The Lofts at the Highlands stands on ground that holds a special place in the hearts of many long-time St. Louisans. The Forest Park Highlands amusement park and the St. Louis Arena both once stood where we stand today.
The St. Louis Arena stood here from 1929-1999. Known as “The Checkerdome” from 1977-1983, the Arena was affectionately known by generations of St. Louisans as “The Old Barn”. The NBA’s St. Louis Hawks won the 1958 NBA Championship here over Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics. Various indoor soccer teams played their home games at the arena as well as a roller hockey team and the Saint Louis University basketball and hockey teams. The Arena is most notable for being the home of the The St. Louis Blues from 1967-1994. It was demolished on February 27, 1999.
The Arena was originally erected in 1929 as a permanent home for the National Dairy Show. In size, it was second only to Madison Square Garden as far as indoor entertainment spaces went. The two buildings encompassing Lofts at the Highlands stand almost directly in the footprint of the Arena. It is said that a thirteen-story building could have fit comfortably under the Arena’s roof. The lamella roof itself was an architectural marvel. It consisted of enormous Douglas fir wood fitted together in a way resembling fish scales It was supported by cantilever steel trusses, which meant there were no floor-to-ceiling support beams to obstruct views.
The St. Louis Hawks of the NBA played the majority of their games downtown at Kiel Auditorium, but would occasionally play games at the Arena. That’s how it happened that the Hawks won the 1958 NBA Championship at the Arena rather than Kiel. Bob Pettit scored 50 points to help the Hawks beat Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics 110-109 in Game Six.
Professional basketball would return briefly to the Arena in 1974 with the St. Louis Spirits of the ABA playing two seasons there. In just those two season, the Spirits established a colourful reputation with players such as Moses Malone, Maurice Lucas and Marvin Barnes. The team’s radio announcer, Bob Costas, working at his first professional radio job. In 1976, the ABA collapsed and the Spirits were not among the teams absorbed into the NBA. The team’s owners, Ozzie and Daniel Silna, refused to take the NBA’s offer of several million dollars up front to dissolve the team. They instead negotiated a share of the future media earnings of the ABA teams that were merged into the NBA. That deal is often called “the greatest deal in sports”. Up until 2014, the brothers were still getting payments of $14.57 million a year on average. That year, the NBA finally negotiated a deal that would get them out of yearly payments to the brothers. They agreed to a $500 million lump sum payment. The team was the subject of a 30 for 30 documentary called Free Spirits produced by ESPN in 2013.
1973: Bill Walton goes 21-for-22 for 44 points to give UCLA the NCAA Championship over Memphis, 87-66. Attendance: 19,301
1978: Kentucky beats Duke 94-88 behind Jack Givens’ 41 points to win the NCAA Championship in front of 18,721
The Lofts at the Highlands draws its name from the Forest Park Highlands amusement park, which stood from 1896 until a fire destroyed much of the park in 1963. The office buildings that stand just north of us have “wavy” rooftops in tribute to the roller coaster that was once a central part of the amusement park. “The Comet’ as it was known, opened in May of 1941. It stood 90 feet high and was 3,120 feet long. The highlights of the wooden coaster were its 85 ft. drop and 300 ft. long tunnel. Most coasters at the time didn’t have tunnels.
On July 19, 1963, a fire broke out at the Highlands. It quickly moved through much of the park. The fire was able to move so quickly in part because much of the infrastructure of the mark was made of mood. 260 firefighters, many of whom had to be called in to work that day, battled the blaze. Water from the park’s pool was pumped out to fight the fire when access to some of the hydrants was restricted. The Department also lost a tanker truck when they had to abandon it and fire overtook it.
Most of the amusement park was destroyed in the blaze with roller coaster was largely left intact. It was demolished three years later over the course of three days.