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After Legal Dispute, Busch Stadium Birthday Cake Won't Return

(Courtesy: Linda Gurney)

Although the St. Louis Cardinals have returned to Busch Stadium for a playoff run, one thing is still missing: The fiberglass cake that was originally placed at the stadium celebrating St. Louis’ 250th anniversary.

And, there’s no longer a question of whether the cake will return before the end of year. It will not be available to the public in any capacity.

The colorful 4-foot sculpture that used to sit in front of the Stadium is adorned with the Cardinals’ trademarked logo and iconic “Birds on the Bat.” It is one of about 250 cakes placed at notable locations throughout the St. Louis area. The Cakeway to the West project was organized by STL250, the group spearheading the city’s semiquincentennial commemoration.

Each host location owns the cake located at its site and, as such, makes the final decision on what happens to it. STL250 contracted with more than 150 artists to paint the cakes. STL250 has an agreement with each host location that the cakes are to be displayed until the end of the year. For its cake, the St. Louis Cardinals made a donation to the not-for-profit STL250 organization.

When Did The Cake Disappear?

St. Louis Public Radio first reported in mid-August that the St. Louis Cardinals, on the advice of its attorney, removed the cake because of a dispute between the cake’s artist, Katherine Nelson, and STL250.

Rumors as to why the cake disappeared began swirling among the 1,800-members of a “cake hunting” group on Facebook. Among other tidbits of misinformation, was that the Cardinals removed the cake because they were concerned about civil unrest related to the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson.

From the time the cake disappeared up until one week ago, Erin Budde, STL250’s volunteer executive director, said she was optimistic the cake would return. “What I’ve been communicating to our cake users is that it is unavailable for viewing at this time and we are working to get it back on display,” Budde said.

The Dispute

Artist Katherine Nelson doesn’t like the term “dispute” and said there has never been one.

However, Budde and Ron Watermon, vice president of communications for the St. Louis Cardinals, said there was a dispute that is now resolved.

According to Nelson, the problem had to do with how she was recognized for her artwork. She said she asked for and received a letter from Budde affirming there would be a plaque placed on the cake identifying her as the artist.

“I know that a lot of people were cued into the STL250 cakes but there were numerous people that were not,” Nelson said. “I was trying to find a solution for signage to the cakes. I approach it from an educational point of view, as an observer. When I go to an exhibit, I want to learn more about it and learn more about the artist.”

Nelson said she likes to be identified via her website, KatherineNelsonArt.com. She said she prefers that because she has a generic name.

Budde said she did indeed send Nelson a letter agreeing to put a plaque on the cake. However, STL250 wasn’t able to follow through on that because the St. Louis Cardinals retain possession of the cake.

“STL250 recruited and worked with more than 150 artists for Cakeway to the West. The project has benefited from their talent and their passion for the St. Louis region,” Budde said. “We have attempted to provide those artists with credit for their wonderful works of art. Unfortunately, in this instance, the artist made a request for credit that STL250 was unable to provide.”

Budde said there were other issues aside from signage that Nelson raised, but she declined to share Nelson’s other requests.

As far as the St. Louis Cardinals are concerned, Ron Watermon said the organization removed the cake to resolve the dispute.

“We were proud to play a part in celebrating our community’s 250th birthday by purchasing and displaying an artist-decorated cake at Busch Stadium throughout the 2014 season,” Watermon said.

“On the advice of our attorney, we removed our cake from public display a little earlier than planned to help resolve the matter. We are pleased the dispute was resolved and, more importantly, that we could play a positive role in marking this historic community milestone,” he said.

Erin Budde said she asked the St. Louis Cardinals about other options for displaying the cake. But after much discussion she said “the best option for both STL250 and the St. Louis Cardinals, in this situation, was to remove the cake from display.”

While Watermon and Budde declined to comment on any other disagreements, artist Katherine Nelson said she sent a letter to both organizations inquiring whether the St. Louis Cardinals “were interested in talking about something after the agreement between STL250 and the Cardinals ended on December 31st.”

Credit (Courtesy: Linda Gurney)
A back view of the STL250 Busch Stadium cake that was removed in mid-August.

Overall, A Success

Although the highly visible cake outside of Busch Stadium is no longer on view and fans of the STL250 sculptures continue to wish for its return, those involved in the dispute are satisfied.  Artist Katherine Nelson, Erin Budde of STL250 and Ron Watermon of the St. Louis Cardinals all agreed they were pleased to be a part of the community’s 250th anniversary celebration.

“I think STL250 did a great job reaching out to the community,” Nelson said.

Budde said the goal of Cakeway to the West was to give “people living in St. Louis or visiting St. Louis an opportunity to get to know some of the most diverse sites in the region and that they would have a chance to explore new places and visit old ones.”

Budde said the cakes have spurred conversations and that the project has delivered on every one of the groups’ hopes. “We have schools that are incorporating Cakeway to the West in their curriculum, we have families taking trips to explore them and there are bus tours,” she said.

What Happens To The Cakes At The End Of The Year?

Because each host location owns the cake assigned to it, each organization gets to decide what happens to their cake.

Budde said she’s been hearing various ideas from several organizations.

Some organizations have already said that they plan to keep the cake displayed, others will move cakes that are currently outdoors inside for a historical display. Budde said some nonprofit organizations have thought about auctioning their cake to further their cause and some cakes may become part of a museum collection or be placed at a library.

Ron Watermon of the St. Louis Cardinals said the organization isn’t sure what it will do with its cake.

It currently resides in storage at an undisclosed location.

For more of our coverage on the STL250 cakes, we created a map that allows you to see the cake closest to you; and we profiled one woman who’s visited every cake.

Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.