There’s growing old, and there’s growing old together. And while growing old has its milestones, it’s usually the latter that makes for a sweet celebration.
Here in and around St. Louis, 17 organizations, institutions and buildings celebrate milestone anniversaries in 2023, from the East Building at the St. Louis Art Museum turning 10 to Susan Blow’s kindergarten, the first in the United States, turning 150.
As with any partnership, longevity requires commitment and support from all sides, and the public has supported many of these places over the years, and they have supported the public. We’ve grown old with them, so today, raise a toast to many more years together.
25: Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House
The original goal of this unique zoo was to showcase the beauty of butterflies in an 8,000-square-foot glass conservatory and to highlight the relationship among butterflies, insects and pollinators. Over the years, the butterfly house, operated by the Missouri Botanical Garden, has had its own metamorphosis.
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“What’s kept us here and thriving is innovation,” said Butterfly House Director Jennifer Mullix. It’s become a place where families make memories. People who visited as children are now coming back with their own kids.
The conservatory is planted with nearly 100 species of exotic flowering tropical plants. The popular Miracle of Metamorphosis display exhibits chrysalides with butterflies emerging as visitors watch. Two sculpture gardens flanking the entry plaza are inhabited with creatures by St. Louis artist Robert Cassilly, which include a 30-foot-long “Lopatapillar” caterpillar and an enormous mysterious Monarch butterfly with faceted eyes. In 2015, the Butterfly House opened Nature Trek, an interactive nature trail for families.
The Butterfly House plans to celebrate the anniversary all year long. A new summer exhibit, “Lights, Camera, Arthropods,” will have a movie theme. In September, there will be an anniversary gala featuring an old Hollywood theme. The attraction is closed for annual maintenance Jan. 1 to 30.
— Aisha Sultan
125: Compton Hill Water Tower
The Compton Hill Water tower stands tall over the intersection of Interstate 44 and Grand Avenue, and as it celebrates its 125th birthday, it’s slowly falling apart.
“This spring, there was literally a chunk weighing over 20 pounds sitting at the door,” said Patty Taillon-Miller, president of the Water Tower Park and Preservation Society. “We find chunks all around the exterior of the tower.”
Construction began on the tower in 1897, with finishing touches made in 1899. The date 1898 is etched in its limestone façade, making this year a safe bet for landmark birthday celebrating.
The first pieces of the tower started falling off in 2015, and the St. Louis Water Division put a fence around the tower for safety. It stands 179 feet high, and until a few years ago visitors could climb its 196 steps to the top during its occasional open houses and full moon viewings.
This year, the foundation plans to have a restoration architecture firm do an analysis of the tower and its materials. It's not clear what it will take to fix and protect it, but officials estimate it will cost about $2 million. The St. Louis City Water Division owns it, and the foundation has raised about $100,000 toward its restoration.
The tower was designed by architect Henry Ellis, who also designed St. Louis City Hall. It was considered an innovative piece of architecture and also served the very real function of keeping the water system from exploding. It let excess air and water from the nearby reservoir to rise in the pipes, and the tower worked as a vent. In 1912, the city water plant switched to a spinning pump that eliminated any surges in pressure, so the tower simply served as a neighborhood landmark.
Taillon-Miller hopes people will be able to enjoy the view from the top once again. It sits atop one of the tallest hills in the city, and she argues it offers a better view of St. Louis than the Gateway Arch. On a clear day you can see Cahokia Mounds to the east, Eureka to the west, and far bridges to the north and south.
“People have so much fun climbing to the top — they come down with giant smiles on their faces,” she said. “When you go on road trips and you go out of town, when you see the tower, you know you are back.”
More info: watertowerfoundation.org
— Valerie Schremp Hahn
75: Kreis’ Steakhouse & Bar
Kreis’ Steakhouse & Bar is the first and last word in prime rib in St. Louis and, as I found in my review in November, an example of how a St. Louis dining institution can nod to its tradition without succumbing to inertia. The rosy-hued prime rib is still the go-to dish, but you will also find a terrific crab cake (no sure thing in this town) and the area’s best lamb chops.
The Kreis family opened the restaurant in 1948 and owned it until 1983. (The Kane family operated it from the Kreis’ retirement in the 1960s until 1983.) Brothers Byron and Tyke Tompras bought Kreis’ in 1983 — which makes 2023 also the 40th anniversary of the Tompras family’s ownership.
