Some Mid-Century Modern Along Watson Road

Watson Road from Elm to Watson Industrial Park
Crestwood, MO

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.

Mid-Century Modern Subdivision Crestwood Hills
Crestwood Remuddle: Creston Center
My Favorite Walgreens

ArtSpace at Crestwood Plaza


Crestwood Plaza, Watson Road & Sappington
Crestwood, MO

When’s the last time you went to Crestwood (yes, I know it has a new name but it will always be to me) Plaza? Judging by how dead the place was, I’m guessing “don’t remember” would be a common answer.


Even before Macy’s permanently closed the doors in March 2009, one had to dodge the tumbleweeds blowing through. Walking through the mall made me think of Dawn of the Dead, waiting for zombies to pop out of what used to be Walden’s Books and rip my arm off.

It used to be ultra creepy, now it’s “come in and play” because the owners of this dying mall followed through on some creative thinking,  and they may just wind up making more money from this new venture than any attempts to revive it as a retail destination.


ArtSpace just threw a grand opening party, and everything about it was inspiring and delightful. Just to see the parking lots full and people crowding the mall was a minor miracle. That the hubub was for cultural arts rather than vacant consumerism was a major miracle.

I was itching to check out this brilliant adaptive re-use idea during the formative stage, but just never got around to it, as Crestwood Plaza was still creeping me out. So, throwing this party assured there would be live human beings around to keep me safe. Another incentive was to see the photography of Robert “Ferd” Frank (he was John Mellencamp’s bassist back when he was Cougar), whose work is displayed – and for sale – within Design Extra Interiors (photo above).

Yes, there’s a full-service interior design firm in the mall. It just makes so much sense that you have to wonder why this hasn’t happened before!


Remember all the art studios in downtown St. Louis before the loft rehab boom? That same concept in urban vertical has now gone suburban horizontal. All of the empty spaces inside the mall are renting for insanely cheap prices to anyone willing to put their own money and sweat equity into re-purposing dead retail spaces (where – as above – dressing room doors become display space) . That’s insane amounts of square footage already tricked out with everything you need in a setting designed for high traffic with maximum visibility.


Along with all the merriment of the day, I took perverse delight in Structure becoming Three-Legged Productions


…and Mrs. Fields serving as advertising for the dance hall across the way…


…and Frederick’s of Hollywood goes Chicque.


There’s still a handful of “real” retail in business like Footlocker, Victoria’s Secret and Claire’s Boutique, but on this day those stores were pretty dead because there was too much excitement elsewhere. Actually, “dead” would be a normal day for Claire’s at Crestwood, but that’s the beauty of this venture: any of the retailers who have hung on will certainly reap the benefits of increased traffic.


And because the place is alive with music, and performers and playful shenanigans, it will inspire folks to make spontaneous purchases of arts, crafts and glitter lip gloss and Kenmore appliances.


As I was taking the photo above, a lady walked up to me and said, “When I moved to St. Louis in 1965, this was the place to be. It’s been painful to watch it die. But today, I’m feeling like it can become that again, and I couldn’t be happier.” Then she caught sight of a stilt-walker sauntering by and drifted off with a huge smile on her face.