Top of the Towers

Spread the love

Chambers Road & Hwy 367
Moline Acres, MO
The Lewis & Clark Tower still stands as a slightly-raggedy reminder of the brief moment when North County was progressively modern and willing to create the image of glamorous new suburban frontiers. That’s the impression it still gives off to those of us who were stuck with a babysitter so our parents could party here, but childhood impressions are not always reality.

While reading the newspaper at the end of August, the picture of the man shown above caught my eye. He had a real Rat Pack “ring-a-ding-ding” air about him, so I read the obituary. Impression and reality heartily clinked martini glasses when revealed that this man, Bud Dallavis, was the developer of the Lewis & Clark Towers and its iconic, spinning Top of the Tower Restaurant.

Development is listed as beginning in 1963, county records put 1964 as the birth date of the complex, and in 1965 architect George J. Gaza is listed as the only full-time commercial resident. That he stayed until 1967 while the complex was completed begs the question: was he the Tower architect?

In 1966, the place was 100% jumping with at least 7 floors of wedge-shaped residential apartments (now condominiums,) each with two sliding doors out to the continuous balcony, with its own swimming pool and gym in the basement. Businesses on the first two floors of the Tower included Alpha Interior Designer, Donton & Sons Tile Co., Figure Trim Reducing, King’s Tower Pharmacy and a Missouri State License office.

Shooting off the Tower is a strip of retail facing Hwy 367, long-anchored by Stelmacki Supermarket, a rare, independent grocer still unaffected by the continuous grocery wars. The site slopes down to the West, creating a lower 2nd level building which held the Towers Bowling Lanes and the Lewis & Clark Theater (shown below). Occupancy for the complex was robust for 10 years, with an influx of dentists and doctors filling tower spots when others moved out. The Courtesy Sandwich Shop even had a storefront for a bit. The Tower didn’t show any longterm vacancies until the late 1970s.

The remaining claim to fame of the Tower is the long-closed restaurant at its top, Rizzo’s Top of the Tower Restaurant, “the revolving restaurant… a landmark for many years where diners could view the downtown St. Louis and Clayton skylines, as well as the Alton river bluffs.” Considering how popular it once was, and how its myth still lingers, there’s surprisingly little information to be found about it. Internet searches only turned up a fuzzy photo of someone’s matchbook collection which includes a Rizzo’s cover, and entertainer Tony Viviano, who seems a natural to have performed in the joint.

While visiting with my father, Rich and his wife, Ann, I asked if they ever ate at the Top of the Tower Restaurant, which became a rapid fire series of memories of the place, starting with Rich saying, “You know there were supposed to be 2 towers, right? Which is why it’s plural Towers.”

No, I didn’t know that, but that does explain why the building ends the way it does (shown above) and why the land closest to Chambers Road has remained vacant all these decades. So what happened to the other tower? Rich says that the company who originally owned it ran into some problems of partners stealing from each other, which left no money.

I tell him about the obituary for the developer whose name I couldn’t remember, and Rich asks, “Was it Bud Dallavis? He was the public face of the Towers, head of Quick Realty,” which the obit later confirmed as correct. I countered that the man pictured was really good looking, to which Rich says, “Yeah, that has to be him,” and to which Ann responds, “We were ALL really good looking at the time. We were a handsome group of people.”

She was not bragging, just stating fact. This was suburbia in the mid-1960s, post-JFK assassination, mid-Beatles revolution. Rich and Ann were a part of the World War 2 and Korean War vets who left North St. Louis city in the late 1950s for the greener (and whiter) lands of burgeoning North County. Watch Mad Men to know exactly how they dressed during the work day, how they gussied up for frequent evenings out.

And Rizzo’s Top of the Towers was a popular, happening spot for them. The restaurant was turned out in the finest china and table linens, the food good. Was it expensive? Indicative of the times, Ann responds, “I have no idea what the bill came to at the end of the night. Women never saw the bill because we never paid.”

To which Rich tells tales of the endless rounds of free cocktails courtesy of Dick Grace, the Towers bartender commonly called “Buttsey.” Buttsey had perfected a way to look like he was taking money and putting it in the cash register, but it usually went into his pockets, and lingering guilt led to lots of rounds of “on the house.” Mr. Grace was found dead in his bed in the Towers apartments in the mid-1980s, a fatal heart attack at the age of 49, all those cuisines, cocktails and cigarettes catching up to him. By that time, the Towers and surrounding area were pretty much ate up by neglect, with all the original pioneers heading ever-further away.

