Posted on December 23rd, 2012 No comments
The former State Bank of Wellston is currently under interior demolition. Exterior demolition is set to begin January 2nd, 2013. Word is it’s coming down to make way for a McDonalds.
Here’s an overview of the Wellston Bank.
And there will be a future post memorializing the loss of this mid-century modern bank that was both stately and cruisin’ cool at the same time.
In the meantime, the neon fabulous Sky Bank light tower (above) is for sale.
This light tower has been a sign post, a marker, a marvel for almost 60 years. Sometimes, it’s the only thing about Wellston that people know or recognize. It is absolutely worthy of saving.
The demolition crew is looking for a buyer. There is some urgency because of the start date of exterior demolition.
Do you know of anyone who can help?
We could use a Christmas miracle, here.
If you’re interested, please contact me via blog comment or directly, and you’ll be put in touch with those with the details.
It IS a Christmas miracle. Here’s a note from Larry Giles:
I am in the final phase of securing the Wellston Bank sign and have managed to raise 6K thru donations and have the trucking lined up, 5K for the purchase price. We still need another 5K for the crane, crew and misc.
More details as they emerge.
Posted on August 19th, 2012 8 comments
This sign became…
…this sign. And that fact was consigned to the memory of a select few until it was brought to light by Dean Wieneke. Read his story here.
The beauty of the world wide web is that anyone can find anything, and the family of the men who were Dickerson Motors found the story of Dean finding their family’s sign. They got in touch with me both in comments on the blog entry and personal emails. Which lead to them graciously scanning old photos, which are shared with you now.
Julie Dickerson Chung and Carolyn Dickerson Zerman are the daughters of William E. Dickerson, who started Dickerson Motors, Inc. in 1951 with his brother Thomas E. Dickerson (whose son Don Dickerson provided some of these photos). It was a Lincoln Mercury dealership located at 6116 Natural Bridge Avenue. It was in the shadow of the only remaining gasometer in St. Louis.
Here is that spot today. Note that the building appears to have been sitting on the dividing line between St. Louis City and County.
Dickerson by day…
…and by night. These photos were taken shortly after the dealership opened.
A big day for Dickerson Motors was when actress and icon Debbie Reynolds stopped by the dealership in 1955 to buy a car. She was on her way back to California to marry singer and actor Eddie Fisher.
Above, Bill Dickerson hands Debbie Reynolds the keys to the car she chose. To put it in historical context, Miss Reynolds had just completed filming of the movie The Tender Trap, with Frank Sinatra. It would release in November of 1955.
And Debbie gets inside her new ride to zoom off and marry Eddie Fisher. The marriage would produce actress/author Carrie Fisher, and end tragically when Eddie left Debbie for Elizabeth Taylor in 1959. This is just how her history played out and in no way infers her car from Dickerson Motors played any part in future marital dramas.
Don Dickerson (son of co-owner Tom Dickerson) shared the photo above, depicting the “Hot Rod Lincoln” that was part of the dealership’s racing team. In conjunction with the racing team, Don recalls:
”Before a race, my Dad was out zooming around Missouri to see what the Lincoln could do. He came over a hill at a very high speed and found that at the bottom of the hill was a buckboard with two horses pulling it. He slammed on the brakes but was going too fast to stop, killing two horses and totaling the car.”
To the best of Carolyn Dickerson Zerman’s memory, the car dealership closed around 1957-58. “I know my sister Julie was born around that time and was a “saving grace” to my Dad (above left), who hated to see the dealership close.”
The family does not know what became of the sign after Dickerson closed. In this entry about Ackerman Buick, former employee Tim Von Cloedt said Jerry Ackerman bought out Kuhs Buick on North Grand Avenue and moved the whole shebang out to Dellwood in the early 1960s. The first building on the lot went up in 1964 – so did the sign, now recycled as Ackerman Buick.
Where was the sign from 1958 to 1964? Considering how much information we’ve received so far, there just may be someone out there who knows the answer.
And this whole saga came to light when Dean and his family bought and dismantled the sign (above) to put it in storage at his father’s farm. As of this writing, Dean sold the sign to Fast Lane Classic Cars in St. Charles, MO, who plan to hang it on the side of one of their buildings.
