Posted on January 6th, 2013 1 comment
It was the end of December 2012, and I was on the bitingly cold, snow-covered roof of the former State Bank of Wellston. We were there to explore the building in its final days, and discuss how they were going to salvage the neon tower to keep it safe for future use. It was sadness tinged with hope.
Standing atop the building as my feet turned numb from the cold, I thought of the heartbreaking months ahead documenting the Wellston bank’s demolition. But then a thought slapped me upside the head:
There were far more wins than losses when it came to mid-century modern architecture in St. Louis in 2012.
I didn’t yet know it, but the day after Christmas the website Curbed figured it out, citing two major St. Louis MCM wins in their article, Mapping the Biggest Preservation Wins and Losses in 2012. We’re #8 and #9 on the list of winners. We’re used to being on lists of shame for destroying buildings of all eras, and here we are getting a pat on the back for two major victories. And they are both mid-century modern buildings!
The Saucer, by architect Richard Henmi (shown above) is now bustling with caffeinated folks at Starbucks. The other side is still in renovation mode for a new tenant. The Triple A building (below) by architect Wenceslao Sarmiento stood up to a tear-down threat by CVS.
The efforts to save both of these buildings from extinction are beautifully detailed here, by our city’s own Michael Allen for Next City, another national organization keeping an eye on our preservation wins in 2012.
The fight to Save Our Saucer was, technically, a 2011 campaign that came to a conclusion in 2012. For both of our round Mid Town MCM buildings the amazing fact is that City Hall – specifically, the mayor and certain aldermen – spoke out quickly and emphatically against demolition of either of these buildings. This was a huge policy change from years previous with City Fathers who really didn’t want to deal with saving buildings built after World War 2.
What caused this miraculous and productive change of perspective? I consider the following a major turning point.
It was February 14, 2009 when a large group of St. Louisans came together for a Love In to publicize the threat against the former Hotel Deville, which became a vacant apartment called San Luis. The St. Louis Archdiocese wanted to take it down to make a surface parking lot. After a disastrous Preservation Board review in June 2009, we turned it into a court battle.
The building came down and we lost the court case. We staged multiple events to raise money for our lawyer fees, and it was heartwarming to see so many people support us in this failed battle. Personally, it also created some tense moments with my deeply Catholic family who only saw it as me being part of a group that was suing the Catholic Church. Yikes.
The San Luis Did Not Die In Vain
A battle lost in such a large and public way turned out to be the moment that was needed to make positive changes in the future of mid-century modern architecture preservation. The Save Our Saucer campaign was a successful refinement of the Friends of the San Luis campaign. And the inconsistencies in St. Louis City preservation law were addressed almost immediately after the San Luis came down. The first tangible change was creating the organization ModernSTL (several of the ModStL board members were there at the Valentine’s Day Love-In) so that we had a central location for the education, preservation and celebration of St. Louis modernism.
AUGST 2012 The MCM preservation efforts of ModernSTL made the news several times in 2012, which is recapped here.
DECEMBER 2012 The victory inspired by the demise of the San Luis is the new architecture standards in the Central West End (CWE) purposely put into place to include the protection of mid-century modern buildings. Again, let Michael Allen give you the important details of this new standard.
That residents and alderpersons in these CWE wards realized that post-World War 2 buildings are just as much a part of the area’s history as the original buildings made my heart break with happiness. That they stuck with it to turn it into legal business that prevents senseless destruction like The San Luis in the future is a miracle. This is a major rethink of what constitutes an historic building. I love these folks! Thank you.
March 2012 The City of St. Louis received a $24,600 grant from the State Historic Preservation Office to survey the City’s mid-century modern buildings. Mayor Francis Slay writes of this award: “This specific research will identify important mid-century modern buildings and should lead toward protection from thoughtless demolition and possible resources for their improvement. Our City is rich in beautiful and significant architecture – and this study will help it remain that way.”
Here’s more details about the survey. It is expected to be complete by the summer of 2013. I am deeply humbled (and a little teary eyed) to learn that many B.E.L.T. entries have been used as part of their research on the city’s MCM stock. My wish for 2013 is that downtown Clayton, MO will consider doing something similar.
SPRING 2012 Having an article published in Atomic Ranch magazine was a personal highlight. But even better was that it was about Ladue Estates, the first mid-century modern subdivision in Missouri to land on the National Register of Historic Places. The residents who made this MCM preservation milestone possible have become good friends of ModernSTL, and it was a pleasure to stage a second annual open house and tour of their neighborhood in May 2012.
