Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Pistols at Dawn!

A Couchsurfing friend recently emailed me asking for a place to stay for the weekend. When I saw that she was a freelance writer by trade, I challenged her to a duel: My city vs. Hers in prose of 500 words. What follows is after twenty paces, turn, and fire!

Gateway to Saint Louis

Once positioned third behind New York and Chicago as one of America’s greatest cities,1 the tragic decline of Saint Louis in the 1960s and its recent re-emergence have reforged this since-forgotten jewel of America’s heartland. In its wake, the renewal of Saint Louis has left a legacy of rich history, vibrant society, and utterly breathtaking architecture.

Striking to the eye, Saint Louis presents an architectural richness which eastern cities like Boston and Philadelphia covet and western cities left behind. Neighborhood after neighborhood parades elegant Victorian Tudor brick homes whether housing the social elites or common Joes. The streets are filled with green and the city boasts the country’s second largest city park, Forest Park, which is home to world-class art and history museums, an award winning zoo, and science center—all of which are free and open to the public. For 8 months in 1904, Forest Park was the focus of the entire world as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (a.k.a. “World’s Fair”) showcased the finest creations of mankind’s genius, be it architectural, technological, social, or artistic. The remnants of that magical era are still accessible today for the inquisitive visitor ready to be transported to where and when “The American Century” began.

Modern-day Saint Louis charms unsuspecting travelers with neighborhoods brimming with character and boiling with a vibrant social life. A myriad of fine restaurants line the main streets and out-of-the-way spots in each of Saint Louis’ unique neighborhoods. The Loft District of Washington Avenue sports a trendy strip of bars, clubs, and avant-guard restaurants among the historic buildings of the turn-of-the-century Garment District. The City Museum is just around the corner and defies all explanation but guarantees an unbelievable time! The Loop in University City is another sure-stop for any would-be visitor. This strip—named “One of the 10 Great Streets in America” by the American Planning Association—nourishes an eclectic mix of artistry, society, and history. Grab a root beer from Fitz’s and a table on the sidewalk and be ready to meet some friendly, loquacious passers-by. Or catch a concert across the street in Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room—the very place that Chuck Berry invented Rock and Roll and still performs every month.

No comment on Saint Louis can ignore its most significant visual feature: The Gateway Arch, commemorating the role this city played as the last enclave of civilization before a pioneer reached the Wild West. Saint Louis was the hub of westward expansion linking the old civilizations of the East coast to the new frontiers in the West. This legacy is breathtakingly commemorated in the Arch, an elegant historic form cast in modern stainless steel, which stands at 630 feet to greet all travelers as they cross the Mighty Mississippi. The Arch stands therefore not just as a gateway between East and West, but like Saint Louis itself, a bridge between our past and the bright future.

1 Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. 1961