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The Islander, St. Louis, MO (restaurant)

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Name:The Islander
Street:4285 Olive
City:St. Louis

One of the many restaurants and entertainment venues that popped up in the 1960's in St. Louis' Gaslight Square. Ads for Gaslight Square businesses list it as a Polynesian Restaurant. It appears to have been opened sometime after fall of 1961 and closed by 1969. Ads for the building list it as a 14 room building and pictures give the impression it might have been a multi-unit residential unit prior to it becoming The Islander.

So I had come across several references to The Islander in Gaslight Square when I was reading about The Dark Side (another Gaslight Square venue) as well as in reading articles about musician Marion Miller. But my interest was really piqued when I saw this matchbook go up for sale on eBay.

Looking through newspaper archives it appears they opened after September 1961 as evidenced by this classified ad for the property

So in doing research through the Missouri Historical Society, thankfully they have a collection of casual exterior photographs scanned courtesy of the family of photographer Thelma Blumberg who was the house photographer for one of the Gaslight Square businesses and took numerous photos of the neighborhood and its citizens.

Here's a selection of exterior shots dated from 1961 on the contact sheets

I'm assuming these are later in 1961 as you notice a buildout over the doorway as well as the carved tiki is no present where it wasn't in the above photo

A Post-Dispatch advertisement from 12-30-1962 for Gaslight Square includes this blurb about The Islander

This color photo is dated 1963, note the addition of patio seating out front.

This selection of exterior shots are dated 1964 on the contact sheets

The Don Cunningham Combo played regularly at The Islander and included piano player, Marion Miller. A native St. Louisan, Don Cunningham was a multi-instrumentalist and when a bandmember on tour with Johnny Mathis, was bitten by the exotica bug while touring all over the Far East, influenced by the music of Lyman and Denny. When he returned to St. Louis, he founded the Don Cunningham combo consisting of four black men playing midcentury exotica music. They first started playing at The Dark Side in Gaslight Square, but then moved to The Islander (and reccomended Quartet Tres Bien to be the new house band at The Dark Side). Cunningham cut a record in 1961 called Something for Everyone on the Exclusive label that included covers of Quiet Village and Tabu. On that album was also Marion Miller, who went on to play regularly at The Mainlander.

Whats interesting to me, is that pictures of Don Cunningham and Marion Miller playing at The Dark Side were listed at the MO State Historical Society and also shared to the listing for The Dark Side. You can see Marion Miller clearly at the piano.

In looking into The Dark Side, I found out that the venue was used in an episode of Route 66 (Season 3 entitled "Hey Moth Come Eat the Flame"). Quartet Tres Bien percussionist Percy Jackson was even given a speaking roll in the episode and the bar was used as backdrop for that scene. Here's a screenshot from that episode showing Percy Jackson.

Whats interesting to me though, is that those interior shots of The Dark Side don't look anything like the photos above where the Don Cunningham Combo are playing. So it makes me wonder if in fact the listing is incorrect and thats actually the interior of The Islander and not The Dark Side.

It appears that The Islander was closed by 1969, as new tenants took over the address. The radio station KDNA moved into the building in early 1969.

[ Edited by: mokan-tiki 2017-05-10 20:56 ]

[ Edited by: mokan-tiki 2017-05-10 20:58 ]

[ Edited by: mokan-tiki 2017-05-11 13:48 ]

Fantastic bit of urban archaeology. Thanks for posting this and keep up the good work.

holy cannolli, this is awesome!!! thanks so much.

i figure you've looked at the Mainlander thread, especially regarding Marion Miller and the album he released from there?

On 2017-05-11 09:10, Johnny Dollar wrote:
holy cannolli, this is awesome!!! thanks so much.

i figure you've looked at the Mainlander thread, especially regarding Marion Miller and the album he released from there?

Oh yeah, very familiar with The Mainlander and Marion Miller. Even have a signed copy of his LP in my collection.

I hadn't realized that he played on Don Cunningham's album nor with the Combo at The Mainlander prior to his solo stint there until looking into The Islanders history.

I really do think those are pics of the Don Cunningham Combo playing at The Islander and not The Dark Side.

Awesome work...I would think your assumptions are spot on. Thanks. OGR

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