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  • From a 1953 Issue of Better Homes & Gardens to Kirkwood

    Posted on March 21st, 2011 Toby Weiss No comments

    719 Craigwoods
    Kirkwood, MO

    Inside the mid-century modern subdivision of Craigwoods (previously covered here) is a home that tends to get overlooked. Compared to some of the flashier beauties around it, this home demurely hides behind a fence of mature trees, vegetation and shadow gray paint. So it may be a bit surprising to learn that…

    … it’s Five Star Home No. 2309, “the house you asked for.” Click any of these photos to read the magazine article at a larger size.

    The September 1953 issue of Better Homes & Gardens (courtesy of Nathan Wilber) devoted about 13 pages unveiling this model after spending the better part of a year quizzing families about what they wanted in a new home. The findings were worked into a plan by architects Brooks Buderus and Gerald Siegwart, and 40 builders across the country erected the homes as part of the National Home Month. In Kirkwood in 1953, Burton Deunke builders had just begun the Craigwoods subdivision, and added the BHG Five Star Home into the mix.

    This home at 719 Craigwoods is 1601 square feet with no basement, just like the original plans. Comparing it to the front view of the version built in California shown in the magazine article, modifications have been made to it over the decades. It looks like they replaced the picture window with much smaller windows, and carried the grey siding from the garage end all across the front. It’s not as exciting to look at from the street as it was when originally built. But while walking past it, it’s easy to see that most of the action goes on beyond this now-sedate front facade.

    The floorplan as provided by St. Louis County does not begin to convey just how amazing the layout is. Compare the above with the colorful layout below, and see that all owners have not altered the basic footprint.

    Now you begin to see why this plan was picked to fulfill their panels’ wishes for “the simple desire to live better.”  According to the article, one thing all panelists were clear about was that the house should look the way it lives. They also wanted to live on a single level, with one respondent saying she would “not miss running the stairs 20 times a day.”

    The U-shaped kitchen (above left) was considered the ideal format for efficiency, and they all agreed that there was no need for a formal dining room because “formal entertaining at home just isn’t done as often as it once was.”  This may be because America was embracing a blend of indoor/outdoor living, and this Five Star Home provided 2 paved outdoor areas tucked into the H-shaped plan.

    One respondent requested that these areas be paved because they didn’t want to deal with cutting a lot of lawn. Looking at the existing Kirkwood model, these homeowners really took that to heart, turning the front yard into a sea of ivy. And jolly for them – lawn mowing is the pits because it’s a useless crop requiring harvesting week after week for months on end!

    Considering the pedigree of this Craigwood’s home and what lies beyond the front elevation, we’re reminded that one should not judge a book by its cover.

  • A Kirkwood Teardown Courtesy of Nuns?

    Posted on February 26th, 2011 Toby Weiss 6 comments

    328 N. Fillmore
    Kirkwood, MO

    Here’s the construction site of another new home in Kirkwood. Here’s what it will look like:

    Yawn.
    Here’s what was torn down:

    Those familiar with it always remarked how Harris Armstrong it seemed at first glance. Look a little longer and you realize it’s a modernizing remodel.

    The home that is now demolished was from 1917.  Somewhere along the way, it was given the ultra-spare modern update, maybe during the late ’50s-early ’60s when anything with even a whiff of Victorian or Traditional to it was considered gauche.

    Also of interest is who sold this house to Lewis Homes. The previous owner is listed as Sister of Mercy of the Union. Check out this link and learn this group disbanded in 1991 to instead become Sisters of Mercy of America. Assumption can be made that if they were still using the old title for real estate transactions (for which they pay no property tax, according to St. Louis County records), they have owned this place since at least 1991.

    Good thing the Sisters of Mercy don’t own this beauty:

    This is a neighbor across the intersection of N. Fillmore and E. Washington. This home and the demolished one are what added spice to this immediate block, because so many eras of architecture are covered. High variety in a bucolic, high-density setting is invigorating. Regardless of time period built, not a one of these homes are immune to teardowns. There’s been plenty of outrage over some of the victims of this trend, but no real solutions… yet.