Byron’s son, George, and daughter, Renee Bogdanos, took over Kreis’ in 1991. George died in 2021. Bogdanos and her son, Nick, now operate the restaurant, where on any given evening you are likely to find a full parking lot and a packed dining room.
More info: kreissteakhouse.com
— Ian Froeb
Twangfest, arguably St. Louis’ longest-running homegrown music festival, is turning 25 this year, and festival vice president Roy Kasten says “no doubt there will be something special planned.”
“The most special thing will be the lineup. We've been working hard on it. We can't divulge the details or any spoilers, but we're going to be booking some of the biggest bands in Americana and alt-country that we’ve wanted to see for a long time.”
The festival will take place June 7-10.
Twangfest grew out of an online community of music lovers who banded together to form the music festival. The online group was named Postcards 2, after an Uncle Tupelo song.
The first Twangfest took place in 1997 at Off Broadway. Acts who performed were Roy Kasten and the Sons of the Perdition, Edith Frost, Belle Starr, the Sovines, Gasoline, Cash Hollow, One Riot One Ranger, Fear and Whiskey, the Ghost Rockets and the Waco Brothers.
Up to 300 acts have performed at Twangfest since the beginning, including Avett Brothers, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Katie Pruitt, the Bottle Rockets, the Brothers Lazaroff and many more.
“It's something to be really proud of. We are still a volunteer, grassroots, not-for-profit organization simply dedicated to bringing great music and community to St. Louis.”
More info: twangfest.com
— Kevin C. Johnson
30: St. Louis University's Museum of Contemporary Religious Art
The museum often surprises visitors: The contemporary religious art on display likely isn't a biblical scene a la the "The Last Supper" or other Renaissance-era narratives.
Although works may use religious symbols, they also might be abstract, geometric or even inflatable sculptures. Although the museum is at a Jesuit university, artists have explored Islam, Buddhism and Native beliefs or just spirituality in general. They have tackled the ethics of the Tuskegee syphilis study or the history of AIDS.
"It's a pretty wide field," director David Brinker says. Artists' interests vary from autobiography or art history to the connections between religion and science.
Although MOCRA isn't out to "generate controversy for the sake of generating controversy," he says, it accepts that some artists might question their faith or religious teaching.
The museum, located in a former chapel with 12 side chapels, was founded by the Rev. Terrence Dempsey, who has joked that he's the only person to turn his dissertation into a museum.
While at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, he was asked why didn't he see what was going on in contemporary religious art, rather than study the past. That interest would lead to the founding of MOCRA. Dempsey retired from the museum and teaching at SLU in 2019, and his longtime assistant took over as director.
Brinker says the museum now has a small permanent collection and usually has work from about 30 artists on display (it will reopen from its winter break in late January).
The museum's next temporary exhibition, opening in March, will involve two artists from New Mexico.
More info: slu.edu/mocra/index.php
— Jane Henderson
30: St. Louis Art Fair
While the St. Louis Art Fair has changed over three decades, organizers say the heart of it has stayed the same.
"We have always been about the artists," says Sarah Umlauf, executive director of the fair. "We put the artists first."
Choosing among the best artists for the juried fair means the quality has always been high, Umlauf says.
During the first year of the festival, 418 exhibitors applied and the fair featured 130 artists. This year, the fair expects more than 1,000 applications and to host close to 200 artists.
"The jury process is extremely important for the fair and we have never repeated a juror in our 30-year history, helping to keep the show unique each year," Umlauf says. The 2023 jury will be April 14-16, with the fair running Sept. 8-10.
Attendance at the free fair, held in roughly the same footprint in downtown Clayton, has grown by "leaps and bounds" through the years. Founders included Susan and Ben Uchitelle (he was Clayton's mayor at the time) and they sought to expand the city's previous, smaller fair.
In 2022, based on beverage sales, Umlauf estimates more than 130,000 people attended over three days.
The fair has always offered some entertainment and food vendors. It's creative castle for children's activities has grown, and it now has three music stages. This year, a yet-to-be-announced community art project will be featured.
"There are art festivals older than us, but we are proud of what we've been able to accomplish," Umlauf says.
