By Edmund S. Hoch
|Home of William F. Nolker on Lindell Boulevard|
Insularity is a grievous word; it describes a grievous sin. Communities, nations, individuals, resent its application. Egotism, ignorance, final stagnation are a few of the attributes it suggests; naturally all peoples and places oppose such invidious classification.
Yet, it is a fact that insularity is more common than we think; and it is more common in our own new country than we may care to admit. We readily accredit the colossal iron keys, eventide candles and latchless houses of Paris to insularity, as well as the dull newspapers, ugly houses and the grinding busses of London and the elaborate but awfully inadequate hotels of Latin Europe: but we rarely bring the word back with us across the water. It has a place here, however. We can use it quite readily and pertinently, as may be demonstrated without extended investigation.
"The palaces of St. Louis." "What palaces?" is asked. "Palaces—where? What St. Louis? St. Louis in France? Is there such a place? Certainly it cannot be that St. Louis—our St. Louis, in Missouri, is meant. There are no palaces there!"
Yet St. Louis, in Missouri, is meant, and the palaces of St. Louis, Missouri, are referred to by the title of this article. St. Louis, Missouri, has palaces. In deed, a great number of charming, most beautiful palaces—a greater number, in fact, than any other city in the world.
Remarkable statement. And it is greeted with surprise — astonishment, unbelief, perhaps. The condition of ignorance which suggests this unbelief is, however, not the fault of St. Louis. Insularity produces it — not individual insularity, but what may be termed community insularity, especially super induced by the chronic insularity of the nationally distributed periodical and illustrated press.
|Home of Mr. A. G. Cochran in Westmoreland Place|
The incredibly little information which the cities of this country possess of each other, and the loss in progress, comfort and enjoyment to each, and therefore to the country, resulting therefrom, is a subject sufficient for a special and pertinent treatise of itself; but we have no room for such discussion here. The loss to the country as a result of its ignorance concerning St. Louis and conditions that exist in that remarkable western city is, however, most marked. I say loss to the country and not to St. Louis, and I repeat it, because the statement reports the facts. St. Louis has what the rest of the country and the world need and have not and what it would benefit them much to adopt.
And St. Louis has, as stated, palaces—of a kind that would enrich and beautify the world—as the photographs accompanying this text graphically testify —palaces with palace grounds and palace surroundings—the like of which, in number and beauty and richness of setting, the country outside of St. Louis has little idea of.
St. Louis' palaces are the homes of St. Louis, as already may have been inferred. And St. Louis homes are palaces--at least scores of them are—veritable palaces, in every particular of richness, appointment and setting—even in size. It is a fact that may be easily proved that St. Louis has more beautiful homes than any city in the world; I will say, further, and the fact may also be proved, that St. Louis has more beautiful homes than any two cities in the world; indeed, any three cities might be selected and introduced into the comparison and St. Louis would, I believe, meet and surpass them all in the contest.
|David R. Francis home on Maryland Avenue|
The populations of New York and Chicago have, and can have, no conception of the richness and beauty of the Missouri metropolis' homes, for they have nothing at hand with which to make a comparison. There are homes in New York, and possibly a few in Chicago, that cost as much or more than the finest homes of St. Louis. But there is none in either city that is anything like as beautiful. The splendid home of Mrs. Potter Palmer, in Chicago, will be provisionally cited as an exception to this statement—but only provisionally. Individually and in its immediate setting, the Palmer home ranks with many of the richer St. Louis homes, but not in locality. It suffers from bad surroundings. Extraordinary relation this, when it is remembered that the Palmer home is located on the famous Lake Shore drive of Chicago. But the statement is more than true. The beautiful possibilities of the Lake Shore Drive have been marred by the greed of land speculation, resulting in the crowding of buildings. There are blocks on the Lake Shore Drive built absolutely solid, like on Fifth Avenue in New York—with not a blade of grass between the houses, but in spots these blocks show blank, crass walls enclosing desolate lots—awaiting the insertion of other houses to hide them—that would positively rasp the eye of a St. Louisian and which utterly ruin the residence beauty of the neighborhood. In St. Louis, for blocks and blocks, the eye is met with splendid mansions set in splendid grounds—each a complete and satisfying entity—each surrounded by stretching green lawns, fresh and sparkling under the industrious hose, diversified and enriched by luxuriant shrubs, flowers and trees. The continuation of such a neighborhood for miles creates an atmosphere, a setting for