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Public Art

The Gates of Opportunity

By George Julian Zolnay
Category: Statue


On either side of Delmar Blvd., just west of the commercial district called the Loop, stand the gatekeepers to University City. Perched on their 40-foot limestone pylons, two massive feline figures keep watch high above the heads of pedestrians and motorists. Presently engulfed by mature trees that partly obscure the viewer’s line of vision, these lions were two of the only structures visible for miles at the time University City was first being subdivided from acres of pasture land.

The founder of University City, E. G. Lewis, decided that giant lions should guard the entrance to his dream city. He hired Thomas Young of Eames and Young Architects to design the 40-foot pylons of limestone and commissioned the artist George Julian Zolnay to create the monolithic lion and lioness. Zolnay began work on the Gates of Opportunity with an 18-inch-tall plaster model from which his assistants made the nine-foot high clay animals. Later Zolney himself added final surface details. Plaster molds were made of each animal but the statues were so large that they required 26 sectional pieces to make the molds. The artist insisted that the larger pieces be cast in place on top of the pylons.Iron armatures were constructed to his specifications and buckets of wet concrete were manually lifted and poured on site. When completed, the statues weighed nearly eight tons each.

Sixty-five years later, the badly deteriorated lions were leaning dramatically on their hollow stone pylons. The University City Council requested plans for repair and was close to implementing the lowest bid option — cutting the pylons down to 14 feet above ground level — but the alterations were not completed. In 1991 the pylons were finally straightened and the lions were replaced with lightweight casts in fiberglass. The original concrete lions are now part of the collection of the Missouri Historical Society.

Dimensions: 9′ H, 15′ W, 10′ D – 20′ H Pyl
Material: Fiberglass (original=cast concrete)
Owner: City of University City
Donor: John Lewis

About the artist: