It’s not just about the buildings or the exercise. It’s the stories, too.
As a native to the area, it may seem odd that I’d go on a tour of my hometown — especially being a person who is often referred to as a Cliff Claven, the “Cheers” character who seemed to know something about everything. Yet I went on all three Downtown St. Louis Architectural Walking Tours and learned a number of new things to share with others.
Offered by Landmarks Association of St. Louis, the tours are held from 10 a.m. to noon every Saturday, April through October, rain or shine. Each tour begins at a different starting point around downtown and is structured for a two-hour walk at a leisurely pace.
For the East Tour, we started at the Old Courthouse on Fourth Street. From the top of the iconic building’s steps, we had a sweeping view of Luther Ely Smith Park, the Gateway Arch and the Mississippi River beyond. Our guide recounted the historic tales of the Dred Scott decision and its impact on our country’s Civil War; the heroes, adventurers and villains responsible for the establishment of St. Louis as a major fur trading and commercial center; and countless other interesting tidbits about the earliest days of our city. And that was all before we moved on to the Old Cathedral and Eads Bridge, then circled back to major financial, retail and office buildings built by famous architects. I may have learned some of this history in school, but it never seemed as exciting as having it right in front of me.
The West Tour began at the entrance to St. Louis Union Station, with a view of the famous Milles’ fountain, Meeting of the Waters. Our guide knew all about the controversy accompanying the fountain, as well as lots of architectural and historic morsels about the grand public buildings lining Market Street. As we walked, our guide pointed out various locations where movies were shot, and now I know that the famous photo of Harry S. Truman holding up a newspaper with the erroneous headline “Dewey Defeats Truman” was taken at Union Station.
We wandered north to view Central Library and hear about its fabulous renovation, along with a number of other notable buildings and the famous architects and captains of industry responsible for the grandeur of western downtown. To end the tour, we circled back to Union Station, and, after we thanked the guide and said our goodbyes, I took the opportunity to wander through the amazing structure and appreciate its glory.
The Washington Avenue Tour, held twice a month on the first and third Saturday, begins at Tigin Pub at Third Street. We walked down Washington all the way to 15th Street, admiring the massive garment district buildings that have now metamorphosed into the edgy fashion, technology, loft and entertainment hub it is today. Our guide, as with all the guides on the tours I took, was a great source of information. Her passion and enthusiasm truly elevated the experience. All had historic photos to point out particular features of the buildings that we would’ve missed simply walking by on our own.
I found each tour educational and fun and highly recommend any of them to those seeking something to do that is out of the ordinary — whether native or newcomer. The stories I heard were so compelling, and the guides so knowledgeable, that I wanted to retrace every step and gain an even deeper understanding of the Gateway City. Luckily, I wore comfortable shoes for each of the tours, so I could do just that!
Author: Kimberly Van Gels Althage is a professional marketer, storyteller and social media consultant. She often rides her bike on trails or the urban streets of St. Louis, and she and her husband love hiking on a variety of trails in the metro area and beyond.
Photos: Courtesy of Downtown St. Louis Architectural Walking Tours/Leslie Proud.