On the afternoon of May 27, 1896, a great cyclone roared through St. Louis, cutting a wide swath through the city.
The cyclone missed both Tower Grove Park and Forest Park passing miraculously between them. Less lucky, Lafayette Park was devastated. Scarcely a tree was spared.
The ornate dome of the bandstand, site of two concerts every week in the summer, was plucked off its columns and spun to the ground. Only the base remained. The bandstand was soon rebuilt.
The ornamental iron fence surrounding the park was flat on the ground in many places. All the pavilions in the park were destroyed with the exception of the simple wooden framed summer cottage. Of all the structures in Lafayette Park, the weakest one still stood.
The Music Stand, built 20 years earlier, and site of twice-weekly band concerts, was wrecked. The cyclone also tore up the rustic bridges over the Grotto, leaving just the lower portion of one bridge. Ornate iron bridges soon replaced the damaged wooden ones, as repairs to the park began almost immediately following the tornado.
Lafayette Park never regained its status as the city’s most popular and beautiful park. Even before the cyclone, wealthy residents had begun moving to the Central West End and Compton Heights. Plans for the 1904 World’s Fair were underway, and Forest Park became the new jewel of the St. Louis parks system.
For a gallery of photos taken in the wake of the storm, click below: