Monday, December 13, 2010

My Meet Me in St. Louis vacation

Meet me in St. Louis, Louie, meet me at the fair/Don't tell me the lights aren't shining, cos the fair's not there ...

I just returned from a short vacation to St. Louis. Most people would use that occasion to go up in the St. Louis arch or visit the Anheuser-Busch brewery.

I ain't most people.

St. Louis is the setting of not only one of my favorite musicals, but one of my favorite movies of any kind: Meet Me in St. Louis, the 1944 classic starring Judy Garland. It's about a family that faces being uprooted to New York just as the fair is nearing completion in 1903-1904.

The film was based on a series of stories about the family of writer Sally Benson. She was a Hollywood screenwriter whose most notable credit was Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt. (Not surprising if you think about it - both films reek of Americana.)

The stories were fictionalized but based on truth. Sally Benson and her family really did live at 5135 Kensington Avenue, as "The Boy Next Door" says. That address was not too far at all from Forest Park, the site of the fair. 

Here is the real house as it stood: 

My dad, who found this photo, pointed out:

You will notice that a window was installed where the front door used to be. They then bricked-up the original window for a smaller door (probably adjacent to the stairs) allowing the landlord to rent the house to two families.

MGM, as was its wont, upped the opulence when it built its version of 5135 Kensington Ave, on a full-scale street.

Sadly, both houses are gone now. Sally Benson's home was torn down in 1994 after it decayed and became uninhabitable. All that's left is a tattered vacant lot, as seen in this photo by me: 

MGM's St. Louis house, along with almost all of the backlot, was torn down in the 1970s as the cash-strapped studio tried to generate income from the sale of its vast real estate. Here's how the place looked in my youngest days: Old and worn out, just like MGM itself.

Don't you just love people's appreciation of history? (sigh)

Thankfully, some parts of the 1904 fair still remain. The St. Louis Art Museum was built for the fair and was the only structure that was meant to be permanent. My shot of it:

And a closer look:

Just opposite the museum and down the hill is a large lagoon around which the fair buildings were situated. Here's how it looked in 1904, as taken from the book St. Louis: Then and now:

And here's the view from the same vantage point, same book. In a strange way, this looks like this should be the "before" shot:

Here's my shot of the lagoon, taken from the courtyard of the museum: 

And here's a map that gives you a good idea of how the whole shebang looked:

After I visited here, my dad and I went to a pizza place called Katie's Pizzaria close to the park. It specialized in exotic, Mediterranean type pies which were quite good. What also stood out about the place was the decor. While I was there, they were projecting a certain movie on their big screen. See if you can pick it out:

And that was it for the movie-based portion of the trip, save for one thing: I saw Black Swan, which I will review very, very soon. Simply put, believe the hype.

Oh, and before I go, I must remember to thank my sponsor. Sir Critic's cinema has been brought to you today by an upside down letter U, or maybe a lowercase n, or a c turned sideways.


G.H. said...

Thanks for the post. I've often wondered how 5135 Kensington looked back then. I GoogleMap it, and was sad to see it torn down. I wonder if that shot your Dad provided is the original house. I thought the movie house was built based on Sally Benson's memories. It doesn't seem as if it would be a house built circa 1903.

Chris said...

What an awesome post - thank you so much. However, the photo posted as the Smith's residence (the house with the Yellow facade) is not of 5135 Kengsington Avenue - although it is often cited as such. 5135 Kengsington was always a red-bricked dwelling up to it's demolition - circa 1994. Also, if you look at the photo of the yellow dwelling, the houses that border either side of it don't match the still-standing houses on Kengsington (Google Maps). It was quite bitter-sweet visiting this address when I toured the US. It is worthwhile taking a 'virtual tour' of the area on Google Maps - you can even spot what might have been the wood-shed where John Truitt hid Agnes and little Tootie after they got dragged away from the Trolley Car!