ST. LOUIS — For the latest Chuck's Big Adventure, we traveled to Missouri for a trip that took us from big-city oddities to historic sites and showed us the magnificence of nature's creativity.
Get past the iconic Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the skyline pretty much looks like that of any Midwest city. That is, until you reach the corner of 750 N. 16th St. No, your eyes are not deceiving you. That's a school bus perched off the side of the roof and on another end, yes, that is a Ferris Wheel operating with passengers on the roof as well.
City Museum may just be the most unusual collection of weirdness in the United States. From local art to rare finds around the city, this 100-year-old building hosts the unexpected daily. Artists have repurposed just about anything available to create miles of slides, tunnels and bridges. From grand galleries to dark passageways, this is a place to explore.
Bob and Gail Cassilly purchased the 10-story former shoe company warehouse in downtown St. Louis and in the early '90s, began transforming it. That transformation has never stopped.
Stephanie VonDrasek has worked for decades at the Museum and agrees it is eclectic, thought provoking and well...weird.
"It really is one of a kind, but honestly I think the thing that probably appeals most to people is you’re just allowed to have a sense of exploration, and your experience is not directed at all. We just want you to come and play in and just let it affect you how it's going to affect you," VonDrasek said.
For children, there is climbing, touching and seeing things not available anywhere else. On one floor, a child can see the world's largest pencil and then one floor below, climb through a replica of one of Missouri's many caves.
VonDrasek says, prepare yourself and your mind if you pay a visit.
"First of all, keep an open mind, and come here in tennis shoes, long pants if you can, knee pads, which we sell in the gift shop, but knee pads really come in handy, flashlights, because there can be some dark spots and dark tunnels and whatnot, and you know little ones or even some of us bigger ones are not so crazy about the dark, so there are some practical considerations like that that come in handy," VonDrasek said.
Clear your schedule and clear your mind if you visit City Museum.
Aware that this is a high-touch, high-use place, COVID-19 considerations are in place, from mask wearing to frequent sanitizing of the exhibits. There are also many hand sanitizing stations on each floor.
Founder Bob Cassilly died 10 years ago, but his vision of an ever-changing, ever-expressive building hasn't changed. Whether it's investigating the inner workings of a bank vault or taking pictures of a hippo family exhibit or tackling the MonstroCity climbing tunnels, this celebration of the strange is a St. Louis stop you may or may not enjoy, but one you will never forget.
Yes, the building with the bus on the roof has changed the skyline forever in St. Louis, but it's what's inside that will change perspectives on what a museum can be.
Images of St. Louis City Museum
St. Louis and I have a love/hate relationship. I am a die-hard Cubs fan, so the Cardinals are a team I am not fond of and haven't been for decades. That's the hate part.
The love part is those special quarters of this truly unique city. One of those neighborhoods that I am especially fond of is the Italian bastion of food, faith and community called simply, The Hill.
The neighborhood's Italian flavor began, in this small area west of downtown St. Louis, early in the 20th century. Immigrants from Sicily, Ireland and Germany also settled here, but it's the Italian bakeries, restaurants and shops that make this place a must-stop for any tourist. A few short years ago, my niece, Katie, her husband, Matt, and I had a delightful lunch at a Hill restaurant, and I insisted our Chuck’s Big Adventure team stop here while in the city.
Our stop was Favazza's, where owner Mark Favazza was celebrating his eatery's 43rd birthday while we were there. There are several Italian restaurants within a few short blocks of each other, but Favazza said that was a good thing.
"You would think that we would all be competing against each other, but we don't. We all go to church together. I mean, I will sit in the same church pew on Sunday morning, in the same pew as me are two other people that own restaurants and two rows in front of me are two other people that own markets and then we sit and talk afterwards. It's just everybody looks out for everybody," said Dea Hoover.
She makes a living promoting this neighborhood and giving whirlwind tours of St. Louis. She loves the fact that The Hill is a true community in every sense.
“There are businesses next to houses right next to businesses right next to houses. I live across from a restaurant, and I have 31 restaurants within a mile of my house,” Hoover said.
Our dinner at Favazza’s was excellent and from the loving preparation to the delightful presentation, this was a night to remember.
Don’t leave St. Louis without a trip to The Hill. It’s good food, good conversation and good memories.
A note, most restaurants are closed on Sundays.
St. Louis Arch
Cross the bridge from Illinois into Missouri and there it stands, "the Gateway to the West," St. Louis's Gateway Arch. Perhaps no monument in North America defines a city like the 630-foot arch defines St. Louis. This majestic, architectural masterpiece of stainless steel shines in the spring sun and is a symbol of the strength, courage and danger of our nation's westward expansion.
It is the world’s tallest arch, the tallest man-made monument in the western hemisphere and the tallest building in Missouri. Completed in 1965, the Arch still looks new, and the museum underneath has undergone a new, tech-savvy, visitor-friendly facelift. Along with the new restaurant featuring St. Louis-style food, this updated facility has brought in thousands of new visitors, even in the COVID era.
I love coming here. In fact, my first visit here was 45 years ago, and I was just excited to be here with our Chuck's Big Adventure team.
Chanda Powell, a National Park Service ranger, told me that 1 million people or more visit here yearly, and now, there is even more to see with the new look at the nation's smallest national park.
"There have been a number of innovations here to the Arch, such as this plaza that we have out here and the reflecting pool," Powell said. "Then, when you walk inside, there is the new museum and it has expanded more, the history of St. Louis."
The new exhibit features a timeline of technology that gives you an idea of how the expansion of our country past the Mississippi River changes us, as a people, forever.
How about COVID and your visit?
Six feet of social distancing and masks are required inside the museum and Arch, but not outside. Inside the Arch, plexiglass dividers divide different viewing areas, and there are plastic shields on the viewing panels.
We were fortunate enough to shoot video outside from a Gateway Helicopter.
Whether you've been to the Arch many times or never, it's worth going to see. The views of Illinois and 30 miles west of St. Louis are fun and memorable.