So St. Charles is the newest chapter for one of the busiest, most recycled signs in St. Louis history. And thank you to all of the Dickerson family for being so generous with their photos and information.
Posted on May 20th, 2012 6 comments
Union Memorial United Methodist Church
Belt & Bartmer Avenues
North St. Louis, MO
A carload of us architecture fanatics were heading east on Page Avenue after a long day of photo adventures brought short by the setting sun. I glanced out the window to the south and saw a stained glass beacon pointing straight toward me, then it disappeared. I wasn’t sure if I really saw it, but quickly asked for them to turn the car around, let’s investigate.
At the peak point of a unique cul-de-sac of stately homes from the early 1900s (and some modern in-fill here and there), silhouetted against the sunset, the Union Memorial United Methodist Church spread out before us, like a swan taking flight. It was a breath-taking moment, with all of us exclaiming, “How did we not know about this?!” I vowed to come back as soon as possible in daylight.
And it was even more spectacular than the first time.
From the church website, we learn:
Bishop Clair, the resident bishop, officiated at the Ground Breaking Ceremonies held March 26, 1961. The Cornerstone Laying was March 7, 1963 followed by the formal opening in November, 1963. The Union Memorial United Methodist Church edifice is said to be the second largest “thin shell parabolic structure” of its kind in the United States.
And that roof is in pristine condition, and absolutely awe-inspiring.
I told my father, Richard Weiss, about finding this church, and once again, he floored me by revealing he did the stained glass installation somewhere between 1961 – 1962. He was the foreman on the job done by PPG Industries.
Richard told me that the City of St. Louis helped find a new site for the church when they had to relocate due to the Mill Creek Valley being demolished. This is verified on the church’s website, wherein they write:
During Dr. John D. Hicks’ pastorate, the city dedicated a mammoth redevelopment program. Union Memorial was located in what was called “The Mill Creek Area”. This area was to be cleared and rebuilt. The church did not have to move, but since many members had moved westward, the church decided to move west, also, and build a new church. A Building Committee of one hundred was appointed, which was empowered to negotiate with the Land Clearance Authority and to take all necessary steps to secure available land. The committee reported that the land and property at Belt and Bartmer was the best that they had found. Two architects were employed to draw up plans which were later accepted.
Here’s a 1958 aerial map of what was on the site before the church was built.
The original Union Memorial Church was dedicated in 1907 at a temple that was standing at the corner of Leffingwell Avenue and Pine Street. This is now part of the campus of what was the A.G. Edwards headquarters at Jefferson and Market in St. Louis City.
From my father I also learned some other important information:
• Cunliff Construction was the general contractor for the project, headed up by Nelson Cunliff. Nelson was the St. Louis Parks Commissioner who helped make The Muny possible in 1917. He and his brother, William, were responsible for several industrial, hotel and apartment buildings in St. Louis during the 20th century. Ray Schelmmer was the project superintendent.
• Inside the Cunliff Construction work trailer was a scale model of the building, made of sticks and plaster, which everyone had to constantly refer to understand the complexity of the structure.
• All of the stained glass panels and aluminum framing had to be fabricated on the site, rather than in a shop, as is typical. The architects had drawn a general map of how the glass should be laid out, but they had to be in person to see how it would actually pan out. There are panes of clear glass in front of the stained glass to protect it.
Richard wanted to know if I got a shot of the tiny portions of glass close to the ground (they were a bear to install). And I did. You can see what he’s talking about here, along with additional exterior photos of the church.
My father also told me an interesting story about the integrity of the congregation.
At the time of construction, this neighborhood was experiencing some unrest, with lots of robbery and burglary. Pastor John Hicks noticed all the work crews packing up their equipment and tools every night, and told them it would be safe to leave them on the site. The crews, with their expensive gear, were hesitant to chance it. But the pastor assured them they’d keep a watchful eye out and could guarantee that no harm would come to their belongings. My father’s glaziers began leaving their gear behind each night, and it was always there the next day. The Pastor’s word was golden.
And that spirit of community and integrity and pride lasts to this very day. They welcomed us into the church for a tour, and everyone we spoke with was eager and happy to talk about their church and the building that has served them well for 50 years. They even asked for copies of the photos to add to their historical archives.
Here’s an example of what they do for the community (and you can see their magnificent building in the background).
Inside, it is easily 95% original material that remains, including the angular benches with the cloth insert aisle caps. I can’t even keep my own furniture this clean, so I’m mightily impressed by all the effort they’ve made over the decades.
Note the material detail of the lobby, including the crosses as door handles.
When some benches needed to be removed to add sound and light equipment, they even re-purposed them as seating in the lobby. “Waste not want not” has served them well.
Note how the folded concrete roof moves from outside to inside. And these are the original doors (though upon seeing this photo, Richard noted that one door is no longer operable as it’s missing it’s jamb).
These floating, terrazzo stair treads lead up to the balcony that overlooks the nave of the church, but also gives you a heart-pumping view of the soaring tower of stained glass…
Make note of the stone home seen through this glass. That’s 5501 Bartmer, built in 1907, and it serves as the residence of the acting pastor of Union Memorial (their current pastor is Rev. Kevin Kosh). They tell the story best on their own website:
On November 20, 1977, the three John’s – Rev. John Hicks, Rev. John Doggett and Rev. John Heyward – officiated at the mortgage burning services. This occurred approximately five years before the mortgage was to be paid. During Dr. Heyward’s pastorate, additional property across the street from the church was purchased and used to house the pastor and his family.
These shafts of stained glass follow the angle on both sides of the church, and the experience of watching them ascend as you walk into the main auditorium really does lift the spirits. The beauty of mid-century modern church architecture is that they did finally have the means to recreate the poetic movement of faith and ascension. Today’s brick box stadium churches really do a disservice to the spirits they worship.
The congregation were rehearsing on a Saturday afternoon for Easter worship. Their singing voices just added to the magic of the space that they were so gracious to share with us – every nook and cranny.
I have yet to see a building of this vintage in such perfect condition. They take meticulous care of it. And even when they needed to replace some light fixtures, they did such a good job of keeping the tone, that I had to ask if they were original or replacement. Their understanding and love of their building is truly inspirational.
They took us down into the basement, a white subway tile space so spic and span you could eat off the walls! There is also a large auditorium with a stage known as the Lewis Fellowship Hall. They were decorating the stage for an Easter pageant. It was heartwarming to be looking at a space that was depicted many times in celebration photos hanging upstairs in the lobby.
They even kept and framed the original architectural drawing done by the architects of the building: William E. Duncan, Charles Novak Jr., and Harry A. Osborn, who billed themselves as Associated Architects. I could only find a trail of information on Charles Novak, who did the Brentwood YMCA in 1957, the St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Ferguson in 1955, and the Golde’s Department store that used to stand in Sappington, on Manchester Road.
As seen from Page Avenue, two tiny mid-century modern homes lead up to the Union Memorial, and the sight of this with the old stone mansion on the right is such a beautiful encapsulation of the evolving history of St. Louis architecture, and how faith creates some of the most beautiful spaces ever.
Thank you to everyone at Union Memorial United Methodist Church (here’s their Facebook page, with the building front and center!) for giving us such an enthusiastic welcome and tour of your magnificent church.
Posted on November 2nd, 2010 5 comments
Shreve & Lexington Avenues
North St. Louis City, MO
The St. Louis City Talk blog pegged these houses above when covering the Kingshighway East neighborhood (scroll down 40%), and when I said to Matt Mourning that I wish I knew exactly where they are, he said, “I told you about them in January. They’re at Shreve and Lexington.” Within a couple days, Chris Naffziger and I were taking in this scene. St. Louis bloggers do not mess around (except when they forget something told to them 10 months ago – what a drag it is getting old!)
There’s actually 2 perfect rows of these houses, back to back on Lexington and Palm, creating an entire block of mid-century bungalows between Marcus and Shreve. All of them are 1,104 square feet, built between 1962-63, according to City records. The Lexington side also extends one block to the west, where the homes face Handy Park, with half of them of the same vintage, but with a few design variations and a little more space, clocking in at 1,173 s.f. These new homes were labeled the North Cote Brilliante Subdivision.
What makes the compact block of North Cote Brilliante so intriguing is what is across the street from them. Shown above is a good sample of what the residents of the 4700 block of Lexington see when looking out the floor-to-ceiling windows of their mid-century pads. These brick boxes date from 1911-1912, and none of them go over 725 s.f. This is standard for this era of single family homes in this area. It’s the mid-century homes that are out of place, in the best way possible.
Take a look at the aerial map and you see how different they look from their neighbors, with no alley dividing the backyards, and their bright, low-pitched roofs contrasting with the flat roofs all around them. Considering the history and density of the area, it’s natural to assume that similar homes were demolished to build the new houses. But why did they choose to demolish that particular block – plus another near-dozen across from the park – to insert new homes?
So began the research through old City Directories, which showed nothing at all at these addresses even as far back as 1921. In fact, in 1921, Shreve didn’t even exist as a street south of Natural Bridge, and Palm ended 10 blocks east at Clay Avenue.
A 1958 aerial map confirms that the sites in question were indeed blank, with Handy Park taking shape at this time. Turns out Handy Park was dedicated in June 1960 in honor of songwriter W.C. Handy, who matters greatly to blues music, in general, and matters specifically to our city because of his seminal 1914 classic “St. Louis Blues.”
The City made the ordinance to turn this land into a park in 1941, and even at the dedication 19 years later, the houses overlooking the park (shown above & below) were still 3 years away from being built and bought. So why were there sizable swaths of blank land in the middle of this neighborhood for so many decades?
Tired of pouring through books at the library, I took a delayed shortcut and called my father, Richard, to ask what was up with that part of Kingshighway East. His immediate answer: Handy Park was once a quarry. He remembered being 8 or 9 (which would be 1940 or ’41) and going with his parents to visit their friends who lived at Lexington and Aubert Avenue, and being specifically told not to go near the quarry which had recently been closed because some boys had been killed while exploring the site. For roughly 15 years, they filled the site with cement and stone to get it to a point where they could build the park.
His recollection of time period jived perfectly with the City park ordinance, and a quick cyber search verified that indeed there was an awful lot of quarry right there, as shown in the pink dot on the 1904 quarry map, above. According to Stone Quarries and Beyond, it was known as First Quarry, one of three owned by John B. O’Meara. The official address was at Euclid and Ashland Avenues, and limestone was pulled from it starting in 1876.
Which means that these homes on Palm – dating from 1926 to 1935 – had a quarry or a vacant dirt lot as their view until…
…these homes popped up in 1963.
It’s heartening to know that nothing was demolished to make these small, swanky homes, and it’s intriguing that many homes of this type were going in the North Side. For example, Norwood Square – just 1 mile west of here – went up on the site of a former trash dump. And similar homes (which can be seen here at St. Louis Patina) went up on always-vacant land on both Carter and Anderson Avenues – about 2 miles northeast of here – between 1952 to 1961. There’s also San Francisco Court that went up in 1957, and which will be covered in a future B.E.L.T. post.
There was a sizable chunk of new post-war housing being built in North St. Louis, yet all the various versions of St. Louis City history never mention this, even in passing. These new developments were a big deal to the people living in the area. In fact, on this block that you see above, there still resides two original residents who moved in to them when they were brand new in 1962. And note that most of them are in really good condition, which is evidence of decades worth of constant maintenance.
These houses were a big deal then, and they still matter today. Yet they don’t rate a mention in the developing history of North St. Louis. The story is told as if nothing new and inspiring went on in North St. Louis after World War 2. With a sidelong glance to the Urban Renewers, Red Liners and Paul McKee’s of St. Louis, I ask:
Why is that?
Posted on January 9th, 2010 2 comments
It was a January 2nd phone conversation with my Father, and I don’t recall what got us on the topic, but we started talking about Walnut Park, a neighborhood in North St. Louis. He began reminiscing about what that neighborhood was like well over 40 years ago, and named all of the companies and manufacturing firms (like the Chrysler plant, the small ammunition plant, etc.) in the area, and how all those employees populated the Walnut Park neighborhood.
As is the topography of his amazing memory, my Father started rattling off the names of companies, street by street, a list of by-gone firms that either folded, merged or moved their operations outside of American soil, and how this killed the vitality of the surrounding area. There’s no disputing that population density follows jobs.
