Welcome back to Period Dramas, a weekly column that alternates between roundups of historic homes on the market and answering questions we’ve always had about older structures.
Recently, while surfing listings for a piece on historic summer homes, we kept getting distracted by the fact that a number of stately homes were on the market in St. Louis, Missouri. Beyond being ornate—and located in a city—we noticed something else: They were all built within a decade of one another, in a period between the late-1800s to about 1907. Our curiosity was officially piqued.
The turn of the 20th century was a prosperous time for St. Louis. Its railroads were expanding, and its brewing industry, among others, was thriving in a post-Civil War economy. And as these industries (Anheuser-Busch is headquartered in St. Louis) grew, so too did the city's population: In the early 1900s, it quickly became the fourth-largest city in America.
A flurry of architectural and city developments soon followed for the midwestern city. Perhaps most famously, the architect Louis Sullivan designed and constructed the 10-story, brick-clad Wainwright Building, now recognized as one of the world's first skyscrapers.
Meanwhile, the wealthy shifted from living in the outskirts of the city to newly designed "private places," which are essentially private gated neighborhoods with single-family homes. Today, nine of these private places remain in St. Louis, and that's where many of the homes we're featuring today are located.
The midwestern city gathered even more attention in 1904 when it hosted the World's Fair—famously immortalized in the classic 1944 movie Meet Me In St. Louis. The fair would signal the apex of this age of prosperity, which was also spurred by St. Louis hosting the 1904 Summer Olympics. Over a century later, the houses built during this brief window of time stand as a testament to St. Louis's Gilded Age. Let's take a look at a few that are for sale.
Pershing Place (5 bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms, $1.199 million)
Clad in molded brick and topped with a strong cornice, this Renaissance Revival house—built in 1898—has all the earmarks of a structure that's influenced by Louis Sullivan's Wainwright Building, which was completed just eight years earlier. It also has molded brick decorations and is capped by a strong cornice.
Inside, the 6,300-square-foot house is a dream for anybody who loves woodwork. The house has a center hall, bordered by a living room and dining room, and terminating in an ornate staircase lit with a tripartite stained glass window.
While we normally don't like to talk about a renovated historic home, we really do love how the old elements of the architecture interact with the more recent renovations carried out through the house. The kitchen, while fully renovated, is complemented by a butler's pantry whose sink and wood cabinetry are seemingly untouched since the early 1900s. And, upstairs, a bedroom turned dressing room still sports its fireplace. Could you imagine getting dressed beside the warm glow of a fire?
Portland Place (8 bedrooms, 5.5 bathrooms, $1.450 million)
Built by firm Milligan & Wray in 1906, this Federal-style home is situated on a private place. The 8,800-square-foot house is truly a vision of classic American architecture, from the fan light over the door to the six-over-six windows to the balustrade running around the roofline.
Inside, the house is organized around a central hall that features a grand staircase and is lit by a large window with another over-the-door fanlight. The other reception rooms—a library, living room, dining room, and sitting room—alternate between showcasing delicate molding and heavy dark-wood carvings.
We'll be honest and say that the upper floors leave a little bit to be desired (20th-century renovations have not been kind to them) but the bones are all still there. Thankfully, the worst offense you'll find here is a popcorn ceiling—not a missing fireplace.
Kingsbury Place (5 bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms, $1.610 million)
Built in 1904 out of Bedford limestone—the same material that graces the exterior of Chicago's notable greystones—this stately Beaux-Arts home sits up on Kingsbury Place, which was designed by Julius Pitzman, one of the foremost designers and planners of private places. The gates to Kingsbury Place are even more impressive than this house, if you can believe it.
Each room in this 7,700-square-foot house, designed by Haynes & Barnett, comes with an architectural surprise. Whether it's a rounded office, a living room with an intricate frieze and plasterwork on the ceiling, or a dining room lined with Zuber wallpaper, this home exudes opulence and generosity.
What's funny about this house is how its kitchen is completely unexpected. Clearly renovated in the recent past, the space has been modernized to include stainless-steel appliances and marble countertops. The space also opens right up onto the pool deck.
Hawthorne Boulevard (7 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, $695,000)
Moving to a smaller scale, this Victorian brick home was built in 1906, just after the hoopla died down from the World's Fair and the Summer Olympics. The 4,400-square-foot house, though not as grand as the other houses here, impresses with its woodwork. The staircase, wood-beamed dining room, and century-old butler's pantry are especially notable.
Architecture aside, this house also impresses through its period wallpaper and ceiling decorations. The living room, dining room, and foyer all feature multicolored wall coverings with intricate patterns. The decorative scheme in the dining room is perhaps most eye catching, with its floral filigree extending down in swags towards the diners seated at the table.
Westminster Place (6 bedrooms, 4.5 bathrooms, $869,000)
What we love about this Georgian Revival house is how the verticality of the three-story house presents itself in each room—everything, from the ceiling height to the size of the windows to the proportions of the door frames, is elongated to accentuate the height of the space and building.
While the house does have formally defined rooms—not uncommon for older houses—the first floor has almost an airy feel to it, thanks in part to how the rooms all open up to the hallway with large double pocket doors. The stair hall is also open to the formal living room, which helps to increase the flow from once space to another. Side note: Check out that window seat and incredibly tall leaded-glass window that lights up the staircase.
The upstairs has been pretty well preserved—updated, but not destroyed, which is nice. There's a particularly lovely marble bathroom and a glassed-in sleeping porch, too, for those warmer nights. And outside? While there may not be a pool like we saw at Kingsbury Place, the garden is just big enough for a cafe set, perfect for sitting and admiring the other houses that surround this glorious brick pile.