Housing Mid-Century Modern St. Louis County University City

The Joseph and Ann Murphy Residence

by Michael R. Allen

Published as “Joseph Murphy’s Own Residence Now Listed on National Register” in the Fall 2010 NewsLetter of the Society of Architectural Historians, St. Louis Chapter. The essay is based on text from my National Register of Historic Places nomination for the Joseph and Ann Murphy House (listed May 10, 2010).

The Murphy house as it appeared in Architectural Forum, April 1941.

Designed by prominent St. Louis architect and educator Joseph Denis Murphy (1907-1995) for his own residence, the Joseph and Ann Murphy Residence at 7901 Stanford Avenue in University City was built in 1938-1939 but expanded in 1950 and 1962. Built in the same year that Frank Lloyd Wright published his vision for the Usonian house in Architectural Forum, the Murphy Residence demonstrates Murphy’s contemporary and unique vision of residential architecture. While Murphy’s residential program has clear parallels to Wright’s, Murphy developed it simultaneously rather than subsequently. In 1938, few Modern Movement Houses had been built in the St. Louis area, although within twenty years Modern styles would dominate suburban residential construction. Newly arrived in St. Louis and serving on the faculty of the Washington University School of Architecture, Joseph D. Murphy’s career was at its start when he designed his own home. The house was one of the first small Modern Movement houses to attain national publication, and it contributed to wide interest in Modern houses in the St. Louis area.

Joseph Murphy’s submission to the 1934 Flat Glass Industry Architectural Competition. Courtesy of Mary Brunstrom.

In the 1930s, many American architects were working on developing ideas about Modern houses. With modernism on the rise in America amid the Great Depression, many American architects endeavored to create affordable small house designs that would advance Modern design principles. Joseph Murphy delved into the national architectural discussion on houses early, and published his first Modern house prototype ahead of Frank Lloyd Wright’s widely influential publication of his “Usonian” house. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian House would become the American standard for the small, affordable Modern house, but Murphy had already provided his own prototype when Wright first published his ideal.

Historic Preservation Housing North St. Louis Old North

National Trust Honors Old North

by Michael R. Allen

In 1977, high of Model Cities euphoria, the City of St. Louis celebrated the new two-block 14th Street Mall in Old North St. Louis. Within two decades, the mall was bust and the twenty-odd buildings facing it were includes on Landmarks Association’s Most Endangered list. In 1998, the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group hosted a charrette to imagine the future of the old pedestrian mall. Some people thought the group was crazy to envision the two blocks returned to urban vitality, but they were proven wrong — over a decade later.

This Friday, the National Trust for Historic Preservation will present its National Trust/Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary’s Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation to Old North St. Louis Restoration Group and the Regional Housing & Community Development Alliance for the reborn 14th Street area, called Crown Square Development . The project is one of 23 award winners to be honored by the National Trust next week during its 2010 National Preservation Conference in Austin, Texas.

Ah, the difference that 33 years has made is immeasurable. (The $35 million cost of physically reversing the mall’s impact on the built environment is a misleading figure that does not compensate hours of community brainstorming, vigilance and sweat equity.) The path of two blocks of a fragile near north neighborhood shows the pitfalls of urban planning trends and the power of collective action to turn around supposedly hopeless causes.

The west side of 14th Street between Montgomery and Benton Streets, December 2004 (top) and July 2010 (bottom).

The view down 14th Street south from St. Louis Avenue in December 2004 (top) and July 2010 (bottom).

The view south down 14th Street from Montgomery Street in December 2004 (top) and July 2010 (bottom).

Some would say that bricks and mortar (and tax credits) alone don’t transform communities. In fact, I say that. The achievement with Crown Square to date is a miraculous preservation effort that safeguards historic buildings, reopens key streets, enhances the safety and appearance of Old North’s commercial center and provides new rental housing and commercial storefronts. Introducing 78 new housing units in a neighborhood can force a huge change, but toward a previous housing density that many current residents never knew. The social changes wrought by these physical transformations will be ongoing, and the outcome uncertain — but the pains mean that the neighborhood is growing once again.  For a neighborhood that had some 13,200 people sixty years ago and around 1,500 in 2000, growth is good.