As my Father walked down memory lane, he stumbled on the name of the long-time electric company on Semple Avenue. He described the building, what they manufactured, but that he couldn’t remember its name brought the conversation to a close. On January 3rd, there was this brief message from him on my answering machine: “Moloney Electric. The name of the place on Semple was Moloney Electric.”
On January 9th, he calls me back to say that the site of the January 8th ABB shooting IS the old Moloney Electric building. A search of Moloney Electric brings up a history of acquisitions which eventually resulted in ABB at its present St. Louis location.
Considering our earlier conversations about the building and the tragedy that took place shortly thereafter, I think I’m going to lay off for a little bit on having these types of historical conversations with my Father, Built Environment Nostradamus.
Posted on December 12th, 2009 2 comments
The Anti-Wrecking Ball Holiday Kegger was a qualified success. Success is measured by how many kegs were emptied (2) and how much of our lawyer fees were paid down (most of it!).
Thank you to every single person who came out to the inaugural event at the Old North St. Louis Community Gallery (gorgeous space in the most optimistic part of town) and for each person who contributed time, talent, booze and money to our adventures in preservation law.
And here’s a brief video of the evening.
And as our adventure continues, you can donate at any time through the Friends of San Luis Pay Pal account.
Posted on May 16th, 2009 6 comments
Intersection of North Broadway & Halls Ferry Road
Baden is the northernmost burg in St. Louis City, established in 1876. Because of its location as the terminus of major transportation lines, it became a popular gateway to North County. Or put another way, after World War 2, Baden was like training wheels for veteran city dwellers pedaling toward suburban living.
During the Great Suburban Exodus, the building shown below made an impressive effort to embrace the mid-century modern frontier by donning a sleek and colorful metal screen suit in the mid-1960s.
The heart of the downtown Baden Business District straddles North Broadway and is still mostly intact, building-wise. It is easy to conjure how it worked and felt in the first half of the 20th century, and will be relatively easy to revive as America re-embraces the logic of density in the coming decades.
The Y intersection of Halls Ferry & N. Broadway – known as “The Wedge” by locals – was a bit more flexible at changing faces to keep up with the changing times. Driving up the hill on the Halls Ferry side is like time traveling through architectural styles, from newest to oldest.
From the street, The Wedge looks and feels like one large scalene triangle of a building, but an aerial view reveals that 7 separate buildings make up this tableau (I’m excluding the white building on the northeast corner because it’s an unattached 1970 addition to The Wedge that looks and feels completely separate).
By following the history of these buildings and its past occupants, you get a clear picture of the dominance (before WW2) and decline (post WW2) of the Baden Business District.
At the southwest tip of the triangle is 8312 Halls Ferry, built in 1925, which got a new Art Deco-ish face right around 1944 when Baumgartner Kummer Realty moved in. In 1948, it became strictly Paul Kummer Realty, and he stayed put until 1983. Note the display window; is this where he posted enticing pictures of the new modern ranches in North County? It has been vacant since 1986.
Even though the next two buildings up the hill share the same pink fiberglass and burgundy Vitrolite tile as Kummer Realty, they are two separate buildings, both built in 1925, but obviously re-clad at the same time.
8314 Halls Ferry (above) has been home to John Flood, a paper hanging contractor (1932), Charles Schmidt Jewelers (1948-1960), Hartig Jewelers (1961- 65) and Baden Jewelry till 1968, when Paul Kummer Realty took it over. His business was obviously booming! It sat vacant from 1977 till the early 1990s, when a couple of outlet stores moved in, but then left. It remains vacant.
8318 Halls Ferry was Lungstras Dyeing & Cleaning Co. until it became Rockwood Cleaners in the late 1950s, then Hampton Cleaners & Laundry from 1961 till the building went vacant in 1966 and remained that way until a series of businesses came and went from 1999 till 2006. The space is currently vacant.
The building at 8324 Halls Ferry went up in 1927 and started life as Louis Becherer Hardware. I’m supposing the the missing cladding on the ground floor was Vitrolite that went up when the space became Leyerle Jewelry Co. from 1941 – 1983 (getting the impression that Baden was the place to buy jewelry?). The upstairs was an optometrists office for a bit of the 1930s before it converted over to residential rental. Since 1992, nothing much has gone on with either floor of the building, other than being stripped of its pretties.
