Jay Landesman, 91, was operator of famed Crystal Palace

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

Jay Landesman, a native St. Louisan who operated the storied Crystal Palace nightclub in the glory days of Gaslight Square, and who had close ties with his fellow members of the local Jewish community, died Sunday, Feb. 21, 2011 in his home in London, where he and his wife and family had lived since 1964.

Mr. Landesman opened the Crystal Palace at Olive and Boyle in midtown St. Louis, with his brother, Fred Landesman in 1952, even before Gaslight Square (named for another of its famed clubs) reached the zenith of its popularity. The late Melvin L. Newmark, a past president of the St. Louis Jewish Light Board of Trustees, was Mr. Landesman’s attorney and counsel for the Gaslight Square Association during those halcyon days.

Melvin Newmark’s son, Michael N. Newmark, also an attorney and a past president of the Jewish Light board recalls, “Dad and Jay were great friends and dad was also the lawyer for both the Crystal Palace and the Gaslight Square association of businesses in that area. It was an exciting time in St. Louis history. Dad enjoyed Jay’s company and they had a great deal of fun bringing young talent like Barbra Streisand to St. Louis and in also bringing dramatic productions to the Crystal Palace stage. Jay had a unique unique ability to discover great talent before they gained national acclaim. In addition to being among the first to discover Streisand, Jay discovered the Smothers Brothers, Tom O’Horgan, Lenny Bruce amd many others at the beginning of their careers. Jay was a most enjoyable and talented person. Our family has great memories of this special time in St. Louis history.”

In addition to those mentioned by Newmark, Landesman also booked at the Crystal Palace such other talents as Phyllis Diller, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, the Second City Players, Woody Allen and St. Louis comedian Dick Gregory.

Jay Landesman was one of four children born in St. Louis to Benjamin and Beatrice Landesman, who owned an antique business. Mr. Landesman operated the family business until moving to New York City for a time, where he founded a poetry magazine. Among its contributors who befriended Landesman were such Beat Generation founders as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

While in New York, Mr. Landesman met Fran Deitsch, the daughter of a dress manufacturer. She later became a lyricist, songwriter and poet. They married and moved back to St. Louis where he established the Crystal Palace at 3516 Olive Street. The space had previously been a gay bar, Dante’s Inferno. The club, which was furnished in part with items from his family’s antique store, later moved to 4240 Olive Street at Boyle, across the street from the Gaslight bar, which gave the entire entertainment district is name.

Like Elaine’s in New York City and The Hungry I in San Francisco, the Crystal Palace became known as a place where Beats, bohemians, hipsters and early hippies could rub shoulders with fans from the area’s upper crust as well as the general population. In addition to entertainers, Mr. Landesman’s club was popular among authors and poets, including James Jones, Chandler Brossard, Shepard Rifkin and Allen Ginsberg, who did a poetry reading at the club. Mr. Landesman and his wife had two children, sons Cosmo and Miles Davis Landesman, who relocated with them to London in 1964. Mr. Landeman is the uncle of St. Louisan Rocco Landesman, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, and producer of the Broadway hit, “Big River.” Mr. Landesman’s eldest son, Cosmo Landesman is film reviewer for The Sunday Times (of London).

Mr. Landesman is the author of two memoirs, “Rebel Without Applause” in 1990 and “Jaywalking” in 1993. He also wrote a novel, “The Nervous Set,” which later was made into a musical with songs written by Fran Landesman and music by Tommy Wolf, the Crystal Palace’s music director.

In addition to his wife and sons, Mr. Landesman is survived by a grandson.