St. Louis Travel Destinations: Urban Oasis in Citygarden

With a smile and simple call from his cell phone to the garden’s control room, St. Louis Mayor Francis G. Slay officially opened Citygarden, a lush urban oasis covering 2.9 acres in downtown St. Louis. “Gentlemen, it’s time to start the fountains.”

As state and local officials and guests applauded, pulsating jets of water began shooting up from 102 nozzles arranged in a grid on a bluestone plaza, 120 feet long by 36 feet wide, at the garden’s western block.

The magical moment was the culmination of 15 months of construction and an estimated $25 – $30 million in funding from the St. Louis-based Gateway Foundation. The garden occupies two blocks between Eighth and Tenth and Chestnut and Market Streets.

Twenty kinds of trees, including shade and flowering species, as well as shrubs, exotic plants and lush flowers were specifically selected in part for their ability to put on a show year round. The Missouri Botanical Garden was consulted on the selection of the plantings, most of which are native to Missouri, and will be consulted on their maintenance.

The garden features twenty-four pieces of large-scale modern and contemporary sculpture by nationally and internationally renowned artists. The sculptures show tremendous breadth – ranging from whimsical, tongue-in-cheek, and fun to somber and mysterious; from elegant, lyrical, and sensuous to geometrical and edgy and surprising; and from figurative and classical to abstract.

The cost of the sculpture, which is and will remain owned by the foundation, is separate. Going forward, Gateway Foundation will pay for all costs of Citygarden except water and electricity.

In an interview following the dedication, Mayor Slay stated enthusiastically that the Citygarden is not just a fountain garden. “It’s the whole concept of a city garden – a sculpture garden – that is free and open to the public. This really makes a strong statement about what we are as a city.”

“There’s another remarkable thing about this garden,” the Mayor continued. “It gives us something that you will not find anywhere else in the country – a completely open, accessible sculpture garden right here in the heart of downtown. Dallas and Washington, D.C. have sculpture gardens behind walls. Seatle has one, but it’s not in downtown,” stated the Mayor.

Slay said the extraordinary quality of the garden is also valuable in the standard it sets for the improvement of the rest of the Gateway Mall. “It’s going to help us bring more businesses and people to downtown. It will also help with tourism and will be a catalist for other developments.”

“We have a vision for a Gateway Mall that is more engaging and pedestrian-friendly. There is nothing more beautiful that we can do to get that started than what we did here with the Citygarden,” stated the Mayor.

“I’m already hearing from CEOs and residents about how much they love this garden,” the Mayor said. “With one stroke, Citygarden has made downtown far more attractive as a place to live because downtown’s 12,000 residents suddenly have one of the coolest urban parks in the country in their backyard.”

Brochures with a description of the sculptures can be found at several locations throughout the garden. An audio tour, accessible by cell phone at 314-802-9571, features the recorded voices of prominent St. Louisans such as Ozzie Smith, Jenna Fischer, Mayor Slay, and Joe Buck.

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