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  • Berkeley MCM: Frostwood Subdivision

    Posted on September 20th, 2009 Toby Weiss 18 comments
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    Frostwood Subdivision
    Berkeley, Missouri

    Even with 20-odd years of living in North County, I never knew about this little gem of a subdivision, so thank you to Jeff and Randy Vines for running across it during a casual drive around our Greater St. Louis, which continually reveals delightful secrets like this.

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    The inner-ring suburb of Berkeley was incorporated in 1937, and most of the municipality’s western border is occupied by the Lambert Field airport, which built its first terminal in 1933.  Around 1954, as architect Minoru Yamasaki’s main airport terminal was being built, so too was Frostwood.

    The land Frostwood Subdivision is built on was originally part of Hazelwood Farm, an estate that had been passed from John Mullanphy to his daughter Catherine Graham to son-in-law General Daniel Frost to granddaughter Hattie Fordyce.  Fordyce bequeathed it to St. Louis University who then sold it to new home developers Fischer & Frichtel, who platted and built homes on the land from June 1952 to January 1956.

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    When entering the subdivision from Frost Avenue via Adler Avenue, you see this bizarre scene of mid-century suburban living dwarfed by the mid-century power grid needed to keep Lambert running.  Space-age living  did require a few sacrifices now and again. But once you get deeper into the winding streets of Frostwood, the scene becomes more sylvan and less ominous.

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    There are roughly 600 homes in the subdivision, ranging from 1,288 – 1,500 square feet, and most are 3-bedroom and 2 bath that originally sold brand new for $16,000 – $19,000.  The area has an informal and casual feel, which is partially due to the way the houses are sited on their lots, as seen in the bird’s eye map below.

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    The homes do not follow a uniform setback, and by placing each home at a different angle, each one gets a slightly different view, and different opportunities for private vs. public spaces.

    A family friend from decades ago bought one of these houses on Red Fir Drive in 1955, and lived happily until about 1970, when he moved his family “because of the blacks,” which was then an all-too- common reason for white people to keep moving further north and west into new homes built by developers who knew how to capitalize on this St. Louis cultural weakness.

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    So on the day I was taking these photographs, it was karmic relief to be stopped by a 43-year old black woman who moved into this neighborhood in 1968, and whose mother still lives in the very same house to this day.  She said Frostwood was a great place to grow up, with lots of friends across the entire subdivision and lots of activities.  She also pointed out that the southern half of the subdivision houses have basements, while the northern  half are built on concrete slabs with no basements.

    Many of the homes, like the yellow version shown above, have a delicate way of handling car parking, running the carport parallel to the house so that the walls – rather than the entry – face the street.

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    This system worked well for the versions that have a garage, too. With both models,  it creates the opportunity for a curving driveway that adds whimsy and informality to the site.

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    Since these houses are all now over 50 years old, there has, of course, been many alterations made to them.  A common remodel, as shown above, is converting the garage into a room, which adds square footage to the living area, and when done correctly is actually very cool.

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    On this different model above, that has a formal, front-facing garage, I’m not sure if that end cap fascia is original or a modification, but either way, it’s a nice stylistic touch to an other-wise ordinary ranch design.   A small handful of homeowners have opted to turn their mid-century ranch into Colonial knocks-offs that sit uncomfortably in context with their neighbors.  But the vast majority of the neighborhood has – blessedly – retained the original exterior aesthetic.

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    Midwood Avenue is the only straight-forward thoroughfare in the Frostwood Subdivision, and it has a curious concrete ditch (above) running down the middle, taking up a lot of room.  I assumed it was once a creek surrounded by grass, making for a nice place to walk and play.  But turns out it has always been like this, a drainage ditch (so a “sometimes creek” during heavy rains, I suppose).   It looks awful, but luckily the people who live along it have not transferred this dire scene to their homes.

    Even the city of Berkeley has admitted how ugly this is, acknowledging in a September 2008 Planning Consideration that it “presents poor visual image,”  and are proposing “common-themed residential streetscape design” along Frostwood  and Midwood Avenues.   If the money ever materializes for this project, I hope it remains true to the original design aesthetic.

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    The foreclosure tidal wave has hit Frostwood, with some houses now available for under $20,000, but this does not reflect the quality and beauty of this neighborhood, only the condoned irresponsibility of the American financial system.  Rather, it’s a chance to get some nicely preserved mid-century modern at a great price.

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    18 Responses to “Berkeley MCM: Frostwood Subdivision”

    1. Wow, great tour! No one can capture the essence of these gems like you can, Toby!

    2. Wow, truly a blast from the past! I’m glad to see all the homes so well-preserved.

    3. Wow! This is great! I lived in one of the cookie-cutter houses in Berkley for a while, but I don’t think I ever saw this neighborhood.

    4. that curious concrete ditch would be awesome for skateboarding.

    5. Hey that looks like my old subdivision: Carollton which was knocked down by the airport. The architecture us mostly the same and even the street designs and sidewalks and that darn drainage think in the street. At least Carollton got one more aesthetically pleasing but still concrete monstrosity.

