Top of the Towers

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.

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58 thoughts on “Top of the Towers

  1. Wow, this thread brought back some memories. I lived in North County from the early sixties until ’68, then continued to have ties to the area; many times dined at Rizzo’s. Great place; great food; great service. Spent New Year’s eve there, ’68 or ’69, don’t remember which; the place was hoppin’! North County seemed so new, so modern, so with-it back then. Btw, the restaurant did not revolve; that would be (originally) Stouffer’s Riverfront, a sensation when it opened in the late 60s, you had to make a reservation a couple months in advance!

  2. My Mother Patsy J Cavin and Father Charles W Cavin both worked for Joe and Gus. Sadly if people havent found out, Joe passed away some time ago. I only state this because of the fact that somebody asked what ever happened to Joe and Gus. Well, now you sadly know. I attended the funeral with my mother. Would love to know if Gus ever opened another place. My father was an on and off Maitre De (please excuse spelling) and my mother was a waitres until pregnant with me in 83, where she took the cashiere position in the bar. Thats all i can say that and well as a kid, i remember spending a fair amount of time running around the kitchen and eating the steaks. I still think they were the best cuts ive ever had twenty years later.

  3. Debbie, you wrote on Feb.22 that you were a salad girl at Top of the Tower. As you can see from reading numerous previous emails, many peopole would like the spinning salad recipe. Will you please give it to us. I’ve been trying to find it for years. Thank you in advance.
    Linda

  4. My grandpa Phil was the bartender for at least awhile. Wondered if anyone would mention him and Jim Panus did, cool! Sounds like it was a cool very classy place.

    There are Rizzo’s Restaurants in St. Charles…any relation?

  5. Don’t know about the bartender Dick Grace, but know for a fact our step father Phillip DeStefano was the bartender for many years. Maybe they worked together. Thanks for the wonderful pictures & stories.

  6. My grandpa, George Gaza, was the architect for Top of the Towers and he did live there as well. Sadly, he passed away a few years ago, but the stories he told me of this place will remain forever! I still have a menu from there with Toni Conners autograph. The stories I have heard over the years are just amazing and I have always been able to picture it. It’s been great hearing some more here. He would be proud!

  7. I was a salad girl at Top of the Towers, probably 1972 or so, for a couple of years. Prepared the salad trays for the “spinning salads”-a woman Margaret taught me everything I knew-she was a kitchen staff. Wow thanks for the memories.

  8. The very top of the tower has been closed for quite some time. Simply vacant. When that part of town finally does come back to life, seems that space would be a choice place to re-open as a restaurant, yes?

  9. I was privileged to be taken to the restaurant when I was about 9 I think (1971)…I am originally frm Louisville but lived in and around St. Louis with her for 5 years. I lived in Bellfontaine Neighbors also (as did the gentleman several posts up). I remember looking out at the lights at night as we revolved around. I remember the manners that were required there by my mother! Has anyone ever heard of a man named Jon Chleiboune (sp)? He and my mother dated for years..he was VP at some bank in St. Louis as was his father. Wish I could figure out how to spell his name so I can look him up 🙂
    Thanks for the memories! Now I need to look up an old restaurant called Zimmermans..they had the best kiddie cocktails (I was a kid) and deep fried ravioli…mercy

  10. Also, does anyone know if you go up to TotT now? what is up there.

  11. was the club in the basement of the Lewis and Clark Theatre called “Animal House”? In the early 80’s I went dancing there. Upstairs usually had a live rock band, down stairs was break dancing and rap. What an amazing mix of people! And I dont recall ever seeing a fight.

  12. I was a busboy,salad boy, meat cutter and variety of other duties for Joe, Gus and Mr Renee. As I was preparing lobster for my wife of thirty years on this Valentines I remembered the many recipes that I was priveliged to learn as an employee for the Rizzo family. Joe and Gus where very good bosses and Renee DeLatour sent me to Boys State in 1969, I can never thank him enough for that experience. I have so many fond memories that i can still light a lighter with a single flip of the Zippo. Sevice was the most important quality that the Rizzo’s demanded but still today my meat cutting skills are used quite often to prepare a filet mignon from a beef tenderloin. It would be great to have a renunion with my fellow workers, Dae Lederle, Mike Cuella, Rick May,Neal and I have nerver got over losing my twin Tom Gocheski during the Vietnam War. The waitress where Marilyn, Yvonne, Shirley,Joyce. And Phil was at the Bar. I thank the Rizzo,s for making such an impact on my life and teaching me to enjoy the finest food experience. Great Memories to all that remember the Top of the Tower.