2012 MCM Mind Shift
In general, I have felt, read and seen a huge shift in mid-century modernism appreciation. Both in the private and public realms, people of St. Louis just get it! They get that this era of architecture has significant meaning in our history, and that many of these buildings are flat out gorgeous and worthy of keeping in use.
Two great examples of re-using rather than demolishing MCM in 2012 include:
This Sunset Hills building started life as the Mark Twain Cinema in 1967, and then became the Two Hearts Banquet Center, which closed in 2012. A local labor union bought the building to turn into their new offices. And here’s the kicker – they love the building as is. The renovations they are making are only to make it usable for their needs, not to destroy its essence. Here’s more of the story.
At Spring Avenue and Delor Street in Dutchtown, the Southtowne Village apartment complex, built in 1962, stood vacant and vandalized. When chainlink went up around the bombed out site, I assumed they were being demolished. It was a great to be completely, utterly wrong!
Thank you to 25th Ward alderman Shane Cohn for filling me in. The Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance is redeveloping the site by modernizing most of the existing buildings, and supplementing them with some new buildings better sited in the spaces left after demolition of the back buildings. The aim is more curb appeal and more urban density.
As we can see from the mid-construction photo above, they’re adding some 21st century architectural bling to appeal to new tenants. The mid-century character of the buildings will be buried. But the major point is that instead of automatically tearing down these buildings, they are re-using them! And why not? We now live in a time of wasted resources and limited means – it makes perfect economic sense to save money and the environment by re-using as much as you can. Construction-wise, a building from 1962 is just as good as one from 1862 for renovation, and I applaud the RHCDA for this enlightened way of thinking.
A Short Journey to StL MCM Preservation
Urban Renewal of the 1960s is what created the preservation movement, as we know it today. It took well over 25 years to change the perspective of the public and developers so that they would think first of preserving a turn-of-the-20th-century building rather than demolishing it. St. Louis, specifically, has benefited greatly from Historic Tax Credits that put so many of our classic buildings in downtown St. Louis back into service. All of this is possible because of pioneering preservation efforts.
In May of 2005, I started B.E.L.T. primarily as an outlet for documenting and promoting St. Louis mid-century modern architecture. St. Louis was a major recipient of federal Urban Renewal subsidies, tearing down hundreds of acres of our history to create a better society. When they began systematically tearing down these replacement buildings in the early 2000s, I was grief-stricken. I literally stood on the rubble of Northland Shopping Center and bawled like a baby. Something had to be done to update the preservation mindset to include the buildings of the greatest period of modern American progress.
With the help and camaraderie of hundreds of forward-thinking St. Louisans, we have changed the preservation mindset to include mid-century modernism. And whereas it took decades to automatically save post-Victorian buildings, we understand the importance of saving post-WW2 buildings in less than 10 years!
2012 was the year that all of this new mindset became glaringly, lovingly apparent. It bears repeating: There have been more victories than losses. I’m even optimistic about the plight of Lewis and Clark branch of the St. Louis Count Library. In less than a year, their board has already acknowledged its merit; the story continues into 2013.
From St. Louis City Hall, to activists, to social networks, there are thousands of people who deserve a hearty round of applause for making all of this possible. It also needs to be noted how progressive St. Louis is when it comes to architectural preservation matters. No matter the year it was built, we now know our buildings matter because our history – past, present and future – matters. It takes great strength and confidence to protect and nurture the things that are worthwhile.
St. Louis, you kick ass!
Posted on September 3rd, 2012 6 comments
South St. Louis City
This 1956 mid-century modern home plunked down in the middle of pre-WW2 homes in deep South St. Louis has been covered before. Scroll down half way at this link.
It is now for sale. Here’s the info.
The home is a $19,900 As Is foreclosure that needs a lot of work. Neglect has led to much water damage and remuddling. The extra photos that the realtor includes work hard to avoid revealing its raggedy shape, though the price is a dead giveaway. Here’s one photo that was not included:
Sorry it’s such a crappy photo. It was taken through an encrusted window. But it does show that some of the original mid-century fabric remains. This is exactly the type of information that someone interested in rehabbing an MCM home would want to know: is there something there that’s worth my money and effort?
One highly unusual (thus admirable) aspect of this listing is that the realtor does NOT ever use the phrase – or even imply – “tear down.” Homes of this vintage are regularly classified as tear downs, especially when they are in desirable zip codes on land that is, on paper, more valuable than the house.
But if a home is in good condition, isn’t it a bit manipulative to call something a “tear down?” It’s a bit of judgement casting, an assumption that everyone who runs across the listing will think that a mid-century modern home is horrid.
I completely understand the financially-motivated aspects of labeling a home a tear down. Everyone involved in the sale wants to get paid. But marketing has a very powerful influence everywhere, including real estate. How many under-performing stick-and-tissue new build homes in the deep exurbs have been purchased based on painting a pretty picture? And rechristening condos as villas has brought new life to a traditional form of high-density, low maintenance living. So words matter, and some aspects of pegging mid-century homes for demolition is absolutely suggestive selling.
It is a fact that any home that you’re not the first owner of is going to need some remodeling. The cost of changes you intend to make are typically factored into what you’re willing to pay for a home. And there are millions of buyers who want to rehab a home, either to their liking or back to its historical authenticity. We all understand this as a selling feature for pre-WW2 homes. But in the world of the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), they are quick to label homes from after WW2 to the 1970s as tear downs.
Actually, the MLS has yet to upgrade their descriptions so a realtor can choose phrases like “mid-century modern” or “modern ranch” as a choice for the style of home. It is a fact that sympathetic realtors and MCM-motivated buyers have to comb through mountains of homes by age to zero in on what is wanted. Why is an easily-identifiable group of willing buyers left to work so hard to find their home? Is it that difficult to add some new style categories to the MLS?
It always boils down to education. And in the case of real estate, realtors who can identify and serve this new subset of mid-century modern buyers will emerge financially victorious. Wouldn’t other realtors, logically, like to benefit from this as well? So that’s the argument for updating the MLS: do you wanna get paid? MCM lovers are willing to pay.
MCM Realtors in St. Louis
In St. Louis, we do have some enlightened realtors that know their MCM and the audience who wants to buy them.
• Ted Wight knows a good MCM home when he sees one, and shares sales info and amazing photos of such on his blog, St. Louis Style. He also walks the talk, having just recently purchased a William Bernoudy home, making him a realtor who is also saving mid-century homes in desirable locations from being torn down.
• Ginger Fawcett knows a good MCM when she finds it. Here’s her LiveLocal. And her frustration at MLS listings making it difficult to ID mid-century homes motivated her ModernSTL board membership. Ginger’s desire is to educate fellow realtors about the MCM market, which then advocates changes in how these homes are listed. Her educational activities include a Parade of Homes, where multiple realtors put their MCM homes on an open house tour so MCM buyers can see multiple, desirable properties in one day.
If you’re in the market for a Metro St. Louis mid-century modern home, these are the three realtors that I know who fully understand what you’re looking for, and can ease the burden of what is, typically, a time-consuming MLS search.
Posted on August 5th, 2012 2 comments
Kappel Drive at West Florissant
On the west side of West Florissant is a short stretch of Kappel Drive, more like a termination of the road from the east side of West Florissant than a full block. All of the other homes in this immediate area are slight variations on the middle-of-the-road brick ranch built in the first half of the 1950s. But this little tiny block went more atomic.
A front wall of windows and a carport differentiate these from the rest of the homes. Seemingly tiny differences, but it catches the eye if you glance up the street from West Florissant.
A check of St. Louis County records shows all of these more atomic homes in Westwood Acres were built between 1956 & 1957, 1064 square feet of 3 bedrooms, one bathroom, and a full basement.
The dividing line between Dellwood and Ferguson may run through the backyard of these homes on the south side of Kappel. The rest of this neighborhood to the south is called Northland Hills, with homes starting at 1012 s.f. and having an attached garage. Records show the entire area was built up between 1955 – 1957.
Be it Dellwood or Ferguson, all of these subdivisions along West Florissant, north of Ferguson Avenue, were built in response to the construction of Northland Shopping Center, and the promise it fulfilled of turning farmland into modern neighborhoods.
When my father, Richard, came home from the Korean War in 1954, his father, Arthur, drove him up West Florissant to Chambers Road. At that time, only a few small, new businesses were popping up south of Chambers. This intersection was still widely known as the crossroads where farmers brought their produce to sell, and where you could buy horse and livestock equipment.
Standing at the intersection, Arthur points to the horse field at the northeast corner of Chambers and West Florissant and tells his son, “If you’re smart, you’d buy up property over there.”
Richard looks at his father as if he were insane.
Arthur points back toward Northland under construction, and all the land around it being plotted for housing and says, “We’re all moving north at a rapid clip. This field’s days are numbered. You might as well make some money from it.”
Of course Richard did not buy any of that land. And of course it was completely built up by 1957, and development spread further north every month.
