Watercolor by Marilynne Bradley

Gaslight Square

On February 10, 1959, a tornado swept through St. Louis, toppling the KTVI tower and damaging the Arena on Oakland Avenue. It eventually bore down on Olive Street at its T-shaped intersection with Boyle.

The Musical Arts Building, on the southwest corner of Boyle and Olive, was a landmark of the once fashionable West End neighborhood. Opera star Helen Traubel studied voice there; movie star Betty Grable learned to dance there; a young Vincent Price had gone to the dentist in one of its offices.

The 1959 twister took out the north wall of its upper two stories and damaged the Gaslight Bar on its ground floor. All around the Musical Arts Building was a scene of similar destruction.

The Musical Arts Building, February 1959
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The Musical Arts building was built around 1900. Private schools and fashionable shops were located in the area, frequented by residents of the big houses on Westminster Place. The neighborhood deteriorated to the point of becoming a notorious red-light district in the 1930s, but a revitalization began in the 1940s. Playwright William Inge lived there then, and the first version of his play "Picnic" (entitled "Front Porch") was produced at the Toy Theater at 455 Boyle.

Alex Bayou opened Smokey Joe’s Grecian Gardens in the early 1950s at 4255 Olive, with its glowing pink neon sign and its much-photographed Greek columns. By this time, the area was becoming known as "Greenwich Corners."

St. Louis Post-Dispatch,
October 21, 1954
Smokey Joe's Grecian Terrace Menu
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Smokey Joe's Grecian Terrace
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In the mid 1950s, the area started to attract an assortment of saloons, eateries and antique stores, as well as the Adams Hotel, where baseball players like Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella stayed before they were welcome at the Chase. Richard Mutrux opened the Gaslight Bar in the Musical Arts Building, a favorite stopping place for businessmen heading home from work at day’s end.

In November of 1956, Jimmy Massucci opened the Golden Eagle, just west of Smokey Joe's. Then came Theo Goldston's Eagle’s Nest and Jay Landesman's Crystal Palace, along with a drugstore, a laundry and a few other places that nestled at the intersection of Boyle and Olive.

In those early days, from 1955 until the tornado of February 1959, the atmosphere was loose and casual. The various owners would meet for lunch in the drugstore, then sit on the curb, exchanging dreams and ideas. Everyone knew – and enjoyed – everyone else, and it was easy to wander from place to place, usually with drink in hand. The only threat was the streetcar that rumbled along Olive Street.

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The 1959 tornado at first seemed to have snuffed out the promise of a rebirth at Boyle and Olive. But then something good began to happen. In the wake of the destruction came sightseers and the insurance claim adjusters.

Since the Boyle-Olive area was one of the hardest hit by the tornado and widely covered by the press, people began swarming to the scene to view the damage. Many had known only vaguely where the intersection was. Now it became one of the best known areas in the city.

The infusion of insurance money led to quick recovery by the building owners. Old places, like the Gaslight, soon were operating again, with more business than ever, and new places began to appear. Soon, everyone was calling the area by a new name – Gaslight Square.

By the summer of 1960, Gaslight Square was the hottest entertainment spot in town. Old-time city street lights lined the wide sidewalk in front of the Golden Eagle and Smokey Joe’s Grecian Terrace, which had outdoor tables filled with customers every evening.

Gaslight Square, looking east, 1961
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During the 1959-61 period, the openings were almost nightly. Jack Newman had Jacks or Better. The Dark Side of the Moon, generally know just as the Dark Side, brought cool jazz under the guidance of Spider Burks and the talents of Jeanne Trevor and the Quartet Tres Bien. Ed Dorsey brought a steak house, Mr. D’s, where Ceil Clayton played the piano. Bustles and Bowes brought ragtime, the Bella Rosa offered pizza, Marty Bronson made Marty’s a sing-along place, the Whiskey a Go-Go was an early disco. Singleton Palmer’s tuba boomed through the Opera House and to the street outside, and Sammy Gardner’s clarinet sang at Joe and Charlie’s.

And there were more places. Wade DeWoskin opened Port St. Louis, Rosemary (Pat) O'Brien had Tortilla Flat, Myron and Becky Levy brought Japanese cuisine with Kotobuki. There was the Natchez Queen and the Butterscotch Lounge, the Blackhorse and the Roaring Twenties, the Left Bank, the Islander, the Club Tres Bien and the Living Room.

The entertainment places and restaurants on the Square had increased tenfold. On April 17, 1961, the Smothers Brothers opened in a revue at the Crystal Palace. Second on the bill was an 18-year-old singer named Barbara Streisand.

