By Bill Beggs Jr.
St. Louis – Larger than Central Park in New York City, Forest Park is the jewel in St. Louis’ crown. Rubbing shoulders with the Zoo, Art Museum, and a beautiful attraction called the Jewel Box, is the Missouri History Museum.
The building’s original 1913 footprint is the first memorial to Thomas Jefferson built in the United States, with proceeds from the 1904 World’s Fair. Any group bickering over Robert’s Rules of Order would do well to take its discussion out to the Grand Hall, where President Jefferson’s marble presence, 20 feet tall, might make its members realize how relatively insignificant their disagreement really is.
A 2000 expansion was designed by St. Louis-based architectural firm HOK to complement the original Classical Revival structure. It provides many alternatives for meetings, from weddings beneath a replica of Charles Lindbergh’s airplane that made the first Atlantic crossing, to a 332-seat, disabled-accessible auditorium.
The silver plane suspended from the ceiling silently announces that “The Spirit of St. Louis” lives here. Such accoutrements add heft to any gathering.
“You don’t have to bring any decorations,” explains Tami Goldman, the museum’s tourism and group sales manager. “We’ve made a conscious effort to help visitors discover and rediscover the past, and the entertainment is just a few steps away.”
“It’s thought-provoking, intellectually stimulating entertainment,” says Leigh Albright Walters of the institution’s communications staff. “We have so much that is engaging, before, during or after private or corporate events.”
The food itself is worth the price of admission—but it’s important to point out that admission to the museum is free. The exclusive caterer is Butler’s Pantry, and the offerings at the museum’s Bixby’s Restaurant have gotten high praise from local media reviewers. Wherever possible, chefs try to source their food locally.
The restaurant’s second-story view from a curved expanse of windows facing into the park can take one’s breath away, especially in winter, after the trees have shed their leaves and the St. Louis Art Museum and Muny Opera House are part of the panorama off in the distance.
Planners can choose to stay at the museum for the day, or add other park attractions as they wish.
“Whether they are visiting the museum as part of a tour of Forest Park, or hosting a private off-site dinner, attendees love the multiple galleries and exhibits in the space,” notes Julie Krull of Destination St. Louis.
Krull’s company recently worked with the Heritage Society of the National Rifle Association.
“The group loved the idea of incorporating The Civil War in Missouri exhibit into one of its tours,” says Krull, referencing an exhibit that is open through June 2, 2013. “The museum worked with us to open early for our group, and arranged to have docents available to lead private tours. The group then had time to explore the rest of the museum on their own. Afterwards the group enjoyed a private lunch at the Jewel Box.
“We often hear from groups about the variety of exhibits available in the museum that do not require an admission fee. The museum is a really attractive option for groups on a budget,” Krull says.
Here is a glimpse at the space options for meetings and events:
|AT&T Foundation Room||90 – 125||$150 – $250|
|Des Lee Auditorium||332||$640 – $940|
|Bank of America Foyer||150||$150|
|Grand Hall||250 – 400||$1,200 – $3,500|
|Bixby’s Restaurant||90 – 100||$400 – $600|
Hospitals and banks have been among the museum’s meeting clients, as well as Fortune 500 companies like St. Louis-based agricultural science firm Monsanto. Privately held Enterprise Rent-A-Car, has staged corporate events here. Goldman points out that groups may take advantage of “round robin” packages, wherein they can spend the day meeting and eating, then take side trips to destinations in the park or close by, from the Art Museum and Zoo to the Science Center, part of which is in the park. It is separated from the main building by a pedestrian bridge that crosses over Interstate 64/40.
Groups interested in the park’s World’s Fair history may rent trolleys or horse-drawn carriages for personalized tours that offer a glimpse of what historic sites and iconic structures must have been like in the days of parasols and pocket watches. For a bird’s-eye view, guests need not leave the museum—close at hand on the floor of a gallery is a colorful, circa 1904 map of the grounds that shows the scale and grandeur of the exposition. A recent photo exhibit on atrium walls took a look back at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, first in the contemporary string of summer contests matching athletes from around the world every four years.
Don’t miss the bronze sculpture that depicts the signing of the Louisiana Purchase, the best $15 million investment the United States ever made (of course, the 1904 World’s Fair marked the centennial of the event, as well as the storied Lewis & Clark expedition).
Zagat, which prides itself on its unbiased, user-generated content, gives the museum props for its wide variety of exhibits and “interesting educational and cultural programs … put together with great intelligence.” It notes that the museum also reaches beyond Missouri to explore American and Western themes. A recent exhibit focused on George Washington.
Zagat also gives Bixby’s a high-five for “offering one of the best Sunday brunches in town.” That’s high praise in a city that loves its first meal on a Sunday to be long and leisurely.
Missouri History Museum
Lindell & DeBaliviere in Forest Park
St. Louis, MO 63112