Great cities should have great parks. Civic boosters of St. Louis knew this and, in the 1870s, created Forest Park. It gained international recognition in 1904 when it hosted the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (aka St. Louis World’s Fair). Today, it is considered as one of the USA’s finest city parks.
Forest Park extends across 1293 acres in the West End district of the city and contains a remarkable array of natural and cultural attractions that have been integrated into the site over the past 140 years.
A significant addition to the park’s facilities came in 1936-1937 with the construction of the Jewel Box, an innovative Art Deco styled greenhouse.
Greenhouse displays had long been popular among visitors to Forest Park and, by the early 1930s, crowds exceeded the capacity of the existing facilities to accommodate them. Thanks to the leadership of then-mayor Bernard Dickmann, city bond funds and a federal Public Works Administration grant were combined to finance a new, larger facility. William C. E. Becker, the city government’s chief engineer of the Bridges and Buildings department, was given the job to design it.
Well-aware of how damage from hail storms commonly wrecked the glass roofs of greenhouses, Becker created a design which utilized only vertical side-panes of glass for the penetration of sunlight. Lengthy experimentation to determine the best way to improve interior light penetration led to the 5-level stepped configuration and north-south longitudinal axis of the building seen here. White venetian blinds were added to further moderate exposure from the light entering the greenhouse from the south elevation’s windows (see my exterior image of the building for this element).
The blocky Art Deco design and the lack of ceiling glass generated considerable criticism from the local press at first, but the public immediately embraced the building and its horticultural displays. Better yet, the building has not suffered from hail damage since its debut in the 1930s.
A number of the innovations associated with the Jewel Box can been seen in this interior image. Eight 49-ft. I-beam Rol-steel fixed arches and triangular trusses provide much of the support for the structure. Arches, instead of conventional vertical supports, were used to reduce blockage of light. Wood planking supported by iron joists make up the roof materials. Aluminum-based paint is used to prevent rusting and the growth of fungus on these critical structural components.
Tagged: , Missouri , St Louis , Forest Park , Jewel Box , interior , William C. E. Becker , greenhouses , art deco