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.

Mid-Century Modern National Register St. Louis County University City

Murphy Residence Listed in National Register

by Michael R. Allen

On May 10, the National Park Service listed in the Joseph and Ann Murphy Residence at 7901 Stanford Avenue in University City in the National Register of Historic Places. The Murphy Residence, owned by Joseph Murphy’s daughter Caroline and her husband Vincent DeForest, is one of St. Louis’ first truly modern residential designs. Completed in 1939 and expanded in 1950 and 1962, the home was key in introducing International Style-inspired modernist design to the St. Louis region. While Murphy became best known for his later work, including the Climatron and Olin Library at Washington University, this house represented an early accomplishment in his career and in the story of modern architecture in St. Louis.

Read the full text of my National Register of Historic Places nomination here.

Schools St. Louis County University City

University City Voters Should Vote NO on Proposition U

by Lindsey Derrington

Tomorrow University City residents will have the opportunity to vote either for or against Proposition U, a $53.6 million bond issue for the University City School District. If passed, this bond issue will fund the district’s proposed facilities plan which entails the demolition of Pershing (1920) and Barbara C. Jordan (1951) Elementary schools — the former designed by Ittner himself, and the latter designed by William B. Ittner, Inc. Both of these schools currently provide healthy, functioning educational environments and both have shown the most improvement within the district in recent years. If failed, property taxes will drop in University City and the district will have a community mandate to rework its plans to improve educational achievement amongst its students, one which would focus less on facilities and more on the teachers and students themselves.

A vote for or against Proposition U is not a vote for or against the students within the UCSD, but one for or against a facilities plan which fails to address the real needs of the district.

Demolition University City

Inside of 707 Eastgate

Andrew Faulkner sent these photographs of the interior of the building at 707 Eastgate during the demolition of the buildings on Eastgate with the following explanation: “The wrecking crew thoughtfully removed the doors of 707 Eastgate before they left for the weekend. I was shooting long exposures with ambient light at night and a few with a flashlight.” The photos date to October 7, 2006.

Demolition University City

Wrecking on Eastgate Began Monday

by Michael R. Allen

Demolition of the apartment building at 701 Eastgate began on Monday, October 2 — just a few days after the demolition permit was granted. Spirtas is the wrecking company for the project, which is on a fast schedule and should be complete in a few weeks.

The building was halfway gone on October 3 (Michael R. Allen).

707 Eastgate next door awaits wrecking next week (Michael R. Allen).

Demolition National Register University City

University City Approves Washington University’s Demolition Permits

by Michael R. Allen

From the September 29 Weekly Update from University City by Julie Feier, City Manager:

Washington University submitted requests for demolition permits on 9/25/2006 for 701 Eastgate and 707 Eastgate and on 9/26/2006 for 6654 Washington. The permits were authorized on 9/28/2006. Under the relevant sections of the Zoning Code, Article 6 Section 34-77.2 and 34-78.2 the issuance of these permits is an administrative function not requiring review by the Historic Preservation Commission because the properties are not located in historic districts.

According to former University City resident Jon Galloway, who has worked to prevent these demolitions for months, it’s a case of demolition without formal review — despite definite historic significance and the apartment buildings’ being part of a national historic district — and without a redevelopment plan. Washington University purchased the apartment building at 701 Eastgate in 2000 for $456,000, and let it slide downhill until the university recently purchased 707 Eastgate next door. The university wasted no time in applying for a demolition permit for these buildings and a house on Washington that it also owned, supposedly “cost prohibitive” to rehab.

Where is the outcry or awareness? Good question. These apartment buildings, built in 1925, are character-defining buildings just north of Delmar Boulevard, sitting on one of several streets ringed by post-World War I era multi-story brick apartment buildings. The house, built in 1918, is earlier than most of its neighbors, and an unusual example of a frame building that has persisted in the core of University City.

Washington University could have sold these buildings to numerous developers eager to carry out historic tax-credit rehabilitation; all of the buildings are already listed as significant on a county historic building survey, and the apartment buildings are contributing resources to the Parkview Gardens National Register of Historic Places district. The university also could have established a for-profit entity to rehab the buildings, so that it could get the tax credits that may have made renovation feasible.

Of course, as Galloway says, the university would not have purchased the buildings for such high prices if they really didn’t have a plan for the sites.

The Buildings

The house at 6654 Washington (Jon Galloway).

The buildings on Eastgate (Jon Galloway).

701 Eastgate (Jon Galloway).

707 Eastgate (Jon Galloway).

Historic Preservation University City

Washington University Plans to Demolish Three Loop-Area Buildings

by Michael R. Allen

This news just came in from a tipster:

Washington University is seeking demolition permits from University City for three buildings: apartment buildings at 701 and 707 Eastgate north of Delmar, both built in 1925, and a house at 6654 Washington south of Delmar, built in 1918. The apartments have been empty for a few years, while the house was rented to students until this spring. The university claims that the costs of rehabilitation of these buildings exceed the return on the investment, but has no plans to redevelop the sites if demolition occurs.

I have no idea how far along in the process the university is, but I assume that the matter will follow proper demolition permit procedures and be considered by University City’s Historic Preservation Commission.

People University City

University City Documentary Screens on Wednesday

University City: The First Century debuts this Wednesday, March 8, at 7:00 pm at COCA (the Center of Creative Arts located at 524 Trinity in University City). Covering the 1850s through the 1990s in 58 minutes, this documentary explores the unique history and character of University City, Missouri. It is produced and written by Margie Newman and Lynn Josse with photography and editing by Alan Brunettin, narration by Jim Kirchherr and original score by Dan Rubright.

This is the first full-length documentary film about University City.

Hundreds of photographs, as well as vintage films and a dozen interviews are part of the documentary. Given the prior collaboration of Josse, Newman, Brunettin and Rubright on the awe-inspiring — albeit very different — …it’s just one building, expect to be informed and inspired by the story of a very unique American suburb.

After the screening, television man Dick Ford will moderate a panel discussion featuring the filmmakers and three of the experts who are interviewed in the program (Esley Hamilton, John Wright, and Sue Rehkopf).

Doors open at 6:30 with a suggested dontion of $10 at the door.