The rest of their memories just further cemented the vibe the building gives off to this day. Even though well-past its glory, it’s still in service. Most of the store fronts (shown above right) are occupied, and the Tower balconies are dotted with an endless series of satellite dishes, BBQ grills and plants. Heading out in any direction from the Tower reveals dozens of commercial buildings that followed its modern lead, now-shabby ghosts standing in the shadow of the Lewis & Clark Towers. May they all remain until the time they are brought back to life as proof that just once, for a short space in time, we had fabulous optimism for the future.

North County Modern

58 thoughts on “Top of the Towers

  1. Came across this while looking up North County where I grew up. Took a drive by the Towers in 2015 and it was very depressing. The architect George Gaza lived across the street from me in the 60’s. The Top of the Tower is where we went for so called “nice” dinners to celebrate birthdays and special occasions. I remember it was quite the thing at the time. Went to the movie theater just about every weekend. Took my driver’s test next to the indoor pool. This was definitely a part of my childhood. Moved away in the early eighties, but come back at least every year and take the driving tour. Each time North County gets worse.

  2. Pingback: The Lewis & Clark Tower and Vicinity UrbanReviewSTL | UrbanReviewSTL

  3. Just came across this blog as I continue reading articles about the fate of Top of the Tower. I was a busboy at T.O.T. From 1967 to 1969, have lots of fond memories and would love to hear from former staff who worked there when I was there. I will reiterate that the tower DID NOT revolve, people always confused it with Top of the Riverfront downtown. Thanks to everyone for sharing your memories!

  4. Lewis & Clark Tower was our first home (Apt. 604) when my wife and I moved to the area in 1969 after I took a job at The Alton Telegraph across the river.

    Fond memories of Top of the Tower restaurant. We had many good meals there. At the movie theater, we saw a preview screening of Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid there and many other films. As I recall there was a swimming pool in the basement right across the hall from the Missouri DMV office. We loved Stelmacki’s Supermarket.

    Lived there until the mid-70s when we moved to Alton to buy a house and lived in Alton until moved on, with a new wife after a divorce, to Washington, DC in 1981.

    Top of the Tower was never a revolving restaurant. The one that revolved as Top of the Riverfront on top of a hotel along the river in downtown St. Louis.

  5. I just ran across this blog entry, linked to a newer article showcasing a number of photos someone took of the inside of the Top of the Towers restaurant (or what’s left of it, anyway).

    I got inspired to look for more information on this building after reading a note in the local paper that St. Louis City is about to condemn the whole building, if a number of repairs aren’t made in the next 30 days. (Apparently, the current building management and the city government are feuding right now, and the existing residents of the building are suffering as a result. I understand that among other things, the elevators are currently inoperable.)

    My own memories of Top of the Towers don’t date back as far as some of you. For me, it was just a curious looking structure off I-367 I used to consider the marker telling me I “drove too far south” and was entering the “rough part of town”, when I lived in and visited friends in Florissant/Spanish Lake in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

    In any case, around the 1991 time-frame, I played in a local band called “Rabbit with Habbit”. We did a number of shows at Club 367, which was located at 9973 Lewis and Clark Road, beside the Towers.

    Before Club 367, it used to be a club called Animal House, as shown here:

    I believe I was told the property was originally a bowling alley before that? In any case, Club 367 was a great place for a band like ours to perform. (Really large stage and overall large venue, which was good experience for bands likes ours, who’d normally only be booked at much smaller bars.)

    I never actually went through the tower itself, but figured that given the restaurant on top, it must have been a nice place at one time. I am almost positive it never rotated though. I think people are getting it confused with the revolving restaurant located in downtown St. Louis, called Top of the Riverfront:

  6. First time I have read your blog . . It started when I was looking up the
    architect Armstrong Harris who designed a house in South City I was intrigued by. That led to your blog. Love your style and intent.
    Sorry you are experiencing such negative events in your neighborhood.
    To get to the point of this entry, I was driving in North County Saturday,
    which I rarely do , and drove by the “Tower Building”.
    I was curious about it and now by serendipity, I know all about it.
    Thanks for the great blog.

  7. I was born in ’86, so to be fair… I never experienced it close up. In the early ’90’s, I thought the commercial aspect of it was sketchy at best, but in all fairness, I was far more interested in the McDonalds (which is now a Church, btw) just a block away.

    The tower always had this strange significance to me. It seemed to mean something worth noting from my mom’s side of the family, as they were the ones to tell me about the restaurant up top and how cool it was. My memories, naturally, are from the back passanger’s window as we would constantly drive right by it on our way to a CYC game.