During those boom years, it looks as if one contractor was responsible for most of the ranch homes around the Dellwood/Ferguson dividing line. But somehow, these airy little numbers snuck into a short stretch of Kappel Drive. Everyone of them is still well under $100,000, in good condition and relatively remuddle-free.
Posted on June 3rd, 2012 2 comments
For Memorial Day Weekend 2012, I took a tour with Saint Louis Patina of the art and architecture of Kansas City. Previously, I had made a few pit stops attached to music or baseball events in KC, but that was no way to get to know and see the city. This time, I got a good taste – much like a super-size buffet full of endless variety.
As a St. Louisan, we’re used to distinct boundaries of City and County, all clearly marked with signage so you are painfully aware of exactly where you are and who it belongs to. Kansas City is the complete opposite. When you say “Kansas City,” you could be in Missouri or Kansas, it could be city or suburban. They treat it as a seamless metropolis with no hangups about boundary lines, and it’s refreshing, really.
Art and architecture perfectly blended at The Nelson-Atkin Museum of Art, starting outside with the original 1933 building now graced by a 2007 addition by Steve Holl Architects.
See a Slide Show of the buildings and some of the art.
The Nelson-Atkin is world-renowned for its Chinese art collection; I was most impressed with their Modern & Contemporary collection. I got lost in Wassily Kandinsky’s Rose with Gray, and was literally high from it for a half hour – strong medicine!
They do a brilliant job of blending the furniture and textiles of an era with its art, which gives you a more thorough understanding of the inspiration of that time. To see an Eames 1952 sidechair directly under a 1951 de Kooning painting immediately conjured George Shearing’s “Lullaby of Birdland,” jazz from that era. I could hear ice tinkling in highball glasses and smell cigarette smoke. It was great!
On the east side of Kansas City, MO is a section known as The Jazz District. There’s a lot of decay, some demolition (like the Holy Name Church), but also a lot of new development and renovated building stock. To drive through and see an abandoned “castle” (The Vine Street Workshouse) just down the street from a gleaming new modern apartment building was to understand hope and opportunity. Exactly how does KC do it better than StL? What lessons can we put to good use?
In downtown Kansas City, MO proper, the Quality Hill section was a delight. Being treated to a church bell concert (courtesy of The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception) as the warm wind blew under canopies of mature trees was an awe-inspiring moment. KC MO has an impressive collection of old buildings that remain in use and have been designated historic. They take full advantage of the Missouri Historical Tax Credits, which is why this tax credit constantly comes under attack – KC and StL know the benefits of it, while the rural parts of Missouri see it as a handout. But it’s available to everyone in the state, so see how it works to your constituent’s advantage, rather than attacking it.
Over to the National World War 1 Memorial at Liberty Memorial, there was a special Memorial Day Weekend outdoor exhibit of World War 1 vehicles, weaponry and uniforms. Lots of bizarre mannequins, which tended to undercut the seriousness of war. Not sure if a David Bowie song running through my head was appropriate for the event, but whatcha gonna do?
The Memorial and museum itself was gorgeous in its simplicity and severity, and the views of all eras of downtown architecture was breathtaking.
See a slideshow of WW1 Memorial photos.
Now we observe a moment of silence for the triumphant BBQ of Kansas City, MO. Fred Flinstone would have turned this side of prime beef into a car.
See a slide show of miscellaneous KC photos.
And now, the meat in a B.E.L.T. sandwich – the mid-century modern ranch homes. Courtesy of 2 driving maps from KCModern, you can see highlights and bonus tracks of an endless supply of suburban ranch homes in the Overland Park/Prairie Village/Mission Hills sections (and beyond) of Kansas City, Kansas.
See slideshow #1 of KC MCM.
KC loves it some cedar shingles; natural, stained, painted – doesn’t matter as long as it cedar. This also marks the first time I liked so much cedar. Guess context is important. That observed, I have very few photos of cedar-sided homes, so my prejudices were in effect. My problem, not theirs.
See slideshow #2 of KC MCM.
We barely touched the tip of how much mid-century modern housing stock they have, most of it lovingly and appropriately preserved (from the outside). There were new homes that resulted from teardown, but it was nowhere near as prevalent of a condition as in St. Louis County, and the new homes inserted are of a more appropriate scale. Meaning, there must be some type of restrictions in place as to what can be built; another lesson for St. Louis to contemplate.
See slide show #3 of KC MCM.
I desperately need a new garage, so observing detached garages is a constant pastime. THIS is the one I want. Along with the slanted roof and transom glass, it’s dark blue!
KC KS residential architects and builders had an artful touch with attached garages, too. The overhead doors play an important part in the balance and geometry of the front facades. Oh, how I miss that lost art.