More info: saintlouisartfair.com
— Jane Henderson
20: Pin-Up Bowl
Pin-Up Bowl is a blast-to-the-past bowling alley and lounge in the Delmar Loop. Owner and Loop developer Joe Edwards has decked the walls and display cases with collections of vintage bowling and 1940s pin-up girl memorabilia.
Edwards says he wanted to create a place where visitors didn’t have to be good at bowling to enjoy it. Pin-Up Bowl is a place where people can put their troubles behind them for a couple of hours, hang out and have a good time with friends, he said. It's also known for its signature cocktails and food, including homemade pizzas. The décor includes vintage bowling balls made of wood, including some that lack finger holes and were simply rolled down the lanes.
Over the years, some performers that played at the Pageant on Delmar would come to hang out at the bowling alley after concerts.
“Nelly held a high score for a couple of years,” Edwards said. He is planning a celebration at the end of the year to mark the two decade milestone.
More info: pinupbowl.com
— Aisha Sultan
50: The Alpine Shop
The Alpine Shop caters to the needs of anyone who wants to explore the outdoors. That includes clothing, footwear and gear for backpackers, hikers, campers, mountain climbers, kayakers, canoers, paddlers, cyclists, snowboarders and skiers.
The owner, Russell Hollenbeck, celebrated his 90th birthday last year, and he still loves the equipment and activities. The locally owned store is planning a party on April 1, the date Hollenbeck closed on the deal.
The Alpine Shop has locations in Kirkwood, Chesterfield and Columbia, Missouri. Hollenbeck said during the first year of the pandemic, he sent a letter to customers asking for help in saving their brick-and-mortar stores. The response was overwhelming. Customers value the in-person expertise and service offered by the staff, and they rallied to keep the business open.
More info: alpineshop.com
— Aisha Sultan
10: East Building of St. Louis Art Museum
When the St. Louis Art Museum opened its new addition to the public, it was a grand affair, drawing Missouri's governor, St. Louis' mayor and the British architect.
“It really has been a great journey and a sort of regenerating of one’s optimism,” the architect, David Chipperfield, said of the East Building. “To see how a community gets behind a project like this … it’s not usual.”
The modern, airy 210,000-square-foot expansion connects to the original museum, which was built for the 1904 World's Fair. The project took three years to build and cost most of the $160 million raised for the project.
With 21 galleries, it was heralded as space to hold major special exhibitions and show off more of the museum's modern and contemporary holdings.
A few observers criticized the new building's design for not taking more risks. But in the ensuing decade of exhibitions, attended by thousands of visitors, the East Building likely feels as if it fits naturally in Forest Park at the top of Art Hill.
More info: slam.org
— Jane Henderson
50: Metro Theater Company
With a focus on young theatergoers, Metro Theater Company was founded in 1973 by artist Zaro Weil and educator Lynn Rubright. According to its mission statement, the company — which changed its name from Metro Theater Circus in 1992 — is “inspired by the intelligence and emotional wisdom of young people,” in the process reaching an audience of more than 2 million and establishing a national reputation for excellence.
In 2016, American Theatre magazine cited Metro Theater Company in the article “20 Theatres You Should Take Your Kids To.” The company is led by artistic director Julia Flood and managing director Joe Gfaller.
More info: metroplays.org
— Calvin Wilson
25: New Jewish Theatre
New Jewish Theatre is celebrating its 25th season producing professional plays and musicals at the Jewish Community Center.
The company's earliest productions were presented in a classroom at the J that had been converted into a 99-seat black box. In the spring of 2010, the New Jewish Theatre was given a new space — a fully-equipped black box that could accommodate up to 150 theatergoers and was adaptable to a variety of configurations. The company has been led by founding artistic director Kathleen Sitzer, who stepped down in 2018; Edward Coffield, who had been artistic associate; and Rebekah Scallet, who succeeded Coffield as artistic director last year.
More info: jccstl.com/arts-ideas/new-jewish-theatre/
— Calvin Wilson
100: Fontbonne University
Six Sisters of St. Joseph came to Carondelet in the year 1836, founding St. Joseph Academy for Girls five years later. Seeking to provide higher education for women, the sisters started college classes in Carondelet in 1923. Two years later, the college moved to its present-day campus in Clayton. The private, Catholic college was named Fontbonne, after Mother St. John Fontbonne, who refounded the order of sisters in 1808 after the French Revolution.
