There are many unusual things in Missouri. We’ve seen the history of Missouri and the unique karst topography of the land and natural wonders—all beautiful and interesting—but what of the cultural aspects? There are many in Missouri but one I find most interesting is Forest Park in St. Louis. It’s history and development as well as the buildings and landscape is an interesting study of unique and unconventional.
|Forest Park Map|
The idea of a large park was the brainchild of Hiram Leffingwell, a St. Louis developer. He proposed, in 1872, a 1,000 acre park about three miles outside the city limits. It was approved by the Missouri General Assembly to purchase the land for the park. In 1873 it was overturned by the Missouri Supreme Court. In 1874 the battle for a large park was spearheaded by another developer, Andrew McKinley. He put together another proposal that met all the legal challenges from the Supreme Court decision. However, he chose another tract of land for the park that was in a heavily forested area even further out in the rural areas west of the city. This tract of land was 1,375 acres with the River Des Peres and wetlands.
Maximillian G. Kern and Julius Pitzman designed the Park's original plan. The park was dedicated June 24, 1876 with a crowd of about 50,000 in attendance.
In 1901, Forest Park was selected as the location of the 1904 World's Fair, known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. The fair opened April 30, 1904 and closed December 1, 1904. The Fair had many unique displays but what seemed to cause a great deal of wonder was the relatively new invention, electricity. Imagine what it was like to many who had never witnessed electricity to see electric lighting, both inside and out, of all of the important buildings and roads. They even had a display of an electrical plug and wall outlet. We take these things for granted but it was very unusual to the majority to witness how plugs and outlets worked.
|1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition|
Keep in mind Forest Park was selected in 1901 to be the site of the world’s fair in 1904 and open its doors to the world. A great deal of work went into the preparation of the park and buildings for displays. George Kessler, the fair's landscape architect, dramatically changed the park: the wetlands areas in the western part of the park were drained and converted into water features five connected lakes were created. Sewer and water lines installed during the fair—again an unusual happening—remained for public use in the park. After the fair, thousands of trees were planted and vistas were created and all the buildings created for the fair were used by the park many remain today.
One of the most unique and unusual buildings in the park is The Jewel Box (aka St. Louis Floral Conservatory). It’s an Art Deco greenhouse and was built in 1936. It’s listed in the National Historic Register. It’s stunning.
|Photo by Randy Allen more of his (& other photographers) work can be found on http://www.forestparkforever.org/|
The Jewel Box consists of 16,664 square feet of plate glass in over 4,000 panes, set in wood and wrought iron supports. Most of the glass is framed by copper with a verdigris (green tint) patina. The Jewel Box is supported by eight fixed arches, which carry the structure's weight. There are also triangular trusses between every other arch. The ceiling is composed of wood planking to prevent damage as Missouri has strong thunderstorms usually accompanied by hail.
|The arches of the floor fountains|
The arch theme is further carried out in the constant stream of fountains (seen coming out of the floor of the building) that provide a pleasing sound as well as reflective pools and moisture for the greenery.
The Jewel Box's entrance is a vestibule made of limestone. Inside the greenhouse, there is a concrete-floored balcony located across the south end. A reflecting pool lies in front of the Jewel Box's entrance.
|Forest Park Gazebo and Muny|
There are many unusual, unconventional, and unique things located in Forest Park. Just ask the millions of visitors each year that come to look.
Photos: National Historic Registry, Forest Park, Randy Allen