Forest Park and the World's Fair

The western half of Forest Park, that is west of a line opposite to Clara Avenue, was relatively undeveloped until the World's Fair. Prior to that time, it had contained a race course and the Triple "A" golf club in its northwestern corner, which was displaced by the Fair. The hilly, heavily wooded southwestern portion of the Park was called the "Wilderness" and was left relatively untouched by the 1904 Fair. The most intensively used part of the park was its northwestern section which included the fan-shaped grand plan of the Exposition containing eight of the principal exhibit palaces and the Cascades. Other main elements were the Plateau of States, a concentration of state buildings on the present site of the Zoo, the Pike, which was the amusement and concession area located on the Catlin Tract and Model Street, a group of buildings erected by various cities, which were near the DeBaliviere entrance. This largest of all fairs, before or since, covered an area of 1272 acres, reaching as far west as the present Big Bend Boulevard and south to Oakland Avenue.

West of Skinker was the Administration group, housed in the newly built structures of Washington University, Francis Field, site of the 1904 Olympic Games, the Philippine Exposition, a fair within the Fair, dedicated to the islands acquired after the recent Spanish-American War and the vast Agricultural Palace which covered twenty acres. Buildings of most of the foreign nations were located near Forsyth and Skinker. This magnificent enterprise, conducted under the leadership of David R. Francis, transformed the western part of the Park into a veritable fairyland of white palaces surrounded by lagoons and artistic landscaping. The centerpiece of the entire architectural composition was Festival Hall and the glass-stepped Cascades, designed by Cass Gilbert. The Fair attracted about twenty million visitors and was one of the few of its kind to be a financial success. Preparation of its site called for grading the amphitheater shape of Art Hill, creation of lakes and lagoons, straightening and placing the winding River des Peres in a tunnel and the cutting of thousands of trees on sites of roads and buildings.

Under the city ordinance providing for the use of the Park by the Fair, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company was required to create a park-like setting on the site after the Exposition's closing. Therefore, we are indebted to the Fair for the beautiful Forest Park that we know today. This work was carried out under the direction of landscape architect George E. Kessler. Among examples of the Fair's heritage are the Art Museum, which was the Fair's Palace of Fine Art; the U.S. Government's bird cage, which became the nucleus for the St. Louis Zoo and the World's Fair Pavilion, built as part of the Park restoration in 1908. Jefferson Memorial, present home of the Missouri Historical Society, was erected with surplus funds of the World's Fair. The bronze equestrian statue of St. Louis, by Charles Niehaus, was a gift to the City from the Exposition Company in 1906.

While the impact of the World's Fair was felt throughout St. Louis, its most profound effect was upon its immediate vicinity, especially in the Kingsbury area. Several temporary hotels were built along DeBaliviere Avenue, as was the JaiAlai building, later known as the Winter Garden skating rink. It was a popular West End sports center in the 20's and 30's, but was vacant for some years before its demolition for a supermarket in the 1960's.

Image - World's Fair Pavillion in forest Park