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  • Save 750 North Taylor in Kirkwood

    Posted on August 8th, 2010 Toby Weiss 5 comments

    750 North Taylor
    Kirkwood, MO

    The 1884 W.F. Warner home in the heart of historic Kirkwood is listening to the tick-tock of the demolition clock, with hopes of a save before the alarm rings.

    On the market since 2008, the price has reduced to $895,000, and a new home builder holds an option on it, pending approval of his plans to create 4 new homes on the almost-2 acres of land it has occupied for 126 years.

    Read the in-depth report of 750 North Taylor in The Webster-Kirkwood Times.

    The Kirkwood Landmarks Commission is trying to save it, and yard sings all over Kirkwood show solidarity. But the trouble with finding a new owner who won’t tear it down is the prohibitive cost of rehabbing and updating it for 21st century living.

    Even as the asking price comes down, the rough estimate of $200k for renovation would exceed the home’s value. This is according to the developer who wants to tear it down. He also believes it needs to be a gut rehab. And of course he’d think that, but it’s not necessarily accurate.

    Here’s a photo gallery of the interior of the home.

    The Warner mansion qualifies for historic tax credits.  Everything about it is an Old House Journal wet dream. And it feels as if Kirkwood residents are approaching the tipping point of tolerating teardowns – this is not their first rodeo.

    If the ideal private residence buyer cannot be found, can other options be explored? Off the top of the head: bed and breakfast, Kirkwood history museum, tea room and meeting space…

    Because of the surrounding neighborhood, I’m thinking of lower traffic, money-making ventures that would require a tweak to zoning, but would update and preserve the home to be shared with others in a way that could eventually recoup the costs. Maybe the Kirkwood Landmarks Commission could chip in to make this possible?

    There can be a Plan B, C or D for this beautiful home, and since Plan A is not working, let’s hope some inspirational wheels of thought are turning in the minds of those who can make a real difference for the past, present and future of Kirkwood.

  • Why Shutters? Update 1

    Posted on July 8th, 2010 Toby Weiss 7 comments

    Here’s a perfectly respectable former bank building in downtown Granite City, IL. It’s heartwarming to see it still in use. But let’s take a closer look at the great insult to its dignity.

    The pawn shop put SHUTTERS ON ITS WINDOWS!  Extreme outrage and towering incredulity at such a moronic move makes me weep, and only because I was with a friend, did I refrain from going inside to ask the following questions:
    Why, Jim?
    Why not on the 2nd floor as well?
    What was your inspiration?
    What was the motivation for this expenditure?
    How long did you contemplate buying the shutters before swinging into action?
    What was so wrong with the building that you feel it required shutters?
    Have these shutters benefited your business in a positive way?
    In quiet moments, can you hear the building weeping?

    Granite, limestone and cheap ass plastic shutters – breathtaking, really. The thought of how difficult it was to drill through all that solid rock to install forest green vinyl exclamation points just makes this a dubious achievement. I want to make a citizen’s arrest.

    Meanwhile, over in Kirkwood, I was initially elated to see all the shutters removed from this house.

    I’ve covered this house before, noting how scary it must be for them to have that bulbous, steroidal Victorian breathing down its neck. Click to see how it looked with shutters.

    This street is Teardown Central of Kirkwood, so when this unassuming ranch went up for sale, I was deeply worried. Luckily, someone bought it and obviously intend to keep it, because a sign for the painting contractor is in the yard, and that’s a fresh coat of gray on the brick.

    Considering that all of the shutters are resting neatly by their intended, I’m guessing the shutters are going back up. But I want to ask the new owners, “Seriously, does the house look all that bad without them? Maybe live without them for a month and see how you feel about mussing up the new paint job?”

    I was overcome with the overwhelming urge to steal the shutters; throw them in the trunk of my car and speed off. But this is Kirkwood, so there’s lots of eyes on the street, and that would be a criminal activity that could land my butt in jail. And as much as I loathe shutters, I couldn’t face being permanently branded as an illogical lunatic. I realized my argument about most shutters being illogical just wouldn’t hold up in court, so I just drove away.

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