Fran Landesman, 83; ‘Queen’ of Gaslight Square’s Crystal Palace

Fran Landesman

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Fran Landesman, co-founder/owner of the storied Crystal Palace in the Old Gaslight Square, and a songwriter whose work was recorded by major stars, died Saturday, July 23, 2011, at her home in London, where she had been residing for the past several years. She was 83, and had been actively performing in London until her death.

Born Fran Deitsch in New York on Oct. 21, 1927, Ms. Landesman met and married St. Louis native Jay Landesman. The couple moved back to St. Louis and opened up the Crystal Palace at 3516 Olive Street in 1958; the club later moved to 4240 Olive Street, where it became the nerve center of the entire Gaslight Square area, an entertainment and arts district that took its name from the celebrated bar at Olive and Boyle.

The Crystal Palace featured notable performers, including comedian Lenny Bruce, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Barbra Streisand, young comedians Woody Allen and Dick Gregory, the Smothers Brothers Jack E. Leonard and Jackie Mason, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, and the Compass Players (the precursors to Second City), long before they appeared on “The Tonight Show” and became household names.

Local attorney and Jewish community leader Michael N. Newmark, whose late father, Melvin L. Newmark was a backer of Crystal Palace, knew Jay and Fran Landesman well. “Jay and Fran really put St. Louis on the national and international entertainment map,” he said. “Fran was tremendously talented,” he noted, and she wrote songs for the successful musical ‘The Nervous Set’ with Tommy Wolf. The show went to Broadway and some of the top musical stars recorded songs from its score. She and Jay really brought so much to St. Louis and both will be missed.”


Jay and Fran Landesman had moved to London in 1964. In 1967, Ms. Landesman returned to St. Louis to perform at the old Gaslight Theater on Boyle and Lindell. Her original musical “Molly Darling” was written for and performed at The Muny.

Jay Landesman died Feb. 20 at the age of 91. The couple had been married for 61 years. Survivors include the couple’s sons, Cosmo and Miles.

A memorial will be held for Ms. Landesman in London.