To many, this was the golden-age of Gaslight Square. By the summer of 1961, Gaslight Square’s fame had spread far and wide. Conventions were coming to St. Louis because of it. Sightseeing buses were letting people off at Boyle and Olive on a regular schedule. Parking had become a serious problem.

Gaslight Square Map
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The Three Fountains

One of Gaslight Square’s most glorious moments came on December 20, 1960 when Richard and Paul Mutrux opened The Three Fountains restaurant in the basement of the Musical Arts Building. It was one of the most elegant restaurants in the nation, and it served French cuisine to match.

The Three Fountains Restaurant in the Musical Arts Building
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Richard and Paul Mutrux were two of 12 brothers and sisters, nine boys and three girls, including Paul's twin brother, George. Their father, Louis Mutrux, and their mother were both of French descent.

"We lived in a rambling house out in Ladue when that was out in the country," Paul recalled, "and every time another child or two was born my father added another room."

Papa Mutrux had started life as an artist – he painted, among other things, the murals in the City Hall in University City. Their mother was well trained in music and she taught them music at home. But the thing they remember most about her was that she was an outstanding cook. Early in life they learned the difference between ordinary cooking and excellent cooking, and it set their standards high.

During World War II, Paul and his twin brother George worked together as architects in Bordeaux, helping to build an ordnance depot. They had an apartment and two French cookbooks, one an Escoffier, and decided to master French cookery.

"In time we got pretty good," Paul said modestly. "I might say that our boeuf Bourguignon was rather sensational."

In 1957, Paul returned to St. Louis. When Richard opened the Gaslight Bar in the Musical Arts Building, Paul played the guitar there at night. Then he and Richard got the idea for a high-class restaurant in Gaslight Square. "Richard’s a good interior decorator; I made sketches and we went to work on it," Paul said.

Paul Mutrux (right) and twin brother George The Three Fountains Dining Room

The Three Fountains exuded luxury, with a multilevel interior lavishly decorated with antique fixtures. The wrought iron balcony railings were salvaged from the Grand Avenue bridge. The brass chandeliers hanging over the dining room were from the British Building at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. There were stained glass windows depicting various foods from an old St. Louis home, and burled mahogany panels from the Merchant’s Exchange building. Two of the three fountains that gave the restaurant its name were copies of the third, which came from a private garden in Vandeventer Place.

The Three Fountains Dining Room
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The Three Fountains built their business around such specialties as tripes à la mode de Caen (prepared by Paul), les escalopes de veau Cordon Bleu (sometimes prepared by Richard), cuisses de grenouilles à la Provençale and Paul’s own French bread. There were also recipes from La Tassée du Chapitre, a Parisian restaurant owned by Paul’s twin brother, George.

The Three Fountains Menu
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The Laughing Buddha

One of Gaslight Square's pioneering establishments was Lee Young's Laughing Buddha, also located in the Musical Arts Building. The coffee house, which did not serve liquor, became a favorite night spot of underage celebrators. Young brought in many relatively unknown folk singers, who later became famous. Peter Yarrow was the resident performer for 18 months; a year later he was part of Peter, Paul & Mary. Judy Collins sang there early in her career.

The Laughing Buddha was a much quieter place than most of the Gaslight Square venues, except for its noisy espresso machine, which generally waited to roar into brewing mode until performers were in the midst of their most mellow songs. The cigarette machine had a weird voice that said "The Laughing Buddha thanks you" whenever a pack of cigarettes was purchased.

The Laughing Buddha
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Jeanine Young and John Mitchell sing at the Laughing Buddha – St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 10, 1960
The Laughing Buddha Menu
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Jack Carl was born into the restaurant business. His father opened Carl's Delicatessen in 1947 at 6633 Delmar in the University City Loop. Jack dropped out of Soldan High School to work there with his brothers. When Jack returned from serving in the Korean War, he opened his own deli in Gaslight Square.

Carl's Delicatessen, 6633 Delmar in the University City, 1965

Jack Carl actually opened two delis in Gaslight Square. The first, Jack Carl's 2¢ Plain, was nestled between the Golden Eagle and the Opera House.

"He started doing really great business," remembered Jorge Martinez. "I mean fabulous business there, because this whole big huge patio area out in front of the two places, the Eagle and the Opera House, with this little space between with his deli. The people would sit out there and eat their corned beef sandwiches and drink their beer and the music from the Singleton Palmer Band would be wafting out, a great atmosphere."

