Jews help ignite revival of Gaslight Square

William Roth

By Ellen Futterman, Editor

Mention Gaslight Square to St. Louisans of a certain age and watch a smile wash over their faces. From the early 1950s to mid-60s this thriving West End entertainment district, located around the intersection of Olive and Boyle Streets, flourished with restaurants and venues that were home to comedy clubs, theater companies, concert halls and more.

By the late 1990s most of the buildings were long gone; those that remained were abandoned and rapidly deteriorating. More recently though, development companies have built condominiums, single homes and apartments in the area, and visionaries like William Roth have sought to pay homage to Gaslight Square’s heyday by helping it get back to its roots.

Roth is founder and artistic director of the St. Louis Actor’s Studio, which stages its productions in the Gaslight Theater, which Roth built 14 years ago at 358 N. Boyle Ave. Roth also is a partner in the West End Grill, located next to the theater, and rents space to the Blue Strawberry, a new jazz, cabaret and dining venue at 364 N. Boyle Ave. (See www.bluestrawberrystl.com for menu, performance and ticket information.)

More recently, Roth decided to expand the offerings at the 97-seat Gaslight Theater to include nights devoted to jazz, blues and comedy.

“We’ve been doing theater almost exclusively in this space but as it turns out it’s also a great place for music,” said Roth, who belongs to Central Reform Congregation. “As I was building this space, it became clear how acoustically sound the room is. The theater only uses it Thursdays through Sundays — it was dark so many nights. I was aware of what a great place the theater is to hear music up close, in such an intimate setting.”

Roth enlisted his good friend Jim Owens, who plays keyboard and trombone, to help Roth establish a jazz program on Tuesday nights. Pretty much any Tuesday evening, starting at 7:30 p.m., audiences can hear notable jazz musicians for roughly $15 to $20. A complete listing of performers and tickets information are available at www.gaslighttheater.net.

Once a month on Fridays, Shaare Emeth congregant and local comedian Yale Hollander hosts a comedy night at the theater. The next one, at 8 p.m. March 13, features four rising comics, along with Hollander. Tickets are $10 and available at www.ticketmaster.com.

Roth is now trying to establish a blues music night on Mondays and a singer-songwriter showcase on Wednesdays. 

“My hope is to fill the niche for those interested in an inexpensive listening room that isn’t the bar scene but where you can come and go as you please and enjoy a cocktail if you’d like,” said Roth, explaining that drinks can be purchased at the West End Grill and brought into the theater. “This space is really too great to see it sit idle.”