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 January 4th, 2013 3 comments
B.E.L.T. reader George McNatt left a comment that this building at Brown and St. Charles Rock Road is going to be demolished. All of the buildings connected to it are coming down as well, starting this January 2013.
And why are these buildings coming down?
If I told you there was a Walgreens on the opposite corner, could you get the answer with one guess?
CVS was unsuccessful in Fergsuon (backstory here) and was shot down twice in the Central West End (both buildings spared from CVS demo are listed in this story). Guess they fared better in St. John, eh?
George also reports that they are tearing down the building on the southeast corner of this intersection (map here) to put up a McDonald’s. Considering they are reportedly going in on the site of the former State Bank of Wellston once it comes down, McDonald’s looks to have a strong first quarter of 2013.
Posted on October 28th, 2012 3 comments
This 1961 winged beauty started life as Flotken’s Market. The Flotken family has a website about the history of the store with lots of interior photos. There’s even a blog where you can contribute memorabilia of the place, which includes a copy of the original 1961 lease.
“In 1961, he opened a second store at 9643 Olive Boulevard in Olivette. Mr. Flotken designed a unique roof that descended from the sides to the middle, giving the appearance of wings.
Mike Flotken explained his father’s design concept in an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Dad wanted as much natural light as possible. With a traditional roof, you only get light from the front, and the ‘flying wing’ design allowed light to come in from the sides as well.”
As of Fall 2012, a local construction company is in the middle of remodeling the building for jewelry store The Shane Co., who plan to move in early 2013. Compare this construction photo with the one above to see how much they have removed. Much of the brick from the demolished kneewall was still sitting in the dumpster the day I photographed this.
While investigating who was doing what to this building, it was shared by Esley Hamilton that there is a correction to who the architect is. From conversation with a former employee who remembers working on the building, Elsey learned this is the design of Sommerich & Wood, who also did the 1958 Red Bird Lanes.
1) A jeweler benefits just as much from natural light as a grocer did, right?
2) A peek behind the plywood walls shows a good amount of interior construction has already taken place, including metal framing of walls reaching up to the roof structure. Meaning, they can’t alter the basic structure too much more, only mess with the front facade.
Granted, a lot of damage can be done with a new facelift. But so far, they’ve left so much in tact that it feels like The Shane Co. knows the allure of their new mid-century modern building. Let’s all keep an eye on their progress, and speak up if you see any new developments, please.
Thank you to Andrew Weil of Landmarks for giving me a heads up that this remodel is taking place.
Posted on July 1st, 2012 3 comments
We covered the Clayton-Forsyth building in November of 2009. Here is the story and photos. That post was inspired by the old news that the owner of the building wanted it to come down to build a mixed-use development. But The Great Recession quieted that thought.
The June 29, 2012 issue of The St. Louis Business Journal brings the thought back as a cover article (above). Turns out the building’s owner – Tony Novelly – has been banking buildings along this stretch of Forsyth, including the Clayton-Forsyth building, which is also known as The Lawyer’s Title building.
With next door neighbor Tip Top Cleaners set to close, their building goes on the market for $1.7 million. Novelly had reportedly tried to buy them out before. The Business Journal has no hard facts about Novelly’s intentions, just strong implications. Even his son, Jared Novelly, says for the article that they have no immediate plans to redevelop all their properties on this block. “We’re always open to redevelopment, but it depends on what the market does. Nothing is going on right now.”
It’s starting to feel like the era of mothballed buildings is in the starting stages of ending. If the real estate market is truly starting to come back to life, the mid-century modern buildings in Clayton’s Central Business District (CBD) are easy targets. Maybe not so much the building above, by architect Harris Armstrong, as it sits on the outskirts of the CBD.
And maybe not this other Harris Armstrong building. It’s even on the National Register of Historic Places. Then again, Clayton has already torn down a much larger Armstrong building, shown here on the website of the Clayton History Society. National Register is not a guarantee of safety, just a distinctive title.