  13. I have many, many memories of The Top of the Tower Restaurant. Joe Rizzo and his brother Gus, would welcome my father and me many an evening from the time I was about 7 years old until I reached adulthood. They were amazing hosts and always made us feel very special. My dad would even go there for lunch when the restaurant was closed and Joe would fix him a big burger and a cold beer and join him for lunch. The famous spinning salad is something I have missed for many a year. I would love to try to duplicate it. I don’t remember the restaurant spinning. There were some wonderful views however. By the way, the steaks were very good and my dad’s favorite was the English Dover Sole Joe prepared.
    Great place never to be duplicated. If anyone knows what happened to Joe and Gus, I would love to know.

  14. I went into the restaurant about 6 months ago to access one of the cell sites on the roof. The place is extremely run down, but you can tell it’s the shell of a place that used to be pretty nice. I was going to take some pictures, but the management is pretty quick to shuffle people out.

  15. Thanks for a wonderful trip down memory lane. I went to Top of the Towers twice in '82. Once was for my step-brother's 13th bday party. I never forgot the experienced. It had a such a "grand" feeling to a 9 year old.

    I also visited Ponticello's in Spanish Lake a few times with my family and always loved it. My mother went there when she was a teen as well since my great grandmother's farm (yes, farm) was nearby in Spanish Lake.

    I grew up in Hazelwood and Florrisant and now live in St Charles Co. My dad still lives in Florissant and runs a produce stand at the end of New Halls Ferry & Shackleford. He used to own the now Self Serve BP on the corner of New Florissant and Dunn Road…it was Barrett's Standard when we owned it. That was back when the old house on hill (that became an art gallery or whatever) was actually occupied. I remembered the old guy's Model T in the drive way and trees grown up all around the house. It was a spooky place!

    Going back always makes me sad. Hazelwood- putt putt golf and "Olde Town" For me it's eerie feeling not to see that stuff there even though it's been years and years.

    I had three birthdays at the old ChuckECheese aka ShowBiz pizza.

    And what about Northwest plaza when it was actually a plaza??? I never did like it once they made it into a mall.

    New Halls Ferry is depressing to me. So much has closed down over there.

    Anyway, thanks again for walk back. People who I work with always want to act like there was never a North County before the current one. I will always be proud that I grew there.

  16. Hey Keith, I too remember the Spinning Salad from TofT. Wife and I loved eating at Rizzo’s, and miss it so. The Salad isn’t that hard to duplicate. If I remember correctly, iceberg lettuce was the greens of choice, and while it spun, chopped boiled eggs were added, then thousand island dressing, then blue cheese dressing… mixed thoroughly, then served. Of course, an anchovy slice was offered, then ground pepper. Try it.

  17. In 1969 was a busboy for “The Top of the Towers”. Joe Rizzo was a great boss and a man by the name of Rene Dela Toro (interestingly, his last name means “of the tower”) was a Matredee. The Toni Conners Trio played nightly (did a great cover version of “The Shadow of Your Smile”) The Restuarant DOES NOT revolve. But I believe the building was one of the first structures to employ a fixed crain in the center of the structure that rose with the construction.

  18. We would generally go to TofT restaurant once a year. My mom’s birthday is a week before Christmas and we liked to go there and enjoy the Christmas lights on the houses from above. Was also a frequent visitor to Tower Bowl in the late 70’s and saw an occasional movie at the theater. Any luck on finding the salad recipe? I have fond memories of how good it tasted – especially with the anchovy on top!

  19. Kyledude, sorry you had a bad experience at Ponticello’s. Try it again please. They may have had a bad night (which all do). I go there twice a month and have seldom been disappointed.

    Regarding Ponticello’s locations, they had another on Natural Bridge in the same shopping center that Uncle Leonard and his Muntz TV’s were sold. The original was on Goodfellow near McLaran. I think for awhile they had two on Bellefontaine Road; one in the existing location and the other near 270. Love the pizza.

  20. Keith,

    Thanks for the added info! I’m afraid the Ponticello’s on West Florissant was before my time (I was born in 1965…there! I dated myself! Happy now? :)), but that’s great to know.

    I agree with the sentiment that North County is a shadow of its former self. This really hit home when I was back in STL in Dec 2005, took a drive up 270, and got off at Halls Ferry Road. OK, during my school and college years (grew up in St. Charles, went to UMSL), this was a totally happening intersection. You had Ackerman Buick on one side (remember their radio ads? “The BIG one!”), and a gigantic Target store on the other side that was surrounded by the Halls Ferry Cine (started as 6, went to 8, then to 14), a Chuck E. Cheese, several other restaurants, and I believe there was a roller rink there as well…or something. Well, when I drove around there in Dec 2005, Ackerman Buick was the only think left open. Everything else I just mentioned was closed and boarded up. Mind you, this was on a chilly, overcast Saturday afternoon, but it made me sad to remember how active that location had been…and how totally silent and abandonded it was now…

    Perhaps, someday, it can make a comeback…we’ll see.