We move up the hill to the L-shaped Ludwig Building, an impressive 4-story affair built in 1929 in the classic urban tradition of retail on the ground floor and apartments above (43 total). Most everything about this building has remained virtually unchanged, which may account for its current sad state. More on that in a second.
Storefront 8332 (shown above) started life as Baden Delicatessen and then became Howard’s Cleaners from 1941 to 1958 (how many cleaners did they need in one block?). From 1958 – 1990 it became a part of LeRose Flower Shop at 8330 Halls Ferry, and then converted back to single occupancy for Miss Connie’s Fashions and Matthews Realty & Investment. It has been vacant for most of the 2000s.
Here is the only entrance to the Ludwig Apartments that remained open in summer 2008, and at that time, there were occupants.
Here’s the overall corner view of the Ludwig Building, showing how grandly it occupies the summit of The Wedge. Note window A/C units in some of the windows and know that the apartments have never been updated.
At the end of 2008, all remaining residents were evicted, new owners bought the place for a song in early 2009, and now every entrance and storefront is boarded up.
From street view, the building is still remarkably intact, and I’m picturing a brave and adventurous developer knocking down partition walls to make larger apartments or even loft condos. The potential for this building is huge, as it is for everything in The Wedge.
The corner storefront of the Ludwig Building was a Velvet Freeze ice cream parlor from 1941 – 1999, and that is as it should be for such a great location.
This is the Muriel Street side of the Ludwig, and note that – somehow – the original transom glass has survived over all these storefronts! Attorney Edward Rothganger had an office at 848 Muriel from 1938 – 58, at which point The Baden News Press (yes, the town had its own newspaper until 1977!) expanded into this spot.
This side of the Ludwig had better luck with retail remaining, with Forever Diva’s (at 844 Muriel) being in business until everyone was evicted in winter 2008. Heading down the alley (to the left in the above picture), there is a long row of sealed overhead doors, which meant the apartments surely took pride in boasting “enclosed” or “off-street parking” as a perk for renters. With a little imagination, it could be a selling point again…
And we head down Muriel to North Broadway, where we return to the building that started our tour – The Medical Center. This 2-story brick building went up around 1925, and the place got a new face right around 1966 (see how the metal screen fastened to the brick).
8315 is the portion of this building at the tip of the wedge, which originally housed the Baden Building & Finance Corporation upstairs and Herman Ludwig Drugs at street level. In 1941, Boesel’s Royal Drugs took over the space until closing up shop in 1983. A Dollar Store and a beauty supply went in during the 1980s and 90s, but the entire building has been vacant since the City took it over in 1999.
Here we have the Baden Medical Center proper, so known by the fabulous stainless signage that remains in place to this day. In 1966, 7 doctors had practices inside, dwindling down to 4 by 1973, and one doctor and one attorney by 1986.
In the early 2000s, the City spent quite a bit of money to build a spiffy, multi-level bus stop at the tip of The Wedge, which also signaled that these buildings were ripe for redevelopment. But the bus stop is now overgrown and littered, and the For Sale signs on the Medical Center are a little moldy. But as long as they don’t tear them down, hope remains.
Posted on April 5th, 2009 5 comments
Intersection of Washington Blvd. & Jefferson Avenue
North St. Louis City, MO
The buildings on both corners of the west side of this intersection have got a new coat of paint, and the effect is absolutely stunning. It looks like colored eggs in an Easter basket.
When we get a new hairdo or whiten the teeth, it spiffs us up without changing the basic essence of who we are. Same goes for buildings. A little patching, a little paint and some prideful TLC goes a long way towards boosting civic self esteem. Thank you to these building owners for their fabulous efforts.
Posted on February 28th, 2009 2 comments
The St. Louis Beacon recently published a conversation with developer Richard Baron, full of illuminating opinions and something I didn’t know previously: Lambert Airport could have been in Waterloo, Illinois.
I am elated he brought up and elaborated on one ultra important item: Metro Link Stations:
“There was the situation with Metro. When all of that started back in the ’80s there was no plan to take advantage of these transit stations — to build housing around them, retail around them. To use them as an economic driver, as was done in many other cities around the U.S. when light rail went in. Here was this enormous investment that was made, and look at the stations, and they’re bleak.