And the Pierre Laclede Center is pretty safe, as they’ve recently spent millions to refurbish both buildings while respecting its mid-century modernism.
After that, just about every other mid-century building in downtown Clayton, MO is ripe for teardown. Many have already been torn down to build new skyscrapers and/or parking. This is a business district, and there is supposedly more money to be made from skyscrapers, which give you density of inhabitants making money.
Novelly already owns two corporate skyscrapers right next to and across from the buildings cited on the front cover of The BJ. So he does have a history of investing in the teardown of old buildings for behemoth new business centers. And it is being implied that he might soon have all the old buildings on this block. And past news articles have stated that he intended to tear down the Clayton-Forsyth building for a much larger mixed-use building, so it’s easy to assume his development history on that block will repeat.
But let’s drop the supposedly inevitable for a moment, and put on our thinking caps. You know what would be brilliant? Embracing the unique mid-century modern heritage of the Clayton Business District, and making money off that.
The prosperity and might of the Clayton CBD happened immediately after the end of World War 2. The majority of its buildings went up between 1945 to 1972, making it a quintessential mid-century modern city. It’s a text book example of the power and optimism our country had after the war, and the architecture they used to reflect that.
To be a part of the New Frontier and The Great Society, elderly and established downtowns had to utilize federal Urban Renewal funds to demolish and make way for new, modern buildings. In the mid-1950s to late 1960s, the City of St. Louis went on a demolition spree, ridding itself of “ugly,” “unhealthy” and “dangerous” old buildings.
As Downtown St. Louis crushed buildings into dust on the government’s dime, downtown Clayton was a blank canvas of relatively open land with prosperous business-owner residents who had moved there before The Great Depression. Or as the City of Clayton website tells it:
By the late 1940s, Clayton was in the midst of a building and business boom that eventually changed the City from a quaint suburb to the hub of the St. Louis metropolitan area. In 1952, the City re-zoned the area that became the Central Business District, allowing larger commercial and retail businesses to expand.
(In 1957), the City abolished the height requirement on new buildings, and plans for Clayton’s first high rises were soon in the works. However, City planners established strict requirements to ensure Clayton streets would not become tunnels amidst corridors of skyscrapers.
So a boomtown had the foresight to require variety in its buildings. Low-rise and high-rise would co-mingle to create – literally overnight – a new and powerful metropolis that would soon overtake Downtown St. Louis as the business center of Metropolitan St. Louis. That’s the beauty of working with a blank canvas – you can build a city from the ground up in record time and have it architecturally reflect the powerful and expansive mindset of a forward-moving society.
And here’s the kind of buildings they willingly chose to reflect their power.
All of the buildings shown in this post are part of the mid-century modern quilt they weaved within 30 years. The largest percentage of them went up in a less-than 20 year period. This is why downtown Clayton has a certain aura about it. Because many of these original mid-century buildings are still in existence, sometimes tucked into the shadow of newer post-modern skyscrapers. And it’s the melange of tall and small, street-level and sky-level that give downtown Clayton it’s powerful charm.
America is still scrambling to understand how to live and prosper in this new Post 911 cyber world with a global economy. All of the old rules are crumbling around us, and that includes the rules of land development. The days of automatically clearing an old building for a new one are looking rather barbaric in hindsight. We simply can no longer afford to be a disposable society anymore.
But luckily, holding onto your existing building stock can be just as profitable as the old crush-and-build model was for awhile. Off the top of your head, how many historic sites can you think of across America that bring in busloads of tourists? Large chunks of New England figured out decades ago that there is money to be made in old buildings and towns, and that local, state and federal governments will even help you turn it into a profit-making destination. I think any developer of an “ancient” building in modern-day Downtown St. Louis knows what I’m talking about, here.
When it comes to the newer realm of mid-century modern architecture and towns, we can look to Palm Springs, California as a great example of preserving residential and commercial buildings. It is easily the hippest destination in the nation, a desert town drowning in tourists disposable income. And let’s also consider all the building-buff travelers to downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma, which has lovingly kept all of its art deco institutions in tact.