See slide show #4 of KC MCM.
There are plenty of noteworthy public, commercial and church mid-century modern buildings sprinkled throughout these neighborhoods (like this public works building adjacent to Porter Park). In a future post, I’ll show a gorgeously bizarre temple that was nearby. Plus, there’s the Kaufman Performing Art Center by Moshe Safdie in downtown KC MO, plus a perfectly preserved Phillips 66 batwing to share with you.
Until then, lets end the Kansas City art & architecture tour with the final slideshow of KC MCM.
Posted on April 29th, 2012 No comments
Ladue Estates is the first mid-century modern neighborhood in Missouri to be added to the National Register of Historic Places. This is such an accomplishment that it even got the attention of Atomic Ranch magazine, who feature the subdivision in the current issue (also marking the first time they’ve covered St. Louis, period).
To celebrate all these milestones, ModernSTL and the fine people of Ladue Estates are throwing an Open House on May 6, 2012, from noon – 3 pm.
6 historic ranch homes will be open for your inspection and amazement.
Me and the photographer – Bruce Daye – of the Atomic Ranch article will be at the ticket tent to sign copies, if you’re so inclined.
$20 for 6 homes in this atomic neighborhood, $10 if you’re a member of ModernSTL. You can join ModernSTL on the day to get the discount.
Here are more details and photos about this event.
This includes a map to Ladue Estates, parking and ticketing information.
If you are MCM ranch home-inclined, you will love meeting the homeowners of Ladue Estates.
If you are a die-hard Atomic Ranch reader, you will love having the pages come to life.
If you’re a regular B.E.L.T. reader, please stop by and say “hello.”
Posted on February 26th, 2012 8 comments
Like many of you, I am a subscriber of Atomic Ranch. It was especially cool to have the Spring 2012 issue land in my mailbox because it verified that I actually did something I’d always longed to – BE in an issue of Atomic Ranch.
The only way to be in an issue is to have an AR-worthy house (and I don’t have that – yet) or contribute a story or photos. I wrote a story and edited photos by Bruce Daye about Ladue Estates, the first mid-century modern subdivision in Missouri to land on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s a first for me, and as was pointed out by a faithful AR reader, it also marks the first time any St. Louis home has been featured in the magazine. So, St. Louis was late to the game, but then we overachieved with an entire subdivision. How’s that feel?
It feels great!
In 2003, a black & white photo of mine was printed in the letters section of dwell magazine, which had me bouncing around like Navin in The Jerk seeing his name in the phone book. Shouldn’t be hard to imagine how majorily I’m dorking out to a feature article in Atomic Ranch.
Because I wrote about Ladue Estates in the past, I’ve had the great pleasure to become friends with the neighborhood trustees, and they are the ones who asked me to write the piece for Atomic Ranch. So big bear hugs with sloppy kisses to them for making this personal milestone moment possible. And I’m thrilled to be a small part of the legacy of this amazing atomic age subdivision.
I am also a board member of ModernSTL (as is one of the Ladue Estates trustees!) and we will have a Ladue Estates Open House and magazine signing event on Sunday, May 6, 2012. We’ll share all the details once we have them ironed out. But if this piece of news made a little part of you tingle, mark it on your calendar now.
Posted on November 6th, 2011 13 comments
509 Teston Drive
The first house that my mother and father bought after I was born was the one above, at 509 Teston Drive in Ferguson MO. It was built in 1953 as part of the Ferguson Park subdivision, and was (and remains) 864 s.f., with a full basement. Part of that basement was finished, because my father did it in a hurry to host the annual family Christmas party, and there just wasn’t enough room to cram them all in upstairs.
The house is now vacant and in the hands of HUD out of Kansas City, Kansas. Meaning, it was foreclosed. The last buyer paid $72,000 for it. It is available now, per this Zillow page.
The vinyl siding is an update, which happened sometime in the 1990s. From the photo above of my half sisters on Easter 1967, you can see it was originally clad in asbestos shingles. The kind that left a chalky film on your finger when you rubbed it. And we didn’t have a hand rail. City Halls weren’t as concerned with our safety back then; personal responsibility was the standard operating mode.
And note that it’s still the same picture window in both photos, as well as the wood front door!
Here’s the backyard in 2011. The hill doesn’t seem as steep as it did back in the day. My being older is part of it, I’m sure, along with natural settling and erosion. Note the cinder block wall to the right of the sad, faded little utility shed.
It used to be the wall of our carport, which was also my dad’s hangout. The place where I’d sneak sips of his ever-present frosty cold Busch while he mowed what seemed like a massive hill.
This is a shot my mom took from the top of the backyard hill in 1967. The metal awnings are long gone – hope they recycled them!
Since the place is currently vacant, I could peer in the windows and see the inside for the first time in 40 years, and I was struck by how much it was still the same, and how much I remembered even though I was under 5 years old during the 3 years we lived there.
That’s the same wood floor; we had bright orange red carpeting on the floor save for the bedrooms, and I clearly remember the size and color of the floorboards (seeing as how I spent most of my time down there).
This photo of my mother, father and I shows the closet door and handle is the same, though it – and all the woodwork – received a darker coat of stain over the years.
Whomever is working on the house is tearing down the wall between the living room and one of the 3 bedrooms. Also note the kitchen.
The wall coming down was once the classic, ubiquitous wood paneling. (Side note: I kept that green chair until it literally deteriorated in the mid-90s.)
The kitchen was patterned asbestos floor tile and metal cabinets. When they bought the place, the cabinets were olive green that they had spray painted white. I noticed that the kitchen retains the same white tile backsplashes with black trim, but everything else was obliterated. Shame, ‘cos those cabinets are sweet.
Anyone who knows their metal cabinets, can you decipher what that label to the right of my head says? I can’t get the picture any larger to figure it out, so could use your expertise. Oh, and I still have the GE handmixer you can see hanging on the wall. Still works perfectly!
I didn’t get to see the bathroom as it is today, which originally had light salmon pink wall tiles. I can’t share any photos from back in the day because all of them feature me in the tub or potty training, so you understand not sharing, right?
The thing that struck me most was seeing the original metal frame windows and sill in the living room. Because it sat low to the floor, I spent a lot of time peering out these windows, keeping an eye out for my pal Julie Schemmer across the street so I could go out and play, or fiddling with the cranks and levers till I was told to stop or I’d break them. That was obviously an over-exaggeration, ‘cos here they are over 40 years later, ma!
I’m amazed the house has gone through so many updates and changes, yet these windows remain. Seeing a replacement window propped up against the wall makes me wonder if they plan to replace the picture window, too. That would be a shame if they did, because the original windows just need to be sealed properly rather than replaced with something that will most likely look wrong.
Look out the window and you can see we had snow for Christmas of 1969. The drapes with the holiday cards pinned to them is the same window I peered through for the shot above this one. Under that window is a Zenith stereo with those kick ass Circle of Sound speakers. On the floor below it is the doll house I wrote about here. And I suppose it’s appropriate to say that it was while living here that my mother found Northland Day Nursery School as she was cutting through the back way from this house to West Florissant.
It was a genuinely moving thrill to be able to spend a little time with this house once again. Here’s hoping it finds a good new family – and that they leave that picture window as is!
Posted on July 11th, 2011 1 comment
Marshall Ave. near Brentwood Ave.
Webster Groves, MO
How much do you dig this remodel of a 1941 house? From the asymmetrical porch roof leading to a carport to the wrap around window of the front room to the white piping against dark cedar shingles, I love it because it tweaks the standard perception of what a Webster Groves 2-story 4-square should look like.
I’m sure it originally looked much like the house next door. The home on the other side (not pictured) is pretty much the same, but has a front room addition and other re-dos, but still retains enough of “that Webster Groves look” to not draw attention. But our MCM remodel was for sale for a very long time in the early 2000s; it was a little too long during a prime housing market in a prime location, and we assumed it was because of its “oddness.” The people who finally bought it in 2003 have done nothing drastic to it, so they must have loved that atomic oddness, and bully for them.
St. Louis County records show the remodel was done in 1955, which makes total sense. And it’s a testament to the thoughtful work (and maintenance) done that it still looks crisp and fresh. And it’s not so odd that someone did this to their home, because homeowners have always felt the need to update.
In 1961 – six years after the Webster remodel – the Popular Mechanics Home Handyman series (see other MCM-inspired projects here & here) was helping homeowners make their houses “a lot easier to look at” by offering up all kinds of ideas on how to make a 2-story home appear more low-slung (remove those dormers – now!), “keeping in mind that on many old homes the removal of the wide cornice alone will materially change its appearance.” (Click on the pages for a more readable size).
In 1961, they considered a cute little home built in 1921 to be too old, that it “looks rather unpromising as it stands.” So Americans have always thought that homes “from 40 to 60 years ago” are tired or ugly or passe. The main difference between then and now is the American urge to automatically demolish rather than remodel – we’ve become a much more disposable society. And if you can figure out the benefit in that, do chime in.