“You reach a point where you get terribly frustrated because the lack of leadership in this town is palpable — both on the public side and the private side. Go to Atlanta or Minneapolis, and the energy level and the effort on the part of the public-private side — partnerships, foundations — everybody is pulling together and have had a much better success than in St. Louis. We’ve had passive leadership, a watering down of the executives of corporations that have left. We have had executives who have no real identification with the city — who came in from out of town and live in the county and don’t relate to the city much. And it’s just a lot of little things that have exacerbated the problem.”
And if you haven’t already, The Beacon is a must for followers of the STL built environment, along with Building Blocks at the Post-Dispatch.
Posted on February 24th, 2009 4 comments
Guess where the picture above was taken: Ballwin? Florissant? Mehlville?
When faced with low-slung, stylish 1960s ranch houses casually strewn amongst profuse greenery, these would be valid guesses. But instead, we are exploring Norwood Square in North St. Louis City.
Norwood Square is actually a court (as shown in the aerial photo above), a half block northeast of the intersection of Union Boulevard and St. Louis Avenue in the Arlington neighborhood. And it doesn’t take a bird’s eye view to get the feeling that a giant scoop of the city grid was whisked away by a mega melon baller.
On the ground, it is rather dramatic to see rows of deeply urban, 2-story brick residential buildings built between the 1890s – 1920s abruptly bisected by a swirl of deeply suburban, mid-century modern frosted sugar cookies. As you fleetingly catch glimpses of the original natives from inside Norwood Square, it feels like the ranch homes are circling the wagons ’round to protect their fabulousness from hostile forces.
This mirage of displaced MCM sweetness is cited as the last new housing built in this part of North St. Louis. City record show that these 40-odd homes were built between 1961 – 1974, with the bulk of them going up between 1961 – 1966. They range from 982 – 1,888 square feet, with a median square footage of 1,450.
The circle that is Norwood Square is divided into East, West, North and South Norwood, which puts 4 of the houses (like the one above – which cleverly wraps its footprint around the curve) in the odd position of not knowing exactly which street they are on! Is their mailing address North Norwood or East Norwood, and how confusing is it to new mailmen on this beat?
So what’s the story with Norwood? Why was this exotic dollop dropped here, and what was torn down to make that so?
Having been told stories of Public Schools Stadium, I wondered if Norwood Square is what popped up in its place. But the stadium was a block east of here, on Kingshighway, and when it was demolished in the late 1960s, most of Norwood Square was built and firmly inhabited.
Noticing that a few of the homes have some serious sink issues, I wondered if it was built atop the quarry that was supposedly shut down sometime in the 1940s because some kids accidentally died while playing there. But no. The memories of some old school North St. Louisans’ remember the quarry at Kingshighway and Lexington, a good 2 blocks north east of here.
So, for now, the why it appeared and what disappeared to make it so remains a mystery. Please do share any historical information you may have in exchange for the details I share with you here. Like the snazzy tile work that graces this split-level, above.
Or the swanky pendant light fixture and concrete block screen of this entrance.
From quick visual inspections over the course of several years, most all of the homes are still in good condition, always the sign of well-liked buildings. Many of them (see above) are meticulously preserved and cared for, a heart-warming sign of intense pride in their ranch house alien. Only rarely have I seen for sale signs on the yards, so I wonder if there might still be a hefty amount of original owners in tow, or a lot of kids inheriting them from the folks.
This home is the equivalent of the half man/half woman Halloween costume!
To see more photos and details of Norwood Square, please visit the B.E.L.T. supplement at Flickr.
Facing out onto St. Louis Avenue, like sentries protecting their MCM turf, is a short row of 2-family versions.
The chalk and cheese concept of Norwood Square is not wholly unique. Something similar was done in South St. Louis with Marla Court. Or there’s Darla Court in the inner-ring ‘burb of Jennings. So, it’s not uncommon, but it’s always a pleasant surprise, yes?
Steve Patterson – who first told me about the subdivision several years ago – sent along this aerial map from 1958. Seems the street grid was long interrupted in this part of town, and look at all those mature trees! This would also bear out the info Rick Bonasch shared about the original site being a dump.