A Visit to the Spanish Pavilion in Saint Louis

John McSweeny

Saint Louis Marriott Downtown c. 2005
Saint Louis Marriott Downtown
The plaque reads: The first two floors of the building comprised the Spanish Pavilion at the 1964 New York World's Fair. The Spanish Pavilion, described as "the jewel of the New York World's Fair" by Life Magazine, was also praised by Ada Louise Huxtable, architectural critic for the New York Times as "the finest architectural building at the Fair."
At the conclusion of the Fair, Mayor Alfonso J. Cervantes of St. Louis asked Spain to give the Pavilion to St. Louis. More than 10,000 St. Louisans contribute over $1 million toward the $4 million cost of dismantling, transporting and rebuilding the Pavilion in St. Louis.
The St. Louis Spanish Pavilion opened in 1967. In 1973, construction began on a 25-story hotel tower over the courtyard. In 1979, the Marriottt Corporation assumed management of this hotel and completed its renovation.
Commemorative Plaque

In early February 2005 I had the opportunity to visit the Spanish Pavilion as it stands in the city of Saint Louis during my free time at a scientific meeting. Joining me was well known 1964-1965 New York World's Fair enthusiast Randy Treadway who also found himself in Saint Louis for a business meeting.

After airport arrival and check in at my nearby convention hotel, Randy and I headed for the Saint Louis Marriott Downtown, formerly known as the Marriott Pavilion St. Louis.

Spain at the Fair

The lack of BIE [Bureau of International Expositions] recognition for the 1964 World's Fair discouraged many countries from hosting a pavilion. Spain was not one of these countries. Its pavilion was designed by Spanish architect Javier Carvajal Ferrer with assistance from the New York firm of Kelly and Gruzen.

Although critics generally lambasted the Fair's architecture, Spain's pavilion was the recipient of frequent praise. Rosemarie Haag Bletter, for example, reported "The quiet dignity of the Spanish pavilion made it

stand out against the surrounding clutter." Likewise, Ada Louise Huxtable of the New York Times, referred to it as "The finest architectural building at the Fair." Spain's pavilion, along with those of IBM, New Jersey and Denmark, was awarded a citation for "Excellence in Design" by the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Although the pavilion included the usual displays from business and industry, these were not predominant. Instead, Spain emphasized culture and high art. Visitors were welcomed to the pavilion by a six-foot statue of Queen Isabella by contemporary sculptor José Luis Sanchez. There were frequent flamenco and ballet performances as well as rotating displays of paintings by renowned Spanish old masters such as El Greco and Goya as well as avant garde artists, including Picasso and Miro.

Historical documents, including those related to Columbus' journey to the New World, were displayed. Two fine restaurants and an informal cafe featuring international, Spanish and seafood menus were available to take care of the body after the soul and mind were sated. Clearly, Spain's pavilion represented the aspirations of the Fair at its best - to educate all by presenting the best the country had to offer.

The Journey to Saint Louis

Alfonso Cervantes, whose name immediately belies his Spanish ancestry, was the mayor of Saint Louis at the time of the Fair. He was impressed by Spain's pavilion and the idea that it would be destroyed and discarded did not sit well with him.

The early history of Saint Louis is most closely associated with France. It was founded in 1763 by Pierre Liguest Laclède and named in honor of French king "Saint" Louis the 15th. It was ceded to Spain for a 30-year period in the late 18th Century until being returned to France at the insistence of Napoleon Bonaparte who eventually sold it as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Although it remained French in population and character until its sale to a nascent United States, Saint Louis may be said to have a Spanish heritage and it was on this basis that Mayor Cervantes was able to convince Spain that Saint Louis was the appropriate place to preserve its pavilion after the Fair.

The pavilion was a gift, but the gift did not include disassembly, transportation and reassembly in Saint Louis. This would cost $4 million of which approximately $1 million was provided by over 10,000 individual donors. The transportation and reassembly took place as planned and pavilion was opened to the public in 1967.

