Ready for a pop quiz on traveling? Try these on for size:
1. True or false: St. Louis was in the limelight for Charles Lindbergh's historic 1927 solo trans-Atlantic flight in his "Spirit of St. Louis" because he's a native of that city and the aircraft was built there.
2. True or false: Forest Park, site of the 1904 world's fair, is larger than either Central Park or Golden Gate Park.
3. In which region of the country is St. Louis located: the West, the South, the East or the North?
4. True or false: The city's most famous landmark, the Gateway Arch, is shorter than Seattle's Space Needle - and both were built for their respective world's fairs.
5. The city got its name from the Lewis and Clark expedition.
6. Historically, St. Louis was the site of such famous "firsts" as: the first hot dog, hamburger and ice cream cone; the first drive-in restaurant serving tray, and the nation's first motorized vacuum cleaner (probably to clean up all the wrappers from those hot dogs and hamburgers).
1. False. Lindbergh was a Californian and his plane was built in San Diego. But the daring journey was financed by a group of St. Louis businessmen, including Maj. A. B. Lambert for whom St. Louis' international airport is named. A replica of the Spirit of St. Louis is suspended from the ceiling of the airport's main terminal.
2. True. Forest Park, at 1,292 acres, is nearly one-third larger than Central Park (only 840 acres), and just a shade larger than Golden Gate Park (1,017 acres). Technically, the world's fair was known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, but thanks to Vincente Minnelli and Judy Garland, "Meet Me at the Fair" sounds a lot more lyrical than "Meet Me at the Exposition."
3. None of the above. Although folks in Boston may claim that St. Louis is "out West" and someone basking on the beach in Carmel, Calif., may erroneously believe that it's "back East," the bustling city on the banks of the Mississippi River is considered solidly "mid-America."
4. This statement is mostly false and only a tiny bit true. (I threw you a curve here _ and I apologize.) Gateway Arch is 630 feet high, compared to 605 feet for the Space Needle. The observation deck in the Gateway Arch is right at the top of the structure, while the Space Needle's observation platform is at the 500-foot level. The arch was not built for the St. Louis World's Fair, but nearly 60 years later. Although plans for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (which includes the arch) were initiated in 1945, groundbreaking wasn't held until 1959, after a design was selected, and the stainless steel arch itself wasn't completed until 1968.
5. False. (Hey, they're even spelled differently!) St. Louis was already a well established settlement on the edge of the country's frontier when Lewis and Clark embarked on their exploration of the western territory in 1804. It was first settled in 1764 by Pierre Laclede, a French merchant from New Orleans who named St. Louis in honor of King Louis XV and his patron saint, Louis IX.
6. All true . . . well, there's some controversy about whether or not the hot dog, hamburger and ice cream cone were actually invented in St. Louis, but they were introduced to the public at the 1904 World's Fair _ and changed American eating habits forever. (1904 was a busy, busy year for St. Louis. Not only did it host the world's fair, but it was also the site of the third modern Olympiad, the first to be held in the United States.)
St. Louis may be more than 200 years old, but it's not doddering and stodgy. It's just as robust, bustling and energetic now as it was back in its early days.
High-rise office towers in various stages of construction along with restoration and preservation of historic buildings are evident throughout the sprawling city.
One striking example is Union Station. During the 1930s and '40s, this was among the busiest railway terminals in the country, with 100,000 passengers a day, at times, passing through the huge, gothic-style building.
The trains don't stop there anymore (Amtrak has a much smaller station a few blocks away), but the crowds are certainly back _ some of them still toting suitcases. They're not climbing onto steam-belching trains these days, waiting for the jolly conductor to yell "All aboard!" Instead, the ones with suitcases are probably guests at the 550-room Omni International Hotel, which encompasses a sizeable portion of the stately old building.
The polished, tiled Grand Hall of the old depot is now an elegant lobby for the hotel.
The adjacent, sprawling railway yard is now a sophisticated festival mall, similar to Salt Lake City's own Trolley Square. Union Station is a little more open, not quite as congested as Trolley Square, and filled with dozens of interesting, eclectic boutiques and eateries.