For now, we can celebrate the effort of many long-time neighborhood residents who have never given up hope that two blocks of 14th Street would again be the center of neighborhood life.  This journey to restore the neighborhood commercial district began 33 years ago with a much different plan.  As impressive as the undoing of that plan is to see, even more impressive are the people who did not let the intervening years of abandonment deter their dreams and deeds.

Housing National Register Vandeventer

4011 Delmar Apartment Building For Sale

by Michael R. Allen

At 4011 Delmar Boulevard in the Vandeventer neighborhood stands a massive abandoned apartment building. The first floor base, clad in buff terra cotta, supports a H-shaped upper section of red brick with terra cotta quoins, string course under the top floor and cornice.  The side and rear walls have an exposed concrete structural grid.  The building is noteworthy because it is one of the few large apartment buildings in the vicinity — it truly is at a scale that is unusual for this location.

However, when construction began in 1927, the building was part of an anticipated boom of such construction following the tornado of September 1927.  The site of the 4011 Delmar Apartments, as the building was originally known, was cleared after the tornado destroyed the buildings on the site.  After the tornado, some developers thought there was potential to build up the neighborhood at greater density with modern fireproof multi-proof buildings.  The Great Depression shot down that notion, but not before the 4011 was completed in 1928.  Designed by obscure architect Marion Garrison, the 4011 remains an unusual post-tornado achievement.

Now, the 4011 is ripe for development once more.  A sign on the exterior proclaims that it is for sale and includes the number of Frank Ploch, St. Louis Premier Realtors, 314-378-8016.  Gutted down to the shell, the sturdy 72,000 square foot apartment building is ready for renewal at a location that is within short distance from the cultural institutions of Midtown and the street life of the Central West End. The potential of this building to shine again can be witnessed in the revival of another singular large apartment building that fell down on its luck, the Winston Churchill Apartments at Belt and Cabanne in the West End.

The 4011 Delmar is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and thus is eligible for historic rehabilitation tax credits.  (Read the excellent nomination by Ruth Keenoy, Karen Baxter and Allison Brown here.)

Some photographs of the 4011 in darker days can be found on Sonic Atrophy.

Housing Mid-Century Modern National Register St. Louis County

Fenton House by Wright Associate Listed in National Register

Photograph from the National Register of Historic Places nomination.

by Michael R. Allen

On July 8, the National Park Service placed the Carney-Keightley House near Fenton in the National Register of Historic Places. Located on Hawkins Road on the boundary line between St. Louis and Jefferson counties, the Carney-Keightley House is a unique local connection to the legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright. Completed in 1948, the house is the only known architectural work solely attributed to Richard Edgar Carney. Carney was a fellow at Taliesin, Wright’s school for architects, and served as Wright’s personal aide from 1952 through 1959.

Jill O’Neal, owner of the Carney-Keightley House, prepared the National Register nomination. O’Neal describes the house as “unpretentious, modest, natural, economical, unassuming, authentic and totally American.” This is not surprising given that Carney designed the house in accordance with Wright’s Usonian principles for house design.  Those principles included compact layout with open living area, placement of the house on a concrete slab, respect for and harmony with the contours of the house site, use of sloped or flat roofs, use of affordable, often mass-produced materials and attention to energy efficiency through careful fenestration. The Carney-Keightley House is only 1,000 square feet and sits on a slab on a wooded site. The house is clad in local stone and redwood and has large windows, screened by the overhangs of the sloped roofs, that emphasize natural light. Carney’s work is a delightfully compact Usonian home that is a totally original work of architecture.

Read the nomination here.

Fox Park Housing South St. Louis

Look Next Door

by Michael R. Allen

This house on the 2800 block of Victor Street in Fox Park is a lovely house that uses the American Foursquare form.  (The American Foursquare is typified by a rectangular shape, hipped or sometimes gabled roof with central dormer and four-room plan on each floor.)  The use of the rock-faced dark brick is particularly striking.  Yet something clearly is missing!

Look above the entrance — there is a shade of the old balcony.  The outline suggests that the balcony was cantilevered over the entrance, maybe with ornate brackets underneath.

Aha! Indeed, the balcony did have ornate brackets and was cantilevered over the entrance. We know this because the near-twin house next door retains its original balcony.  The next-door house is only a near-twin because it employs paired string courses that connect with the arches of the windows and entrance.  The balconies were probably the same, but the brick work was not made exact.  Such a slight variation is typical in St. Louis vernacular masonry architecture, which produced many near-twins but few exact copies.

Housing North St. Louis Northside Regeneration Old North

Community-Driven Development on Northside Continues Despite McKee Ruling

From EcoUrban Homes

CONTACT: Jay Swoboda, 314-231-0400 x4

ST. Louis – Despite the recent ruling against Paul McKee’s plans for a $390 million TIF, strong neighborhood-based development continues to sprout up in many areas covered by McKee’s NorthSide Regeneration Zone. Building on increasing enthusiasm for urban, walkable neighborhoods with a close proximity to downtown, unusually strong development continues to unfold in North St. Louis.

Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, EcoUrban, and Habitat for Humanity St. Louis (currently the largest developer of single-family homes in the region), have all committed to completing projects of significant scope on the Near North Side.

EcoUrban is working with Alderwoman April Ford Griffin, the Regional Housing and Development Corporation (RHCDA), and Community Renewal and Development Inc. to develop eight new single family homes at 25th and Dodier. The homes will be built to the USGBC’s LEED for Homes specifications and feature thoughtful urban design and efficient, green construction. Habitat for Humanity St. Louis, no stranger to LEED certification, is currently completing 17 new homes in Old North St. Louis. These homes feature a modern design and are tracking LEED for Homes Platinum certification. Additionally, Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, will hold a ribbon cutting ceremony for the transformational Crown Square Project, a 27-building project spanning eight blocks in the heart of North St. Louis’ commercial district, is slated to be held on July 29th. By any measure, North St. Louis is undergoing tremendous redevelopment.

“We are proud of our commitment in North St. Louis, remarked Kimberly McKinney, CEO of Habitat for Humanity St. Louis. “Since 2008, Habitat for Humanity St. Louis has invested $8.1 million towards new home development on the North Side with $5.5 million committed for 2010.”

“It’s amazing how much positive feedback we’re receiving from the community up here,” said Sal Martinez, Executive Director of Community Renewal and Development Inc. “With a common-sense approach, and a great green projects, it’s easy to draw the attention of leaders and residents committed to making St. Louis a better place for families.”


Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis is consistently ranked in the top 30 of the leading 100 Habitat affiliates in the country, and is currently the leading housing developer in the St. Louis Metro Area. The Old North St. Louis Restoration Group is a community-based nonprofit organization established to revitalize the physical and social dimensions of the community in a manner that respects its historic, cultural, and urban character. EcoUrban is a developer of efficient, affordable green real estate developments – helping to create sustainable solutions for St. Louis.

Housing Hyde Park LRA North St. Louis

Slow, Steady Progress in Hyde Park

by Michael R. Allen

Amid ongoing recession, development is continuing in the city’s Hyde Park neighborhood. Irving School LP, owned in part by Duffe Nuernberger, has started work on renovation of fifteen historic buildings scattered across the western side of the neighborhood between North Florissant Avenue, Natural Bridge Road and Glasgow Avenue. The projects utilize state and federal historic rehabilitation and low income housing tax credits.

The elegant house at 3933 N. 25th Street is one block north of Irving School, rehabilitated by the same developers last year.  Long vacant, the house retains a wooden porch with intact fretwork.  The house is adjacent to an  owner-occupied house.

Here is the building at 3906 N. 23rd Street, two blocks east. The venerable two-flat is also a long-vacant building on a block that has lost much of its building stock. Eliot School LP purchased the house from the city’s Land Reutilization Authority.

The affiliated company, Irving School LP, recently completed six new houses on Farrar and 25th streets around Irving School. Above is a new house on N. 25th Street adjacent to existing buildings. While most of these new homes were built on vacant LRA-owned lots, one occupies the site of a historic building demolished by the developers.

The single-family homes offer a rent-to-own option, so the project is not exclusively creating tax-credit affordable rentals. Time will tell if a mix of ownership and rental is created here, but it is important that home ownership is included in the scattered-site development so that past affordable housing mistakes are avoided. Over-concentration of tax-credit rentals can lead to instability. (I do not take similar issue with rental housing in general, because existing market-rate rentals at all price points do not have the potential to unbalance a neighborhood housing economy.)

While I disagreed with last year’s demolition on Farrar Street, I am pleased that it took place in order to make way for a replacement building. That is not often the case in Hyde Park, and speaks to the sensitivity of the approach. The Irving School and Eliot School partnerships have worked with preservation architect Jeff Brambila, whose counsel is evident. Equally important is the fact that the developers are not using eminent domain or aggressively trying to buy out entire blocks. The approach here is slow and steady, and tackles vacant property without creating more of the same.

Potential Additional National Register Designations

Due to this development, Alderman Freeman Bosley (D-3rd) has appropriated funding to survey parts of the Hyde Park neighborhood excluded from the original certified local historic district‘s boundaries. In March, the Riverview-West Florissant Development Corporation issued a request for proposals for survey and any possible National Register of Historic Places nominations. Landmarks Association of St. Louis submitted the winning bid and will be conducting the work.

The areas to be surveyed are:

Area bounded by I-70 on the east, Angelrodt Street on the north, Branch Street on the west and Buchanan Street on the south.

Area bounded by Glasgow Avenue on the west/north, alley east of Vest Street on the east and Natural Bridge Avenue on the south.

Area bounded by Angelica Street on the south, Florissant Avenue on the east and Glasgow Avenue on the west/north.

The creation of such districts will allow developers to leverage tax credits programs for rehabilitation. Additionally, the designations could protect against demolition. While the Third Ward is a preservation review district, one of the arguments employed in favor of demolishing the house on Farrar Street was that it fell across the alley from the historic district boundaries.

Housing North St. Louis Penrose

Rebuilding Two Blocks in Penrose

by Michael R. Allen

On Saturday, June 26, two blocks of north St. Louis’ Penrose neighborhood were abuzz with rehabilitation work — 15 homes’ and 300 volunteers’ worth of rehabilitation, to be exact.  The 4000 and 4100 blocks of North Taylor Avenue, scene of the action, are lined by mostly one-story brick homes enjoying the same setback line.  A few gambrel-roofed one-and-a-half story homes are peppered in with one-story shaped-parapet and bungalow houses from the first decades of the twentieth century.  At the south end, the street closes at a robust two-story brick fire station — its boxy, flat-roofed form contrasting with the gentle residential setting around it.

This lovely neighborhood setting, however, has its problems.  Every one hundred year old house that has been continually occupied needs repairs, but often accumulated repairs bring costs beyond the reach of residents on modest incomes.  City home repair money is in short supply.  People want to remain in their houses and in their neighborhood.  What to do?

Alderman Antonio French (D-21st), who represents the Penrose and adjacent O’Fallon neighborhoods, is working on a solution.  This year, he has brought in Rebuilding Together St. Louis to bring home repair to residents.  Saturday’s repair blitz was the second of six planned this year.  The operation is simple: residents identify crucial repairs, including structural problems, and apply to be part of the weekend blitz.  Rebuilding Together assesses the problems and, if needed, brings in professionals to prep work that can be completed by general volunteers.  Rebuilding Together coordinates materials donations and volunteer labor.  Then, on the weekend, volunteers and residents work together to get repairs done with amazing speed.

Here is one crew consisting of volunteers from the Boeing Company and the owners and residents of the house that received extensive interior repairs.

Alderman French is funding architectural survey of Penrose to create a historic district. That designation, which is more than a year away, will bring tax credits to rehabilitation work. However, some buildings needs immediate assistance, like the house at the corner of Taylor and Margaretta avenues. The sturdy bungalow has been vacant and owned by the city’s Land Reutilization Authority for years. Alderman French put it into Saturday’s blitz program. Volunteers removed loads of trash, removed failed roofing and began gutting the interior. In coming weeks, the house will be fully rehabilitated. French is leveraging Rebuilding Together’s presence to turn around a derelict, city-owned property.

This house on the 4100 block of North Taylor received a new roof Saturday. The old roof was torn off, sheathing and joists replaced as needed, and the new flat roof completed — all in a day.

Not all work was as daunting as entirely new roofs, of course. One of the great things about the program is that it responds to needs big and small. The coordinated work schedule means that residents of a block experience an inspiring day where the block’s condition is uplifted at once.