Jack Carl's 2¢ Plain, between the Golden Eagle and the Opera House in Gaslight Square
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Interior of Jack Carl's 2¢ Plain
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The Golden Eagle and Opera House were much larger establishments than Jack Carl's 2¢ Plain. In an effort to drive him out of business, they started selling pastrami sandwiches for 65 cents. Carl charged a buck. When the 65-cent sandwiches didn't put him under, they dropped their price to 50 cents. Carl sought an injunction, telling the judge he didn't trust the two big joints to make legitimate pastrami sandwiches because he had been in each establishment late at night and seen the way the bartender poured whiskey from the cheap bottles into more expensive bottles. Carl won.

Carl took his neighbors to court a second time when they turned off the electric lights in the rear of his deli, making it difficult for customers to find their way to the restrooms. Carl testified that the darkened restrooms were part of a campaign of harassment by the owners of the Golden Eagle and Opera House, intended to force him out of business. He countered their move by furnishing his customers with flashlights.

In 1961, Carl moved away from his pesky neighbors. He relocated six doors further east on Olive, opening "Jack & Charlie Carl's 2¢ Plain" with his brother. The new deli was next door to Annadel's Ice Cream Parlor and across from the Crystal Palace. Entertainers playing at the Palace used to pop across the street for sandwiches; many of them became regulars. Milton Berle came in every night for a tongue sandwich.

Jack & Charlie Carl's 2¢ Plain, next door to Annadel's Ice Cream Parlor in Gaslight Square
Annadel's Ice Cream Parlor Menu

Carl enjoyed insulting his regular customers. If they followed his orders and stuck with the norm, they might make it through the line unscathed. But if they declined chips or a side when asked, Carl would say, "No? Then to hell with you, cheapskate. You're holding up the line." Carl knew most of his customers by name. They knew his style and they liked it.

How did Carl come up with the name of his deli? In Brooklyn, seltzer (carbonated water) was once a popular drink. At the candy stores, an egg cream (chocolate syrup, milk and carbonated water) was a nickel, a chocolate soda (syrup and carbonated water) was three pennies, and for two cents you got "plain" carbonated water.

O’Connell’s Pub

Jack Parker grew up in a little house on the corner of Dover Place and Colorado Avenue in south St. Louis. He went to Cleveland High School, where he pledged Delta Psi Kappa – a frat more famous for good times than good grades. "I was kind of a goof-off, and I didn’t apply myself," Parker remembered.

After the second World War, Parker moved into a cheap apartment on Olive Street and got his first good bartending job at The Opera House. Slowly, Parker educated himself, determined "to be able to discuss Albert Camus with the guy next to me on the bar stool."

O’Connell’s Pub, 454 N. Boyle Jack Parker

In November of 1962, Jack Seltzer, Dick Draper and Ray Gottfried opened O’Connell’s Pub in Gaslight Square at 454 N. Boyle. Jack Parker was the bartender, supervising both drinks and the tiny grill that prepared hamburgers and London broil, the only menu items. A few months later, he added a soup tureen.

In 1965, when profits started to fall and the pub’s owners decided they wanted out, Parker arranged to take over the business. He bought O'Connell's in January of 1965.

O’Connell’s Pub Interior

The burger was the mainstay on O'Connell's menu, introduced by a guy who’d tended bar at P.J. Clarke’s in New York. All the other burgers in St. Louis – even Medart’s – were flat-grilled. The O’Connell’s burger was thick, made with top grade beef, and it could be ordered rare.

There was also roast beef, cooked to order with or without au jus, the Coney Island, with a premium frankfurter grilled to perfection, and a salad with "Mayfair" dressing. Daily specials including fish and chips on Friday, and there was a soup of the day and chili.

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Theories abound as to what caused the demise of Gaslight Square. Some believe its very success is what killed it. Its growth lacked any kind of control. By 1965, the area was becoming dominated by discotheques with go-go dancers and loud recorded music. The charm of the original Square evaporated into noise and rowdy crowds.

Crime was a factor in the decline. Customers became reluctant to park on the streets where muggings and robberies were being reported. Fire destroyed the Musical Arts Building, including the beautiful Three Fountains and The Laughing Buddha.

A new generation was coming of age, one more interested in attending rock concerts and anti-war protests than in patronizing quiet bars and listening to bagpipes, banjos and Dixieland jazz.

One after another, the restaurants and bars closed or moved. Jack Carl moved 2¢ Plain downtown in 1965, where it thrived until he retired in 2005. Gaslight Square's last ember died in 1972, when Jack Parker moved O’Connell’s Pub to its present location at Kingshighway and Shaw.

Jack Carl looks out from 2¢ Plain, 1114 Olive Street
O'Connell's Pub, 4652 Shaw Avenue

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