Eight women received their baccalaureate degrees in that first class in 1927, and it remained an all-female school until the 1970s. Now, about 944 students attend Fontbonne, with its peak enrollment of about 2,900 students 15 years ago. While it has grappled with enrollment declines, its freshman class of about 180 students is one of the largest in recent years.
It has more than 100 areas of study, recently added a nursing degree and will add a criminal justice degree in fall 2023.
University president Nancy Blattner says that she doesn’t necessarily want the campus to have thousands of students: the small size allows professors to know get to know the students and the school to feel like a family.
When the Sisters of St. Joseph built the Clayton campus nearly 100 years ago, they built five buildings with 350 rooms, and the first year they had nine students and nine faculty members. “They had a vision — almost like, we’ll build it and they’ll come,” Blattner said. It’s something she keeps in mind as the campus adds new programs and partners to attract students.
The school is celebrating this year with a full slate of anniversary events, including panels with former faculty members, tours of the motherhouse in Carondelet and a heritage trip to France in late spring.
“We’re really proud to carry on the tradition that we started 100 years ago,” she said, “and we’re looking forward to the next century.”
More info: fontbonne.edu
— Valerie Schremp Hahn
60: James S. McDonnell Planetarium
In early 1963, the heyday of the space race, St. Louisans looked skyward. St. Louis-based McDonnell Aircraft Co. was building space capsules that would orbit the Earth. And on April 16 of that year, people lined up to watch the first star show inside the planetarium, a sweeping white landmark designed by architect Gyo Obata.
The planetarium, which sits along Highway 40 (Interstate 64) is arguably the most iconic piece of St. Louis architecture behind the Gateway Arch. The shape is a hyperbolic paraboloid, a series of straight lines rotating around a central vertical axis: the whole thing suggests arcing rockets and zooming comets. It cost $1.2 million to build and was part of a 1955 bond issue for civic improvements around the city. Construction began in 1960, and the concrete shell covering the frame is no more than 3 ½ inches thick. It’s now part of the St. Louis Science Center.
Planetarium shows inside and lighting outside have evolved over the years as old equipment wore out and technology improved. The building lights up in different colors and designs throughout the year to support different causes: a rainbow for Pride, orange for hunger awareness, a sunflower for Ukraine.
Motorists look to the planetarium for a bit of holiday cheer each year with the addition of a giant red bow around its narrowest spot, a tradition that started in 1966. Pranksters tied a ribbon around the building, leaving nearby a card with the words, "Merry Christmas St. Louis. Washington University School of Architecture."
This year, the St. Louis Science Center will celebrate the return of the Laser Light Show Series at the planetarium and the 50th anniversary of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon in March. The Yoga Under the Stars Series will continue monthly. This summer, it will host a full-size replica of NASA’s newest Mars rover, Perseverance, and launch a new annular eclipse star show in July.
More info: slsc.org
— Valerie Schremp Hahn
When MindsEye Founder Father Boniface Wittenbrink was approached years ago about starting a Radio Information Service to help people with blindness and visual disabilities, he replied that he didn’t know anything about blindness or running a radio station, but, “If you think I can help, I’ll do it.”
For the last 50 years, MindsEye has been willing to figure things out and jump in to help when needed, adapting and using new technology along the way.
It's based on the grounds of Our Lady of the Snows Shrine in Belleville. It employs eight full- and part-time workers, and has about 190 volunteers. The organization has reached about 1,200 blind and visually impaired people in the region who have registered online for services, but estimates about 5,000 people actually use them.
Up until about 10 years ago, MindsEye focused on reading newspapers and magazines for people who could listen on special radios the organization sent to them. Now, anyone can listen online, through the MindsEye app, or through devices like Alexa and Echo Dot.
And while some computer applications can read text aloud, some people with visual impairments like the personal touch an actual reader lends to a story, much the same way people trust television anchors who deliver the news, points out Jason Frazier, president of the organization. ”The human connection is something that people really value,” he said.
Frazier, now 37, remembers sitting with his grandmother as a child watching "The Price is Right," describing the people called to “come on down” to play. His grandmother had lost her vision due to glaucoma and diabetes, and he worked as an audio descriptor long before he knew the role existed at MindsEye.
He wishes his grandmother would have known about and used the services offered by MindsEye, which is one thing that motivates him to spread the word now. “I’m kind of making sure I’m doing something in her honor, and that she’d be proud.”
More info: mindseyeradio.org
— Valerie Schremp Hahn
150: Susan Blow's kindergarten
When Susan Blow opened the doors to the first kindergarten in summer 1873, the doors opened to not just those 42 children, but to countless other boys and girls in the decades since.
In the “child’s garden” of a bright and colorful classroom, children played with blocks and yarn, and learned about colors, shapes and numbers.
Blow, the daughter of a wealthy merchant and salesman, was born in 1843 and attended private schools in New Orleans and New York. She learned about the concept of kindergarten on a trip to Germany, where she saw students learning with the methods of Friedrich Froebel, who believed in learning through play.
Blow opened the first public kindergarten in Des Peres School in Carondelet, and by 1904, St. Louis Public Schools had more than 80 of them. She didn’t teach many children, but rather focused on the work of training kindergarten teachers. She wrote five books and many papers on Froebel’s methods and traveled the country giving lectures, according to the Carondelet Historical Society.
The historical society is housed in the old Des Peres School building at 6303 Michigan Avenue in Carondelet. Visitors can tour a restored classroom that includes Froebel gifts and examples of student and teacher work.
To celebrate the 150th anniversary, it will host “Secrets of the Museum,” a series of mini-programs on its distinctive or little-known items or collections, on Feb. 12. It will hold an anniversary banquet on May 21, and on Sept. 9-10, it will have a series of talks about the school architecture and how kindergarten revolutionized American education.
More info: carondelethistory.org
— Valerie Schremp Hahn
125: Wyman Center
Wyman started as a camp for young people from lower-income communities. It continued to operate as a residential camp until the 1980s. Since then, the social-emotional programming and leadership training offered by the nonprofit has spread across the country.
Now, the three-week residential camp is just one component of a much larger array of services offered in schools and communities. The leadership program is a nine-year program that begins in middle school, said Claire Wyneken, Wyman president and chief executive officer. The nonprofit partners with others who are trained and equipped to deliver their programs.
“In St. Louis, our teams are embedded in the schools,” she said. Along with their partners, they serve 3,000 people in the St. Louis area and 30,000 in other communities. Over the organization's long history, they’ve served a million St. Louisans.
“This is a big anniversary for us and a big anniversary for young people,” Wyneken said. There will be an exhibit about Wyman at the Missouri History Museum, including pop-up banners with information about the organization and its long history.
"Our history is really St. Louis' history," Wyneken. The organization is inviting St. Louisans to share their Wyman stories with plans to collect 125 stories. A gala is planned for April 1 at the Ritz Carlton in St. Louis.
More info: wymancenter.org
— Aisha Sultan
150: St. Louis Liederkranz German Singing Club
St. Louis Liederkranz German Singing Club had originally earmarked a 2020 date to celebrate its 150 anniversary as an organization “bringing the love of German folk songs and the music of our immigrant ancestors to their new homeland of America.”
But 2020 of course did its thing, and the group was forced to move that celebration to 2023 with what it’s calling its “150-plus” anniversary celebration taking place July 22 at St. Louis University High School’s Si Commons.
Michelle Heitmann, the club’s chairman of the anniversary committee, says the fact that the club is even celebrating such a huge anniversary “reinforces to us the connection to our German immigrants, the huge influx of immigrants who made St. Louis what it is,” citing contributions to brewing and shoe manufacturing industries here.
“We helped get St. Louis up and off its feet during the early to mid 19th century,” says Heitmann, the grandchild of a German immigrant.
St. Louis Liederkranz German Singing Club was founded in 1870. It started off with a large male membership, while women were in an auxiliary chorus. Now, it’s a near even mix of men and women.
The club currently has 25 members including Theodore “Ted” Piskos, who at 100 is the oldest member.
The club typically has a spring concert and a Christmas service, and also accepts gigs in senior living facilities and nursing homes.
“We have tons of fun being together. We enjoy each others’ company and sharing the German songs, the folk songs that are our general repertoire. When the group started it was arias and operas with a huge orchestra,” she says. “Now we work with the folk songs. Every German knows some of these songs, and they teach us German as we go. It’s a fun atmosphere and we encourage audience participation and encourage shunkeling (swaying during drinking songs).”
More info: stlliederkranz.weebly.com
— Kevin C. Johnson
What did we miss? Tell us about other notable St. Louis-area anniversaries in the comments on this story.