On Oct. 31, 1999, the Parkmoor restaurant closed its doors. Art critic Jeff Daniel reflected on what made it so special.
The Parkmoor becomes a no-more today, and quite a few groups are bound to be upset. The Sunday churchgoers. The hangover crowd. The cardiologists who turn bacon and egg arteries into their own personal meal ticket.
And as the final eulogies are wiped away with a paper napkin, talk will turn to the building that houses so many memories, the building that defies aesthetic logic. An odd mix of roadside rustic and atomic-age angularity, the Parkmoor succeeded despite its quirky pedigree. Add to this the fact that the current restaurant now at the intersection of Big Bend Boulevard and Clayton Road dates from a fairly recent 1969. In other words, it’s a retro replacement — of a California diner, no less — already moldy with nostalgia when it was unveiled. The site has been constant for more than 70 years, but not the building.
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Yet the public doesn’t seem to care. The building is a landmark to many, if only for the idiosyncratic appeal it offers to the eye. It is uniquely bizarro (well, aside from that California precursor). It is a bit goofy. It is a head turner, though not in your typical Wainwright Building kind of way.
Think of the attraction in these terms: When you are people watching, you want to see the freaks and the geeks — not just the studs and babes with the nice obliques. Such diversity makes life a bit more interesting.
And so it goes in the world of buildings, an environment in which the so-called tenets of architectural integrity and aesthetic principle sometimes show huge cracks in their foundations. What will succeed or fail in the public eye often proves unpredictable — and that’s something we should celebrate.
A prime example of this phenomenon rises up from the corner of Market and Tucker streets in the form of the downtown Civil Courts Building. A postmodern building some four decades ahead of the curve, the 1930 structure mixes and matches a modernist solidity with neo-classical columns and adds ancient Egyptian pyramid topping.
With griffin-like creatures perched high on its edges, the Civil Courts could have served as a blueprint for disaster.
Instead, most of us regard the Civil Courts Building as a treasure — and rightly so. By the 1950s, the Landmarks Association of St. Louis cited the odd gem as one of the city’s greatest architectural entities. Current Washington University architecture dean Cynthia Weese once told a Post-Dispatch reporter that the Civil Courts is “a jewel of a building” with an “interesting composite of architectural elements.”
Which raises the question: What separates an “interesting composite” from a “jumbled mess”? And if the Civil Courts Building were proposed today, would it have a chance in an atmosphere of increased rules and regulations, of planning commissions and architectural boards with ever more power?
As for the first question, critical assessments are always a judgment call. Sometimes a turn to the standards and rules of architecture don’t offer us much in the way of guidance: Gut instinct might just be the way to go.
As for the gut of the famed Frank Lloyd Wright, it must have been a bit sour upon a glimpse of the Civil Courts Building, of which he was said to have proclaimed in 1939: “I neither like it or dislike it. I deplore it.” So much for a consensus vote on the “jewel of a building” opinion.
But Wright himself would later design this century’s greatest example of a confounding building that somehow clicks on all cylinders: the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Contextually? A bull in a china shop, its round white facade clashing with the vertical Upper Manhattan skyline. A giant washtub, some passers-by called it. A travesty, said many architectural critics, a thought that was echoed by some prominent artists.
Yet the Guggenheim is now sacred ground in the Big Apple, Wright’s creation sometimes cited as the grandest piece of art in the museum collection. And Frank Gehry’s recent design for the new Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, continues the tradition. Gehry flouted convention with a reptilian, slithering mass of curved titanium steel. Quirky? Yes. Genius? Conventional wisdom seems to point in that direction.
The amazing thing about the praise for the Bilbao Guggenheim is that it has come immediately — no history and shared memories necessary for the reputation. Maybe times are changing.
But some nagging questions do linger: Where exactly does the line get drawn between clever daring and “what in the hell were they thinking”? Between excellence and excessive? Between incomparable and incompetence? Sometimes that line blurs, sometimes it shifts over time. Remember, revisionism is the last refuge of every critical scoundrel.
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The above questions recently ran through my mind after I bumped into a fellow critic. He wanted to know when I was going to write about the Fountain Place building that is set to rise over Clayton’s skyline. To him, the 30-story condominium high-rise is an abomination, its mix of styles and materials a mishmash of bad decisions.
