holding it for many reasons.
There is a Carl Milles (I would much rather own a drawing of his!) fountain not unlike the one we know on the Plaza in Kansas City… with those huge lily pads one wants to float on!

After spending a satisfying hour or so inside the tropical spaces of the dome, we discovered we’d lost the time to have lunch at the cafe… but we certainly wanted to see the Japanese garden, having visited so many of such when we were there. This one is still relatively quite young, so we could only imagine how it might evolve after such time as the centuries the ones we saw in Kyoto had been tended. We must come back… this unexpected botanical treasure deserves much more time & attention!

Still, we both were happily anxious to find a Lyft driver who was a lively & fun woman to drive us to the Last Hotel, which, knowing its location in the old shoe manufacturing district, close to the City Museum we were to see next, clued me to understand that this was named for a “shoe last”, instead of an act of desperation! It is a very nice boutique hotel with a timeless lobby spanning spaces defined by handsome 12 foot columns.

Since we are beginning to shop for new furniture for the condo I took note of the distressed leather banquets.
The capitals on these street-level columns were more detailed than those more utilitarian ones on the floors above.

The guest rooms are carved out of the industrial space of a shoe factory under the scarred concrete ceilings telling stories inside a lot of drapery to shade the hyper abundance of large industrial windows. We took a morning swim next day before we finished packing for the flight home. All in all it was a good “do”!


However, The City Museum is quite another sort of architectural wonder. We would not miss returning here on any visit to the city! We walked almost immediately around the corner to this fabulously quirky & unique museum. This was our third visit. We were introduced to this venue by our cousin Anjana when we visited to attend a Bell Convention. “It is a jungle gym for adults” was her description while acknowledging that this is an all family adventure.

It, too, was a historic shoe factory of 8 stories, now filled with an eclectic variety of collections from any & all possible interests or “tastes”. Much of which might be considered junque… old signage & side-show art. Rooms full of activities for all ages: a gallery filled with innumerable large sponges inviting youngsters to play or build with. There are nooks housing small cafés or ice cream shops. There is an old pipe organ installed in an air shaft. Cases full of oddities like antique porcelain doll parts, for instance.

However, some of these earlier “filler” exhibits seem to be evolving over these years. New consideration & work is constantly being incorporated to finesse this raw mélange since our first visit. Many tubular structures of steel or newly handsome welded iron allow brave souls to pursue clambering adventures, sometimes up or down into other floors. A grander excitement experience is a conveyor/slide, originally designed for sending the shoes down toward other finishing processe, but now rebuilt for allowing humans to slide, on rollers with smooth & swift action all the way several floors to the lobby. This place is certainly a wild adventure!

My strong favorite, from the first visit, is a collection of stone & terracotta details salvaged from demolished buildings in Chicago & St Louis. Originally decorating corners & cornices high above street level… too far out of sight for easy study, these were at first simply rather haphazardly piled in a raw room, but now becoming featured in an evolving state, gradually being imaginably “reinstalled” as exhibits noting the history or becoming parts of venues being readied for weddings or social events.

This well-studied recomposition of an old relief frieze backed by a theatrical painting sits on a new floor shown further below…
A huge old bank vault door is installed next to a wall of safety deposit boxes & an impromptu service bar of corrugated metal, which will no doubt become replaced by some older, finer piece. I’m sure there must be entire warehouses of such stuff in the waiting…
Another such vault door caps the other ent of a dramatic tubular space.
Industrial iron & steel become transparently supportive as antique castings marry new welding… often quite clever as technique must meet playful function.
This net becomes a giant trampoline!
An almost crude, newly welded-up bit of balustrade describes the casual finesse of this project…
The lobby of the museum is quite playful
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Those random piles have become quite properly displayed.
What style buildings used to have!
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A peek over a mild barrier reveals a mason at work, creating a new collage of architectural fragments.
The romance of that classical terracotta reconstruction takes a stance surrounded by a painted sky while siting atop a stone mosaic patterned in an evolution of Escher-like transition of butterflies. A further example of the design team… which we understand is a collection of students.
This ceramic tile floor becomes almost jewel-like.
This old open window of reused tile work… demonstrates several ideas:
The rear of the window reveals the technical struts of the terracotta building blocks of such architectural work.
A section of seating incorporates various possible functions…
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The traffic flow of guests becomes controlled by gates of various style & material… allowing the vast spaces to be divided for creative use.
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The museum has commissioned a sculptor to enliven smaller spaces with humor.

The upper parts evolve into an amusement park in the sky, with even more adventurous climbing, several plane fuselages & a Ferris wheel!

Such a generously exploratory… & still evolving… public facility! We look forward to a next visit.

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1 comment

Love your description of City Museum. Art and I have never gone to explore it, but our daughter, as a St Louis police officer, spent some nights there and said it was very scary overnight. Secret doors and passages. Glad you enjoyed your visits! Monday, March 11, 2024.

Ruth Ann Frank

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