How St. Louis Jews helped give birth to the Blues

Above, part of the front page of the Feb. 1, 1967 Jewish Light.  At right, from top are Sidney Salomon Jr., his son Sid Salomon III, and Robert Wolfson. 

BY Robert A. Cohn, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Fans of the Rams can be forgiven for their sadness and anger over owner Stan Kroenke’s decision to move the franchise back to Los Angeles. There is already talk of bringing a Major League Soccer team to St. Louis. 

Let me humbly suggest that it is time to cool it on the departure of the Rams and to be cautious about plunging into another multimillion-dollar binge on yet another stadium. Rather, let’s celebrate two storied major league franchises we already have: The Cardinals, whose fans are correctly regarded as the best in baseball; and the Blues, celebrating a major milestone this month. 

Fifty years ago on Feb. 9, 1966, St. Louis was awarded a National Hockey League franchise for an expansion team that didn’t even have an owner lined up. That void was filled by the late Sidney Salomon Jr. and his son Sid Salomon III, who came forward to purchase the franchise and its original venue, the art deco St. Louis Arena on Oakland Avenue. In October 1967, the team started its first season.

Thus it was the action of local Jews — Salomon and his son, joined by another St. Louis Jewish leader, Robert Wolfson — whose actions made possible the birth of the Blues.

The Blues are marking the 50th anniversary season with festivities that honor players and fans, many of whom have remained fiercely loyal to the Blue Note since its inception.

Salomon Jr., in particular, deserves special recognition within the St. Louis Jewish community because, in the midst of his first year as the owner of the Blues, he accepted appointment as general chairman of the 1967 Jewish Federation Campaign.

Morris A. Shenker, Jewish Federation president at the time, named Salomon to the post, noting that he was the owner of Salomon and Associates insurance firm in addition to the Blues. In making the announcement, Shenker, in a Page One story in the Jewish Light, said: “We are deeply honored that a civic leader such as Mr. Salomon has stepped forward to lead our 1967 Campaign for $2 million. His acceptance strengthens the prospect of meeting the challenges facing the entire community in this decisive year.”

Salomon also was a major figure in local, state and national Democratic politics, having been an early and major backer of John F. Kennedy, Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton and Gov. Warren Hearns, among others.  He held major leadership positions with both the state and national Democratic committees.

The year 1967 was pivotal not only for the Federation, but also for the State of Israel, which had been increasingly threatened by its Arab neighbors in 1966-67, culminating in the Six-Day War in which tiny Israel scored a miraculous victory over the combined armed forces of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. 

(Disclosure: I have a personal tie to Salomon Jr.  My late mother, Lillian Cohn, worked as an administrative assistant in Salomon’s insurance firm for many years. She would often obtain Blues hockey tickets for my wife and me, and we enjoyed going down to the then smoke-filled Arena to cheer on the local team. My mom, who was a gifted humorist, composed many of the “Thoughts for the Day” that appeared on the Blues sign in front of the Arena, and she was proud when Officer Don Miller, KMOX’s traffic reporter, read her slogans on the air.)

When Salomon gave his acceptance speech as Jewish Federation campaign chairman, he noted that he was an almost namesake to King Solomon of the Hebrew Bible.  

“I only hope that I can emulate the quality that King Solomon was best known for: his great wisdom,” Salomon said. “There is another thing I have in common with King Solomon: He built the First Temple in Jerusalem, and I bought the Arena for our local St. Louis Blues Hockey Team.”

The father-and-son Salomon team were joined by the late Wolfson, a longtime leader in the St. Louis Jewish community and one of the group that acquired the site of Camp Sabra for the Jewish Community Center. A later owner of the Blues, Harry Ornest Jr., a Los Angeles  businessman, also was Jewish. 

The Blues have enjoyed a storied career and intensely loyal fan base for all of its 50 seasons. The team has never won a Stanley Cup, though it did did make the Stanley Cup finals in each of its first three seasons and attained an amazing 25-year playoff-appearance streak from 1980 to 2004. 

Over the years, the Blues have had their ups and downs (including 1983, when it looked like the Blues might be relocated to Saskatoon, Canada). 

 The Arena is long gone, but Scottrade Center in downtown St. Louis remains home to the Blues, and the franchise, now owned by Tom Stillman, seems secure.