Local Life and Lore in St. Louis

Get to know the ins and outs of Saint Louis, MO with these insider tips on lingo, location and things you should know.
By: Bob Beebe
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A chopped up region: Saint Louis may be the most complex metropolis in the country. The Census Bureau now recognizes 16 counties in the metropolitan area, eight in Missouri and eight in Illinois.

The City of St. Louis started it all in 1764, founded by French fur traders. But in 1876 the city split from St. Louis County after a complex dispute. Then as the region grew, surrounding counties were added. After the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County, the largest and most important counties in Missouri are St. Charles and Jefferson, and in Illinois Madison and St. Clair Counties.

All the counties then have smaller areas. St. Louis County alone has more than 90 municipalities, along with separate school districts and fire districts. Some school district boundaries cross city lines; four school districts serve students in various parts of the suburb of Richmond Heights, and houses are valued accordingly.

Generally, residents of St. Louis County think of themselves as St. Louisans. Residents in fast-growing St. Charles County, along with the other outlying counties, like to think of themselves as a bit apart from the region. Yet when travelling, they will likely tell strangers they are from St. Louis.

The spine of Saint Louis: Get a map of St. Louis. Find the Arch downtown on the riverfront. Draw a line due west. Just about everything that’s anything is roughly within a mile north or south of this line, basically all along Interstate 64/U.S. 40. In the last decade it has extended across the Missouri River into St. Charles County. Hospitals, museums, prime shopping areas, sports stadiums, universities and parks are all in this corridor. And so too are the homes of the well-to-do. So consider buying along this corridor to save time and gasoline.

It’s looks French, but it doesn’t sound that way: Because of the city’s heritage, numerous area names are French. But don’t pronounce them that way. Gravois, a major road, is pronounced GRAV-oise. DeBaliviere is De-BALL-i-veer. Creve Coeur, a suburb, is CREEVE CORE.

Say it this way: Some older St. Louisans have a distinctive way of speech. Most notably, “forty” is sometimes pronounced a bit more like “farty.” This matters because the major highway through the center of the city is U.S. 40, and Interstate 44 also goes through the city.

Road work:  An interstate highway encircles St. Louis. In Missouri, almost all of this is called Interstate 270. In Illinois, it’s called Interstate 255, mostly, though a segment of 270 stretches into Illinois.

Rivers make for bridge bottlenecks at rush hours. The St. Louis area has four interstate-quality bridges to western Missouri, three to the east into Illinois and one to the north and Illinois. At rush hour, accidents can cause long backups. Many residents don’t need to use these bridges in their daily commutes, and if you pick your residence near your work, you can avoid this problem.

High school: Here, it matters, to some. One of the standard icebreakers in meeting new neighbors or acquaintances is to ask, eventually, what high school they attended. It’s a shorthand way of learning something of their background. The St. Louis area has a large number of school districts, plus a large fraction of students who attended private or parochial schools.

Drink lingo: It’s soda, not pop, in St. Louis.

Beer, beer and more beer: German immigrants brought their beer-making skills to St. Louis in the mid-19th century, and found the city’s caves a good place to keep the beverages cool during the summer heat. One of them, Adolphus Busch, applied the new technologies of pasteurization and refrigeration to beer production. That let him ship Budweiser beer to other cities. These innovations plus aggressive marketing led Budweiser and its sister brands to become the top brews in America. But all good things come to an end, and Anheuser-Busch was sold in 2008 to a foreign company, InBev.

Losing home offices: St. Louis has suffered the loss of several corporate headquarters in recent decades, mostly through mergers and acquisitions. Boeing bought McDonnell Douglas Co. Ralston Purina, the animal food giant, was bought by Nestle. American Airlines acquired TWA. AGEdwards Inc., a brokerage house, was bought by Wachovia Financial. Anheuser Busch was bought by InBev. MetLife, the life insurance company, bought GenAmerican. Monsanto Co., a longtime chemical company, went through the most complicated changes. After mergers and divestitures, it now concentrates on biotechnology. Lee Enterprises bought Pulitzer Inc., the owner of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Care to gamble: Gambling has become the new industry in St. Louis, and Missouri recently began to allow limitless gambling. In addition, the old concept of riverboat casinos gave way to floating casinos on barges on artificial ponds linked to rivers, allowing the casinos to build upward. The newest is the lavish Lumiere Place development downtown, complete with an elegant Four Seasons hotel. Close to Lumiere Place are the President Casino (on the former Admiral riverboat) and the Casino Queen, across the Mississippi in Illinois. The MetroLink transit system makes it easy to visit three casinos quickly. Others include Harrah’s and Ameristar, in the northwest suburbs, and Argosy Casino, to the north in Alton.

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