Our Historic Theatre (est. 1919)
The dream of St. Louisans for a permanent outdoor theatre in Forest Park probably dates back to the 1904 World’s Fair. The realization of that dream began in 1916 with plans for an outdoor production of AS YOU LIKE IT by Margaret Anglin’s Shakespearean troupe. And the dream became a reality in 1917 with the construction of the Municipal Theatre for six performances of AIDA, produced for the 13th Annual Convention of Advertising Clubs of the World.
In 1916, Parks Commissioner Nelson Cunliff, Miss Anglin and Civic League President John Gundlach selected a grassy area between two large oak trees for a June series of performances of Shakespeare’s AS YOU LIKE IT. Shrubs and small trees were cleared from the sloping hillside and a retaining wall built to level the performing area. AS YOU LIKE IT starred Miss Anglin, Robert Mantell and Sidney Greenstreet. The out-of-town professionals were joined by nearly 1,000 St. Louis folk dancers and folk singers in observance of the 300th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. Crowds averaged 8,000, reviews were good, and after an opening night rain-out, AS YOU LIKE IT moved into the history books as the first production at the site of today’s Muny.
After the first three weeks of The Muny’s inaugural season, the fledgling theatre had a short fall nearing $60,000. It seemed that The Muny was in danger of a permanent curtain call!
Mayor Kiel called an emergency meeting. This was the core of what would prove to be a self-appointed “Save The Muny Committee.” Headed by Mayor Kiel, a door-to-door campaign was initiated, with the Mayor himself selling blocks of tickets to local merchants.
The plight of The Muny captured the public’s attention, and soon the local papers, clubs, organizations and just plain folk got behind the effort. Before long, The Muny was on a much more substantial financial footing, and… the rest is history.