I had always glanced down Nicholson Place while traveling down Lafayette Avenue, and had foolishly believed that the sadly truncated little street surely contained little history and few historic houses. After digging a little, I discovered I was dead wrong.
I had learned several years ago that the south side of Lafayette Square facing the park had featured a row of private streets, laid out by landowners who built their own villas, often at the entrance to the cul-de-sacs that were then subdivided off to other buyers (the former Park Place turned into the through street Mississippi Avenue to the east).
David Nicholson, I suspect, bought the former property of Christian Staehlin (No. 8), and then Nicholson built his own Italianate villa (No. 7). Staehlin’s house was probably demolished shortly thereafter. As you can see above in Compton and Dry’s Pictorial St. Louis in 1876, the new private street has only just then been laid out, and in the upper left you can see houses on Waverly Place, and on the lower right, you can see houses on Park Place. Below is Nicholson’s house in its prime; learn more about this style in my St. Louis Magazine article.
David Nicholson Residence in Lafayette Park, Late Nineteenth Century, Missouri History Museum, N34051
Below is a photograph of the same house, but it’s obvious that the house has begun to show the passage of time; there’s coal dust clinging to it, the trees have grown up, and there’s an air of dilapidation hanging over the once august house. And what is that over on the left side of the photograph?
William Swekosky, David Nicholson Residence, Southwest Corner of Lafayette and Nicholson Place, Built 1867, Early Twentieth Century, Missouri History Museum, P0245-00004
Well, look at that! The Nicholson Family partitioned off a portion of their large parcel at the corner of Lafayette Avenue and Nicholson Place and built in what was now the latest and most fashionable style, the Romanesque Revival. Can you imagine if this house was still standing?
William Swekosky, 1 Nicholson Place, Later 1701 Nicholson Place, c. 1945, Missouri History Museum, N34050
But as later photographs attest, after World War II, and as the neighborhood further declined, the landscaping became further overgrown and unkempt.
William Swekosky, 1 Nicholson Place, 1940-59, Missouri History Museum, N04441
If you look closely below, you can see the Italianate villa from above still standing just to the right of the later house through the trees.
William Swekosky, 1 Nicholson Place, 1940-59, Missouri History Museum, N04445
The two houses look like they were still standing into the late 1950s, and they were probably demolished right before or for the construction of the apartments that now stand on their lots. Just look at the side of the house facing Nicholson Place; it was truly a magnificent example of the Romanesque Revival, emulating the appearance of a northern European church.
William Swekosky, 1 Nicholson Place, 1940-59, Missouri History Museum, N04450
On the east side of the street, on the land of the former Staehlin Estate, there are some interesting little apartment buildings with cool little balconies, built in the early Twentieth Century.
Then the original Italianate and Second Empire houses built when this was an exclusive private street come into view.
This Second Empire house intrigued me as it is a transitional example between that style and the Romanesque Revival; look at its heavy masonry-dominated front portal and arched front window.
There are a couple more early Twentieth Century in-fill two family houses, which are nice in their own way.
Then we get close to the interstate, and the noise levels rise, but the houses are still just as beautiful as anywhere in the neighborhood.
This is the last house before the street comes screeching to a halt.
The house photographed below, as best as I can tell, was on the east side of the street, and like its neighbor to the right, was demolished for the construction of Interstate 44. The street would have otherwise gone all the way to Geyer Avenue in what we now call McKinley Heights.
William Swekosky, Unidentified Residence, Nicholson Place, Missouri History Museum, N04432
Then we turn around and look back to the north on the west side of Nicholson Place. There are some nice four-family flats, but I want to instead focus on a couple of other old photographs.
A few decades before they were demolished for the interstate, these stately three-story Italianate houses were photographed. It is interesting in that they originally had “small” addresses, but then were assigned 100 block numbers to fit them in with the street grid.
William Swekosky, 1757, 1751, 1747, formerly, 31, 27, 23 Nicholson Place, 1946, Missouri History Museum, N04433
They’re gone now, the first houses on the west side to be knocked down for the interstate. I can only imagine how much they would have enriched the City of St. Louis if they had been allowed to stand.
William Swekosky, George Keller Residence, 1747 Nicholson Place, 1946, Missouri History Museum, N03346
As a final little lacuna, there was actually a small private street, Parade Place, planned in between Nicholson Place and Park Place, with incredibly small lots. It was never built, as far as I can tell, and there are no vestiges of it remaining in the plats or street grid of the neighborhood. There is merely an alley where it would have gone.
Julius Hutawa, Parade Place Subdivision of Lafayette Square, 1866, Missouri History Museum, N38891