Tales From a Forest Park Trolley Ride-Along
Guest Blogger Tim Fox spent a recent Sunday afternoon trolley-hopping through Forest Park — for free, thanks to Ride Free Sundays during the 2018 season. He shared his impressions (and a few photos) with us.
When Metro Transit’s Forest Park Trolley added a second line in 2017, it greatly improved how quickly riders could get to their desired locations. And with Forest Park Forever subsidizing Ride Free Sundays in 2018, and all-day service costing just $2 for adults and $1 for children ages 5-12 every other day, there’s no reason not to climb on board these trolley-themed buses and enjoy a full day of touring the sites and surprises the Park offers, car-free.
The Blue Trolley route covers the western half of Forest Park, while the Green Trolley route explores the Park’s east side. Both routes originate at the Forest Park-DeBaliviere Transit Center.
Whether you choose the Blue or Green Trolley route — they are designated by electronic marquees at the front of the buses — your journey will take you into the Park after crossing Lindell Boulevard in front of the Missouri History Museum, about where the main gate stood for the 1904 World’s Fair.
For my adventures, I chose to start on the Blue Trolley route. Both routes stop first near the south side of the History Museum. I stepped into the museum to see its current exhibit, Panoramas of the City, which features more than 50 early 20th-century panoramic photos, blown up for an immersive experience. And since I didn’t have to worry about grabbing the next trolley — they run about every 15 minutes on weekends — I grabbed a snack in the museum shop before returning to the trolley stop.
The plop-plop of handballs greeted me at the next stop, the Dennis & Judith Jones Visitor and Education Center. Located across the street from the historic Dwight F. Davis Tennis Center, the Visitor Center is the headquarters of Forest Park Forever and features a coffee shop, community meeting rooms, lockers and more.
The Blue and Green routes diverge after the Boathouse/Muny stop, halfway around Pagoda Circle. I almost hopped off, but since I knew I’d visit the stop again on the Green Trolley, I stayed on board for the short climb to the World’s Fair Pavilion.
Despite its name, the World’s Fair Pavilion was not built for the fair. It was constructed in 1909 with proceeds from the international event, one of the few to be profitable during that era. It offers a breathtaking view of the formal fountains and landscaping at the bottom of the hill, as well as Post-Dispatch Lake and the skyline of Clayton to the west.
A short ride down the hill leads to the Zoo stop. I followed St. Louis architect William Bernoudy’s serpentine wall to the Flight Cage, commonly known as “the bird cage.” I could have gotten back on the Trolley for a ride to Art Hill, but I decided to walk up through Shakespeare Glen, home of Shakespeare Festival St. Louis. Note to self: this year’s outdoor production, Romeo & Juliet, starts June 1!
The crest of Art Hill, home of the Saint Louis Art Museum and the iconic statue of King Louis IX, may be the most iconic vista in Forest Park. Art Hill was the centerpiece of the 1904 World’s Fair. Festival Hall and its 3,500-seat auditorium stood about where King Louis is now. From this viewpoint, fairgoers could watch the Cascades flowing down Art Hill into the Grand Basin below, with the large exhibit palaces looming beyond.
As the Blue Trolley glides down Art Hill to its next stop at the Emerson Grand Basin, watch out the left windows for the statue of Edward Bates. Bates was not only Missouri’s first attorney general, but the statue honoring him was the first placed in Forest Park, in 1876. It was moved to its current location at the intersection of Fine Arts Drive and Lagoon Drive in the mid-1930s.
At the Emerson Grand Basin stop I took in the majestic fountains and stunning view looking uphill toward the Art Museum. An outdoor yoga class underway captured the serene space perfectly.
Riding back to where I would switch to a Green Trolley at the Visitor Center stop, I enjoyed views of the Norman K. Probstein Golf Course to my left and the Park’s waterway to my right.
My next departure point was the Boathouse/Muny stop. The Boathouse restaurant has new operators in 2018, and in addition to dining, you can rent a canoe or paddleboat to explore Post-Dispatch Lake — a perfect date activity. The nearby Muny, which is marking its centennial this year, is another classic St. Louis date-night choice.
The first thing I noticed when I got off the Green Trolley at the Jewel Box stop was the rehabilitated forest west of McKinley Drive. Signs explain Forest Park Forever’s conservancy efforts in the Park. In addition to the stunning Jewel Box, built during the Great Depression, the stop features a Korean War memorial and the granite gates from Vandeventer Place, a once-fashionable neighborhood where the Veterans’ Administration Hospital now stands on Grand Avenue.
The Green Trolley’s last stop before heading back to the Forest Park-DeBaliviere MetroLink Station is the Saint Louis Science Center’s James S. McDonnell Planetarium. Tom Friedman’s 2014 stainless-steel statue Looking Up rivals architect Gyo Obata’s 1963 hyperboloid structure as eye candy. Nearby, a Blue Angel jet — built in St. Louis by McDonnell Douglas — and statues of a T-Rex and Triceratops join past and present.
Riding back on Clayton Avenue, I thought about the Central West End skyline on my right and the St. Louis Police Horse Stables to my left. It seemed the perfect way to end my tour: 21st-century construction at Washington University School of Medicine alongside the 20th-century Chase Park Plaza, and a 19th-century mode of transportation grazing along busy Highway 40. A timeless scene, all for free, and all without stepping foot in a car!
The #3 Forest Park Trolley service is a partnership between Forest Park Forever, Metro Transit, Missouri History Museum, Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis Science Center, Saint Louis Zoo and the City of St. Louis Dept. of Parks, Recreation and Forestry.
Tim Fox is Principal at the Write Fox LLC and co-author of From the Palaces to the Pike: Visions of the 1904 World’s Fair. He lives with his family in the Southampton neighborhood.