Located west of St. Louis' soaring landmark, the graceful Gateway Arch, it seems ironic that a few years ago there were plans afoot to tear down the imposing edifice. But today, instead of another nondescript parking lot, Union Station is evidence of a renaissance in downtown St. Louis.
Both Union Station and Gateway Arch, in their unique ways, symbolize the city's important role in the westward expansion of the United States. St. Louis has always been a transportation hub _ from pioneers heading into the country's western frontier to today's fast-paced aeronautics industry.
According to Frank T. Viverito, manager of public relations for the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, transportation is the city's No. 1 industry. That encompasses everything from automobile assembly plants to shipping along the bustling Mississippi River ports.
Ford, Chrysler and General Motors have large manufacturing complexes here, making St. Louis second only to Detroit in automobile production. McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Co. has played a major role in the city's burgeoning aeronautics industry.
With all those boats, cars and planes, it shouldn't be surprising that the people who use them have turned tourism into one of the city's most important industries, too.
Granted, St. Louis may not be the glitzy tourist destination that southern California and its East coast counterpart, Orlando, Fla., are, but tourism is, nonetheless, a major component of the city's business profile.
In addition to the renaissance along Market Street, another is well under way in the nearby midtown area along North Grand Boulevard.
In the 1950s and early '60s, Grand was considered "the great white way" of St. Louis. Huge theaters, with bright, ornate marquees _ and even more elaborate interiors _ lined the busy street. Then, one by one, many of the beautiful old theaters were razed in the name of "progress." (You can't blame St. Louisans for this sad state of affairs _ the same thing was occurring in cities across the country.)
But at least two of the city's finest theaters were saved from the wrecking ball, and another, a former burlesque house, is waiting in the wings. The Fabulous Fox is the country's second largest theater (and "fabulous" certainly an integral part of the theater's name). Only Radio City Music Hall is larger. Built in 1929, it seated 5,060 people. By the time it closed in 1978, it had deteriorated considerably from neglect.
Up the street a couple of blocks, what used to be the St. Louis Theater is now the beautifully restored Powell Symphony Hall. When the old St. Louis closed in the late 1960s, the last show on its giant screen was "The Sound of Music." Another sound of music is now heard within its ornate walls _ from the city's internationally renowned symphony orchestra under the direction of Leonard Slatkin.
Both the Fox and the Powell, restored to their original elegance, are attracting thousands of patrons once again.
The Fox is now a privately-owned center for the performing arts, with everything from touring Broadway productions to rock and country-western shows on its busy calendar. I've always felt that you can tell a lot about a city by studying its entertainment lineup. It's obvious that St. Louis has a cultural mix that is a hearty blend of both East coast sophistication and Midwest frontier spirit. The night our bus pulled onto North Grand, Peter, Paul and Mary were packing them in at the Fox, while cellist Yo-Yo Ma was soloist with the Saint Louis Symphony at the Powell.
(One thing I learned . . . and I'll just pass this along . . . is that both St. Louis and Saint Louis are correct _ but please, please don't call it "Saint Louie." That's as irksome as saying "Frisco" to a San Franciscan.)
Although it has a population of nearly 2.5 million (it's the 14th most populous metropolitan area in the U.S.), St. Louis doesn't really seem all that big. Most Salt Lakers would probably feel comfortable there (except, of course, there are no mountains for a point of reference).
Viverito, for example, is a New York native who moved to St. Louis a few years ago when his wife was transferred there by her company. While he's always enjoyed the bright lights and excitement of the Big Apple, he's comfortable in St. Louis, where the quality of life is considerably more laid back.
Tourists would probably enjoy St. Louis for the same reason. Located at the confluence of four Interstate highways (and two rivers), anyone traveling through the nation's midsection will probably pass through St. Louis en route to their destinations. And, as long as you're driving through, why not spend a few days?
* INFORMATION _ For maps, brochures and pertinent information on attractions in the Greater St. Louis area contact the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, 10 S. Broadway, Suite 300, St. Louis, MO. 63103.
They also have a toll-free number: (800) 325-7962.