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  • Mid-Century Modern Subdivision Crestwood Hills

    Posted on August 30th, 2010 Toby Weiss 16 comments
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    Crestwood Hills Subdivision
    Crestwood, MO

    On Watson Road at Sturdy Dr. – between Sappington and Lindbergh – is this crazy pair of mirrored buildings (Dental Centers North & South) from 1974. They’re festooned with every 1960s commercial architecture trick – even lava rocks! – as if they picked up all the litter after the mid-century party was over and fashioned it into a house dress. One day I got curious about the neighborhood behind these wacky buildings, so headed down Sturdy Drive and landed in a small subdivision dotted with houses like the one above.

    Crestwood Hills lays out in, roughly, the shape of a pitchfork, with the spikes ending at East Watson Rd (aka, Hwy 66), encompassing only 6 short streets. County property records show that all of them were built between 1955 – 1957, but the wide and unending variety of styles gives it the look of unfolding over a longer period of time.

    It’s apparent that a goodly number of the homes still house the people who originally bought them in the mid-50s. Then there’s an encouraging handful of homes (like the one above) that have been bought in the last few years by younger generations who know what they have, were happy to get it for under $175,000 in desirable Crestwood, and are lovingly reviving its mid-century modern ranch beauty.

    Drive through this neighborhood and you’ll get whiplash from trying to take in all the different types of homes. So it’s better for your neck if you walk it, but there are no sidewalks. That’s one hallmark of a classic mid-century suburban neighborhood – they more often than not did away with sidewalks. Was that a budgetary decision? Or was the love affair with how the automobile could transform every fiber of daily life raging so hard that they imagined no one would need never walk again?

    But I do love how the automobile figured into the layout of these homes. Even a fairly typical traditional ranch home like this got the carport. And it’s not just a place to park the car, but also sports a utility shed under the sloping roof and a flower planter, with both anchoring the open end of the house. I also love how this carport lends transparency, as you’re able to peer straight into the backyard.

    And in the spirit of no two Crestwood Hills houses being exactly the same, the developers used the same basic floor plan for this home, but changed out several details and finishes to make it wholly unique. I’m guessing that screening in the carport was a later remodel by the owners, which is cool. Several of the homes have turned the carport into a garage, which is a standard renovation. But it’s astounding how many of the original carports remain in tact.

    And we pause from all this atomic age fabulosity for the Smith Sturdy Cemetery. On East Watson, between  Gayle Avenue and Fox Park Drive, this tiny little burial ground with, maybe, 50 tombstones, just pops out of nowhere. It’s both disconcerting and intriguing, and because I can find no solid background information, it remains a mystery.

    There’s a sub-species of homes in this neighborhood that fascinate me because they have no traditional front door. The designers and/or developers just dispensed with such a quaint notion, and planted a chimney where a front door should be.

    And here’s another example of how the main entrance to the home is under the carport. Which underscores the new informality that was middle America in the middle of the 20th century; it was perfectly OK for your guests to squeeze between the cars and the house to knock on the door. Think about how many times you’ve been to someone’s house where they leave the overhead garage door open so you can come through the door that leads into the kitchen, rather than the formal front door. Well, with a house like this, you don’t even have to go through the trouble of opening a garage door and exposing all your junk to the world. It just is!

    And because of this odd entrance situation, this may be why so many of the homes similar to this one leave the carport intact, because how else would you get in without going into the backyard?

    This home highlights what happens if you decide to mess with the basic floorplan and close up that carport. Follow the fascia line to the right of the chimney and you can tell they added on this covered porch around a new front (well, side entrance, actually) entrance. But the driveway still leads up to what was the carport… so how do they get into their house when they get out of the car?

    Every other house in Crestwood Hills is a fairly standard sturdy brick ranch home, which was rather clever of the developers; might as well appeal to the traditional as well as the pioneering and recoup the building money as quickly as possible.  But even with a ranch as traditional as this one, above, they throw in a few modern details that lets it blend nicely with the more adventurous homes around it.

