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The Garden Theatre
Midland and Olive Street Road,
 St. Louis County, Missouri

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Once upon the time:  (early 1940s)
We explored "Ancient Ruins"
in the woods at the West end of Heman Park.

This March an email from Bill Voos reminded me of some boyhood adventures we had many years ago.

To Bob Mar 5, 2007
"There was another abandoned grandstand just west of Heman Park on Olive Street Road. Do you remember it?  I rode my bicycle there, too, but I don't know it's history. (I know that you have a lot of memories of Heman Park and the pool.) "

I sent out a letter to my septuagenarian alumni asking if any remembered the huge old concrete bleachers or seating stands in the woods at the west end of Heman Park.  Bill Voos's comments triggered that semi dormant area we all have, where we keep tired old jokes with different punch lines, and well stored childhood memories that are waiting for the some trigger to release the one thousand and one tales.

I remembered the two mile hike to Heman Park to swim during the summer days. I was usually with Bill Reed, Bob Smith, Ralph Smith, Bill Voos and other Wellston School friends.  This was during the 1942-1946 time frame.  The stands that Bill mentioned, I did recall them, as more than once, we would detour over to look at nearly hidden abandoned concrete structure. We would make up stories about what they could have been used for.  What was this place?  The grandstand curved, it was not straight like bleachers and wide at the upper end, maybe a little more than half a football field wide.  When we were there, the place was not really a pleasant place,   I am to this day glad we were in a group and not alone.  Trash on the ground and graffiti on the walls told us the most recent visitors to the site, were not someone we wanted to meet.  The ground area was overgrown. The small trees and bushes, kept the stands hidden from public view. The strange stories we created made us all uncomfortable.  We would leave with a quicker step than we used walking in. You just store away the memory of what you saw, without labels or definition, just something you saw when you were roaming with your pack of friends.

Now 63 years later, I "Google it!", I check "books on line", I check "Newspaper Archives" on line. This old archivist is going to find out what this place really was.  I had recently researched the race track and an amusement park that were about a half a mile away, so I could rule that out.  The Creve Couer streetcar still ran right by the place when we were in school on Midland Avenue.   The location was near Midland and Olive Street Road.  I also researched Sanborn maps through my library on line... below is a bit of history in snippets and clippings of the Garden Theatre. The Theatre opened  big and crashed when the market crashed.

To Bob Haefner Mar 18, 2007 from Bill Voos. " I was only actually back into the grandstand area a few times and I don't remember any identifying marks except a lot of ugly graffiti."

I found a lengthy newspaper article in the New York Times written Jul 12, 1925... and mailed extracts from it to Bill. We were bringing back memories from swimming trips and bicycle trips to Heman Park and exploring "ancient ruins"

To Bob Mar 31, 2007 "First, thanks for the map of my "old stamping grounds". It brought back a lot of memories of happy times long past."  --  "The article on the theater is great! I had no idea it was used for that purpose. I thought it was another race track. Do you think it was the fore-runner to the Muny Opera? I was only there a few times and there wasn't much to see except the overgrown concrete structure that I realize from your article was part of the theater seating unit. When I was there, a lot of graffiti had been scrawled on the concrete posts - most of it pretty raunchy - and there was a lot of litter and debris on the ground. All in all, it wasn't a particularly inviting place then, except it stimulated my curiosity wondering about it's history. Now, it is neat to finally hear its real story. It must have been quite an attractive place."

(If you want to read more details about the St. Louis Muny and the Garden Theatre the article here is full size, and has information about the Muny and the Garden Theatre, plus it names some greats in the theater world of St. Louis and beyond. NY Times Jul 12, 1925)     (Adobe PDF)  Set image at 60%, for easier viewing
A great review by Olin Downes of the New York Times Publish date July 12, 1925 

1. Important Names for the Garden Theatre:
Flint Garrison - "One of the wealthy men of the city", "one most interested in the Fashion Show, to the extent that Mr Garrison conceived of a new theater", " -a theater that owes its beginnings to the advertising activities of businessmen."
Joseph Solari - "Scenographer", "A genius with lighting" , "Creates an "atmosphere" secured entirely with lighting".
 

 

 


