Pelican's

Pelican's restaurant was housed in a three-story red brick building at Grand and Shenandoah. The structure, distinguished by its German-style turret, became a St. Louis City landmark in 1976. Today, the historic building stands vacant in the Compton Heights neighborhood, having outlived its various tenants.
 

Pelican's, 2256 South Grand, 2011
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The core of the building was constructed sometime prior to 1875, enlarged in 1878 and completely overhauled in 1895 when the Griesedieck family of brewers purchased it for a restaurant and bar, managed by Carl Anschuetz as Anschuetzís Restaurant.

According to a pamphlet written about the neighborhood in 1915, the German restaurant was a model establishment. The interior was richly fitted. The edibles and potables were nothing but the best. Only the foremost elements of society were found there.
 

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 17, 1899

In 1938, James Pelican bought the restaurant and gave it his name. Pelican converted the establishment into a highly popular family restaurant, where the menu offered fish and a wide variety of American cuisine.
 

St. Louis Public Service Company streetcar in front of Pelican's, 1940
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A menu from late 1938, shortly after Pelican bought the restaurant, lists the famous Pelicanís turtle soup at 15 cents, fried scallops at 75 cents and lobster for a dollar. Under a section headed Italian dishes, chili was 20 cents, while chili mac and chili with tamales were a quarter. The highest price on the menu was steak-for-two at a buck and a quarter.
 

By the time Pelican acquired the building, Grand and Shenandoah was no longer quite the elegant edge of the city it had been 20 years earlier. Whether for this reason or just because he liked it, Pelican installed a marvelously garish two-story neon sign with a big pelican just above a lobster. The sign graced the building until 2001.
 

Pelican's bar, 1954
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Pelican's, 1975
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Perhaps the most outstanding feature of the restaurantís interior was a mural that covered the length of one wall. It was painted in the early 1950s, but was very much 1930s.
 


 
Pelican's dining room, 1954
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In 1956, Pelican sold his restaurant to his friend Nick Laskaris. Laskaris kept the name and pretty much everything else, including the turtle soup, prepared in the Pelicanís kitchen in a two-day process. A 1969 menu included an assortment of appetizers, salads, salad plates, sandwiches, hot specialties, steaks, chops and sea foods. Distinctly Pelicanís entrees included swordfish steak, broiled halibut steak, rainbow trout, fried frog legs and broiled flounder, all at $3.25.
 

James Pelican died in 1972 at the age of 79 of a heart attack after two youths held him up as he was returning home from buying trick-or-treat candy for neighborhood children.

On May 31, 1975, Nick Laskaris was forced to close Pelican's. Pelican's wife, who still owned the building, wanted Laskaris to pay for $13,000 of proposed improvements to the interior and parking lot. Laskaris thought that too much to ask of a tenant, and chose not to renew his lease.

In 1979, Salim Hanna, the owner of Saleemís at 3170 South Grand, acquired Pelican's and reopened the restaurant. His renovation included removal of the mural. Hanna retained much of Pelican's menu, including the turtle soup, but he also integrated Saleem's Lebanese menu. Things were not the same. Hanna closed Pelican's in 1982, sold the building to Robert M. Conway Sr. and a group of investors, and moved Saleem's to the Delmar Loop in University City.
 

Matchbox (front and back), early 1980s

Conway reopened the restaurant as the Pelican Cafe and, in 1984, opened a second location at 10205 Gravois. In September 1984, Conway was denied a $525,000 loan for the restaurant. On June 16, 1985, Conway spread charcoal briquettes throughout the first floor of the Pelican's building, poured gasoline on the floor and lit it. He then went to the basement and fatally shot himself in the head. The building's interior was heavily damaged by the fire. Unscathed was the big neon sign with the yellow & white pelican.

In 1986, the Pelican's building was sold to another investment group, who transformed it into a luxury office building. The owners said the building's new usage would lend stability to the neighborhood and that restaurants were high-risk operations. However, they retained both the neon sign and the name Pelicanís for the building.
 

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 18, 1983 (above)
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 2, 1987 (right)
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After a spring windstorm in 2001, a building inspector notified authorities that the Pelican's sign was tottering on its perch. On April 26, 2001, the old neon bird was carefully brought down by workers from Spirtas Wrecking. The 20-foot sign was taken by flatbed trailer to the Lemp Brewery on Lemp and Cherokee for storage. And there it remains.


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