  21. “We were ALL really good looking at the time. We were a handsome group of people.”

    yeah I look at photos of my folks from then and they did dress “swell” I learned to mix cocktails at age 7 for their friends at the wet bar in our basement (no I didn’t get to taste). I just remember a sense of optimism in North County that I think disappeared around the late 70’s.

    I’d forgotten about Rizzo’s.

    Powers: yes Cap Records – work of Welton Becket, as was the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and Mark Taper Forum among other iconic LA places there appearing in lots of great/bad sci-fi films.

  22. Kyledude, if you read this (and any one else interested), I have to add a comment re: Ponticello’s. There was also a Ponticello’s on Chambers Road in a li’l strip mall just south of West Florissant (this is back in the early-mid 60’s), and the Italian food there was really great. They had these odd foil-lined cardboard boxes for takeout for stuff like spaghetti/meatballs! Sad that most everything from that part of North County is a sad shadow of its former self.

    BTW, this was just south of a Velvet Freeze!

  23. I remember going bowling with friends one night at the bowling alley near the towers. This had to have been 1988-1989. The tower seemed worn even then, but there was almost no one else in the bowling alley that particular Friday night. We had a blast.

    Forgive me for straying off topic, but my favorite restaurant in that area was Ponticello’s in Spanish Lake. Went there a lot in the 70s and 80s. Best pizza in town. Last Christmas, my wife, parents, and I went there and were quite disappointed. Food was subpar and service even worse. Seems that place has succumbed to its surroundings.

    But I still have my memories. Thanks, Toby, for posting this.

  24. and got my hair cut at glen’s barber shop in that shitty looking strip mall in the foreground

  25. i am pretty sure i went to a hip hop club in the bottom of that building in the late 80s, with a fake id of course

  26. Bud Dallavis was my grandpa. And there was nothing sad about the fact that he ran a carwash, as the guy above suggested. He bought a farm out in Defiance and retired out there in the late 1970s, and then built and ran a car wash when he got restless during retirement. He suffered from Parkinsons Disease for the last 15 years or so and passed away in August. Those of us in his family really miss him.

  27. Another wonderful example of your determination and perseverance in the face of neglect. It’s great how you bring the social, cultural and architectural aspects into a misty, romantic whole.

    Keep up the great work.

    Andrew Raimist

  28. I love this! What great writing. I could almost hear the jazz standards and clinking martini glasses….

  29. That obit does seem to confuse fact with fantasy, doesn’t it? Note that in addition to the “revolving restaurant” bit, it also implies that both towers were actually completed.

    The saddest part is that after masterminding such a swanky development, the dude lived out his later years running a car wash. Not even an L.A.-style Googie car wash…just a car wash.

  30. Toby, thanks for the article on ToT. I grew up in Bellefontaine Neighbors and in the 60’s ToT was the place to go. My first time there was with my mother when I was home on leave from the Army in 1966. For years after I went there, first with dates, and then my wife. My wife and I spent many enjoyable evenings eating or sometimes just for a drink. I have been trying to find the Rizzo’s recipe for their “Spinning Salad” without success.

    Again thanks. Oh, the ToT did not revolve. I think folks are confusing it with the restaurant downtown that does.

  31. This place was really a sort of “unfulfilled dreams” kind of place, mostly because of the non-completion of the second tower; it always seemed sad that the curved wall was highly visible from Chambers Road as you drove by the structure. It really was a landmark place for those of us who grew up in that specific section of North County. After a nasty injury that required a number of stitches, my mother drove me over to a doctor’s office for “emergency” surgery. Thanks for documenting this place, Toby!

  32. Toby: Thanks for this. My contribution is a memory from dinner at Top of the Tower for my 8th birthday. I had been there with my parents before for a fancy dinner. The folks had lived off Chambers on Dennis Drive after moving from the city in the 50s and ToT was the place in North County to go for special dinners. When they asked where I wanted to go, I didn’t hesitate. The place revolved, what more could you want?! This was a time when ladies and little girls wore white gloves for an evening out and part of my training as a lady included trying to eat without getting them dirty. I never could manage it!

    This was my first experience with a Caesar salad made tableside in a wooden bowl on a cart. After getting over the anchovies being actual little fish, I loved it and the whole experience there.

    Thanks for stirring up the fond memories of that time!

  33. Thanks for the interesting post, Toby! I remember “Dallavis Drive” in one of the subdivisions in my old HS stomping grounds, and often wondered where that odd name originated. Now I know. “Rizzo’s Top of the Tower” was known as a good pre-prom place for dinner. 🙂

    I find it a bit telling that Mr. Dallavis and all of his surviving children in the area reside/resided in St. Charles County. A typical story for North County in general.

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