    It was cool to discover it’s history, I never realized it was suppose to have 2 towers! I can’t imagine how cool that would have been, it always felt like there was something missing. I wish I would have had a closer look. I think the closest I got was in the front parkinglot which was an errand run, not anything cool like dining at the top. I think I would have gone back when I could drive, but it had really falling from grace once I hit highschool. Since then, I never bothered driving down that way.

    I do remember driving my fiance to see my grandma and taking her through the Halls Ferry Circle, passed the Tower, but always pointed it out. Subconsciously, it was significant to me even though in reality I was less than impressed.

    Also, Ponticello’s may only be around for 6 more months, the owners are getting ready to retire. I’ve been bothering them to get their pizza recipes just in case. Dang, now I really want pizza!

    Thanks for the article, the pictures, and the adjoining stories!

  8. Just found a couple of old match books from this place. Glad to see the photos and to see that it had a lot of love over the years!

  9. My grandfather, John Cento and his partner, John Deford, were developers of the Towers complex. Their company, “Lewis and Clark Towers Project Development and Leasing, Inc.” developed the project.

    I still have the business card he gave me as a kid, their offices were in the bottom floor, down the hall from the swimming pool. I always remember their number was Underhill 9-0200.

    My Grandfather lived on the seventh floor. I also remember my sister getter her head stuck between the safety rails at the Top of the Towers restaurant when we were kids, they had to pry the bars apart to get her head back out. My grandfather was livid, but contained!

    His business card has a rendering with the second tower in it. I beleive he always stated that their inspiration for the project was the Marina Towers in Chicago.

    A picture of the tower is featured in the Science Center’s “Engineering” Display.

  10. The partners stealing from each other story seems to ring a bell with me. My Dad told me(over and over) how someone who won’t be named here stole millions from him during the 60’s. That my Dad felt that he never got his proper share of things, and that he would’ve been worth millions if his partner didn’t do what he did. I couldn’t prove his allegations after he died in 1988-but it saddened me that my Dad and his partners ended up the way that they did.

  11. Wow-what a joy just happening to find this site. My understanding was that my Dad(who worked @ Quick Realty too) was partner with Bud and John Defford in the building of this. I can’t remember the apartment # that my Dad lived in-but I did think that it was cool that he lived in a pie shaped apartment. And yes, there was supposed to be a second tower, and what I was told was that they ran out of money building the first one-or couldn’t get investment money for a second one. Going to the movies there-swimming in the basement pool-Going to Stelmacki’s for Deli meats-my drivers license test in 1970.. Brings back a lot of memories. I miss St Louis, but every time I come back to visit it’s a little more of a shadow of it’s former self. Sad, huh?

  12. Pingback: STL Homes with Soul » 9953 Lewis & Clark Blvd

  13. This building is a beautiful mid-century modern architectural gem! I had no idea this place existed; being born in St. Charles in 1991. My parents are from North City/County, but they never mentioned this place! I hope and pray that during my lifetime this place will undergo a renaissance, of sorts. The state it’s in is such a shame. This should be an attraction in the St. Louis area. It’s so interesting to see that even the suburbs were cool in those days, not the strip mall hell of today. Just think of what it must have been like to live here during its heyday. Unbelievable.

  14. I was looking through some old junk I’ve kept and found a souvenir toothpick holder from Top of the Tower restaurant, Googled it, and found this site. Reading the comments brings back a lot of memories. I moved to North County (Sherwood Manor apartments at New Halls Ferry and Chambers) to work at MCAIR in late 1964. I met a girl from Ferguson and we were married in 1966. Sometime while we were dating or after we were married, we had dinner at the restaurant at least twice and probably more. When we were there, the restaurant did rotate as we both remember. Maybe later on, they had problems and stopped using the rotation mechanism.
    We also remember laughing about the waitress who served us the “famous spinning salad from Cali-for-n-ia” in a stainless bowl set in a bed of ice in a larger wooden bowl.
    Late in 1966, I took a leave of absence from MCAIR to attend St. Louis U graduate school, and could no longer afford to eat out much, then we moved to Florissant, kids came along and we never went back to the tower.

  15. You can find the original recipe for the “famous spinning salad at stltoday/dining.I also worked as a salad girl from 1977-1978. It was my first job.Joe Rizzo was my boss.He was a man of few words and very stern! I remember margaret (head salad lady) worked with her on Wed. night and with another salad girl(diane) on Fri and Sat night. My mom also worked there in the early to middle 70’s before me. Her name was Kay. She worked with Tony,June,Sandy…my brother Mark was a dishwasher at the same time and later in the 80’s, my brother Tom was a busboy. Jack Short was the chef and what a good one. Irene was the short order cook and made the best fettacinne alfredo I ever ate.It was so cool to see all the customers dressed up for a night out. Great food,live music,and dancing.Nothing like that around anymore! Sometimes a baseball player would come up there and eat. I rememder Joe Torre coming in there. The employee picnics were alot of fun too. I finally ate up there one time after I was married and got the “Famous Spinning Salad” treatment. I still remember my mom practicing the little spiel about the salad when she started working up there. HA HA

  16. I recently went up inside the old Restaurant at the top of the tower, and I took a ton of pics. I also explored other areas of the tower, I however dont recommend doing so, as the place is swarming with thugs and bums. Walking into the old theater I thought i was going to be robbed even the police officer inside gave me a look, like either your very brave or very stupid for comming in here.

    Any one interested in seeing the pics I would be happy to share them. When Im not feeling lazy Ill probably upload them to my facebook page.

    No I never when to the restaurant when it was open nor do I recall seeing it when it was open.

    I believe but not positive that I had been to the theater when I was very young. I did go there probably back around 1995 when I believe it was called club 367 to watch a friends band play, it was at that time that I felt like i had been there before.

    Still I find this spot very interesting and I wish i could have seen it when it was open.

  17. This brought back many memories. I worked as a busboy there from ’70 to ’73. Got hired by Herb who was one of the maitre’d’s. The food was great and the tips nice. I still have an ashtray from there that I accidentally took home on my last shift. We had to learn how to smoothly switch the trays. New Year’s Eve was a wild time.

    Lots of nice people worked there. We did have a slightly deranged chef (Jose) who was a magician with food but had x rated pictures all over his store room!

  18. Gee this is fun remembering my younger days. 62 now and I went to high school with Vicki Ponticello, knew her Mom and Dad.
    Fun times we had eating at Top of Tower and the spinning salad… We all love the place just nice people. I remember them greeting you as you came off elevator…

    By the way Glens Barber shop is still there with Glen cutting hair. He cut my husbands hair when he was very little and still cuts his hair today…

    Ok now thinking about Crown Candy where I grew up too. Holy Trinity Church my grade school… Memories!!!!!!!!!!

  19. What a pleasant surprise when I stumbled across this forum while searching for Rizzo’s ‘Spinning Salad’ recipe!
    I could write volumes about my experiences at Rizzo’s Top of The Tower. A lifelong resident of NoCo (until 1983), I spent many a special occassion dining at what was our favorite restaurant. A graduate of McCluer Senior High School (Class of ’64), the restaurant was a favorite right up to the sad closing.
    Most of my visits were with my wife Kathy Kunz (nee Barnett) who grew up right across the street in Bissell Hills. We met in 1974 and married two years later. Even though we moved to west county in 1983, we went to TOT for every special occassion, birthdays, anniversaries, taking out of town visitors to dinner, etc.
    One of our favorite memories was of our favorite server, June. She always wore a friendly smile, had a great sense of humor, was always willing to go above and beyond to make the dining experience a memorable one… even to the extent of wispering an off color joke on occasion. One thing I’ll never forget is when the Rizzo brothers, in an effort to cut back during a recession, discontinued the real bacon bits which I always put on top of the Spinning Salad. Whenever we made advance reservations, we always asked for one of June’s tables. When she saw our name on the list, she would run downstairs to Stelmacki’s and pick up a bottle of bacon bits so I would have some for my salad. As time went on, I helped her out by supplying my own, sneaking them in in my sport coat pocket and prominently placing the bottle on the table when the salad arrived.
    Their filet mignons were second to none and noticeably less expensive than some of the big names in St. Louis restaurants.
    We will always miss the food, the atmosphere and the people of TOT.
    For those of you wanting to experience the Spinning Salad, I’ve come close to replicating it. Start with shreded lettuce, add a sprinkle of shreded carrots. Stir in your choice of a good blue cheese dressing and a bit of ranch to go with it. Top with chopped hard boiled eggs, ‘cracked’ (not coarse gound) pepper. (You’ll probably have to go to Dierbergs to get cracked pepper. I’ve never seen it at Schnuck’s or Shop ‘n’ Save.) You can use a pepper mill, but I’ve found I actually prefer the cracked pepper. Easier, just as flavorful and more consistent in texture.
    And last but not least, sprinkle liberally with real bacon bits or pieces.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.