      People I graduated with, their parents lived in Berkley in sections like these back when it was white and middle class and what say Francis Howell or Fort Zummwalt is now. The same company, Fischer and Fichel is responsible for developing large subdivisions in St. Charles County. F&F and others build similarly designed houses in Florissant, check out around McCluer North High School. My grandparents live a few blocks away and have been in one of these space age houses for nearly 50 years since it was built.

      It would be nice to have a book made of Mid-Century architecture in STL with picture and descriptions of the neighborhoods, especially what society was like when they were built.

    6. B.E.L.T.,

      My name is Bill Hawthorne, and I represent maacenter.org, a leading web resource for asbestos exposure and mesothelioma cancer information. Our organization is dedicated to increasing awareness of the terrible health consequences of asbestos exposure.

      I found your site through a search and decided to contact you because of its high green building presence which is extremely important in our movement. The promotion of how buildings—both commercial and residential should now be built using sustainable green products to avoid asbestos and mesothelioma as well as the awareness of past buildings and preventative steps in avoiding asbestos exposure are extremely important. My goal is to get a resource link on your site or even to provide a guest posting to be placed.

      I look forward to hearing from you. Please feel free to check out our green building page at http://www.maacenter.org/asbestos/greenbuilding.php. Thank you for your time and consideration.

      Bill Hawthorne
      bhawthorne@maacenter.org
      MAA Center is now on Twitter – follow us @maacenter

    7. Coool tour Toby!

    8. Damn! I was going to blog about this subject. What caused you to come up with this post?

    9. I was browsing the web for street names and happened upon this site. To my amazement this is the neighborhood I grew up in and to this day my parents still live in their home. We moved to Frostwood in 1966 and the year now is 1 day shy of 2011. I read the article and agree with some of the things posted, but some I don’t. like the ditch on midwood, which use to be a creek filled with water which caused a lot of flooding problems in bad weather. I have enjoyed growing up in this subdivison over the years but I too have seen many changes. A neighborhood filled with careing and loving people to empty homes and not knowing any of the other people that live on the street. Times have changed and I’m sure this takes place everywhere, but the best thing was to experience viewing the pictures of the different homes and to my suprise the last home in the pictures was my parents!

    10. What a great story!
      I can’t find any info about it, so hearing from those who lived there is the only way to get good information. I would love to see the inside of your folks’ home and talk to them about living in the neighborhood.

    11. Dana Owens (Galen)

      Wow, it brings back such fond memories. We moved to Frostwood in ’68 and it was the first integrated school I had ever attended. I did all of my growing up there in Frostwood. It was a great neighborhood.

    12. [...] Plenty of atomic-age delights in this large subdivision near the Lambert International Airport. Click for the story. [...]

    13. I remember one of my classmates at Caroline Elementary School (now demolished) lived there and I went to visit. I was only maybe eleven or twelve, but I remember the ceiling in the living room. I loved that house more than mine, a tract house in Doddlesdale. I decided that I wanted to be an Architect and started sketching my own designs for a house. I won’t soon forget that place.

    14. Frostwood was the catalyst for becoming an architect? That warms the heart Thanks for sharing.

    15. We grew up at 8304 Graybirch Drive. We lived across the IGA when I was born, then to Graybirch after it was built. It was what They now call a Master Planned Community. We had the local schools, the IGS grocer, the pharmacist in the same center, a hardware stoe and Ben Franklin there too. The gas station was across that parking lot and we rode our bikes to fill the gas can for Dad at .10 per gallon. We played with the same kids all of our grade school years, people moved when their dad’s got the out of state promotion. You could ride to January Wabash Park and feed the ducks, or I’ve skate when it froze over. Playing out under the street lights was a summer nightly ritual.
      There were black families who lived there with us, before subsidized housing. then the kids I met who moved here from Pruet Igo (sp) came and told me they hated being there. All their friends were I the city and they resented being shipped so far away. We moved in 1971 to Florissant. Another great place to live, and another place of transitions. My folks just moved in 2011. And I want to tell everybody, that nothing bad ever happened to them in all those years. have a sis who lived there still, and I enjoy my drives and shopping when I’m up there.
      The style of life and the feel of the subdivision has always influenced my choice of homes but in different states. Thanks for noticing the area. It was areal treat to read, and Midland never bothered me. Walked past it many years and figured it was there to divert our big storms. That is a good thing.

    16. I grew up near Frostwood. My father worked for the firm that put all the plumbing in the homes.

    17. I grew up near Frostwood. My father worked for the firm that put all the plumbing in the homes. Had many friends that lived in the sub-division. I had a paper route for the Globe-Democrat, a morning paper, two St.Louis Cardinal ball players, Ken Boyer and Wally Moon, lived there and were on my paper route. Many other memories of that area and era, but to many to go into at this time.

    18. Pamela Todorovich

      My parents bought their new home on Redfir Dr. in Frostwood around 1954. I remember the radiant heated floor of the house. THey were so nice you could got barefoot in winter. The house had a whole back wall of angled windows , floor to ceiling, in the living room with a big fireplace, that faced the backyard. The living room was separated from the eat in kitchen by a tall wood bar. There was a utility room off the kitchen and no basement.
      I think we lived there until 1962 when we out grew the house with the fifth child.

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