    Crestwood was once a boom town, increasing its population from 1,645 to more than 11,000 people between 1950 and 1960. They couldn’t build ‘em faster than the folks were moving in, but they tried. This neighborhood went up in 2 years, and I admire the richness of variety and detail that went into such a hasty project.

    Of interest is that the more traditional homes tend to have basements (above), while the decidedly modern homes are slab on grade. Though sometimes an unassuming brick and vinyl will also be slab on grade. What made them decide to change it up like that? This makes me think they’re may have been more than one developer/builder mining this neighborhood.  If anyone has any background information on Crestwood Hills, please please fill us in!

    Remember the house above that walled in its carport and created a porch on the other side? This is what it most likely looked like before the extensive remodel. And I love how they created a semi-circular drive in the front lawn, an ingenious way to get more cars onto the property while also adding a nice new bit of geometry to the overall look.

    Look at the generous screened porch on this one! And how the semi-open porch and the completely open car port are embraced by the sweeping roofline. This 1957 home is 1,344 square feet, but it looks so much larger because of the fine balance of indoors and out.

    The square footage of all these homes range from roughly 1,200 to 1,500. Back then, for a family moving from the city, it was a step up in elbow room. Somewhere in the 80s and 90s, it was considered too small. But a little over 50 years later, living in under 2,000 s.f. makes all kinds of sense if you want to pay your utility bills and eat. We’re struggling through a Great Recession, but I call it The Great Reset; we were living too large on money we didn’t really have, but the meter’s been reset and, out of necessity, we’re cycling back down into a more modest and humane way of living. And that’s why homes like these – when they’ve managed to survive unscathed by teardowns – become a great asset: we can afford to live in them and they’re beautiful and well-built. Try getting all 3 things like that in a just-add-water cul-de-sac village in the exurbs!

    At 1,924 s.f., this appears to be the largest home in Crestwood Hills, and also the most dramatically modern.  Look at those Neutra-esque bent columns holding up the carport! So cool that it (almost) distracts one from the hideous shutters someone slapped onto the home in later years.

    The homes in this neighborhood remain so basically intact 50+ years on that it melts my heart. How did they mange this? Is it because of the wide range of styles? Or that it remained such a stable neighborhood for so many decades? I really need to know! So, again, if any of you grew up in this neighborhood or know anything about it, please share some details.

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    16 Responses to “Mid-Century Modern Subdivision Crestwood Hills”

    1. Great find, Toby! That is one stylish neighborhood.

    2. I drive through this neighborhood almost every day to get to my neck of the woods in Crestwood. After living here for over 8 years, I’m still seeing fun details and noticing homes that missed my eyes over the years. Now that the weather is a tad nicer, it would seem to be time to go for a walk. Thanks for pointing out homes that I’ve overlooked!

    3. Great photos! (I notice a similiarity to some parts of my dearly-loved North County area, specifically a subdivision called Hathaway Manor, on the north side of Old Halls Ferry Road and nearby environs.) A question if anyone would know the answer: Are houses similiar to these unique to the St. Louis area? I’ve travelled fairly extensively and it does seem as though there is a certain uniqueness to St. Louis suburban housing.

    4. Very nice. If my wife and ever moved out of the City, this or that little street off of Woodlawn in Kirkwood would be the places to go.

    5. Our recent MCM house search took us through Crestwood Hills as well. There are some very nice details on several of the homes. It appeared several of the carports also had built in BBQ grills as well. Thanks for the great photos.

    6. um, “and I”.

    7. I forgot to mention that the home in the forth picture just sold, and the “Under Contract” sign was added to the “For Sale” sign almost immediately. So glad to see these great houses selling so quickly!

