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  • MILESTONE: Mid-Century Modern Subdivision on Missouri’s National Register of Historic Places

    Posted on October 5th, 2010 Toby Weiss 9 comments
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    Ladue Estates Subdivision
    Creve Coeur, MO

    For St. Louis fans, connoisseurs and scholars of mid-century modern architecture, know that a milestone moment has happened: Missouri has its very first post-war subdivision on the National Register of Historic Places.

    St. Louis County is worrisome for Atomic Ranch lovers because it feels as if they’re being demolished the very moment after they are appreciated for their historical grace. The original post-World War 2 owners who embraced this architectural style and made these neighborhoods possible are leaving behind significant homes that become vulnerable to the tear down developers.  Here’s the tragic tale of an exceptional Ladue home that was demolished for a McMansion.

    But in the face of fears that a lack of architectural appreciation and zoning laws will tear down important chapters of St. Louis history comes the first ray of hope: Ladue Estates was added to the National Register of Historic Places in May of 2010. And on October 1, 2010, St. Louis preservation luminaries such as Esley Hamilton and MiMi Stiritz were at the intersection of Ladue Road & West Ladue Estates Drive for the dedication ceremony.

    But what makes this particular moment particularly sweet is that it was NOT brought about by architectural scholars, well-meaning activists or public servants. Ladue Estates was granted ground-breaking historic status because its RESIDENTS recognized its beauty and significance, and worked to make it official. And talk with any resident to learn that the hero of this triumphant tale is Lee Ann Baker (above left), while Lee Ann is quick to point out all the help she received over the 3 years it took to complete the National Registration form.

    Take a moment to look through the fascinating history of Ladue Estates in this pdf of the winning application.  Note that it is 76 pages long because it extensively covers all 80 homes in the post-war subdivision, as well as the original builder and architect, and the Jewish heritage of 3/4 of the original owners. Then note that there are architectural historian professionals who are paid good money to research and fill out National Register applications for projects  a quarter of this size. Which is what makes Lee Ann’s accomplishment all the more amazing; it was truly a 3-year labor of love for a neighborhood they adore and want to see protected in perpetuity.

    For the dedication ceremony, MiMi Stiritz read aloud this letter from the Missouri office of Historic Preservation:

    …(Ladue Estates) represents a collection of high-style ranch houses that are nearly pristine in their historic appearance and setting. As one of the first luxury subdivisions in the area, it additionally reflects St. Louis County’s westward growth into what was primarily rural land. Its wide lots, expansive lawns, attached garages and sprawling floor plans epitomized the suburban dream of the post-war years.  In fact, Ladue Estates is such a good illustration of the suburban boom, it has been used as an example by staff of the National Parks Services National Register of Historic Places program in training classes.

    The significance of Ladue Estates for its architecture and role in the development of Creve Coeur is easily apparent. What is not as obvious is its significance for cultural heritage. Over ¾ of the original owners were Jewish. At the time of Ladue Estate’s construction, there were still prejudices that resulted in restrictions as to where members of the Jewish community could re-locate. Built by Ben Goldberg, the Jewish owner of Goldberg & Co., Ladue Estates proved to be a welcome location for Jewish families who wanted a piece of the suburban life.

    Shortly after the Ladue Estates development, the surrounding area became the home of several Jewish establishments including synagogues, educational facilities, and social and community services. While it would have been easy to nominate Ladue Estates for architecture and community planning alone, the citizens of Ladue Estates went the extra mile to bring this valuable information to life.

    Finally, the state historic preservation office applauds the efforts of the citizens of Ladue Estates. They nominated this district through their own time and dedication. Their pride in their subdivision is evident and serves as a shining example of historic preservation efforts on the local level.

    Being invited to such a milestone moment in mid-century modern preservation was an honor. Even better, it was an absolute joy to meet, tour the homes of and talk with residents of this enclave. They are a friendly, vibrant and industrious group of people dedicated to the care and maintenance of a subdivision they recognized as special long before retro-modern became fashionable. For them, it’s about the quality of life from an abundance of natural light and green space, accessible single-level floor plans and Old World craftsmanship that makes these homes as solid as they are beautiful.

