7

Vandeventer Place, Revisited

Four years after I first covered Vandeventer Place, there still is a paucity of information and photographs of what was once the grandest private street in St. Louis. I only could find a couple of grainy postcards that preserve the appearance of the once august street.

I often tell people that if even Vandeventer Place (or Gaslight Square, for that matter) isn’t safe from decline and the wrecking ball, then none of our built environment should be taken for granted.

I drove up Spring Avenue recently, and when I passed through the block where Vandeventer Place once stood, I took a photo to the right and to the left. It is hard to believe that even just sixty years ago Richardsonian Romanesque mansions and Gothic Revival castles once stood. Instead, I saw a chain-link fence blocking one of the ugliest buildings in St. Louis, the Veterans’ Hospital…

…and on the other side, a forlorn and rapidly deteriorating “youth services facility,” or as one of my students who works there calls it, the teen jail.

Below, I made an attempt to stitch together the Sanborn Maps for Vandeventer Place, hoping to give you an idea of its former glory. Coming later today.

7 Comments

  1. In all candor – I remember Vandeventer Place from immediately before it was razed. It truly was a dump and most houses looked like there had been no maintenance done for 50 years.. Now, I love old buildings and reveled in SLU's Chouteau House, used when I was there as offices (including the AFROTC office) and the snack bar was in the basement. I always thought it should be used for more appropriate purposes – and it was, albeit long after my attendance. But V.P. was too far gone, at least to my uneducated eyes. And in truth, the land was needed for the hospital – which was positioned to serve the veterans in the Northern part of the City and County.Additionally, there was just not the interest in rehabbing old mansions that were that far East.Now, I dunno when Vandeventer Place started its long deline, but when I told my parents that I'd ventured there, they told me, in no uncertain terms, that I was never to drive in there again, and that it had been a hotbed of crime even in the '20s. So apparently its slide began by the time of WW I.

  2. I think they could have easily built the Veterans' Hospital to the east of Grand, where an entire neighborhood was demolished.I totally understand from the view of planners at the time that it seemed logical to demolish Vandeventer Place, but remember, these were the same planners who wanted to demolish Lafayette Square…

  3. There's a documentary series they show sometimes on KETC called St. Louis Centuries. It was done back in the sixties, I think, by Charles Guggenheim. There was an interesting bit they did on VP (in the Gilded Age episode) and even back then all that was left were the gates and maybe a fountain. And guess what? For those interested, someone just listed a complete set on Craigslist today. No, I don't know them, I just found it in a google search I did trying to research.

  4. Chris, you need to read Charles Savage's chapter on Vandeventer Place in _Architecture of the Private Places of St. Louis_. Far from a paucity of information, Savage shows that much is known about Vandeventer Place and its mansions. Most of the buildings were photographed, and Savage uses several images to illustrate his chapter. The Missouri Historical Society holds a thorough collection of photographs of Vandeventer Place mansions.

  5. Vandeventer Place was in decline even before the turn of the 20th century due to the city growing up around it, and bringing the inevitable pollution, noise and traffic with the progress. Some families began leaving by 1894 or so, and essentially walked away from the mansions. Others stayed longer if they could not afford to build elsewhere, but maintenance on the expensive homes was sometimes beyond their means, and it made no sense to maintain the grand homes in a declining surrounding environment and when the desire to stay put was flagging. Very few families remained by the 1920s, and as I recall, only one house was still occupied in 1940.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *