Like many of you, I am a subscriber of Atomic Ranch. It was especially cool to have the Spring 2012 issue land in my mailbox because it verified that I actually did something I’d always longed to – BE in an issue of Atomic Ranch.
The only way to be in an issue is to have an AR-worthy house (and I don’t have that – yet) or contribute a story or photos. I wrote a story and edited photos by Bruce Daye about Ladue Estates, the first mid-century modern subdivision in Missouri to land on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s a first for me, and as was pointed out by a faithful AR reader, it also marks the first time any St. Louis home has been featured in the magazine. So, St. Louis was late to the game, but then we overachieved with an entire subdivision. How’s that feel?
It feels great!
In 2003, a black & white photo of mine was printed in the letters section of dwell magazine, which had me bouncing around like Navin in The Jerk seeing his name in the phone book. Shouldn’t be hard to imagine how majorily I’m dorking out to a feature article in Atomic Ranch.
Because I wrote about Ladue Estates in the past, I’ve had the great pleasure to become friends with the neighborhood trustees, and they are the ones who asked me to write the piece for Atomic Ranch. So big bear hugs with sloppy kisses to them for making this personal milestone moment possible. And I’m thrilled to be a small part of the legacy of this amazing atomic age subdivision.
I am also a board member of ModernSTL (as is one of the Ladue Estates trustees!) and we will have a Ladue Estates Open House and magazine signing event on Sunday, May 6, 2012. We’ll share all the details once we have them ironed out. But if this piece of news made a little part of you tingle, mark it on your calendar now.
Modern StL teamed with the residents of Ladue Estates to present an Open House & Tour of their neighborhood. It turned into a gorgeous spring day, and over 75 people came out to tour the inside of 5 open homes and take guided and self-guided tours of the entire subdivision.
“The Kitchen” (as it’s come to be known by anyone whose ever seen photos of the original GE teal blue metal kitchen in #3) was a major draw, to be sure. But the comments from those who toured all 5 homes was about how completely different each home was, and how beautifully it highlighted the eternal allure of the post-war ranch house, a thoroughly American architectural style.
One of my favorite comments was, “$10 is way too cheap for this event. I’ve been to other home tours that charged way more for a lot less. You shoulda charged $20, at least.” (It was $5 for Modern StL members; if you wanna take advantage of this kind of savings in the future, become a member!).
The Ladue Estates trustees – Mario Conte, Lea Ann Baker and Suzanne Walch – knew long ago how special their subdivision was, being untouched by tear downs and McMansions, and that it had a certain magic that made it a real world paradise. With Lea Ann leading the charge, they spent 3 years working on the application that would land Ladue Estates onto the National Register of Historic Places in May 2010. This is the first mid-century modern neighborhood in Missouri to make the list, and one of very few in the United States.
The induction ceremony in October 2010 was a milestone moment that made one hopeful that mid-century modern architecture might be spared the callous and rampant destruction that took out far too many turn-of-the-20th century buildings in St. Louis (and nationwide). Watching the genuine enthusiasm and joy of the tour attendees was a sweet moment, fanning the optimism that there are plenty of us around who “get it,” and that our newest – and last – wave of historic homes will be cared for and loved for decades to come.
A day of appreciation like this is one of the reasons Modern StL formed in the first place, less than a year ago. There are many other worthy MCM StL neighborhoods that deserve an event like this; we’re lucky to have them and hope to feature them in future events.
As for Ladue Estates, I had the pleasure of working with the Trustees on a feature article for an upcoming issue of Atomic Ranch magazine. I’ll be sure to let you know when that’s available. And they are already contemplating throwing another event like this in the future. Imagine these beauties decorated for Christmas….? It’s a thought!
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, page May 7, 2011
10 am – 2 pm
Ladue Estates, Creve Coeur MO 63141
$10 admission – $5 for Modern StL members
#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.
For St. Louis fans, connoisseurs and scholars of mid-century modern architecture, know that a milestone moment has happened: Missouri has its very first post-war subdivision on the National Register of Historic Places.
St. Louis County is worrisome for Atomic Ranch lovers because it feels as if they’re being demolished the very moment after they are appreciated for their historical grace. The original post-World War 2 owners who embraced this architectural style and made these neighborhoods possible are leaving behind significant homes that become vulnerable to the tear down developers. Here’s the tragic tale of an exceptional Ladue home that was demolished for a McMansion.