Mid-century modernism is the last great American architectural style. People have been quicker to pick up on the benefits of preserving and using these buildings than past generations were to saving turn-of-the-20th century buildings. Both the building-huggers and developers are realizing that post-war Baby Boomer buildings and towns have several layers of worth and are worthy of keeping.
And you know what? The downtown Clayton Business District is an original, authentic mid-century modern city! It even has a very healthy percentage of its original buildings that prove this. If the money-makers in Clayton were to play their cards right, the CDB could become the Palm Springs of the Mid West.
Making money from existing historical building stock is a very real and attainable prospect. It is a compelling thought for Tony Novello while considering what to do with his Lawyer’s Title building. It’s a beloved building that has been allowed to go vacant, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Development is as much about marketing as it is capital expenditures and improvements. Maybe fly a mid-century modern flag up the pole and see who salutes the Mid West Palm Springs idea?
Posted on February 14th, 2012 6 comments
I just received the greatest Valentine in the mail, which begins with “You’re unmatched in my book,” and ends with two vintage matchbooks. One of them is above, for the Great Central Lumber Company in Rock Hill, MO. And look at the building drawing on the right!
The building still stands to this day, and Great Central Lumber remains, now as one of several tenants. I’ve always admired this building, and it seems the original owners did, as well, making the effort to put a line drawing of it on their promotional matches. Can you think of any recent new buildings that are matchbook-worthy? And will matchbooks one day be a thing of the past?
It first went up in 1966, and it’s shocking that it’s survived that stretch of Manchester Road for this long, in such unscathed condition. Because the other Valentine’s matchbook* is for a drive-in that no longer exists in either of its locations.
Tobey’s Drive-In, “Home of the Happy Hamburger” lists 2 locations inside the matchbook cover: 9600 Highway 66 in Crestwood, MO and 9315 Manchester Road in Rock Hill, MO.
The Rock Hill Tobey’s was basically across the street from Great Central Lumber, and since 1999 there has been a god-awful ugly apartment complex on the land where the drive-in once was. The Crestwood Tobey’s was at 9600 Watson, and Plastic Football has the scoop on the building St. Louis County records say is from 1973.
So this building nerd is having a good Valentine’s Day. And Happy Valentine’s to you, too!
* It was manufactured by the Universal Match Corporation, St. Louis, another mid-century modern building that was demolished in 2010. Aside from losing a handsome building, it was also the long-time employer of a relative-by-marriage, who used to give me complete sets of matchbook series he helped produce. I especially remember a choice Bicentennial collection that helped me with my history homework far more than the school books did!
The man who sent the Valentine matchbooks wrote the following after reading this post:
“The building that was Tobey’s still stands. It became Steak n Shake and is now Reid Vann (9331 Manchester). My dad and uncles built it many years ago (1980) and it originally had a zig zag type roof, very similar to the one on the walkway at McGrath Elementary, corner of Litzsinger and St. Clair. When Steak n Shake took over the Rock Hill store they remodeled extensively to fit the corporate image and removed the roof.
When the Rock Hill Tobey’s was built, the Crestwood one already existed. Mr Toberman planned to grow the franchise, but it never went above those two. He told my dad, “I’m going to put McDonald’s out of business.” The Crestwood store did not have the folded roof. “
Posted on October 11th, 2011 4 comments
9974 Old Olive Street Road
St. Louis County, MO
This building went up in 1964 as the headquarters for Theta XI Fraternity. They have since moved to a bigger and somewhat newer building on Craig Road. It has housed many companies over the decades, and is currently vacant, though realtor sites indicate it’s not currently available to purchase, so maybe someone has bought this 4,500 s.f. office building.
I spent the ’70s, ’80s and most of the ’90s deeply disliking this building. I also used to deeply dislike vegetables. But now I get concerned if I don’t have some every day, and I genuinely like them. And I now genuinely like this little building.