    Their conversations about 12-foot thick concrete foundations, window replacement, seamless room additions and architecturally compatible updates on their 54-year old homes have the same intensity of detail and passion as those working on their 102-year old home. And their glee in being able to show us one of the few remaining original ktichens was almost as great as our awe upon seeing this:

    An entire kitchen of original GE metal cabinets in teal blue (the other original color choices were pink and pastel yellow)! In the picture above, you see the open door of one of TWO refrigerators, with the freezer to the right. And TWO wall ovens. AND they all still WORK!

    To see more photos of this kitchen, other homes in Ladue Estates and the Dedication Ceremony, visit this Flickr photo page.

    Learn more about this historical milestone neighborhood at the Ladue Estates Subdivision website.

    And I want to express my deepest gratitude to Lee Ann Baker and every person who helped her undertake and complete such a gargantuan effort. The residents of Ladue Estates epitomize the intent of this very blog: the built environment in layman’s terms with special emphasis on the beauty and quality of mid-century modern architecture. So, they are my personal heroes, and as groups like Modern StL move forward with the preservation and celebration of St. Louis Modernism, we look to Lee Ann & Friends as a glorious example of worthwhile dedication and eternal inspiration. Thank you!!!!

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    9 Responses to “MILESTONE: Mid-Century Modern Subdivision on Missouri’s National Register of Historic Places”

    1. Love it! Nice to see interior pictures.

    2. As a (Jewish!) Creve Coeur native who grew up in a sprawling mid-century ranch house off of Ballas Rd, this news hits especially “home” to me. I am so glad that these neighborhoods are finally being recognized for their style and significance, even though they are not historic in the traditional sense (100+ years old).
      I always knew that the Double C was “cool to the Coeur!”

    3. The Suburban Journals covered the ceremony. Our story (and a video) can be found here:
      http://suburbanjournals.stltoday.com/articles/2010/10/08/west/special_feature/1013wc-register.txt

    4. It seems to me that the letter from the MO Office of Historic Preservation could be the template that validates quite a few future preservation efforts.

      Also: all the concrete countertops and eat-in “islands” in the world cannot equal the beauty of that kitchen! (I won’t even go into the $400 island chairs that plumb new depths of “inhospitable”).

    5. I have a set of those Seafoam steel GE cabinets awaiting installation out in the garage! I got the matching electric cooktop but, sadly, I was unable to get the wall oven and matching cabinet or the matching wall fridge. They would have required some demo work and I was just allowed to retrieve the cabinets that had already been removed. There was a Pink wall fridge (that had sadly been painted avocado) in the garage as well but alas, I couldn’t get it either. Eh, seems like it would have been too much work to properly install anyway.

    6. Where did you get your plaque made and how much did it cost. Trying to get one for Horce Mann School in Tower Grove South… 110 years of education. Thank you

    7. Laura Seasongood

      I grew up in one of the houses pictured in this article (#3) and sold it after my mother’s passing. I was loathe to part with it, but living out of state, it was not possible to hold onto the home. It does my heart good to see the beautiful neighborhood featured like this! (The homes were much undervalued four years ago.) Mid-century modern is a style I find myself searching for everywhere still. I wonder if the working refrigerator mentioned is in my mother’s former kitchen; my mother took meticulous care of the home and appliances were made so much differently then. St. Louis is a lovely city and much overlooked. Perhaps this little neighborhood will bring the city some of the attention it deserves. Thanks to those who worked to earn the title for Ladue Estates!

    8. Great work! That is the type of information that are meant to be shared across the web. Disgrace on the seek engines for now not positioning this put up higher! Come on over and visit my website . Thanks =)

    9. [...] Post-war Jewish subdivision begun in 1956 has the distinction of being the very first mid-century modern subdivision in Missouri on the National Register of Historic Places. Click for the entire story. [...]