But in the face of fears that a lack of architectural appreciation and zoning laws will tear down important chapters of St. Louis history comes the first ray of hope: Ladue Estates was added to the National Register of Historic Places in May of 2010. And on October 1, 2010, St. Louis preservation luminaries such as Esley Hamilton and MiMi Stiritz were at the intersection of Ladue Road & West Ladue Estates Drive for the dedication ceremony.
But what makes this particular moment particularly sweet is that it was NOT brought about by architectural scholars, well-meaning activists or public servants. Ladue Estates was granted ground-breaking historic status because its RESIDENTS recognized its beauty and significance, and worked to make it official. And talk with any resident to learn that the hero of this triumphant tale is Lee Ann Baker (above left), while Lee Ann is quick to point out all the help she received over the 3 years it took to complete the National Registration form.
Take a moment to look through the fascinating history of Ladue Estates in this pdf of the winning application. Note that it is 76 pages long because it extensively covers all 80 homes in the post-war subdivision, as well as the original builder and architect, and the Jewish heritage of 3/4 of the original owners. Then note that there are architectural historian professionals who are paid good money to research and fill out National Register applications for projects a quarter of this size. Which is what makes Lee Ann’s accomplishment all the more amazing; it was truly a 3-year labor of love for a neighborhood they adore and want to see protected in perpetuity.
For the dedication ceremony, MiMi Stiritz read aloud this letter from the Missouri office of Historic Preservation:
…(Ladue Estates) represents a collection of high-style ranch houses that are nearly pristine in their historic appearance and setting. As one of the first luxury subdivisions in the area, it additionally reflects St. Louis County’s westward growth into what was primarily rural land. Its wide lots, expansive lawns, attached garages and sprawling floor plans epitomized the suburban dream of the post-war years. In fact, Ladue Estates is such a good illustration of the suburban boom, it has been used as an example by staff of the National Parks Services National Register of Historic Places program in training classes.
The significance of Ladue Estates for its architecture and role in the development of Creve Coeur is easily apparent. What is not as obvious is its significance for cultural heritage. Over ¾ of the original owners were Jewish. At the time of Ladue Estate’s construction, there were still prejudices that resulted in restrictions as to where members of the Jewish community could re-locate. Built by Ben Goldberg, the Jewish owner of Goldberg & Co., Ladue Estates proved to be a welcome location for Jewish families who wanted a piece of the suburban life.
Shortly after the Ladue Estates development, the surrounding area became the home of several Jewish establishments including synagogues, educational facilities, and social and community services. While it would have been easy to nominate Ladue Estates for architecture and community planning alone, the citizens of Ladue Estates went the extra mile to bring this valuable information to life.
Finally, the state historic preservation office applauds the efforts of the citizens of Ladue Estates. They nominated this district through their own time and dedication. Their pride in their subdivision is evident and serves as a shining example of historic preservation efforts on the local level.
Being invited to such a milestone moment in mid-century modern preservation was an honor. Even better, it was an absolute joy to meet, tour the homes of and talk with residents of this enclave. They are a friendly, vibrant and industrious group of people dedicated to the care and maintenance of a subdivision they recognized as special long before retro-modern became fashionable. For them, it’s about the quality of life from an abundance of natural light and green space, accessible single-level floor plans and Old World craftsmanship that makes these homes as solid as they are beautiful.
Their conversations about 12-foot thick concrete foundations, window replacement, seamless room additions and architecturally compatible updates on their 54-year old homes have the same intensity of detail and passion as those working on their 102-year old home. And their glee in being able to show us one of the few remaining original ktichens was almost as great as our awe upon seeing this:
An entire kitchen of original GE metal cabinets in teal blue (the other original color choices were pink and pastel yellow)! In the picture above, you see the open door of one of TWO refrigerators, with the freezer to the right. And TWO wall ovens. AND they all still WORK!
And I want to express my deepest gratitude to Lee Ann Baker and every person who helped her undertake and complete such a gargantuan effort. The residents of Ladue Estates epitomize the intent of this very blog: the built environment in layman’s terms with special emphasis on the beauty and quality of mid-century modern architecture. So, they are my personal heroes, and as groups like Modern StL move forward with the preservation and celebration of St. Louis Modernism, we look to Lee Ann & Friends as a glorious example of worthwhile dedication and eternal inspiration. Thank you!!!!