Forest Park: St. Louis, Missouri
Dedicated in 1876, Forest Park's 1,371 acres — which make it roughly 500 acres larger than New York City's Central Park — are home to 30,000 trees and five of the region's major institutions: the Missouri History Museum, the Muny (the nation's largest amphitheater dedicated to musical theater), the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Saint Louis Science Center, and the Saint Louis Zoo.
Forest Park is bordered by Lindell Boulevard to the north, Kingshighway Boulevard to the east, Oakland Avenue to the south, and Skinker Boulevard to the west.
Superlatives and accolades for Forest Park abound. Some patrons consider it on par with the Smithsonian, while others speak of the park as the "heart and crown jewel of St. Louis" or cite it as the reason they chose to move to St. Louis. The park attracts more visitors annually than the Grand Canyon and Yosemite combined. It played host to the World's Fair and parts of the first Summer Olympics to be held in the United States in 1904. Among its amenities and attractions are lakes, museums, monuments, playing fields, bike and pedestrian paths, golf courses, sculptures and fountains, skyline vistas, and a world-class zoo.
The park drew international attention at the turn of the 20th century when it was selected to host the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, more commonly known as the 1904 World's Fair. Renowned landscape architect George Kessler was tapped to redesign the park for the event, and he made several dramatic changes including the transformation of wetlands from five connected lakes. Permanent structures still remaining from the fair are the Flight Cage, Emerson Grand Basin, and the Saint Louis Art Museum.
If the early 20th century was the park's zenith, the nadir came 60 to 70 years later, after years of budget shortfalls and underfunding created a backlog of deferred maintenance and crumbling park infrastructure. But in 1993, the City of St. Louis and Forest Park Forever — a nonprofit founded in 1986 to protect, restore, and care for the park — initiated a comprehensive master planning process to restore it to its former glory. Following the plan's adoption in 1995, a public and private partnership was established to implement the plan, which has involved raising $100 million for extensive building, landscape, habitat, and roadway capital improvements.
With several recreational facilities — including tennis courts, golf courses, boat rentals, skating rinks, handball courts, and fields for softball, baseball, soccer, cricket, rugby, and archery — there is something for each of the 13 million local residents, special event attendees, and tourists who enjoy Forest Park every year.
Defining Characteristics, Features
- Forest Park Act of 1874 authorized tax for acquiring land; one of the largest U.S. urban parks (1,371 acres)
- Initial design by Maximillian G. Kern and Julius Pitzman; 50,000 attended opening June 24, 1876
- During 1890s, streetcars brought nearly 3 million visitors a year to the park
- Almost 20 million attended Louisiana Purchase Exposition; greatest of World's Fairs (1904)
- Site of diving, swimming, water polo events during 1904 Summer Olympics
- Charles Lindbergh addressed crowd of 100,000 at park following his solo transatlantic flight (1927)
- Emerson Grand Basin, Art Hill and Post-Dispatch Lake area the heart of park and provide major gathering space; lined with classical promenades and eight fountains that propel water 30 feet high
- Dual Path System (2011); asphalt path for bicyclists, skaters and gravel path for joggers, walkers
- Thirty-six-holes of golf, tennis courts, boat rentals, skating rink
- Art Deco floral conservatory, the Jewel Box (1936), surrounded by rose gardens, lily ponds, statuary, monuments; listed in National Register of Historic Places
- Lindell Pavilion streetcar shelter (1892) now the Dennis & Judith Jones Visitor and Education Center
- World's Fair Pavilion restored with $1.1 million from private donations
- The French Second Empire-style Cabanne House (1876) is one of park's oldest buildings; originally served as park keeper's house; listed in National Register of Historic Places and a city landmark (1971)
- Nonprofit Forest Park Forever was founded to raise funds for park restoration (1986)
- City adopts the Forest Park Master Plan (1995)
- Forest Park Forever and City create private-public partnership to raise $94 million for "Restoring the Glory" Park renovation campaign (1996)
- 100th anniversary of the World's Fair showcased a renovated and restored Forest Park (2004)
- Forest Park Forever strategic plan adopted to guide park during post-restoration era (2009)
- St. Louis Board of Aldermen adopted enhanced Maintenance Cooperation Agreement to strengthen Forest Park Forever's public-private partnership with City of St. Louis (2011)
- Second comprehensive fundraising campaign is under way to raise $30 million for additional capital improvements and $100 million park endowment (2013)
Monuments, Cultural Institutions, Events
- More than 30 statues, monuments and works of art are placed throughout the park
- Park's most visited feature is the Saint Louis Zoo; has more than 18,000 animals (opened 1910)
- Saint Louis Art Museum originally was the Palace of Fine Arts during 1904 World's Fair; more than 3,000 works of art including works by Monet, Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso
- Missouri History Museum's Jefferson Memorial Building; first memorial built to honor Thomas Jefferson; funded with proceeds from the 1904 World's Fair
- The Muny, opened in 1916; considered country's oldest and largest outdoor music theater
- Saint Louis Science Center includes planetarium; attracts more than a million visitors annually
- Special events include Great Forest Park Balloon Race (hot air), Shakespeare Festival, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra outdoor concerts, St. Louis African Arts Festival, and much more