Gaslight Square was a compact thriving entertainment district that was far more notorious than New Orleans' Bourbon Street at the time. The Square occupies the area surrounding Olive and Boyle Streets in the Central West End. Original music was everywhere and the streets were lined with packed clubs and restaurants.
The area was founded by the beatniks of the early 1950's. This generation began questioning traditional majority values in art, literature, and political self expression. Like New York's Greenwich Village, a central hub of The Beat Generation, Gaslight Square in St. Louis supported and helped construct this important alternative American scene. Writers Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg and others traveling coast to coast would make that deliberate stop in St. Louis to witness Gaslight Square.
Many top entertainers such as The Smothers Brothers, Lenny Bruce, Miles Davis, Barbra Streisand, Jackie Mason, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Woody Allen, Dick Gregory, Jack E. Leonard, and Phyllis Diller, graced the stages of Gaslight Square early in their careers. The area boasted of live jazz, poetry, great food, Irish dancing, and street cars. It would take a half hour to go 2 blocks by car due to both the pedestrian and automobile traffic. Gaslight Square was truly a unique hot area of sophisticated entertainment.
Gaslight Square fell victim to suburban flight and urban decay in the surrounding areas as early as the 1970s. It spent many years as a home to sleazy bars; the last establishment, the Prestige Lounge, shut down in 1990. By the late 1990s most of the buildings were long gone; those that remained stood open and rapidly deteriorating.
Not a trace of Gaslight Square remains today, aside from the website gaslightsquare.org
In 2005, Gaslight square was bought by the development company RJK Inc. 150 units are planned, mostly condominiums.
Two documentary films were produced about Gaslight Square within the last several years. Gaslight Square The Forgotten Landmark (Bruce Marren/2002) explores the history by the people who developed the area. It also includes interviews with the Smothers Brothers, Jay Landesman, Bob Kuban, and many others.
Gaslight Square The Legend Lives On (Bruce Marren/2005) looks at the influence it had on the city, uncovers relics, and what has happened to it today. It includes interviews with Phyllis Diller, Billy Peek, Jonnie King, and many others.
KETC video about Gaslight Square: <youtube v="MAUA7st75ds" />