But these remodeling ideas do underscore how desirable it was after World War 2 to be free of ornamentation, let in more light, be lower to the ground and remove those “ponderous porches.” “The change in appearance not only adds inestimably to the value of the property,” it kept one from enduring the embarrassment of living in a house that just 25 or 30 yeas later would once again become the desired style.
My Mother claims that she’s held onto so many of her dresses and shoes from the 1950s & 60s because they would eventually comeback in style. And there is now a portion of her downstairs closet that looks like the dress rack on the set of Mad Men. Because her Depression-era generation was on the cutting edge of post-war clothing and housing design, they were also not liking the old-fashioned homes of their parents. Zoom ahead to now, and the Baby Boomers that the new mid-century ranch houses were created for don’t like their parents old homes.
This cycle always repeats – a younger generation dislikes the hallmarks of the previous generation while tending to like the hallmarks of their grandparents’ generation. This is why the Baby Boomers fought to preserve the architecture of the turn of the 20th century, while Generation X and younger want to preserve mid-20th century architecture. The cycle always repeats – what can we learn from it?
Well, one key lesson is the carport instantly changes everything! Take another look at the Webster Groves house above – the new attitude is all about the “airiness” of the carport, the wind beneath its wing. And here’s another example of how the carport is the slap in the face that snaps a house out of it!
Lansdowne Ave near the Murdoch Cutoff
This 1929 bungalow went full-on Jetsons with a whole new roofline swooping down into a 2-vehicle carport worthy of a Chuck-A-Burger waitress on rollerskates. Peek around to the side and see they added an angled window frame and…
…they took that commitment all the way around to the back. Then check out the graceful lines leading to the “new” lighting in the front yard (below), and assume that they took this enthusiasm inside as well. I’m dying to see the inside. And because of the consistency of modern detail and broad scope of re-imagining, I’m assuming an architect drew up the plans, because this is way above the badge-level of Home Handyman.
Actually, this is the type of remodel that I’m sure the 1981 edition was helping you be rid of, because the cycle of what’s ugly till it’s not continually repeats. And both of these houses have been blessed with owners who held out long enough for the unhip remodel of the original unhip house to become hip again. Recycle, reuse, rinse and repeat.
Posted on May 18th, 2011 No comments
I know several people who regularly attend the open houses of for sale homes. While some of them are always on the look out for the perfect home to move into, generally it’s the ultimate in window shopping combined with HGTV voyeurism. Meaning, it’s a great hobby to have!
What if you’re really into mid-century modern homes? How would you like if 10 of them were all open on one day? It’d be like a parade of atomic age goodness, or in the parlance of 1950s’ newspaper real estate sections, a “Parade of Homes”!
This Sunday, May 22, 2011, from 1 -4 PM that’s exactly what’s happening. Modern StL board member Ginger Fawcett enlisted fellow real estate agents with mid-century modern listings, and they’ve banded together to have them open and free to the public for 3 hours. Lately, when a choice MCM goes on the market in St. Louis it gets snapped up pretty quick, so coordinating 10 properties like this at one time is a rare feat. It is also the first such event in St. Louis. Lots of groundbreaking here!
The 10 homes you can view (and buy, if you’re so inclined) are:
- 2 Sleepy Hollow in Olivette
- 36 Stoneyside Lane in Olivette
- 41 Oak Park Dr. in Creve Coeur
- 8 Graybridge Lane in Ladue
- 1220 Kenmore Dr. in Glendale
- 2409 Saint Giles in Kirkwood
- 1735 Ridgewood in Crestwood
- 1309 Honeywood in Crestwood
- 1901 Wilson in Chesterfield
Look for these signs at the entrance to neighborhoods and in the yards of the for sale homes, and enjoy!
Posted on May 16th, 2011 3 comments
My friend Tim Wahlig (he of the Popular Mechanics Home Handyman encyclopedias) once mentioned that his parents’ first home was a Lustron in Brentwood. I begged to see photos. And now his mother, Pat, has yanked out the old photo album to share with all of us her photos and memories of living in – and remodeling – a Lustron.
The home shown above was built in 1949. It is gray Lustron #1067, according to the Lustron Registry. Pat and her late husband Bob were married in July 1957 and moved into this home over Labor Day Weekend, a month after their wedding.
They bought it for $15,000 from two spinster ladies, one who was an interior decorator, and both of them gardeners who had a prize-winning garden along the driveway. At the time of the sale, Pat and Bob asked if the flowers would remain, and they said “yes.” Come moving day, they noticed that everything had been dug up!