I didn’t know what to say then — and frankly, I still don’t. One could argue that the building can’t quite decide if it wants to be modern or retro, sleek or ornamental, that its corner turrets give the facade the look of a NASA space shuttle set for liftoff, that the top of the building appears to be a resting ground for a displaced Ladue manse.
One could argue all of those things, and he or she might be correct. But one could make similar disclaimers concerning the Parkmoor or the Civil Courts Building. At what point do a grab bag of influences and odd decisions become, to use Cynthia Weese’s phrase: “an interesting composite of architectural elements?”
Perhaps over time. Perhaps never. If anything, Fountain Place will provide good fodder for debate. As for the Parkmoor, the jury will soon retire for an eternal recess.
A look back at restaurants we miss
The Green Parrot, Flaming Pit and more: a look at 38 St. Louis restaurants from days gone by
Arcelia’s in St. Louis
The original Arcelia’s Mexicana Restaurant enjoyed a 20-year run before closing in 2010.
It was replaced by a second version, started by the daughter of the original Arcelia Sanchez. It lasted for about a year, from its 2012 opening to its 2013 closure.
But during its life, customers swore by the authentic recipes that were handwritten in Spanish and carried down from an earlier generation.
Big Boy’s in Wright City
It was famous for its fried chicken dinners, an unpretentious family place about 60 miles west of St. Louis.
Founded in 1924, the restaurant’s motto was “Satisfy that hungry customer.” And the fried chicken did the job.
Diners sat at long harvest style tables. Even if there were only two in a party, they would get a piece of the big tables. The restaurant closed in 2005.
Busch’s Grove in Ladue
When Busch’s Grove restaurant — the original — closed in 2003, it marked the end of a very long era.
The original restaurant had been in business for more than a century, serving luminaries like Theodore Roosevelt and Stan Musial. It was a summertime gathering spot for the St. Louis elite.
With its gazebos and country club atmosphere, it drew names like Harry S Truman, Will Rogers and Charles Lindbergh over its decades.
Casa Gallardo chain
The original Casa Gallardo in West Port Plaza opened in 1975. Its owner, Ramon Gallardo had one goal, which was to serve the best Mexican foods he remembered from his childhood.
For more than 30 years, Casa Gallardo served patrons dishes such as tortilla soup, chile rellenos, corn cake, fried ice cream and a host of others.
In 2012, the last of the four St. Louis area restaurants closed. The operators cited tough economic times.
Copia in St. Louis
After a 14-year run in downtown St. Louis, Copia called it quits in January 2019. But it didn’t go quietly.
Owner Amer Hawatmeh blamed the closure on parking problems, protests and the city’s leadership. He said fewer people were willing to brave downtown.
Cousin Hugo’s Bar & Grill in Maplewood
Owner Tommy Bahn said the restaurant was a victim “of the COVID-19 economy” but left open the chance it might not be forever.
Cousin Hugo’s dated back to 1938, according to the restaurant’s website.
Dandy Inn in Fairview Heights
After 40 years of serving Fairview Heights folks chicken wings and fish dinners, the Dandy Inn called it quits in early 2017.
The restaurant and bar, complete with outdoor seating and a playground for kids, opened in 1977 and stayed in one family for its run.
Owner Mark Daniels said the business was still strong but he was tired of running it.
The Diamonds Restaurant
The original Diamonds opened in 1919 on Route 66 at Route 100. The building’s shape provided its name. In the 1930s and 40s, as many as 70 buses a day would stop at the Diamonds.
In 1959, Highway 44 opened, and 10 years later, The Diamonds relocated to a spot right along that highway.
On Sept. 11, 1995, The Diamonds Restaurant on Highway 44 at Highway 100 in Gray Summit served its last dinner.
Dohack’s in south St. Louis County, Festus
As a family-run restaurant, Dohack’s was in business for more than 80 years. It was famous for its atmosphere, jack salmon and hillbilly bran muffins.
With locations in Festus and South St. Louis County, Dohack’s was an area favorite.
But in 1993 the family closed its original restaurant in south St. Louis County and in 2002 changed the Festus location to Cisco’s, its more famous and younger cousin.
And then Cisco’s morphed into Tanglewood Steakhouse, which is the most current incarnation.
For nearly 40 years, Dooley’s Ltd. stood on North 8th Street in downtown St. Louis dishing up burgers to people who waited through a cafeteria-style line.
There was a new version of Dooley’s, called Dooley’s Beef & Brewhouse, in Midtown. But it closed in October 2015, and the old Dooley’s is gone for good.