I like its compact cubism, which is only interrupted by the entry tail. If you’ve ever walked up to a post-modern office building wondering where the entrance is (and then thought “is that all there is?” once you spotted it), having an architect go out of the way to designate where to enter is a polite and delightful thing to not take for granted.
The repetition of only 4 materials – concrete, glass, metal and stone – gives it a sleek efficiency. But the one thing that makes it swanky is the type of stone. Surely there is a more correct name for it, but I’ve always referred to it as lava rock. And even though I now like this building, I still hate lava rock.
Lava rock was a cladding that became ubiquitous in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Picture 1970s-era Steak & Shakes; large chunks of matte black lava that stuck out from the building so far you could scrape an arm if you passed too close. Still not sure what was being conveyed by the use of lava rock – Rusticity? Neanderthal-ism? Flintstone-ism? Or maybe it wasn’t any message other than some quarries had tons of this rock for dirt cheap, so dig in and save some budget money on materials?
But this building is from 1964, a bit before the lava ubiquity curve, so they embedded the stone to create a flat surface. Overall, it has a giraffe pelt feel about it, and lends some whimsy to an otherwise strict geometric plan. So another reason I now like this building is because it created a loophole in my lava rock hatred. And carrying around a little less hate is always good for the soul.
What buildings had you always hated but now like? Please do share in the comments so we can put a little love in our hearts.
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 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.
Posted on April 27th, 2011 No comments
Modern StL is teaming with the Trustees of Ladue Estates to present the first ever Open House and Walking Tour of the first-ever Missouri mid-century modern neighborhood on the National Register of Historic Places!
Saturday, May 7, 2011
10 am – 2 pm
Ladue Estates, Creve Coeur MO 63141
$10 admission – $5 for Modern StL members
5 Homes Open To You
#1, 2, 3, 11 and 14 West Ladue Estates Drive are opening their doors. See an original teal GE metal kitchen. See how excited we are to be able to share these 5 gorgeous homes with you!
Guided Walking Tour
At 11am, noon and 1 pm, two Ladue Estates residents (Lea Ann Baker – who did the Historic Registry application – and architect David Connally) give a guided tour of the homes on West Ladue Estates Drive.
Self-Guided Walking Tour
The other 2 streets that make up this historic neighborhood are open for you to swoon through. With a paid fee, you will receive a brochure with neighborhood highlights.
This is a thriving, private neighborhood, so please respect their homes and park only on the East Sides of the 2 streets shown on the map above.
The tour begins at #2 West Ladue Estates (shown as X on the map above), which is also one of 5 homes open to you. Pay the fee here and begin your journey into an atomic-age wonderland! $10 fee the day of the event – $5 for Modern StL members. Rain or shine.
Posted on April 21st, 2011 13 comments
Watson Road from Elm to Watson Industrial Park
If you head west on Watson Road out to St. Louis County, and cross the Elm/Rock Hill intersection, look to the right for some relatively untouched mid-century goodness tucked in among the ever evolving retail in Crestwood. The building above may not catch the eye while speeding by, but take a closer look at what it reveals.
This building dates from 1961 and was built for Knoll Florist Shop. It’s undulating roof line and concrete walk always reminded me of a clam shell, but upon learning whom it was built for, it becomes clear that it may have been intended to represent the petals of a daisy. And check out how the iron railing follows the curves of the concrete; one of those kinds of details common back in the heady days of the Suburban Boom, and sadly missing now due to design and construction budgets, and the temporary nature of a revolving door of tenants.
Note how they directed customers to the curved, tiered steps, looking like a wedding cake. This view makes one take in the scalloped roof line and the tiny, multi-aqua ceramic tiles, all intended to create a whimsical environment that puts one in the mood to browse flowers. Maximum (but subdued) glamor for what is, essentially, a cinderblock building. Love it!