Pat says they “knew absolutely nothing about Lustron” when they saw it, nor were they looking for a house with no basement. But at 1,093 square feet “that house just fit us. The inside storage was good – the closets ran to the ceilings. Being newly married, we hadn’t accumulated anything, and we had no furniture so the built-ins were just perfect.”
Bob Wahlig was a very handy man, and almost immediately he set about personalizing, rearranging and adding to the Lustron. Like the screen-porch he built on the rear.
Bob also pulled out the wrenches and moved some exterior walls to change it from a recessed side entry to a flat front facade with the door facing the street. Pat provided this link, and scroll half way down you will see the original floorplan of their home. She added that the photo under the floorplan drawing is exactly how their home looked before the remodel, and that it “was simple to square off the porch; everything simply screwed together.”
Bob had a bunch of sample bricks in different colors, so made the patterns you see above. The firebox was a Heatlator “that was very efficient as it blew heat right into the room, even without an interior fan.”
The fireplace left them without porcelain panels for the sides and the ceiling, and they looked into getting panels by contacting gas station builders. They were told none were available, but they could be custom made, but the cost was prohibitive, and color matching couldn’t be guaranteed. Bob wound up using wood panels for the ceiling, and these matched the new panel he would build for the dining room pass-though (more on that in a bit).
Pat & Bob’s first child, Daniel, was born early in 1962. There he is with his Dad in the recliner by the fireplace. With the leftover bricks from the project, Bob built a planter under the living room bay window and put his aquarium in it!
And that fireplace became the focal point for all official family photos, like Dan with his godparents (above) who look fabulous!
Lustrons came with a floor-to-ceiling, built-in buffet that divided the living and dining rooms. Tons of storage and a handy pass-through space. They needed that storage space, but also needed a bigger living room and space to expand their dining room table. So Bob unscrewed the buffet and moved it against the wall of the service and storage area. In it’s place he built the wood panel wall (shown above), which added 22″ to the kitchen, which was enough room to add this small table and chairs. Also of note is that rather than the customary ceramic tile floor in most Lustron kitchens, theirs was a dark brown asphalt tile.
This wood panel also gave them the rare opportunity to hang something on a wall! With all the built-ins, there wasn’t much space to hang pictures, so Pat didn’t have to confront hanging things with magnets or screwing them into the steel panels.
They absolutely loved living in the Lustron; “It simply worked perfectly for us. Ours was the party house for all our friends.”
And what did their parents think of them moving into a steel house?
“Mom just loved it! Dad did, too. He enjoyed the first time Bob’s dad, Tony – who was a trim carpenter – came over to see the place. ‘Tony! Just look at this house. No carpenter needed!’ Tony laughed as he’d come in the back door and had his hand on the kitchen counter. He looked down at it, tapped it and said, ‘Well, this must have taken a carpenter!’ ”
Being an all-steel home, did it have special upkeep issues?
“Absolutely none! Every spring I was up on the roof scrubbing it while Bob worked on the awnings. I washed all the walls and ceilings every year, too. I remember the first year that I washed them, they had a yellow film, but the two old ladies didn’t smoke. Bob concluded it was because the furnace had no filter.”
And was it comfortable in the summer and winter?
“The heating system was just AWFUL!!! The furnace was up in the utility room ceiling, behind the Lustron panels, and hot air just blew through the ceiling – no vents! While the concrete floors were freezing, so we carpeted them.”
“Bob did cut a hole in the front bedroom wall, under the window, for an air conditioning unit. Back then it was rare to have A/C.
“A couple years after moving in, we bought a washer and dryer. The utility room had built-in hooks for a clothes line to dry laundry. But since there was no way to vent the dryer outside, the moist air blew right into the house. My windows seemed dirty all the time! But the humidity didn’t bother us. We were young, so it was all OK.”
They sold the Lustron in early 1963 for around $17,000 to a young couple with two toddlers. “We were really surprised they’d be interested in a two bedroom home. But we were glad they were. It wasn’t an easy house to sell!”
The Louis Avenue Lustron still stands today, but it now looks like this. When I shared this photo with Pat, she replied, “UGH!!! That’s like putting plastic on a brick house!”
Nice to see that Bob Wahlig’s chimney remains, as does the original roof. Pat remembers that some owners after them turned their screen-porch into a proper bedroom that runs the entire width of the back of the house. County records show that the addition brings the total square footage up to 1,489. They also list its style as “Ranch.” Eye roll.
Ultra big tons of thanks to Pat Wahlig for sharing her photos and memories with me, and to her son Tim for continually reminding her to dig out these photos and bringing them in for me to scan.