Mayor Cervantes' concept was that the Spanish pavilion would be a downtown convention and exposition center. It was near several hotels and within sight of the recently constructed Gateway Arch. It also contained two of the restaurants which operated at the Fair. Unfortunately, things did not go well for the pavilion. The convention and exposition business did not materialize as hoped and after the novelty of going to fancy Spanish restaurants wore off, there were not enough return visitors to keep them in business. Within three years after opening, the pavilion was closed and locked up.

The next and final stage of the pavilion was as the lobby and meeting center of a downtown hotel. In a sense this was consistent with the original idea behind bringing the pavilion to Saint Louis. However, with this new plan the meeting rooms and restaurant would be integrated with a hotel rather than separate from it. The hotel tower was to rise out of the courtyard of the pavilion and construction on the "Pavilion Hotel" began in 1973. Eventually, a second tower was built. In 1979 the Marriott company assumed control of the project and completed the renovation of the pavilion and hotel.

The Pavilion Today

The hotel where the Spanish pavilion now resides is located in downtown Saint Louis between Busch Stadium and Kiener Plaza. It is across the street from the historic Saint Louis Courthouse and within walking distance of the Gateway Arch. The hotel was known as the "Marriott Pavilion Saint Louis" until at least 2002. Sometime between 2002 and 2005 the reference to the pavilion was dropped and the name changed to the "Saint Louis Marriott Downtown." However, even today [2005] the web address for the hotel contains the letters "STLPV" at the end which suggest "Saint Louis Pavilion" and the hotel restaurant is named the "Pavilion." In addition, there is a plaque at the entrance to the hotel that explains its history.

As you approach the hotel's main entrance on Broadway and Market and compare the view to the various pictures of the pavilion on the nywf64.com website you can see that the configuration of the exterior of the pavilion remains intact. Even the two flag poles appear to be close to their original locations.

The small white outcropping at the right of the pavilion [The Madrid Tavern during the Fair] is now "Pitcher's Sports Bar and Grille." It has two windows and a door but otherwise looks pretty much the same as it did in 1964-65. Just west of the main entrance and behind the Bar an addition has been attached to the pavilion. This encloses an escalator and small second floor lobby area.

The wall of the east side of the building has stained glass embedded in it. Presumably at one time light was allowed to shine through the glass but this is no longer the case. The interior wall behind the stained glass is now solid.

This wall was an exterior wall of the Museum in the Spanish Pavilion at the World's Fair, specifically, the room in which were displayed Romanesque paintings and medieval sculpture. The window was made specially for the Pavilion by artist Manuel Molezun and was intended to enhance the atmosphere of the room. The image on the right is taken from the Guide to the Pavilion of Spain and shows how the Stained Glass looked in the Pavilion at the Fair.
Stained-Glass Wall  Stained-Glass Wall at the Fair
The main portion of the pavilion is composed of two floors and a lower level. The first floor includes the hotel lobby, a Kinko's and a Starbuck's Coffee shop in addition to several meeting rooms. The Pavilion restaurant is in the lower level west of the lobby. The second floor contains additional meeting rooms and the interior has little to suggest the structure's unique history. Accordingly, my pictures of the interior are all from the first floor. I do not recall the interior from the Fair well enough to know how much is original. Certainly, pictures of the original courtyard indicate that major changes have been made in that area. A roof now covers the courtyard and a tower rises out of the center! However, much of the interior of the first floor is at least in character with the original.

The first of the following pictures is a view facing Broadway and shows the main lobby and front desk. The edge of the Starbucks sign is just visible on the left.

Hotel Lobby

Another view of the lobby looks toward the north side of the hotel just east of the Starbucks.

Hotel Lobby

A final view of the lobby is from a different angle than the first two.

Hotel Lobby

This picture shows the fountain in more detail. It certainly looks like it is an original fixture from the pavilion but I do not know for sure.


There is a corner of the lobby on the south side next to the elevators that has two interesting artifacts that appear to be original. The first is a seat and the second is a statue of Queen Isabella. Although this appears to be the Isabella statue that stood outside the Pavilion at the Fair, I understand that more than one copy of the Sanchez statue was cast so I cannot be sure.

Here's the seat, which has a good deal of ornate carving and currently has some cleaning supplies unceremoniously stored under and next to it .

