Saint Louis, MO

Exploring the 1904 World's Fair Buildings Left in St. Louis

Heather Raulerson

One of my favorite movies is “Meet Me in St. Louis,” about the city of St. Louis leading up to the 1904 Worlds Fair. St. Louis put on quite the show between April 30 to December 1 for the low price tag of $15 million. Most of the buildings on the 1,200-acre site were demolished right after the fair ended; however, there are a few pieces of the 1904 World’s Fair left in St. Louis.

The St. Louis World’s Fair, also known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, was an international exposition held in St. Louis, Missouri. The World’s Fair was designed to celebrate the centennial of President Thomas Jefferson’s real estate deal with Napoleon Bonaparte. More than 60 countries and 43 of 45 states had exhibition spaces at the fair that showcased hundreds of thousands of objects, including the debut of the x-ray, fax machines, and the ice cream cone, attended by almost 19.7 million people.

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Photo by Heather Raulerson

After the fair closed, most of the structures were demolished within a short time, leaving only a few ponds and canals in Forest Park and the few remaining structures, including the Saint Louis Art Museum, the World's Fair Pavillion, and the colossal iron Flight Cage in the St. Louis Zoo. There are a couple of other places that have remnants of the World’s Fair, like the beautiful stone lanterns displayed within the Missouri Botanical Garden. The St. Louis Union Station Mirror Maze has also been reimagined from the 1904 World’s Fair.

Saint Louis Art Museum

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Photo by Heather Raulerson

The Saint Louis Art Museum was the only permanent exhibition building built for the 1904 World’s Fair. The museum houses art masterpieces and ancient artifacts reflecting thousands of years of culture from around the world. The Saint Louis Art Museum’s permanent collection is open to the public free of charge. Fun Fact: The statue of Saint Louis, King of France, outside the museum’s main entrance was originally located at the head of the Plaza during the World’s Fair. This was the first significant piece of sculpture to greet fair visitors passing through the main entrance gates.

The World’s Fair Pavilion

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Photo by Heather Raulerson

The World’s Fair Pavilion is perched high atop the Government Hill between the Art Museum and the Flight Cage. Though called the World’s Fair Pavilion, this popular gathering spot was not built until 1909. It was built on the Fair’s original Missouri Building site, and the Pavilion was designed to be a lasting memorial to the Fair. The fountain at the base of the hill was installed with rainbow-colored lights in 1930.

Saint Louis Zoo Flight Cage

Another spectacular structure remaining from the 1904 World’s Fair is at the Saint Louis Zoo. The giant walk-through iron Flight Cage was the Smithsonian Institution’s exhibit at the Fair and one of my favorite areas of the Saint Louis Zoo. It was the largest aviary ever built at 228 feet long, 84 feet wide, and 50 feet high and remains one of the largest free-flight cages in the world. The cage brings zoo visitors closer to the feathered creatures in the lushly landscaped exhibit called Cypress Swamp. Cypress Swamp is a habitat for the birds native to the lower Mississippi River and a great place to see and photograph these birds.

Stone Lanterns in the Missouri Botanical Garden

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Photo by Heather Raulerson

Beautiful Japanese stone lanterns from the 1904 World’s Fair are displayed within Seiwa-En, which is the largest traditional Japanese garden in North America within the Botanical Garden. Founded in 1859, the Missouri Botanical Garden is the nation’s oldest public garden and was one of the tourist attractions at the 1904 World’s Fair.

Saint Louis Union Station Mirror Maze

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Within the St. Louis Union Station, you can experience one of the iconic attractions of the 1904 World’s Fair, reimagined. The World’s Fair Attraction. Temple of Mirth provided fairgoers entertainment with distorting mirrors, a cave of winds, and other novelties. Today’s adventure has you navigating your way through the labyrinth of mirrors, testing your World’s Fair knowledge with interactive experiences, and explore the curiosities in the Fun House just like they did in 1904.

If you are a Saint Louis history buff, you’ll love walking through the footsteps of 1904 World’s Fair visitors in the few structures that are left. Have you been to any of these? What did you think?

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Heather is a freelance writer and photographer who loves slow travel where she can stay in one place to get to know the local scenery and culture. She is the owner of Raulersongirlstravel, a travel website sharing her solo adventures and photographs around the world.

Rochester Hills, MI
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