a mansion—for each mansion in such a section—that cannot possibly attach to an isolated house and grounds, found set between a vacant, desolate block, joined by a solid row of frowning houses on one end, and a crowded block of irregularly placed houses on the other. St. Louis has planned for its homes—especially its palace homes — planned with an effect that is marvelous—that is inconceivable by those who live away from that city. To the stranger who comes within St. Louis' gates, St. Louis' homes and home sections and home places are and will ever be a revelation. Fancy seems to have been let run riot in devising fairyland plans and fairyland surroundings for the enhancing and beautifying of these establishments. Especially is this true of the St. Louis home "Places," of which there are so many in the city—the rarest residence spots that the imagination can devise or skill execute, so far are they beyond comparison with anything that exists elsewhere. These home places are, I believe, original with St. Louis. I have never seen them elsewhere, not in such number, elaboration and perfection, at least, in Europe or in America. They are constituted of specially selected residence sections, located in the richest portions of the residence districts, and enclosed within splendid portals, like a private park. They consist, generally, of an elaborate double thoroughfare about half a mile long, which embraces between its two branches a rich stretch of lawn, shrubbery, flowers and trees—a delightful park strip—the whole being lined on either side by splendid mansions, each set in the richest grounds. The portals to these residential parks are of ornate design and are generally built of marble, granite, elaborate terra cotta, or ornamental iron. The gates remain open to all who care to drive or walk within, on tours of pleasure or inspection. A glimpse of one of these splendid places accompanies the text, which, however, offers no adequate idea of the charm and magnificence of the whole. If a Chicagoan, or New Yorker, or Parisian—to say nothing of an inhabitant of London or Berlin—were to go to sleep at home and wake up in, say Portland Place or Westmoreland Place, or Vandeventer Place, in St. Louis, he would, I sincerely believe, hesitate before he decided that he was not in Paradise. The extraordinary suggestion of this statement only properly intimates the indescribable beauty, ineffable charm of these home places of St. Louis. There is one such place, in the center of the residence section of the city—Fullerton Place — a half mile double stretch of charming mansions, lawns, trees and shrubbery, facing a central avenue, enclosed with gates, as a private park, that is nothing less than an Elysium. A more ideal spot in which to have a home, quality of surroundings and neighboring houses considered, can hardly be imagined as being possible on this earth. The succession of these luxurious home places is most remarkable--all about the same size and almost equally rich and charming. There are Westmoreland Place, Portland Place, Vandeventer Place, Fullerton Place, Cabanne Place, Westminster Place, Hortense Place, West Cabanne Place, Windermere Place, Nicholson Place, Benton Place, Waverly Place, Preston Place, Whittemore Place, Wagner Place, Raymond Place, Forest Park Terrace, Washington Terrace, Chamberlain Park, Compton Heights.
|Mr. Byron Nucent home, 29 Westmoreland Place|
To these add the boulevards—almost as beautiful as the places, in splendid mansions and wide spreading lawns and grounds, and many of them miles long: Lindell Boulevard, Washington Boulevard, Delmar Boulevard, Pine Boulevard, Westminster Boulevard, Forest Park
Boulevard, Longfellow Boulevard, Hawthorne Boulevard, Flora Boulevard—to say nothing of the less important residence streets, any one of a score of which would ornament any city—and try to imagine what a residence section these places and avenues present. It will exercise your imagination well.
Washington is ordinarily considered a city of beautiful residences. It is better known, too, possibly, than any other American city, except New York, which has no beautiful homes, in the proper sense. It will undoubtedly surprise many to read the statement of the fact that St. Louis is giving up a residence section—literally abandoning it—that is equal if not superior in extent and richness of homes and thoroughfares to the whole residence section of Washington —giving it up to occupy its newer, richer quarters. Indeed, not one of the places or boulevards mentioned above as being notably attractive is included in this older, handsome section.
Paris is not in the comparison with St. Louis in this connection of beautiful homes, home places and thoroughfares. I recall an incident which nicely describes the situation as between the two cities in this respect. While driving up the Champs Elysees one day some summers ago, approaching the Place L'Etoile, my cab drew near to a carriage filled with handsome young women.
|Mr. Corwin H. Spencer home in Washington Terrace|
"So this is the Champs Elysees," I accidently overheard one of them exclaim, her eyes investigating the wastes of gravel and white, bleached apartment houses on either side of the splendid thoroughfare. "Well, please give me Washington Boulevard in St. Louis."
