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12 St. Louisans take us back to the mid-century heyday of Gaslight Square

It spanned less than three blocks at the intersection of Olive and Boyle. And it only lasted about ten years.

But the arts and entertainment district known as Gaslight Square flourished in the 1950s and '60s, making St. Louis a national destination for music and culture.

In honor of St. Louis' 250th birthday, I took a little detour off my usual science beat to explore this extraordinary time and place in our city's history.

I spoke to as many people as I could who had experienced the district in its heyday, more than a dozen in all. Some lived there, others owned businesses. Some went there to socialize, others to perform ― both on-stage and off.

What came out of these interviews is a sometimes disparate collage of subjective memories and impressions. As you listen to the voices of the people who shared their stories with me, remember that they're recalling places and events from almost a half a century ago.

You'll hear from Bill Christman, Charlie Rose, Jack Parker, Jeter Thompson, Martha Mahon, Mary Strauss, Nancy Young, Norman Menne, Patricia Heller, Sam Clark, and St. Louis Public Radio's Dennis Owsley and Robert Duffy.

You can meet them all ― then and now ― in the slideshow below, and learn a little about their personal connections to Gaslight Square. For the curious-minded: their photos are in the order that you first hear their voices in the audio postcard.

If you went to Gaslight Square yourself, their recollections may bring back memories of your own. If they do, I encourage you to share them in the comments section of this webpage.

If, like me, you never had the chance to experience Gaslight, I hope this story will give you at least a little sense of what it must have been like to be there.

To start the slideshow, click on an image, then hover your cursor over it to see the caption.

A special thank you to Dennis Owsley and Art Chimes for providing much of the music I used in this feature, and to Stephanie Zimmerman and Madalyn Painter for their help with the second slideshow.

In the story, you heard excerpts of the following musical selections:

  • The Quartette Tres Bien playing “Boss Tres Bien,” from the Verve compilation “Latin Sounds.” Originally released on the Decca album “Boss Tres Bien” in 1964.
  • Barbra Streisand singing “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most,” by Fran Landesman. From Streisand’s album, “Just For The Record.” Her performance was originally recorded on The Tonight Show, probably on February 1, 1963.
  • Sammy Gardner & the Mound City Six playing “Tiger Rag,” on a recording from 1958. Norman Menne played trombone with Sammy Gardner’s band in Gaslight Square from 1961 to 1963, but he never recorded with them. Jim Haislip, who joined the Mound City Six after Menne left the group, played trombone on this recording.
  • Bob Dylan singing “Bob Dylan's 115th Dream,” from the album “Bringing It All Back Home,” released in 1965.
  • Jeanne Trevor and the Quartette Tres Bien performing “The Lady’s In Love With You,” by Burton Lane and Frank Loesser. Jeter Thompson played the piano on this recording from 1965.
  • Miles Davis playing “I Thought About You,” recorded in Gaslight Square in 1963, at a club called Jorgie's Hip-Intertainment. Davis was just one of the world-class musicians that St. Louis artist and club owner Jorge (Jorgie) Martinez brought to Gaslight Square, along with Stan Getz and Shirley Horn.
  • On this instrumental version of “Spring Can really Hang You Up the Most,” recorded in 1966, Herb Drury plays the piano, Jerry Cherry the base, and Phil Hulsey the drums.

This feature contains information gathered with the help of our Public Insight Network. To learn more about the network and how you can become a source, please click here.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.