Source: Western Historical Manuscripts Collection
1919 in St. Louis, MO
Palace founder Jay Landesman, a St. Louis native whose primary occupation
in the Fifties was running a family antique business, was also a writer,
artist and entrepreneur of many interests and talents. In 1948, while operating
Little Bohemia, a
downtown saloon and art gallery, Landesman founded Neurotica, a poetry
magazine "by and for neurotics." The purpose of Neurotica was
to "explore the creativeness [of the anxious man] who has been forced
to live underground, and yet lights an inner darkness with his music, poetry,
painting and writing." Little Bohemia served as a distribution point
for the first issue.
After several issues, he moved to New York to be closer to the publishing scene; there he first encountered Allan Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and other members of the group later known as the Beats. Returning to St. Louis and the antique business, he and his brother Fred decided to open a bar in 1952 “to give Fran (the young woman he had married in New York) something to do.” The site they chose in a decaying commercial area west of downtown St. Louis had been a gay bar called Dante’s Inferno. The Landesmans exposed the brick walls and replaced the previous tenants’ formica and neon with crystal chandeliers, elevator grills, drug store chairs, marble-topped tables, and other reclaimed “junk” and gleanings from their antique shop.
The Crystal Palace quickly became a favorite stopping place not only for St. Louis’ bohemian set, but for ad men, brokers, engineers, doctors and St. Louis socialites. They were attracted by the eclectic décor as well as the bohemian atmosphere and the opportunity to engage in conversation with the Landesman’s artistic friends. Novelists James Jones, Chandler Brossard, and Shepard Rifkin were among those from Jay’s New York circles who spent time in St. Louis and became regulars at the bar. Allen Ginsberg, unknown in most circles turned up to read poetry. In Landesman’s words, “If it is true that culture is only alive in a town that has good bars, St. Louis was heading for a renaissance.” In November of 1958, the Crystal Palace moved to the center of the Gaslight Square district, in a former antique shop at 4240 Olive.