Duff’s in Central West End
For 41 years, Duff’s was considered an essential dining experience in the Central West End.
From fresh fish specials to classics like chicken marsala and creole crab, visitors could also listen to literarary readings.
But after a 41-year run, Duff’s closed its doors in 2013.
Fatted Calf in Clayton
When it opened in 1966, the Fatted Calf was the creation of Vince and Tony Bommarito.
Known for its “calfburgers” with a trio of relishes, it changed hands over the years before it closed its doors in 2013.
Feasting Fox in Dutchtown
The restaurant, which started in 1993 as a restoration project of the 1913 Anheuser-Busch Inn, opened the next year serving modern European fare.
It ended in 2020, felled by the financial problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fischer’s in Belleville
Locals favored the fried chicken at Fischer’s, a staple in Belleville for more than 80 years. It also served as a banquet center, where civic groups held meetings and ceremonies.
But it closed for good in 2017, citing financial struggles.
On December 3, 1958, the first Flaming Pit restaurant opened in St. Louis at a site near what is now the Galleria. Other locations soon followed on Watson Road, Manchester, Chippewa, in Ferguson and at Village Square. The restaurant featured all-you-can eat Sunday fried chicken dinners and a special treasure chest for kids who finished their meals.
It was also famous for its bread pudding and hamburgers.
How many cities could claim to be home to a floating McDonald’s?
Only one – St. Louis. For more than 20 years starting in March 1980, the fast-food giant made a home on Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard on a barge designed to resemble a paddle-wheeler.
The Great Flood of 1993 didn’t kill it; time did. In November 2000, the restaurant said it was just too expensive and not justified to do the renovations the restaurant needed.
Forum Cafeteria, St. Louis
Many residents could probably relate to taking Christmas shopping trips with the family, looking at window displays and finishing up with lunch at Forum Cafeteria on 7th Street in downtown St. Louis.
At its peak, the Forum Cafeterias had 22 locations around the country, including three in the St. Louis area. The chicken pot pie, roast beef and mashed potatoes were among the most popular comfort foods. At its peak, it would often feed 3,000 diners at lunch and another 3,500 for dinner.
Alas, the downtown cafeteria closed in 1977.
Garavelli’s in south St. Louis
For 90 years, Garavelli’s on Chippewa was the place to go for a hearty, reasonably priced meal.
But cafeterias faded from favor of diners and business slowed down. In June 2013, owner Basam “Sam” Hawatmeh – the man behind Garavelli’s since 1990 – served his last dinner from the stainless steel steam line.
Gian Peppe’s on The Hill
Gian Peppe’s was a classic Italian restaurant, with classic Italian food to match. It had the family feel most Italian restaurants are known for, and was located in the heart of The Hill.
It opened in 1981 and was a success for 15 years until it closed in the mid-1990s.
The Green Parrot Inn
Halls Ferry Inn in Florissant
When people around Florissant got hungry, they knew they could find pizza, wings and a family atmosphere at the Halls Ferry Inn.
The restaurant was a staple off Highway 67 for about 40 years before it closed in 2011.
Jacks or Better, multiple locations
A restaurant that allowed – no, even encouraged – you to throw peanut shells on the floor?
That concept along with burgers, beer and steaks proved popular for years to St. Louisans.
St. Louisans had their pick of burgers, fishbowls of beer and peanut shells on the floor at Jacks or Better. It was a popular date night spot for couples.
The chain had locations in St. Louis, Kansas City and New Orleans before they faded away in the 1980s.
Kemoll’s in downtown St. Louis
After more than 90 years in the city, fine-dining restaurant Kemoll’s left downtown in January 2019 to reopen – as Kemoll’s Chop House – in Maryland House.
Owner Mark Cusumano says it was a difficult decision to leave the city generally and the Metropolitan Square building specifically. But the size – two floors covering 20,000 square feet – had become an issue. The restaurant opened in 1927 on North Grand Boulevard and moved to the Met Square building in 190.
The top dishes at the restaurant when it decided to pull the downtown plug? Steaks, chops and other dishes from the grill.
King Louie’s in St. Louis
For 13 years, fans of the restaurant tucked into a semi-difficult to find location at 3800 Chouteau filled it to get the pork chop, the seafood sausage or other fresh and local food – before it was all the trend.
From the time it opened in December 1994, it drew raves from its customers for the mood and food. In 2003, it made the Post-Dispatch’s readers’ list of favorite restaurants and it was recognized for its wine list in 2000. When its outdoor patio opened, it won raves.
