St. Louis Snap Shots

Garavelli's Fountain




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In 1958 when Steve McQueen came to town for his role in the 1959 released movie “The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery” the fountain catty-cornered across from the original Southwest Bank building at Southwest Avenue and S. Kingshighway Boulevard wasn’t there. Many today find this odd as a great number of folks assume that this multi-level marble font is a relic from the days when Henry Shaw owned the property east of S. Kingshighway Boulevard in what’s now known as the Southwest Garden Neighborhood. But it isn’t so.

The fountain, which functions fluidly, is in the small public circle in front of the St. Louis Public Library Kingshighway branch, which actually isn’t on Kingshighway but at 2260 S. Vandeventer Avenue. The cherub topped sculpture had a previous St. Louis location, which we’ll reveal later in this, the first edition of St. Louis Snapshots. The intersection graced by the fountain is an interchange of 4 streets; Kingshighway, Shenandoah Avenue, Vandeventer and Southwest and as in most cityscapes much has changed there over the last several decades. The red brick Southwest Bank has been covered with a light colored coat of paint and a golden eagle spins atop the bank’s sign. The two story red brick Placke Chevrolet building that was a landmark at the wedge formed by Kingshighway and Vandeventer has been done away with for a typical of today generic one story auto showroom; the less than memorable Mobil station that was on the south side of the Shenandoah – Kingshighway corner, which replaced a large General Outdoor billboard and a section of a building just to its east, has long been removed; Oldani’s restaurant and bar and Nash Missouri Corporation just south of the main Southwest Bank building have been absorbed by the bank and the library stands on the spot that housed a Super Sandwich Shop at the corner and Eaker’s hamburger stand to its north. The red-headed Eaker had toiled for White Castle Systems and he was able to create the perfect Castle style burger at his little white porcelain brick diner.

Before the BP/Amoco/Standard station on the west side of the intersection on Kingshighway, the corner was “protected” by tall porcelain enamel pylon type signs that announced various businesses over the years including E. B. Jones Motors. And where the Walgreen’s is located was the Palace Bowling Alley with one of the great neon signs of all time that ran nearly the length of the building facing east that depicted a man bowling with the neon ball rolling down the alley for an inevitable strike. The bowling alley building also housed a restaurant/bar  that for a while was a Gianino’s location and for a very short time was home to Pancho’s which was a Pasta House Company stab at the Mexican food niche. Across the street on the south side of Southwest, where Harry’s is today, was the Ballerina Lounge, which was next to Mary and Joe Staebell’s wonderful small and homey Italian restaurant that opened in 1954 with dozens of good…better than good… dishes, at really low prices,  including possibly the best pizza ever. It was a regular dining haunt for Vince Cenetto. Staebell’s and the Ballerina were connected by an inner door ‘cause since Staebell’s didn’t have a liquor license you needed to get your alcoholic drinks in the adjoining bar.

Across from the library on the south side of Shenandoah was a one story strip of stores that today houses Operation Brightside but were over the years home to many tenants including Tom Galliano’s Shoe Repair shop at 4650, with Willie James as master of the shoe shine. Now this goes back to the early 1950s and if you want to know anything about the area you can still visit with Willie, and like yours truly Johnny Rabbitt or Bill and John Schicker, get the best shine in town…and good deals on new shoes as well. Oh, Willie’s moved to the circle at Vandeventer, Shaw Boulevard and Castleman Avenue. His place is called Southwest Boutique and he’s next door to The Bug Store across the circle from The Little Shop Around The Corner which is a nice antique shop operated by Shaw’s Garden. You might even run across antiquarian Debbie Fellenz as well as Jack Carl, late of Two Cents Plain, at The Little Shop.

Back by the fountain on Shenandoah, but before the fountain arrived, there was a Kroger store at 4640, an earlier location of the Kingshighway library at 4654, Isadore Zimmerman’s Drug Store at 4642, Sam Krause’s dry goods store at 4644, Dave Cella the barber at 4652, Tom Evans appliances at 4656 and among many other businesses over the years such as Fred B. Ward’s radio repair shop at 4646 with his landmark 17 foot wide porcelain neon sign that read R A D I O. It was so impressive it played a role in my inspiration to enter the field of broadcasting. Co-incidentally that RADIO sign has been located by Greg Rhomberg and is now in the collection of the Antique Warehouse.        

Oh, the fountain. We’ll the fountain’s first location in St. Louis was at Joe Garavelli’s extraordinary dining establishment that covered 301 to 313 De Baliviere Avenue at De Giverville Avenue in the Kingsbury Neighborhood. In the teens Joe would open his first place, basically a bar and steam table buffet operation ala Beffa Brothers Buffet, then would expand with a large dining room behind the original location and in the 1920s would ultimately build an ornate neighboring building complete with an arched balcony around the perimeter of the interior (great for Mah Jong and bridge clubs) and what was purported to be the largest crystal chandelier in the Western Hemisphere. Not long after the place opened he added the imposing fountain and situated it directly under the sparkling chandelier. Joe would sell the place in 1941, but since he and his wife Louise lived nearby at 5608 Pershing Avenue, he was an almost daily visitor at his old stand. For many years the new owners kept a sign on the wall behind the carving station of the steam table that Joe managed with such skill. It read: “Don’t Talk To The Motorman.” When Garavelli’s finally closed and the buildings were set for their ill-advised demolition, the fountain, with the help of the City of St. Louis, gained a new home, and that’s where it is today. In a future edition of St. Louis Snapshots we’ll have more on De Baliviere, this Garavelli’s and the other yesteryear legendary Garavelli’s locations.

We invite you to tune in to memories such as these and the great music of the fifties and sixties on my show Route 66 every Saturday night on News Radio 1120 KMOX and             

Written by:
Ron (Johnny Rabbitt) Elz – Host of Route 66 Saturday nights on News Radio 1120 KMOX &


Garavelli's Fountain
is located in Saint Louis,
Missouri ~ Click here for directions.

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