Inside St. Louis

Jaspers Fruit Baskets

An original water color of Jasper's by local artist Marilynne Bradley.

Jasper's Tropical Fruit Baskets & Radio Museum










     For 54 years THE place for fruit baskets in the St. Louis area is without hesitation, without a doubt, without reservation…Jasper’s Tropical Fruit Baskets. And yes the original fruit basketeer himself, Jasper Giardina, along with the able assistance of his delightful daughter Alisa, creates artful arrangements that are the stuff of which his legend has been made. As an artist would paint, Jasper designs his baskets utilizing a full palette of fruit from around the world, plus in this age of escalating prices Jasper’s baskets remain true bargains as they range from $25 to $75, increasing in $5-$10 increments. Around the holidays or for other extra-special occasions Jasper creates hard-to-believe towering baskets that sell for up to $200. And remember, even though flowers are pretty to look at, they’re not that great to eat. Jasper’s fruit baskets on the other hand are both pleasing to the eye and the palate.





     Due to his decades of contacts and associations in the fruiters world, a Jasper basket contains the highest quality of domestic and exotic fruit, unattainable to the supermarket shopper. Everything is at the peak of perfection; golden yellow bananas with unblemished skin, oranges the size of grapefruit, crisp, shiny apples of every variety and color, juicy pineapple from the tropics, tender kiwi, magnificent mangoes, pears beyond compare, fresh nuts of all types and the crème de le crème of seasonal fruits. This is the good stuff. Then each selection is lovingly constructed into an impressive work of art; covered with transparent cellophane and tied with a two color satin (not plastic) ribbon. Then the basket is delivered to a lucky recipient. It could be going to a high-ranking business executive who was promoted, a person recuperating in a hospital or at home or to someone celebrating an anniversary, birthday or baby’s arrival. The Jasper basket is perfect for a housewarming gift, to salute someone opening a new business or for sending good cheer to someone just for the fun of it. The baskets are always welcome and in all of Jasper’s years in operation, no one has ever sent a basket back.








     Unfortunately, the vast majority of those getting their gift basket delivered may never see Jasper’s most unusual and curious base of operations. His lair is three blocks east of Jefferson Blvd. on Cherokee St. at Illinois Ave. in the Antique Row district. The signs outride the building clearly state that within those walls there are two decidedly unique entities, being fruit baskets and a radio museum. Even though the Tropical Fruit baskets are the basis of Jasper’s business, that part of his dual enterprise lies far back in the dim recesses of his shop, way behind his amazing and seemingly endless collection of antique radios…the largest in the world. Jasper, at last count, has over 10,000 radios and they’re jammed and crammed into every nook and cranny of two stories and 15 rooms. His collection dwarves even that of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. and literally, every space in his place has been taken up by a radio; sometimes a radio on a radio on a radio, and each of the walls has several rows of radio packed shelves. There’s no charge to tour the museum and no shortage of stories about the assemblage from tour director Jasper who prefers buying to selling radios, and anyone in the antique field will tell you, if you have an old radio to sell, see Jasper, ‘cause you’ll get a fair price. Now why would a man who already has over 10,000 radios want more of the instruments? For that answer, you’ll need to ask Jasper.






     When Jasper was born, radio in St. Louis had only been around for 8 years and by the time he was 6, our hero, like most everyone in the nation, was hooked on radio. He’d actually listen to the family console radio from under the cabinet where he could be closest to the speaker. He could do this, as the four other kids in the family were younger, so Jasper would get his way. The family lived at Margaretta and Shreve Avenues in St. Engelbert’s Parish. Jasper attended St. Engelbert’s elementary school at 4746 Carter Avenue. This was the era of the Great Depression and radio broadcasts such as those of Amos ‘n’ Andy and FDR’s Fireside Chats had captured the hearts and minds of America. Plus for all practical purposes radio programming was free in a time when the money wasn’t always there for a ticket to the movies or other entertainment.







