My American Road Trip, Part 3: Journey Through St. Louis and Columbia, Missouri

Posted on: June 14th, 2012 by Lauren Walser 4 Comments

I've visited St. Louis many times, yet I never tire of seeing the Gateway Arch emerge from the horizon. And my first stop once in town: The Loop. Thanks to reader Susan, who recommended visiting this neighborhood in my original post, I took a detour and saw a part of the city I might have otherwise missed.

Located near Washington University, The Loop is roughly six blocks of eclectic shops, restaurants, cafes, and theaters housed in old storefronts. Blaise and I walked up and down Delmar Boulevard looking at the St. Louis Walk of Fame, with statues and stars lining the sidewalk honoring famous people associated with the city, like Scott Joplin and Chuck Berry.

No trip to The Loop would be complete without a stop at Blueberry Hill. I read that when the restaurant first opened in 1972, it was a two-room pub with a jukebox and some sheet music on the wall. How times have changed.

The exterior of Blueberry Hill restaurant in St. Louis' The Loop neighborhood.

Today, the restaurant spans an entire city block, and the interior is something of a nostalgic pop culture museum: display cases packed with action figures, vintage lunchboxes, and baseball cards; old arcade games tucked in corners; and a huge collection of Elvis Presley memorabilia. There’s not an empty surface in sight.

One St. Louis resident I spoke with says the founder of Blueberry Hill was largely responsible for the revitalization of this stretch of the city back in the 1970s. And he, like several others I encountered, is excited about the recently announced plan to bring back the trolley line that once ran up and down Delmar.

With our stomachs full of burgers and fries, Blaise and I made our way downtown to what is perhaps my all-time favorite adaptive reuse project: City Museum.

The tangle of wiry tunnels is all part of the fun at the St. Louis City Museum.

Calling it a museum feels like a bit of a misnomer. Think of it instead as a warehouse-sized playground for kids and adults. The late Bob Cassilly, a sculptor and entrepreneur, took the mostly vacant International Shoe Company factory and turned it into a collection of slides, tunnels, caves, mazes, and giant sculptures -- all using reclaimed material from around St. Louis. There’s a bus hanging off the roof (yes, you can climb inside), an oversized ball pit, and an enormous Ferris wheel. 

A couple bumps and bruises later, we left St. Louis and spent some time in Columbia, Missouri, exploring the downtown area called The District.

Shops lining East Broadway Street in downtown Columbia, Missouri.

The District feels as if it has been around for decades but is still young and vibrant. There are a number of shops and restaurants buzzing with activity, plus an independent cinema, a major music venue, galleries, and numerous street festivals during the warmer months. The morning we visited, the air was filled with the scent of coffee being roasted at a local coffeehouse.

The Tiger Hotel's iconic sign.

After ambling around the historic University of Missouri campus, we walked down the street to check out the iconic Tiger Hotel, which reopened as a boutique hotel this spring after a year of major renovations. When it was built in 1928, it was the most lavish hotel in town. But in the 1980s, after the economy shifted and the number of guests dwindled, it was converted into a retirement community.

Lauren checking out the almost-finished interior of the Tiger Hotel.

The last time I was in Columbia, I barely noticed the Beaux-Arts hotel, despite its imposing size. But today, new businesses flank the entrance, and the lobby -- with its original lighting fixtures and terrazzo floors -- brings back a little bit of old-school glamour to the town. Work is ongoing -- only the top two floors are open to guests right now -- but so far the results are extremely impressive.

With cups of that freshly-roasted coffee in our hands, we pointed our car westward on the Interstate 70, toward Kansas and the West. Boulder, here we come!

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Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based Field Editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about history, art, architecture, and public space.


4 Responses

  1. Lauren Baker

    June 14, 2012

    Can’t wait to hear about some Kansas BBQ :)

  2. David Barton

    June 14, 2012

    Glad you’re visiting CO, but I hope you don’t limit your visit to just Boulder. The People’s Republic is cool, but the amount of preservation and infill projects in the Mile High City is astounding by comparison. Peek in to the new History Colorado Center, cruise by the new Union Station project, and have a beer with ghosts of Cassady and Kerouac at My Brother’s Bar before checking out the REI flagship store at the old Denver Tramway factory. Check out the small towns, too- Golden, Central City/Blackhawk, Idaho Springs, Georgetown are full of history. But just don’t limit the trip to Boulder. There’s a lot to see in the Front Range! Oh, one more thing, try to stop by Old Town Fort Collins on the way to WY. Very underrated. Okay, I’m done with my suggestions. Can you tell I love this state?

  3. Roger Waguespack

    June 16, 2012

    I certainly agree with visiting Central City, CO. Although it’s casino central, it has a wonderful assortment of cast iron and pressed metal storefronts from Mesker Bros. and others. The cemeteries have many interesting inscriptions on the headstones
    , too. Given the forest fire right outside of town, I’m not sure how much fun Fort Collins, CO, will be.

  4. Benjamin Vess

    June 18, 2012

    Very cool!

    Maybe I’ll have my sister and I stop by these places on our road trip to DC from Seattle!