Summer 2012 Update
Turns out this building was done by architect Erwin Knoesel & Associates. We learned this while visiting his son, Richard, who still lives in the house designed by his father in the 1930s. His father’s original drawing, above, is one of thousands of architectural documents that he retains. Another Erwin Knoesel building that you may know is Tropicana Bowling Lanes.
A different floral shop moved out in 2006, and is now inhabited by some type of cash establishment, who has made no exterior changes, so bully for them. Now, take a look at the building in the right background in the photo above.
The back half of this building is a 1960 creation for Bond Cleaners. The steep chevron pattern along the side of the building makes me wonder if it had also originally been along the front, because they wouldn’t typically get this creative on the sides of a building alone when googie architecture was all about catching a motorists eye. Then again, it was next door to a Howard Johnson’s (on the spot where Steak n’ Shake is now), so providing eye candy for sherbert-saturated diners may not have been such a bad idea.
The above photo shows the beginning of construction of a new entry portico in 2006. I refer to this place as The Endless Build, because from this point till the summer of 2009, they went to town on this new section.
Month after month, year after year, they kept adding more plywood, more EFIS, and more goo-gaws. Just when I thought they had to be done, they’d add another layer of bric-a-brac. I have a whole series of progress shots of the gawdy from the spring and summer of 2009. I stopped this only when a man working on it got a tad hostile with me early in the morning, wondering why I was photographing it. He begrudgingly answered my question of what this was going to be: a restaurant. That encounter – and this photo – was from August of 2009. It still looks like this (so at least the embellishment has stopped) and it’s still vacant.
And now back to westward Watson…
Cross Grant Rd (home of the glorious Ridgewood subdivision just over the hill), dip down into the valley, and as you head up the hill toward Crestwood Plaza, you’ll see the 9109 Building. Built in 1965-66, it strives for executive seriousness with a dash of style. And those stainless steel address numbers on the elevator tower make good on the saying “Larger than life is just the right size.”
Original tenants included Bond Men Inc. insurance company, Glennon-Rogers Insurance Agency (why did businesses stop using such a great word as “agency”?), John Tierny (an insurance agent), and Kummer Construction Co.
Why I find this building beautiful includes: the stark contrast between dark brown brick inside a (bet ya it was originally) white rib cage; how it appears like a giant block with geometric pieces cut out of it to create dynamics and visually call out the different uses of the building, from offices above to retail on the ground floor front. It’s both imposing and welcoming at the same time.
Because it’s built into a hill, there are stairs that run along the west side of the building. Note the minimalist detail of a stair rail that would see minimal use. Details mattered back then. Also note the view to the right.
It’s the Sappington Cemetery, established in 1811, when Crestwood was an agricultural paradise. Then Crestwood grew by 10,000 people between 1950 and 1960, with retail, business and homes rapidly carving up the land around the tiny cemetery. Because it was in a prime location, I can imagine the fights that took place to preserve it. And walking through it is quite an odd sensation, very bucolic despite the location. Keep walking through tombstones rendered unreadable with time and you come to an ungodly tall tie wall…
…with this building below it. One can catch a glimpse of this sleek puppy if you look right down the street Watson Industrial Park while on Watson. The first few times I saw it I thought I was seeing things; how could such a handsome building exist in such a “remote” location? These are the kind of buildings that more typically were put in prominent places so they could show off their post-war prosperity and progressive power.
But in 1960, they erected this building down in the valley, before a creek, for companies that weren’t seeking maximum traffic. Some of the original occupants were Peters Marketing Research, Thelma Williamson Mail Service, Lawson Power Products, Rawbach Casket Co. and a rubber goods manufacturer, Fabreeha Products Co. How wonderful it must have been to walk into this hidden jewel of a building 5 days a week.
Unlike the other few buildings in this Park, the current owners have not marred the exterior of the building (though they really need to trim those shrubs that are blocking the ultra cool window treatment), which is amazing in and of itself.
These are just 3 examples of some original atomic age buildings along Watson Road. Stay alert and you’ll find many more that reveal how excited people once were about having buildings that reflected their burgeoning new society in a positive and artful way.