     But young Jasper wanted more than to just listen to radio, he wanted to have an accumulation of them, especially since he made a promise to his family that someday he’d have a radio for each of them. He started by collecting broken and discarded radios, but in order to make a living he did a stint as a busboy at the Mayfair Hotel, then gravitated to the produce business working at an outdoor stand at Union Market on 6th and Lucas Streets. With his dad, also a produce man, Jasper had worked with fruits and vegetables on the old Produce Row since he was 7 and had a knack for it. Then a little matter called the Korean Conflict came along and took Jasper away for a couple of years. Medals and photographs of his stay in the Far East can be found on the Radio Museum walls along with seemingly countless photos of celebs of all types ranging from figures such as Jay Leno, Dom Deluise, Merv Griffin and the Emperor of Japan to local characters such as Harry Fender, Jack Buck, Dana Brown and yours truly.





     There’s a growing collection of microphones, a good number of cash registers and old radio station advertising signs…but the star of the museum is “The Radio.” Most are standing as silent sentinels waiting to come to life much like a scene from Walt Disney’s “Fantasia,” but there’s always a radio on, playing something from the present or the past. On my last trip there I was lured into one of the rooms by the sound of a Wildroot Cream Oil commercial and then the theme song from the 1940s and ‘50s radio show, “The FBI In Peace And War.” That theme is from Sergei Prokofiev fairytale opera titled “The Love For Three Oranges.” I found it most appropriate for Jasper’s.






     The ambiance inside Jasper’s lair at 2022 Cherokee St. exudes history as does all of that classic old area of the City. A walk today on Cherokee, especially between Jefferson and Broadway, is dripping with memories of the past as these 9 blocks are replete with structures, large and small, dating to the time when St. Louis was but 70 to 140 years after it had been founded by the Messieurs Chouteau and Laclede.





     The dominant architectural “artifact” of the street, which in part dates to the 1850s, is the massive, brooding complex that until the Volstead Act dried out America in October of 1918, was home of the behemoth beer manufactory of the William J. Lemp Brewing Company. The days of Lemp’s Culmbacher, Standard, Tally, Tip Top and other brands of brew had come to a close. Subsequent to Prohibition, Lemp would make “near beer” for a time and also manufacture ice, but they’d soon shut down the facility as the family saw no hope that beer would ever again be legal. The International Shoe Company would buy the multi-block compound at auction on June 18th, 1922 and for decades they would use many of the buildings for manufacturing and warehousing.






     Another building of significant historic importance is the, circa 1841, Chatillon-DeMenil mansion across from the old Lemp facility at the northeast corner of DeMenil Place and Cherokee. The entrance to this Greek Revival manse is from DeMenil Place, but the front of the house faces the Mississippi River overlooking the less than historic I-55. That highway, in its original design, would have required the demolition of the mansion, the neighboring Lemp Mansion, the small residence, once the home of Albert Bittner, behind the Lemp mansion and the easternmost building of the old Lemp Brewery. Diligent efforts of historic preservationists such as the late Chapin S. Newhard of Kingsbury Place were responsible for restoration of the DeMenil house. A large mansion to the north of the Lemp Mansion, that for years was the Marian Hospital, was devoured by highway construction. Today the Chatillon-DeMenil Mansion, which operates as a museum, is in dire need of an infusion of funding to halt the deterioration of the building. It’s interesting to note that both the DeMenil and Lemp mansions are considered haunted as is the old Lemp Brewery. There’s a lovely tea-room style restaurant and banquet facility called the DeMenil Café that’s on the DeMenil mansion property. It boasts one of the most attractive small gardens in St. Louis.




     In a future article we’ll take you vicariously to the mysterious labyrinthine world of caverns just under your feet as you take your nostalgic walk on Cherokee.




Written by: Ron (Johnny Rabbitt) Elz of KMOX and Channel  5’s Show Me St. Louis.

Click here to view the images from Jaspers.


Contact Information

Jaspers Tropical Fruit Baskets and Radio Museum

2022 Cherokee St. at Illinois Ave.
St. Louis MO 63118


Monday - Friday       9 a.m. - 4 p.m.

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