2
. Important things to know about Fashion and Theatre in St. Louis:
Flint Garrison
- Editor of the "Drygoodsman" a nationwide fashion newspaper.   ( 1958 Obituary in the New York Times is here: )
Flint Garrison - Creator of the semi annual "St. Louis fashion Show" a ten day event. It brings over 1000 buyers twice a year to the center of the Garment World in the United States.
Flint Garrison - Creator of the Garden Theatre "set in a parkway outside of St. Louis, in University City, with thick woods for background, playing fountains and shrubbery outside, and the stage almost embraced by great trees that rise from each side and nearly meet over the classic portals"  (Trees were insured for $50,000). See NEWS clipping on the right.
1889 - Beginning in about 1880 and continuing for almost 100 years, St. Louisí garment district is one of the largest in the country. Many of the nationís leading companies produce their clothing here.
1880 - The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra was founded, making it the nation's second oldest symphony.
1919 - The St. Louis Muny opened.
1922- September marriage of Flint Garrison to Edna Davis
1923-1924 - Theatrical director Joseph Solari and fashion expert Flint Garrison conducted a search for their dream of a theater. They found the spot near the intersection of the Creve Coeur streetcar tracks, on Midland Avenue and Olive Street Road in University City.   The 11-acre site was bought by Flint Garrison & Associates, which consisted of a number of civic leaders.
1924 - March 19 On March 19, 1924, a contract was drawn up with Lotz Construction Co. to build the Garden Theatre
1925 - The "Garden Theatre" opens and is privately owned.   "Not a municipal theater, but one so contrived that that the artistic control of the theater rest in the hands of Mr. Garrison and Mr. Solari."
1925 - The Garden Theatre was operated in University City, Mo., 1925-1929, and was promoted largely by St. Louisan Flint Garrison. The 1925 season opened with Margaret Anglin as Electra. Following "Electra," the Garden presented "Hansel & Gretel," and closed the season with a fashion pageant.
----- incomplete Snippets of information from reviews and books ---  
The Garden Theatre opened on schedule. Eager first- nighters flocked to watch
the superb acting of Margaret Anglin, but they were hardly prepared
for the --
-- ramps led to the auditorium itself. Guests found themselves on a broad promenade somewhat about midway of a concave hillside curving into a 240-foot arc at its upper rim, and diminishing below to an 80-foot curve outlining the "apron" uniting the audience and stage. Flanking the stage,
---But wonderment became awe as the stage was flooded with light for the opening of Sophocles' Electra. ---
-- As the opening lines of the Greek classic began, the guests had yet another surprise. The beautiful words winged their way clearly to the topmost row of seats, though there were no loud speakers,  -----
-- The stage had no footlights! The Garden Theatre had introduced a revolutionary system whereby the stage was lighted by long-distance projecting spots fastened to pylons at either end of the stage, controlled from a pit in the center, in full view of the audience. From this pit Solari, famous for using light as "paint box of color," could watch the pictures he was creating. As the opening lines of the Greek classic began, the guests had yet another surprise. The beautiful words winged their way clearly to the topmost row of -----

1927
- The last of the Garden Theatre fashion shows was given in 1927.
1928
-  Stars Leon Errol, Vera Myers, Irving Fisher and Lillian Crossman were treading the boards at the Garden Theatre
1928 - December 12, 1928 Decatur Herald, (announcement of a marriage for November 1929)  "Miss Mary Garrison daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Flint Garrison of St. Louis, and Nelson J. Riley of University City, MO"  ---    "The brides father is editor of the Drygoodsman, a publication for St. Louis dry goods stores, and he owns the Garden theater built in St. Louis a few years ago.
1929 - The final season of the theater, 1929, opened with Leon Errol in "Louis XIV," followed by Charles Ruggles, Roger Gray and Gloria Foy.
1929
- In 1929, the Theatre Society of St. Louis was incorporated to operate and direct the Garden. But with the Depression, the theater fell on hard times.
1929 - The stock market crashed on October 28 th and 29 th. To make matters worse, banks had invested their deposits in the stock market. Now that stocks were obliterated, the banks had lost their depositors money!  The stock market crash of 1929 launched the Great Depression. The Depression was the time from October 1929 to the mid 1930ís.
1931 - "1931 - The Garden Theatre Company offered the eleven-acre tract to University City, for $85,000, suggesting that the land might be used as an addition to Heman Park, from which it is separated only by a city street. The University City authorities refused the offer, on the grounds that it would cost an additional $40,000 to put the property in shape for use."
1933 - "In 1933 what had been the beautiful and serene Garden Theatre Tea Terrace, beneath the auditorium on Flint Garrison's hollow hillside, came to brief life as a night club. The weed -grown Terraces were cleared as a dance floor, the fountains were made to play again, and a bar was stretched across the one time dining area ........... they made the issue a loving tribute to Flint Garrison and his works, ...from the dream of the gentle genius and stalwart intellectual, Flint Garrison. ."  (excerpts from a book)
1951 - The Concrete stands, "Flint Garrison's Hollow Hillside", are still on the map. The drainage canal was not there in 1925-1929  Map is on this site as an Adobe .PDF and you can Zoom in to see the detail if you wish.   1951 Garden Theatre Map (PDF)
1951 Garden Theatre Map (PDF) There is also a Google Earth view of what the site looks like today. 2007 Garden Theatre Map    2007 Garden Theatre Map  
1958 to 1960 The concrete stand are demolished, the area was not used as an addition for Heman Park. The memories remain. The history can be found.


 


Charles Ruggles


Leon Errol

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This little story was one of many from the adventures and faded memories of several young boys in and around Wellston, a tiny part of St. Louis County, Missouri in the early 1940s.  Youngsters in their 70s and 80s today.

We had our bicycles, exercise, fresh air and fun!  Didn't everyone? 
If you remember this old place at Heman Park, drop me a note.   
Bob Haefner      eMail

 


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Los Angeles Times Aug 23, 1925 Click photo to enlarge

Los Angeles Times Aug 22, 1926
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 Christian Science Monitor 1927
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New York Times 1927
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1925  Fashion Show 
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Margaret Anglin as Electra.
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Los Angeles Times Apr 10,, 1927
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Marion Telva
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A very poor picture of part of the guest seating area,the light director's pits, the stage, and the lights on the forested hill used a a backdrop.


Alexandra Carlyisle
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