This 1.9 acre park, dedicated in 1962, is a connector of sorts between the Gateway Arch on the Mississippi riverfront and the Gateway Mall, a series of several parks along Market Street in the Downtown and Downtown West Neighborhoods. The park takes its name from Harry J. Kiener:
This plaza was erected as a memorial to Harry J. Kiener (1881-1960). He was an amateur sportsman and member of the U.S. track team at the 1904 Olympics held in St. Louis during the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. The Plaza's centerpiece is a pool and fountain containing a statue known as "The Runner" by sculptor William Zorach.
Kiener Plaza was one of several projects connected to the massive urban renewal projects that changed the face of St. Louis during the administration of Mayor Raymond R. Tucker. Located in the heart of downtown St. Louis, Kiener Plaza and the adjacent Morton D. May Amphitheater command a dramatic view of the Old Courthouse, and the Gateway Arch. Kiener Plaza was erected upon St. Louis City Block 114, the former site of Laclede hotel and Senate Theater. (source)Yes, the "urban renewal" era of St. Louis was brutal; buildings were destroyed and the urban fabric that brought density and tightly packed businesses, hotels and residences were deleted...and now we have green space which has essentially made dead zones in the heart of Downtown. Unless this area is programmed and there is a scheduled event, the area is devoid of people shy of the homeless who are here throughout the year.
Here are some examples of what used to be in this part of town before urban renewal.
The Senate Theater
The Laclede Hotel
The destruction didn't end there. The St. Francis Hotel and many others were destroyed for the massive "clearance" during the dark days of St. Louis.
St. Francis Hotel
We used to be a dense, urban city before "renewal"
Read the blog "Before Kiener Plaza & Morton D. May Ampitheater" on Vanishing STL.
The past is the past, so it goes.
Back to the current state. The park is highlighted by the May Amphitheater and "The Runner" sculpture. I'll start by showing you the amphitheater, dedicated in 1982 according to the city website, or 1987 per the dedication plaque on the property. Either way, this thing is right outta the 1980's...but it works and is actually a pretty nice space.
The amphitheater takes its name from Morton D. May (1914-1983), a local art collector and heir to May Department stores (Famous-Barr). May donated many, many works of art to the St. Louis Art Museum.
Morton D. "Buster" May
May Amphitheater, is really a nice setting and is well done. The only downside is it needs structured programming to activate the space. Meaning, there are not enough people downtown to make it a vibrant, useful space. It sits empty aside from many homeless who use the park regularly and a smattering of tourists and visitors. Today I talked to a homeless guy who had caught a baby rabbit and was trying to keep it as a pet.
The surviving classic architecture surrounding Kiener Plaza is beautiful and the modern stuff is cool too.
Then you have "The Runner", probably one of the most recognizable and photographed scenes downtown with views of the recently preserved/renovated Old Courthouse.
The Runner is a work from Lithuanian-born immigrant William Zorach.
William Zorach circa 1917, photographed by Man Ray
Zorach Gorfinkel was born in 1889 into a Lithuanian Jewish family as the eighth of ten children, Zorach (then his given name) emigrated with his family to the United States in 1894. They settled in Cleveland, Ohio under the name "Finkelstein". In school, his first name was changed to "William" by a teacher. Zorach stayed in Ohio for almost 15 years pursuing his artistic endeavors. He worked as a lithographer as a teenager and went on to study painting with Henry G. Keller at the Cleveland School of Art from 1905–1907. In 1908, Zorach moved to New York in enroll in the National Academy of Design. In 1910, Zorach moved to Paris with Cleveland artist and lithographer, Elmer Brubeck, to continue his artistic training at the La Palette art school. While in Paris, Zorach met Marguerite Thompson (1887–1968), a fellow art student of American nationality, whom he would marry on December 24, 1912, in New York City. The couple adopted his original given name, Zorach, as a common surname. Zorach and his wife returned to America where they continued to experiment with different media. In 1913, works by both Zorach and Marguerite, were included in the now famous Armory Show, introducing his work to the general public as well as art critics and collectors. Both William and Marguerite were heavily influenced by cubism and fauvism. They are credited as being among the premiere artists to introduce European modernist styles to American modernism. (source)There is a great story on the sculpture and the man who posed as the runner for Zorach on the St. Louis Jewish Light website in a blog by Robert A. Cohn. Here's an excerpt from Mr. Cohn's story:
Not only was the sculptor a Jewish artist, but the model for the "Runner" statue was Rabbi Peter J. Rubinstein, now spiritual leader of the Central Synagogue in New York City. He posed as the lithe young runner when he was a 22-year-old rabbinical student in New York.
I met Rabbi Rubinstein at the Kiener Plaza Fountain, accompanied by longtime Jewish Light photographer David Henschel, who was able to get a nice shot of the rabbi assuming his original pose right in front of the statue.
He shared with me that in 1964, as a first-year rabbinical student, he posed for the statue in Zorach's Brooklyn Heights studio. The statue was built with a $200,000 bequest from the estate of St. Louisan Harry J. Kiener, who died in 1960, at age 80. Kiener, a prominent local civic leader and steel company executive, had been a track star in his youth, and had run the half-mile in the 1904 Olympics at the St. Louis World's Fair in Forest Park. (No, Mr. Kiener himself was not Jewish).
Kiener's will stated that the $200,000 would be used "for the purpose of erecting a monument...to be in the form of a fountain (to) have as its motif ‘athletics' and include an athletic figure or figures, to provide for the use of colors by night, and to contain an inscription ‘Donated by Harry J. Kiener, Born in City of St. Louis on Feb. 27, 1881."
Originally an advisory committee of art authorities recommended a non-figurative design by the late Alexander Calder that "communicated the spirit of athletic movement," but the design was rejected by the trustees' law department and executive committee, which concluded it did not conform to the letter of Kiener's wishes. That's when the famous Zorach was commissioned for the gig.
Here's the photo that Cohn was referring to:
Big changes are on the horizon for Kiener Plaza as the $380M Arch project includes upgrading the park.