Last night the balloons glowed in Forest Park! As the sky darkened and the burners illuminated their nylon envelopes, more than sixty wonderful shapes worked in brilliant colors filled with hot air and the park, filled with thousands of observers, became a magical place. This afternoon the balloons will lift and take flight in whatever direction of St. Louis the wind takes them. The weather forecast is predicting they’ll move slowly north on a southern breeze. This is one of the year’s most delightful events in Forest Park and the city’s Central West End.
Immediately east of the park, The C. W. E. is bordered on the south by the City of Barnes, known officially as Washington University Medical Center. Covering 230 acres and over twelve city blocks (and counting), Wash. U’s medical complex has a population of doctors, nurses, technicians, and research scientists in the thousands, and vast numbers of patients. It is a world unto itself, brought about in part by Robert Augustus Barnes, who arrived in St. Louis an orphan, with no money, in 1830 and by virtue of his intelligence and ingenuity rose from store clerk to grocer, commission merchant to bank president. Having no heirs (Robert and his wife, Louise DeMun, lost two children in infancy) he bequeathed close to a million dollars for the establishment of “a modern, general hospital for sick and injured persons with no distinction of creed” that became one of the most highly regarded of its kind in the nation.
Because patients come from all over the U.S. and sometimes the world to be treated by experts in Wash. U’s many specialties, the southern end of Euclid Avenue became a virtual warren of restaurants and shops catering not only to the neighborhood’s many residents but to the needs of patients’ families. The Great Frame Up, at 22 North Euclid, is perfectly designed for both markets: an eclectic card & gift shop and framery. Under the skillful direction of owner Bruce Shoults, who left the corporate world to become an entrepreneur (he owns two other Great Frame Ups – one in Clayton & one in South County), the store has expanded from its original concept as The Frame Factory (the family owned business of many years next door – where the very popular Pickles Deli is now located) to a gift shop wherein “to relish a little something extra”. There’s a little something here for all ages and all occasions; nothing too pricey – what you might call – affordable whimsy. A native of St. Charles, Missouri Bruce has found the C.W.E. “a great place to do business”- and to live. He spearheaded a “New Doors of the Central West End” Poster Contest in which residents were invited to submit photographs of their front doors. You’ll find the winners on the posters on sale inside “the door to two great shops”.
The mainstay of the very diverse and ever-changing eating establishments this side of Lindell is The Majestic Restaurant & Bar. Opened at the southwest corner of Euclid and Laclede in 1961 by current owner, Bill Politi and his brother, Lou, The Majestic specializes in Greek and American cuisine. Today Bill is manager and cashier, leaving the cooking to his son, Alex, who finished his education at culinary school in New York and to Lou’s son, Peter. But in the beginning, in 1961, Bill reflects, “I did everything!” Their family history in St. Louis echoes that of many ethnic groups. Lou, though younger, came first from Corinth in 1952. He brought Bill over in 1956. They made it possible for their sister to come in 1958. And in 1960 they brought their mother. (Their father had died in the war when they were boys.) Bill remembers his mother and sister both, as excellent cooks. Baklava and Greek Salads are staples of the house as you may imagine, but the favorite of my brother Michael, who treated me to lunch today in the C.W.E., is their Feta Cheese Omelette. However their greatest claim to fame according to one regular patron is their Gyros. “They make the best Gyros (meat, tomato, onion with tzatziki sauce) in all of St. Louis!” she told me as she was leaving the restaurant. “I drive all the way from Wildwood (far west St. Louis County), just for their Gyro sandwiches.”
The Politi’s parish, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, located three blocks south and one block west, at Kingshighway and Forest Park Boulevard, hosts a marvelous Greek Festival(http://sngoc.org/GreekFest/default.htm#n4) each Labor Day weekend, with tours of the church, one of the most beautiful in St. Louis.
Although the southern sector of the CWE is filled with apartment buildings ranging from a few stories to towers – some intriguing architectural remnants of the 19th century like the Nieman Mansion at 4472 Lindell Boulevard dating to 1888 survive – in this case as the legal firm of husband and wife team, Mark and Patricia McCloskey. Others have been maintained as private residences at considerable cost.
A sculpted Angel of Harmony guards children of different races outside The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, one of the priceless architectural jewels of the C.W.E. Constructed under the direction of Archbishop John Glennon, on land purchased by his predecessor, Archbishop John Kain, and designed by Barnett, Haynes and Barnett of St. Louis, the immense structure consists of a primarily Romanesque exterior with a Byzantine interior. It houses 83,000 square feet of mosaics (one of the largest collections in the world), in over 7,000 colors. It took twenty artists of the Ravenna Mosaic Company 76 years to complete the work, though the building itself was constructed between 1907 – 1914.
The dream began with Archbishop Peter Kenrick, but Archbishop Glennon who saw it to completion, and was elevated to Cardinal shortly before his death, is buried in The All Souls Chapel. Born in the village of Kinnegad, County Meath and educated in Ireland and Germany, it was John Glennon’s vision to raise a magnificent temple to the honor and glory of God. He intended the cathedral to take one’s breath away and indeed it does.
As autumn makes its way officially into St. Louis, I’ll make one more virtual tour of the Central West End on this blog. Next week it’s north to Euclid and McPherson, points between and a little beyond.
Photo Credits: Great Forest Park Balloon Race 2010 – courtesy of John O’Connor Kavanaugh; Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, All Saints Chapel – L.C. Tiffany.JPG is the work of Andrew Balet from Wikimedia Commons; Jefferson Lake in Forest Park Looking Towards Barnes Hospital:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:JeffersonLake_BJC.jpg – released into the Public Domain 22 Jan. 2009, by the author:Blue Lion. The remaining photos are the work of the author of this blog, Maureen O’Connor Kavanaugh.