But the restaurant closed in 2007.
Kopperman’s Deli was a fixture in the Central West End before closing in July 2016.
After 34 years, an illness forced the owners to shut it down. The deli also was a specialty grocery store.
Lemmons in south St. Louis
Lemmons was a popular restaurant, bar and live music venue for 12 years. It was once the go-to venue for live St. Louis musical talent.
The bar was known for its pizza and bar atmosphere. It closed in 2014, stung by competition.
Lettuce Leaf in Clayton
Some St. Louisans say that the Lettuce Leaf was a brilliant idea, but just ahead of its time.
Founded in 1976 in Clayton, the Lettuce Leaf was the creation of SLU professor William Saigh and his wife, Christine.
Salads as entrees was a new idea to St. Louis, but the business worked and they opened three more St. Louis area stores and one in Kansas City. In 1991, the Saighs sold the business to some employees.
The Libertine in Clayton
For five years, The Libertine offered upscale comfort food in Clayton.
But in January 2018, its owners decided to focus their efforts on a brand-new concept. The decision ended the restaurant that was ranked in the top 100 in St. Louis in both 2016 and 2017 by restaurant critic Ian Froeb.
Miss Hullings in St. Louis
From the first restaurant at 725 Olive Street in 1929 to the other four that opened over the years, Miss Hullings restaurants were much loved by St. Louisans.
The cafeteria at the corner of 11th and Locust streets was in business for nearly 60 years before it closed in 1993.
What began as a successful bakery morphed into the restaurants where generations of St. Louisans would get their homestyle food at reasonable prices, and usually splurge on cakes and pies for dessert.
Noah’s Ark in St. Charles
It opened in 1968 and while people may not remember the menu, they remember what it looked like.
The restaurant just off Interstate 70 resembled an ark, complete with giant fiberglass animals looming over it.
It had been called Captain Tony’s when it closed in 1995, but it’s the Noah’s Ark name that St. Louisans hold in their memory.
Ponticello’s in Spanish Lake
The Spanish Lake Italian restaurant closed its doors in 2013, after 60 years in operation.
The restaurant was known for its pizza, fried chicken, and family feel.
The Parkmoor in Clayton
They dined on Kingburgers and onion rings and dreamed of the day the restaurant might be rejuvenated, as owner Lou Ellen McGinley talked about.
Alas, it didn’t happen. And now, the site of the old Parkmoor is just another Walgreens.
Pelican’s in south St. Louis
The old Pelican’s Restaurant was housed in a building on South Grand that dated back to 1895, and served as a home for restaurants and bars for decades.
But it was perhaps best known after the Pelican family bought the property in 1945 and made it well-known for its turtle soup.
And then there was the sign – a 20-foot big blue sign with a yellow and white pelican in neon lights.
The restaurant changed hands many times after the Pelican family sold it in the 1970s, and the building morphed into an office building in 1987.
Pope’s Cafeteria, multiple locations
For years, St. Louisans flocked to Pope’s Cafeteria for its family atmosphere, and convenient locations.
In its prime, Pope’s had 29 locations, feeding the St. Louis areas in places such as factories, malls and storefronts.
In 1980, four employees were killed in the West County Mall location, and the last of the Pope’s locations in Florissant closed in 1989.
Rossino’s in Central West End
It was an underground Italian restaurant that opened back in the 1940s.
But it closed in 2006, taking decades of meals and memories with it.
Romine’s in St. Louis
In business for 75 years, customers flocked to Romine’s, famous for its fried chicken. When the restaurant closed in 2006, the owners cited rising crime in the area in the 9000 block of Riverview Drive and declining dinner sales.
But the fried chicken lived on – it got added to the menu at the Malone’s Grill and Pub in St. Peters.
Wainwrights in Belleville
Hamburgers and french fries, bagged up in wax paper and stuffed into paper bags to feed the hungry customers of Belleville.
The owners were well-known for locking the entrance when the restaurant was full, only opening the doors again after some people had left.
The hours were sporadic, but the burgers were consistent — fresh, hot and tasty. Customers getting to-go orders knew not to tarry on the way home, as the waxed paper wrappers were not the best to keep the food hot.
But no one really complained. The restaurant closed sometime in the late 1970s — we think. Shenanigan’s in Belleville reportedly has a burger in the Wainwright mold.