The Rebuilding Together program in the 21st Ward is an excellent model for neighborhood preservation. For one thing, once homes go vacant, their reuse becomes very, very expensive. Tax credit projects are complicated to put together, and are only meaningful amid other more extensive stabilization efforts. Big projects like Crown Square and Dick Gregory Place involve dozens of buildings, not hundreds. And we have thousands of buildings at risk of going vacant through deferred maintenance and the cost of upkeep.

The Rebuilding Together program won’t save all of them, but it is an excellent way to leverage private donations to stabilize neighborhoods and even tackle city-owned property. We need to expand this program to keep existing buildings in use and residents in their neighborhoods. The 21st ward program really is a holistic historic preservation program. Coupling the home repair program with historic district designation puts the widest number of rehabilitation solutions on the table as is possible.

By the way, Rebuilding Together is always looking for volunteers. Find out more on the organization’s web site.

Housing JeffVanderLou LRA North St. Louis Northside Regeneration

’27 Tornado Survivors on Montgomery Street

by Michael R. Allen

I have long admired the group of four narrow-faced, one-story houses on the 3000 block of Montgomery Street. Located on a little wedge between Garrison and Coleman streets, the four houses seem to comprise a coherent group of small shaped-parapet dwellings. The western two, 3005 and 3007 Montgomery (left), have front entrances. The other two, 3001 and 3003 Montgomery (right), have side entrances and paired windows on their faces. All are clad in machine-rolled, rough-faced brown brick with abundant white bakery brick patterns. Raised basements provide well-lit potential additional living space.

The setting is enhanced by the placement of the houses not parallel to Montgomery Street, but parallel to the side lines of the irregular lots on which they sit. Thus the houses roughly step out from east to west, creating visual interest from the side.

These houses have always been architecturally compatible, but there is a twist — or twister, if you will. These houses began their days as stone-faced homes built around the turn of the twentieth century. One block west stood the massive Mullanphy Hospital. In 1927, the great tornado ran northeast across the city and struck this block. Like most buildings that survived the disaster, the buildings were rebuilt using contemporary masonry rather than restored. While the repairs are within a common range, the grouping and the deliberate effort to match all four houses is unusual.

While not stone-clad, the three one-story, flat-roofed houses one block to the east on the south face of Montgomery Street give some indication of the form of the re-clad homes. The decorated wooden cornices were common on these small raised-basement houses built across north city roughly from 1880 through 1905. Often the high porches sheltered stairwells that led to basement apartments. The three houses pictured above are now so decimated by brick thieves that their demolition is inevitable.

Alas, the four houses to the west are also vacant — three owned by Northside Regeneration and one by the Land Reutilization Authority — and unprotected by landmarks status or demolition review. However, they are not sitting alone.

The four tornado survivor, marked by a yellow asterisk on the map above, are adjacent to blocks built up again by Habitat for Humanity. The four small historic houses could some day sit amid a rebuilt neighborhood, reminding people of a time when the city had the fortune and foresight to rebuild even small one-story houses. The brick-rustled neighbors here bear a strange resemblance to houses depicted in photographs of 1927 tornado damage. Houses that went through the tornado and back remind us that even the worst disaster is not the end of the world — not even necessarily the end of a building.

Benton Park West Historic Preservation Housing LRA

Last Chance for 3244 Iowa Street

by Michael R. Allen

This week I received an e-mail about 3244 Iowa Avenue (pictured above) from JoAnn Vatcha, Housing Analyst for the Community Development Administration. The email stated that the city was issuing a “last chance” call to respond to a Request for Proposals issued last year for the beleaguered property.

The diminutive 19th century alley house — 600 square feet — in Benton Park West is owned by the city’s Land Reutilization Authority and has been considered a vacant building by the Building Division since 2003. The citizen complaints on the house keep coming, and the front wall has suffered spalling. Still, the house is in sound shape and is just a block off of Cherokee Street. This block is intact with historic buildings lining both sides of the street, and its loss would create a hole. The small size is perfect for a single person or couple wanting to be close to the buzz of Cherokee.

Hopefully a developer will answer the call. Meanwhile, some cities have historic preservation organizations that buy, rehab and sell houses that are facing the “last chance.” Should St. Louis follow suit?

(The city has posted all residential building RFPs here.)