The remark shocked me then. But since I have seen Washington Boulevard I must say that I am almost ready to agree with the young lady. Paris—its immediate environment, rather — furnishes one striking instance of suggestion of what may be seen all over the residence portions of St. Louis. That is the little, white chateau in the Bois de Boulogne, just off the Avenue des Acacias, opposite the Cafe Chinoir. Who, on turning the broad curve at the cascade in the park, on the way to Long-champs or Suresne, has not been thrilled with delight as this pretty little white palace came suddenly into view, stretched so charmingly out on the grass, under the trees at the right of the drive. The sight of this little gem of an individual house is a positive refreshment after the monotony of apartment house, lawnless Paris. The Petit Trianon in the park at Versailles, also the Grand Trainon there—but not its partial imitation, the walled-in home of the Castellanes on the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne—are other suggestions. These are individual instances taken out of Paris and its environs—Paris the recognized beauty capital of the world—as against scores of charming specimens within the confines of St. Louis.
|Mr. H. C. Pierce home at Vanderventer Place|
It is said (and truly) that to see a really beautiful woman (meaning woman, grace and gown) you must go to Paris. It may be just as truly said that, to see a beautiful home—house, grounds and environment--you must go to St. Louis.
And what, may the public think, do such homes mean to St. Louis? What does the sociologist say is and must be the result of such a situation — the presence of such a succession of splendid homes in a great city? Does it not mean much for happiness, for refinement of tastes and impulses—much for morals, for the true enjoyment and promotion of life? The answer to this is, Yes. The fact is witnessed in St. Louis every day. St. Louis people enjoy life in the very highest sense of its possibilities. Their beautiful homes and neighborhoods insure, compel this. Each of these charming abodes is a palace of wholesome delight, in winter and summer, as may be seen from the wayside. Fresh, pretty, happy, gaily dressed young women and handsome young men are visible about them all the time, on all sides—on lawns, on spreading verandas, in the splendid corridors—rich, satisfying, enjoying healthy life shows itself everywhere. What else can such environment produce? These handsome homes inspire and nourish the desire for home and wholesome domestic happiness. And not only do they provide, or effect, this for their inmates, their fortunate possessors and inhabitants, but—and note the significance of this well—they do the same for the humbler dwellers of the city who see these beautiful homes. The love of a beautiful home, the desire for one, is a positive passion in St. Louis, a passion that is becoming more deeply rooted and more universal, every day. Sociologists may note this and ponder what such a fact means, in activity, ambition, stability and morals, in a community. In Chicago and New York and Paris no such desire for a home exists. Poll the population of each city and ninety per cent will return the verdict that to hope to own an attractive home in either community is futile, and that, even if it were not so, investment of accumulated earnings in such manner would be imprudent, in consideration of the exigencies and uncertainties of metropolitan life. The populations of these cities are confirmed converts to the flat —that social cancer which is gnawing at the very core of society. They have no hope for anything but a transient abiding place.
|Mr. William McWilliam home in Portland Place|
In St. Louis, the poorer and middle classes make regular and repeated pilgrimages through the finer residence sections of the community. Indeed, such trips are a source of never ending delight to them, affording the double satisfaction of the gratification of a taste for the beautiful, especially the beautiful in homes, which has been deeply cultivated in the community, and the contemplation of pleasing possibilities in the shape of handsome future abodes of their own.
Again, these handsome boulevards and splendid residence places of St. Louis form an adjunct and a most delightful, interesting and effective adjunct to the city's system of parks. They offer all of the fresh air and green beauty of the parks, in addition to rare architectural and artistic beauty, and that personality which attaches to each home — that human interest which is at the bottom of all interest and zest in life. The builders of these homes and the creators of these rare home "places" yield, therefore, all these things considered a direct and material as well as an indirect and moral service to the community. They are entitled for such service — these representative citizens of St. Louis—to credit before the world—credit for doing a great—a really great and beneficial work.
As a reward for their splendid work, for their splendid service to the community and the world, I predict that when the denizens of the various parts of the world come to St. Louis in 1904, they will go away with one of two well defined conclusions, viz.: either to make their own environment like unto that of St. Louis or to endeavor to arrange their affairs so that they may make their habitation in a city where such splendid things exist and transpire.
|Residence of Mr. C. S. Hills in Forest Park Place|
Recently, I read the plea of a so-called cosmopolite, published in one of the magazines, deploring the open treatment of American homes and home premises and recommending and predicting the introduction of the ugly wall of Europe, shutting all residence grounds in from the street. St. Louis stands and its home builders stand an emphatic and everlasting protest against this selfish custom of Europe. If the example of this southwestern metropolis does nothing more than prevent the possibility of this corroding innovation, which it will effectually do, I believe, as a result of the lessons of real home beauty it will teach to the visiting multitude during 1904, it will deserve, and its citizens will deserve everlasting gratitude.
Portland Place. This stretch extends for half a mile and is paralleled by another on the opposite side of the park plot in the center. The whole is enclosed within splendid portals, forming a most elaborate and beautiful private residence park. These residence centers, of which St. Louis has many, are the most Ideal residential creations of their kind in the world.
from The National Magazine, October 1902.