With pending bids submitted by Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, the 2024 Summer Olympics could return to the United States for the first time in twenty-two years. The United States has hosted the Games more than any other country, a total of eight times with four Summer Olympics and four Winter Olympics. In 1904, St. Louis, Missouri was the first, albeit unlikely, American host of the Olympic Games.
The 1904 Games were originally awarded to Chicago, with Philadelphia and New York running as other potential contenders. The planners of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, an international World’s Fair slated to take place in St. Louis that summer, “stole the Olympics,” with their plans for an event far greater. In a ploy to have the Olympic Games occur alongside the World's Fair in St. Louis, the well-funded exposition planners arranged to have the Amateur Athletic Union host the track and field championships as a part of the World’s Fair. In turn, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) reluctantly abandoned plans for Chicago and moved the Games to St. Louis.
Throughout history, preparations for the Olympic Games have become increasingly embedded within larger urban master plans. Historically, cities have used the Games to fuel urban renewal and demonstrate sustainable and innovative practices. However, there are mounting concerns over the true success of these urban planning practices, as well as the future functions of Olympic structures once the games have swept through the host city.
Landscape Architect George Kessler transformed Forest Park to accommodate the combined events. The existing wetlands in the western portion of the park were drained and converted into five connected lakes, thousands of trees were planted, and sewer lines were created which remain to this day. Of the some 900 buildings erected, only two remain: the administration building for the fair, which became Washington University’s iconic Brookings Hall, and The Palace of Fine Arts, which became the Saint Louis Art Museum.
Although the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition drew 20 million visitors, the Olympic Games themselves took a backseat. It was treated as an attraction for the World’s Fair as opposed to a spectacle in and of itself. As a result, the Olympics were so poorly attended that it resulted in one of the worst run games in the history of the Olympics. That being said, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition remains an important piece of St. Louis’ history, and made great changes to the city’s landscape, which persist to this day. Between preparations for and recovery after the events, it is estimated that Forest Park received an astonishing $500,000 worth of improvements.
Are there any events that have dramatically changed your city for better or worse? What fairs or attractions have left an imprint upon your community? Please share your stories in the comments area below.
Credits: Data linked to sources. Images by Lindsay Naughton.