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  • Childhood Memories of a Ladue MCM Teardown

    Posted on March 22nd, 2009 Toby Weiss 14 comments
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    In Spring 2006, I documented the last days of a Ladue mid-century modern home that was tagged for teardown. It was built in 1950 for Louis and Mary Zorensky, and the undeniable beauty of this home, coupled with its sad fate, sparked a lot of posthumous anger and admiration.

    See the departed Zorensky Residence here.

    Learn more about what replaced it here (scroll down 30%).

    A Google aerial shot of the Zorensky Residence.

    A Google aerial shot of the Zorensky Residence.

    Recently, one of the daughters of Louis Zorensky found the B.E.L.T. entry about her childhood home, wrote to say she was moved by the photos, and ask if it was possible to have copies of them.

    I sent her a photo CD that included the published photos along with many unpublished extras. I consider it a duty to photographically preserve mid-century modern history, and an honor when some of those photos can preserve treasured family memories, as well.

    The same space after the Zorensky Residence was torn down for redevelopment.

    The same space after the Zorensky Residence was torn down for redevelopment.

    Irene and her sister Doris were kind enough to share some of their memories of their life inside this dearly departed home, and I now share them with you. What touches me the most is that you can tear down a home, but love keeps it alive beyond the physical plain.

    From Doris Zorensky Cheng

    My brother, David, let me know about your website and its incredible pictures of our family home. When I pulled up the website, I was amazed at the photographs and how they captured the essence of its wonderful siting, daring 1950′s architecture, wall planes and roofing following the lay of the land and its modern detailing with lots of glass, overhangs and ins and outs.

    Thank you so much for the wonderful comments on your website. My father would have hated to see the house demolished but he would have so appreciated those comments. He loved that house that he and Mom built and took such good care of. He also loved the old trees that had been part of a larger parcel of land that was an arboretum for a previous owner. He worked to preserve them. That some people so appreciated his house would have made him so happy.

    I was 7 years old when we moved in. My schoolmates would tell me that they had seen our glass house on Warson Road and how different it was. One person actually told me that people living in glass houses should not throw stones.

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    Another memory is of my brothers, sisters and me playing pretend in the tall pine tree grove at the front of our house. We also had fun rolling down the hill in the back, especially when there was snow. And then there was the fun modern furniture and the quirky details like the circular planter in the entry hall, the wood cabinet bar area and the radiant heated terrazzo floors that we sometimes sat on to get warm.

    But as a child, I did not appreciate the house itself as I can now. Your wonderful photographs helped me see it with a fresh eye. I just wish another family that loved 50′s modern architecture could have bought and preserved it. I am grateful for having your pictures. Thank you so much.

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    From Irene Zorensky Fowle

    Growing up in the Mayview home was an interesting experience. My parents always had a great appreciation for modernism, which was reflected not only in their home but in a remarkable contemporary art collection which they were able to showcase in that home. The large walls and high ceilings, the lovely angles of natural light, the neutral colors, and the overall openness of the home allowed the art to breathe and help define the space; there were no ornate moldings and lots of color to detract from the art.

    Obviously, the very open floor plan was quite distinctive. My parents gravitated towards very neutral colors and natural materials .They had unpainted cabinets, natural wood doors, cork floors in the back hallway, beautiful earth-colored terrazzo floors (with delicious radiant heat–especially a treat after playing in the snow)–all avant garde then.  They had architecturally simple but very high quality matte chrome and nickel hardware – all of this in a time and geographic locale where shiny brass doorknobs and colonial design prevailed (and still does!!).

    It looks like the subsequent owners painted one of the living room walls bright red, and obviously they painted the exterior gray-green covering up the natural brick, redwood trim, and rough limestone that my parents worked so hard to preserve.

    My parents had window coverings and curtains that were frequently left wide open to allow the vistas of the trees and landscape to add color and definition to the home. The large, expansive windows also contributed to this openness – my Dad loved the outdoors, both working in his yard and enjoying the views from the house. The land had been an arboretum when my Dad bought it, so most of the large, incredible trees (many of them removed, sadly, for the new house)  were there when he bought the land and throughout the 40-plus years my parents lived there . As one of five kids, the three acres were great growing up as we had lots of space to run and sled on the magnificent hill and have hideouts under the great trees.

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    It was interesting growing up in that house. I always felt different from my friends with their traditional cozier homes, but there was also an inherent pride in that differentness. My mother kept the house spotless and in magnificent condition, and you captured in your blog the found items that revealed my Dad’s habit of never throwing anything away. He kept so many of the original materials from the construction of the house. The archaeological finds you detail – bits of wallpaper, hardware, keys – was so characteristic of my dad.  Also, he participated in the architectural design of the home; as a real estate developer, he was also a frustrated architect and a part-time artist. He had a real vision in a time when it was rare to approach home design with such inherent purity and a sense of symbiosis with the land. Your touching photos really capture this! It sounds like the original bathrooms and the kitchen with its meticulous metal cabinets were there to the end, even with the 50′s colors of ceramic tile, etc. in tact.

    Also, very striking was the lovely proportion of the house, not only in scale with the lot and the sweep of the land, but also relative to the lovely house across from it–I hope that home does not have the same demise!

