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David Flavan, creator of Noah's Ark restaurant, dies at 90
Joe's St. Louis

David Flavan, creator of Noah's Ark restaurant, dies at 90

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Noah's ark site to get center for disabled

Noah's Ark, a St. Charles Landmark, sits vacant in 2004. Photo by Andrew Cutraro of the Post-Dispatch

For almost 30 years, Noah’s Ark restaurant in St. Charles was the place to go — especially if you wanted a damn fine bowl of clam chowder in the company of stuffed safari animals.

That restaurant and a neighboring motel closed in the mid-1990s and the building came down in 2007. And now the man who dreamed up the unique landmark has passed on as well.

David B. Flavan II of St. Charles died Sept. 23 at DePaul Health Center because of complications from a fall, relatives said. He was 90.

But if a life spent as a commercial airline pilot, riverboat captain and inventor, along with being a restaurant owner and motel manager, qualifies a person as a “character” ...

“Then I guess he was what you’d call ‘quite a character,’” said his daughter, Peggy Flavan-Brown.

David B. Flavan II

David B. Flavan II. (Photo courtesy of Baue Funeral Home)

Mr. Flavan was born Jan. 28, 1930, and lived in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.

He graduated from St. Louis University High School and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Washington University.

Even then, Mr. Flavan liked his adventures in motion.

While many former Washington U. students over the years have boasted about driving a car down the steps in front of Brookings Hall, Flavan-Brown said, “Dad said he was the first to ever drive one up the steps.”

Mr. Flavan’s need to navigate led him to becoming a pilot for TWA and Eastern Airlines, which he did for close to 40 years.

While co-piloting in the mid-1960s, Mr. Flavan and his brother, John Flavan, began building the ark-shaped restaurant on South Fifth Street at Interstate 70. The construction was noticeable from flights in and out of Lambert Field.

A flight attendant who didn’t know of her co-pilot’s involvement once noted that “some crazy person” was building a big boat on a hill, Flavan-Brown said.

“Then she wondered how they planned to get it into the river once it was done. And my Dad told her, ‘Oh, they’ll probably use rollers, just like they did in ancient Egypt.’”

The former Noah's Ark restaurant and motel

The former Noah's Ark restaurant and motel in St. Charles.  

Flavan eventually did end up on the river, in 1986, when he spent about $1 million to build and serve as one of the captains of the Spirit of St. Charles riverboat.

That endeavor ended in 1990 when during high waters on the Missouri River, the boat struck a bridge and injured 22 people.

In what passed as spare time, Mr. Flavan was “a tinkerer” and Flavan-Brown said he held several patents — “one for a steak-cooking machine and another for an automatic phone dialer.”

And through all these adventures, Mr. Flavan moved fast, especially in a car.

“Everyone said Dad drove his airplane and his car at the same speed,” Flavan-Brown said. “But he always managed to talk his way out of a ticket.”

Some long-overdue traffic justice seemed to be coming Mr. Flavan’s way when he was pulled over outside of Hannibal by a state trooper as the family was returning to St. Louis from a trip.

“The guy looked serious and we thought, finally, he’s going to get a ticket,” Flavan-Brown said. “But the guy sat in his car for a long time. And when he finally came to our car, Dad asked if there was a problem. The guy said his radio wasn’t working and Dad said, ‘Mind if I look at it?’”

“So he ended up fixing the guy’s radio right there,” she said. “And of course he didn’t get a ticket.”

Along with his more gregarious pursuits, Mr. Flavan also embraced a sense of service.

David Flavan

David Flavan, owner of Noah's Ark restaurant, poses near a fiberglass elephant in January 1988. (Post-Dispatch archive photo by Scott Dine)

For years, he piloted flights for Doctors Without Borders and Wings of Hope, philanthropic groups that take medical help and supplies to remote regions. He also served on the boards of the DePaul Health Center and St. Louis University, and on the St. Charles’ Convention and Visitors Commission.

Flavan-Brown also said that with no fanfare or publicity, her father often let struggling families stay at the motel and helped several employees with college tuition.

Among Mr. Flavan’s survivors are another daughter, Mary Clare LaBarge; a son, David B. Flavan III; one sister; seven grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 2 to 7 p.m. Friday at Baue Funeral Home, 620 Jefferson Street in St. Charles. (Attendees must wear masks and observe social-distancing rules.)

A funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Peter Catholic Church in St. Charles. Burial will be at Calvary Cemetery.

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Looking back at 36 St. Louis restaurants from days gone by

Joe Holleman • 314-340-8254 @stlsherpa on Twitter jholleman@post-dispatch.com

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