Even with 20-odd years of living in North County, I never knew about this little gem of a subdivision, so thank you to Jeff and Randy Vines for running across it during a casual drive around our Greater St. Louis, which continually reveals delightful secrets like this.
The inner-ring suburb of Berkeley was incorporated in 1937, and most of the municipality’s western border is occupied by the Lambert Field airport, which built its first terminal in 1933. Around 1954, as architect Minoru Yamasaki’s main airport terminal was being built, so too was Frostwood.
The land Frostwood Subdivision is built on was originally part of Hazelwood Farm, an estate that had been passed from John Mullanphy to his daughter Catherine Graham to son-in-law General Daniel Frost to granddaughter Hattie Fordyce. Fordyce bequeathed it to St. Louis University who then sold it to new home developers Fischer & Frichtel, who platted and built homes on the land from June 1952 to January 1956.
When entering the subdivision from Frost Avenue via Adler Avenue, you see this bizarre scene of mid-century suburban living dwarfed by the mid-century power grid needed to keep Lambert running. Space-age living did require a few sacrifices now and again. But once you get deeper into the winding streets of Frostwood, the scene becomes more sylvan and less ominous.
There are roughly 600 homes in the subdivision, ranging from 1,288 – 1,500 square feet, and most are 3-bedroom and 2 bath that originally sold brand new for $16,000 – $19,000. The area has an informal and casual feel, which is partially due to the way the houses are sited on their lots, as seen in the bird’s eye map below.
The homes do not follow a uniform setback, and by placing each home at a different angle, each one gets a slightly different view, and different opportunities for private vs. public spaces.
A family friend from decades ago bought one of these houses on Red Fir Drive in 1955, and lived happily until about 1970, when he moved his family “because of the blacks,” which was then an all-too- common reason for white people to keep moving further north and west into new homes built by developers who knew how to capitalize on this St. Louis cultural weakness.
So on the day I was taking these photographs, it was karmic relief to be stopped by a 43-year old black woman who moved into this neighborhood in 1968, and whose mother still lives in the very same house to this day. She said Frostwood was a great place to grow up, with lots of friends across the entire subdivision and lots of activities. She also pointed out that the southern half of the subdivision houses have basements, while the northern half are built on concrete slabs with no basements.
Many of the homes, like the yellow version shown above, have a delicate way of handling car parking, running the carport parallel to the house so that the walls – rather than the entry – face the street.
This system worked well for the versions that have a garage, too. With both models, it creates the opportunity for a curving driveway that adds whimsy and informality to the site.
Since these houses are all now over 50 years old, there has, of course, been many alterations made to them. A common remodel, as shown above, is converting the garage into a room, which adds square footage to the living area, and when done correctly is actually very cool.
On this different model above, that has a formal, front-facing garage, I’m not sure if that end cap fascia is original or a modification, but either way, it’s a nice stylistic touch to an other-wise ordinary ranch design. A small handful of homeowners have opted to turn their mid-century ranch into Colonial knocks-offs that sit uncomfortably in context with their neighbors. But the vast majority of the neighborhood has – blessedly – retained the original exterior aesthetic.
Midwood Avenue is the only straight-forward thoroughfare in the Frostwood Subdivision, and it has a curious concrete ditch (above) running down the middle, taking up a lot of room. I assumed it was once a creek surrounded by grass, making for a nice place to walk and play. But turns out it has always been like this, a drainage ditch (so a “sometimes creek” during heavy rains, I suppose). It looks awful, but luckily the people who live along it have not transferred this dire scene to their homes.
Even the city of Berkeley has admitted how ugly this is, acknowledging in a September 2008 Planning Consideration that it “presents poor visual image,” and are proposing “common-themed residential streetscape design” along Frostwood and Midwood Avenues. If the money ever materializes for this project, I hope it remains true to the original design aesthetic.
The foreclosure tidal wave has hit Frostwood, with some houses now available for under $20,000, but this does not reflect the quality and beauty of this neighborhood, only the condoned irresponsibility of the American financial system. Rather, it’s a chance to get some nicely preserved mid-century modern at a great price.