Carved Bench

Next we have Queen Isabella offering her jewelry to finance Columbus' trip to the New World.

Queen Isabella Statue

Not far away from the main lobby on the first floor is a series of meeting rooms, including one with an ornately carved wood door that must certainly been from the original pavilion.

Carved Panel

The final picture in this series is of the entrance to the Pavilion restaurant. Unfortunately, Randy and I arrived after their closing time (9:00 PM) so we were unable to dine there as planned. However we did find a pleasant Italian restaurant across Kiener Plaza and were able to pass some time over pasta and beer discussing matters of importance and insignificance related to the Spanish pavilion and the Fair.

Pavilion Restaurant

Closing Thoughts

While all Fair enthusiasts would prefer to see the pavilions preserved as they were in 1964-65 we know this is impossible. Even the pavilions that remained in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park have undergone significant changes, some for the better and others not for the better. All things considered, I think that the Marriott Corporation is to be commended for keeping the Spanish Pavilion basically intact and in good condition. Adapting it for use as a hotel lobby, restaurant and meeting area was a clever idea and ensured that the pavilion was preserved in some form.

Marriott is fairly low key about the hotel's history. The only external clues are the plaque near the main entrance and the name of the restaurant. However, I think that World's Fair enthusiasts will be pleased at what they see if they visit. If you find yourself in Saint Louis, definitely go over and take a look.


Source: Television KSDK, August 8, 2005

Downtown Marriott Pavilion Sold

By Randy Jackson

A St. Louis landmark is being sold.
The Marriott Pavilion Hotel across from Busch Stadium may still have the sign today, but soon it will say Hilton.
Before the Marriott pavilion stood in the shadow of Busch Stadium, it stood in the shadow of the world as the Spanish Pavilion at the 1964 Worlds Fair.
The late St. Louis mayor Aolphonso J. Cervantes hatched the idea of dismantling it and re-assembling it in St. Louis.
"My husband loved the idea of having it because it was going to bring a lot of people," says former St. Louis First Lady Carmen Cervantes.
Cervantes remembers going to New York with the St. Louis Ambassadors, and notables like Stan Musial and August Busch III to help take possession of the building from the Spanish government.
"I said I think I've only seen it once before and am just as impressed this time even in the stage of dismantle," said Cervantes.
The pavilion, with it's statues of Queen Isabella and tile floors eventually became a Marriott hotel, but that's about to change.
Robert O'Loughlin, President of Lodging Hospitality Management (LHM), says there are big plans in store for the property. "We're going to change it to a Hilton, spend about $15-million on a completely new lobby, completely new motor entrance, re-do all of the guest rooms, and I think it'll be someplace St. Louisans will be very proud of."

Marriott Pavilion Hotel

LHM says they're going to be very careful about the renovations. They say there could be hidden treasures that few people know about hidden behind the walls.

Carmen Cervantes has a photograph of a rare 30 foot mural by the Spanish artist Vaquero Turcious. She believes it could still be there.

"It was gong up the escalator to the theater," says Cervantes. So, we tracked down Marriott building engineer Gary Gebhard, who amazingly remembers sealing the masterpiece from view.

"We didn't think it fit into the decor but we didn't want to destroy it, so we basically covered it up with wall, but it's still back there in good shape," said Gebhart.

The property's new owners say the hotel's location to the new ballpark is a treasure itself, echoing thoughts from 40 years ago, when a piece of Spain took root in St. Louis.

Said Cardinal great Stan Musial in a 1965 interview about the pavilion's proximity to the then new Busch Stadium, "I'm sure it'll fit right nicely down town next door to the ballpark in St. Louis."


Webmaster's note- My special thanks to John McSweeny for his essay on the Marriott Pavilion Hotel. John submitted his essay back in 2005 and waited seven long years for me to finally do a Feature on the Spanish Pavilion. Thanks, John, for your patience and support. If anyone would like to update the story with some insight as to how the hotel looks today and if there's anything there that can still connect the hotel to the Spanish International Pavilion, please email me. I will promise to get it online before 2019!

-Bill Young, April 5, 2012