    I am so grateful that you captured the house. I thought about going in before it was torn down, but I was worried about  what the subsequent owners might have done to change the house that was my home, and also, afraid of how painful it might be. Your photo dialogue has really been a great gift to me and my siblings. I wish my mother were well enough to share it with her – she would be very honored and touched. You have made my late dad proud!!!

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    14 Responses to “Childhood Memories of a Ladue MCM Teardown”

    1. not gonna cry.
      NOT GONNA CRY.
      Dammit.

    2. Oh Toby! Thanks so much for linking us to this wonderful article and the fabulous photographs. When Steve and I read about what had been going on with these modernist homes, we were heartsick.

      Replaced with a McMansion!!! Oh the humanity!!! This tragedy manifests from a straight line trajectory fired by the killing of arts programs by the Reagan administration in favor of “hard sciences.” Now we lag even further behind in educational standards than ever. You can’t fully comprehend physics if you haven’t learned to think divergently, and expansively with a regard for natural wonder. I’m so sad for the Zorenskys and all of us who have lost a beautiful example of the art of marrying home to habitat.
      Kit (from Off Broadway)

    3. Thanks for sharing. It’s heartbreaking that it doesn’t exist anymore. It’s beautiful! It didn’t look like it was in bad shape either.

    4. richard stupidhead

      the comments of the Zorensky’s make this truly heart-breaking.

    5. My God–! What an extraordinarily beautiful home! (The final photo on the clickthough, with the backhoe at left, is just devastating.) Although, admittedly, I don’t know a great deal about architecture, it looked to me to be at least a decade ahead of its time. All of that glass…gorgeous.

    6. The house that replaced this beautiful gem is hideously ugly. So sad that people can’t appreciate true beauty.

    7. You gotta be kidding me! I cant believe the tore that awesome house down! I should have moved back & bought it!
      -V

    8. Wow, that’s a fantastic McMansion! Why have a quirky, unique home when you can have a roof-heavy, sprawling, monstrosity of a home. I’m glad to see that they cleared out a bunch of the trees so everyone can see how big and awesome their McMansion is!

      Oh what I wonder what all these McMansions will start to look like in another 15-20 years.

    9. Happened by accident on your pictures of the Zorensky house. I was so sad to learn of the demise of the house. I had the good fortune as a 19 year old to stand on the ground when it was being built. I am formerly from St.Louis. I am a novice with the computer. Your pictures were fabulous.

    10. (*sniffle…*) I know little of the Mid-West, and nothing of St. Louis,
      but I gather that there was never very much of the MidMod (“MiMo”) genre built in this region to begin with, especially of this caliber. Thus it’s all the sadder that no public/private/non-profit.org was able to step in and preserve/convert it. At the very least it could’ve been a penultimate branch library w/ gallery and mini-park, eh?

      Enzo, living La Vida MiMo in So-Fla…

      PS: Much gratitude for ALL the background info, but… surely someone knows the name of the architect? ;’)

    11. Sad, sad, sad. I ran across this house accidentally. I am from Dallas and countless examples like this have been demolished for McMansions. I spent so many hours yesterday obbsessing and fantasizing over this house, so much that I dreampt about it all night. I’ve actually had tears roll down my face. Something about it captured my heart like now other mid century modern i’ve ever seen. It’s hopelessness and sadness called out to me, now i’m haunted by it’s demise. Thanks for the photographs. I wish there were more to see. I read online that the mother died in November 2010.

    12. [...] ordinance whatsoever. Owners can demolish homes, no matter how important they are. In 2006, the Louis Zorensky Residence off of Warson Road bit the dust. Two years prior, the neighboring Morton D. May House fell, despite [...]

    13. It was not the glorious memorable house that is depicted. It was cold and austere.

      It was a monument to a Father who was rigid and a hypocrite. and to a Mother who was consumed with the lies of her past and her obsessive compulsive disorder. She remained a slave to this frigid home and repeatedly stayed up late at night maintaining the terrazzo floors and the hideous old carpets that she repeatedly raked.

      The house was not user friendly, and the family was, as well, totally dysfunctional.The parents did not allow their five children to wander throughout the house but were confined to inhabiting only a few rooms. It was a memorial to ancient deceptive ideals and an austere life style. It did not settle sublimely into the landscape nor did the inhabitants lives.

      These perspectives of some of the family members are jaded and not accurate, a semblance of what they want to be projected, but none of it is truth.They have created lies and sustained their hideous distortions.They could not wait to escape the clutches of the house’s history and pursue their own selfish paths.

      All is not what it appears. Unfortunately for them, they cannot bury the truth. It will always come back to haunt them. They have to live with the truth of their dastardly deeds.

    14. This was an amazing home and a true shame that the buyer couldn’t appreciate what it was. I would love to get my hands on a home like this, but unfortunately most MCM homes where I live have either been torn down or extensively renovated to the point that they aren’t truly MCM any longer.
      As for the comments by B.Z. Wagman, this must Barbara Zorensky Wagman. It’s too bad that you chose this forum to air your personal issues. This isn’t what it is for.

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