After the Fair - On to Saint Louis!

With people as with nations, the simplest gestures of enthusiasm are often the most revealing. While some are saying Friends, don't go home; stay with us, others are saying The Spanish pavilion is the home in New York of all the Hispanic peoples. What is significant is that these should be, on the one hand, Americans from the States who have got to know Spain in the Pavilion at the World's Fair and, on the other hand, New York's Porto (sic) Ricans, in their great fiesta on the first Sunday in June, along Fifth Avenue.
Many have asked that the Spanish Pavilion be kept open after the New York Word's Fair, perhaps as a gem of its kind; but many more are asking that the Pavilion of Spain, after October 1965, should be the House of Spain in New York for all Americans.
Rally in support of keeping the Pavlion in NY
Source: 1965 Guide Pavilion of Spain

Artist's rendering of the Spanish International Pavilion in Saint Louis
Artist's Rendering

The Pavilion of Spain would not remain in Flushing Meadows Park as the House of Spain in New York for all Americans. Robert Moses' grand plan for a great park after the Fair left no room in its acreage for such a structure no matter how beautiful or well received it was during the Fair. Rather, the pavilion was destined to make a 900-mile journey west by truck and by rail to the City of Saint Louis on the banks of the Mississippi River where it would become The Spanish International Pavilion - a crown jewel in the city's new and exciting Tourist Triangle, along with Eero Saarinen's architectural and engineering marvel, the Gateway Arch, and the city's Busch Memorial Sports Stadium which would be completed in 1966.

The government of Spain gifted the Pavilion to the city at the request of Saint Louis' dynamic mayor Alfonso J. Cervantes (August 27, 1920 – June 23, 1983). Elected mayor in 1965, Cervantes had visited the Fair and fell in love with the Spanish Pavilion. Known as the "Salesman Mayor," he had been successful in getting a $2 million bond issue passed for completion of the Gateway Arch and grounds which comprise the Jefferson National Westward Expansion Memorial, the Museum of Westward Expansion and the Old Courthouse. Cervantes felt that the Pavilion, with its beautiful architecture, excellent restaurants and stunning exhibit halls, would be an important addition to the downtown's blossoming tourism area.

St. Louis Mayor
Alfonso J. Cervantes
Alfonso J. Cervantes

A non-profit organization, The Spanish International Pavilion Foundation, Inc., was organized to raise the funds necessary to bring the Pavilion to Saint Louis since no tax funding was requested for the project. For the $5.5 million cost to relocate the Pavilion the city would not only get the building, it would also be gifted all of the contents created specifically for the Pavilion (sans the Picassos!) including magnificent pieces of stained glass, paintings, photographs and sculpture; all of the contents right down to the tableware and cutlery created for its restaurants.

Top: Dedication Day of the Spanish International Pavilion in Saint Louis, May 24, 1969. Middle & Bottom: Thousands of people turn out for Dedication Day and to tour the Pavilion.
Source: Archival Footage, KSDK Channel 5 Television, St. Louis, Missouri -
Dedication Day Parade Dedication Day Parade
Crowds at Pavilion Entrance Crowds Tour Pavilion Courtyard
Crowds in Pavilion Giftshop Pavilion and Busch Stadium

On May 24, 1969, a crowd of some thirty thousand people gathered in downtown Saint Louis for the dedication of the Spanish International Pavilion. Festivities included a parade and a gala opening. The summer of 1969 saw throngs of people visiting the newest attraction to the city's downtown. But within months the crowds fell off and the Pavilion and its backers soon found themselves in financial difficulties. Within a year the Pavilion sat vacant and abandoned at the corner of Broadway and Market and the Foundation which owned and operated the Pavilion was bankrupt.

Source: Top: Postcard by St. Louis Color Postcard Co., St. Louis. Bottom: Postcard by HS Crocker Co., Inc., Oklahoma City
Postcard Aerial View
Postcard Aerial Views of the downtown Saint Louis "Tourist Triangle" in 1972.
Postcard Aerial View
The Spanish International Pavilion is circled in red on these cards.

In 1976, seeing a need for a hotel near the Busch Stadium ballpark, developer Don Breckenridge purchased the Pavilion with plans to convert it into a hotel. A twenty-five story tower was constructed over the central open courtyard of the Pavilion and it then became known as The Breckenridge Inn.

Architect's Rendering of the Proposed Breckenridge Inn
Artist's Rendering

In 1979 the Marriott Corporation purchased The Breckenridge Inn and completed the hotel conversion. In 1981 Marriott added a second multi-story tower, this time over the portion of the Pavilion that had once housed the Theatre. Through both conversions, developers kept the flavor of the Pavilion's Spanish origins, retaining sculpture and artwork. Marriott renamed the structure the Marriott Pavilion Saint Louis and later simply Saint Louis Marriott Downtown.

Marriott Pavilion Saint Louis c. 1989
Source: KSDK Channel 5 Television, St. Louis, Missouri -
Marriot Pavilion Hotel

In 2005, the hotel changed hands once again when it was sold to the Hilton chain. Hilton undertook major renovations at that time and renamed it the Hilton-Saint Louis at the Ballpark. Although portions of the exterior still retain the facade of the Spanish Pavilion, it now has the appearance of an ordinary big-city hotel. Much of the graceful elegance of the original Spanish Pavilion has been lost in the several conversions and renovations. It is unknown if the Hilton renovation retained any of the interior aspects of the pavilion. A perusal of its website shows a modern hotel interior with nothing resembling the interiors of the original Spanish Pavilion.

Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark Hotel c. 2012
Hilton Hotel Entrance Hilton Hotel Night
Hilton Hotel Day

Source: The New York Times, June 30, 1970

New York World's Fair Hit Turns Into St. Louis Fiasco
The Spanish Pavilion from the New York World's Fair, transplanted to a site near the Gateway Arch in St. Louis
The Spanish Pavilion in St. Louis

Special to the New York Times
ST. LOUIS--After the Cardinals won a recent game with a timely hit by their Spanish-speaking second baseman, Julian Javier, several jubilant fans were walking past a vacant building near the stadium.
"I've got it!" yelped one. "Let's call it Casa Javier and make it a rest home for retired Caribbean ball players." The fan's idea scarcely the most far-fetched proposal for what to do with St. Louis's newest white elephant -- the Spanish Pavilion, transplanted from New York's 1964-65 World's Fair at a cost of nearly $6-million.
Closed April 20 after less than a year of debt-ridden operation, the pavilion is now entangled in a legal jungle of suits and countersuits that may keep it shut for years. But St. Louisans continue to invent new uses for it.
Among recent suggestions are a "permanent" city fair, a convention and visitor's center, a "little Las Vegas" gambling casino, a motel and a residence for Mayor Alfonso J. Cervantes. But the housewife who came up with the last proposal stipulated that the Mayor "should have to live in it and and pay all the bills out of his own pocket."
From the start the pavilion has been the Mayor's personal project. When a friend called to tell him the building (acclaimed by some as "the jewel of the fair") might be available, he flew to New York and announced "I've never seen anything like it in my life."
He promptly set out to move and rebuild the pavilion here. When the fund drive fell far short of its goal, he decided to go ahead anyway. "At this exciting time in our history," he said, "it is appropriate to be not only imaginative but even daring."
The pavilion finally opened in May, 1969, with 10 days of festivities. The cast of "Man of La Mancha" sang "The Impossible Dream"; Spain's Minister of Information, the Mayor of Seville

and Jose' Ferrer flew in for the occasion; several hundred St. Louisans paid $1,000 per couple to dance at the inaugural "Beile de la Rosas," and as each woman sat down at the banquet a servant placed a red cushion beneath her feet. The Mayor, calling it the most enthusiastic, responsive people's project in the history of any city, dubbed the building The People's Pavilion.

But the people stayed away. Although a research concern projected 2,250,000 visitors a year, only 450,000 showed up between May and December -- most of them out-of-towners.

All three restaurants in the pavilion lost money, particularly the elegant Toledo, which featured Canbrico Sea Bass en Papillote (for two), at $14 and Spanish Prawns in Champagne Sauce, $7.

Manuel Ortuno, who presided over both the Pavilion's extravagant success in New York and its disaster here, shook his head recently and said: "People here just don't go out at night. They go to work, then they go home, drink beer and watch baseball."

But Marvin Klaman, lawyer for the savings and loan association that now controls the empty building, says the old management ran the pavilion as a "country club for aficionados." He promised that whatever it was destined to become would have "a real St. Louis flavor."

Critics of Mayor Cervantes see the pavilion fiasco as a prime example of the Mayor's flamboyant, improvisational style. ("I have a tendency to shoot from the hip," he told some staff members when he took office. "Sometimes I hit; sometimes I don't.")
Another mayoral miss was the Santa Maria, the reproduction of Columbus's flagship, which was also a star attraction at the World's Fair. She went first to Washington but was put up for sale last year, and Mayor Cervantes snapped her up for $375,000 (raised by 10 friends in the business community).

In April, 1969, the 90-foot vessel was open to the public at berth in the Mississippi below Eero Saarinen's towering Gateway Arch. But two months later, a violent storm swept her from her mooring and she sank several miles downstream just off the Illinois shore.

For months, controversy raged about whether to bother repairing the ship. Many St. Louisans had their doubts, reinforced when Samuel Eliot Morrison, a leading naval historian, said the ship was not a reproduction at all but merely "one version of an educated guess."

But this week the still unfloatable ship will go back on the riverfront -- this time cradled on a steel framework between two barges that will also serve as a souvenir shop, snack bar and restaurant. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch denounced the project as a "cheap, honky-tonk, carnivalized tourist trap."

There was some skepticism this spring when the Mayor enthusiastically welcomed a businessman's proposal for another major project -- a $6-million aquarium on the riverfront.

The next day, State Representative Thomas A. Walsh, a St. Louis Democrat, introduced a resolution in the State Legislature hailing the plan with tongue in cheek as comparable only "to the pyramids of Egypt or the great Sphinx."

The resolution recommended that the aquarium be named "Alfonso's Watery World of Aquatic Amazements" and went on to say: "The vision of thousands of rare and brilliantly marked tropical fish gracefully swimming about in a $6-million fishbowl, pectoral and dorsal fins glittering in golden sunlight with possibly a small replica of some ancient but famous ship floating on placid waters for a final touch of reality, is a vision that boggles the mind of those unfortunate ones plagued with a lack of cultural sophistication."

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