    8. I am the owner of the second house pictured in your article (the one with the Terra cotta colored door). We moved out here 4 years ago from the city and love our MCM. We really enjoyed your article, and would love to see you submit it to Atomic Ranch Magazine for publication. We are having a great time restoring our home. The front door was crafted from a kit sold by Crestview Doors. As you pointed out in your article there are a large number of these house that are near original condition, and they were very well built. Our home was built in 1954, and it included insulation, not always done back then. Do you have any information on who the builder might have been?

      There 2 other great MCM neighborhood off Balles Road and Craig in Kirkwood.

      Thanks again for the article

      Mike and Mary

    9. richard stupidhead

      Keith: google Eichler Homes and you’ll find huge intact developments in I believe Palo Alto or Menlo Park CA (down the SF peninsula anyway) many have been “upgraded”/destroyed, but there’s also a huge following.

    10. I have lived in my home for 25 years and was told that it was the original home of (Bob?) Jones of Jones and Company builders. We found photos of him in one of the closets a few years after we moved in. His cousin lived next door. I have never done any research to see if he was the builder. I assumed he was. I love my home and my neighborhood. If anyone would like to volunteer or donate money to restore this beautifully aging home and replace the hideous shutters that were slapped on, please send a check. haha

    11. Ridgewood is another subdivision in Crestwood that has many nice examples of MCM. Carrollton, a large developoment in northwest St. Louis County had many wonderful examples of Mid-Century Modern. All destroyed due to Airport expansion. I grew up with a Mid-mod home in St.Louis County, Mid Century Modern was all around. Now live in the Southwest and here are many many examples of Mid-Mod housing and Business structures. Good to see so much of it now appreciated and hopefully surviving.

    12. Nice article on Crestwood Mid-century homes. I think the term you have missed is “atomic ranch” to describe the big window, open carport architectural styles you have imaged. The style has developed almost a cult following with books and periodicals available for the interested.

    13. […] The Crestwood Hills Subdivision in Crestwood, MO. Click for the story. […]

    14. I grew up (0-9) in the “newer” 1958 section of this neighborhood, So. of East Watson RD. We had a Pink GE built-in kitchen & mom waited a few years b4 she & dad painted the kitchen a medium Turquoise satin. It really was a great choice from the old pictures I’ve found. Dishwasher, Garbage-Disposer (GE’s DISPOSALL), & a cycle-defrost, square-cornered refrigerator. The house was $19,500 new & they are getting over $200K for them now. Our carport that held many a birthday party, has now been enclosed. But several in the area still remain!! Our builder (Kaputa & Unland) had cathedral ceilings in LR, DR, & Kitchen in all homes.

    15. We have lived in our home under a year…yes, we bought it at the asking price with the home having really,NO updates. We hear the home was on the market for only hours before we put a contract on it. We knew it was the one we wanted as soon as we walked in.

      We still have the salmon color(yes, salmon, its not pink) bathroom with the tub, toilet and vanity. We are getting ready to update that…we are in the process of making more changes, but it takes money. We looked at so many homes before buying this one. We love the high ceilings and fireplaces. A real “mad man” feel, great home to entertain. Friends and family can not believe how big it is on the inside, since it looks so small on the outside, and yes…we are one of the few who stil have a carport which we just happen to love..we have no plans right now on buliding a garage…we love its many “open” uses.

      We are very interested in knowing who the builder was and other facinating facts. We so love living here.

    16. When these contemporary homes are impeccably kept up they look great and seem kind of fun – at least in magazines. The problem is they don’t age well. Everything has to be clean and neat everywhere, all the time or it destroys the vibe. Children don’t really fit in with them. All of these middle class modern neighborhoods have always looked run down to me. The trees, shrubs have to be meticulously manicured to fit in. The wrong front door destroys the whole thing. Too much stuff in the carport destroys the whole thing. These homes are a fun project for architects but they do not work for the way people actually live. Victorian homes are much more forgiving and can be a bit shabby and still have a sense of humanity and dignity to them. Go to a slum neighborhood with Victorian, brownstones, or most anything bulit before 1945 and there will still be a glimpse of class and warmth shining through the neglect.