1870s Houses Hiding in Plain View, Midtown

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If you keep your eyes pealed, you start to realize Midtown still holds clues to its Nineteent Century past, before the neighborhood was taken over by auto dealerships and other businesses in an extension of downtown in the early Twentieth Century.

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Take this house, or I should say houses, which are essentially two half flounder houses connected by a party wall.

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Note the patched brick on the side, and the large porches out back. The bay windows are obviously not original.

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Or take this somewhat worn looking row of two houses.

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Half flounder service wings stick out the back, and the open gable roofs up front.

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But from the front, you would never guess. Though obviously these simple houses stick out from their more terracota-bedecked younger neighbors.

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Here they are again, from the east.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Tom Bartholow says:

    “The bay windows are obviously not original,” sure, but for some reason they strike me as congruent, or perhaps it is that the windows put the house front into a new congruence.

  2. CfR says:

    What great catch! Very subtle.

  3. W. White says:

    None of the windows are original. The bay windows look more at home on the building because they are the oldest windows left and the only ones made out of wood and not cheap plastic.

    Another point of interest is the uncommon cast iron fencing.

    However, the most important aspect of that first house is that it is a double house. Although shaped like a pair of flounders joined together (which it likely is), the pilasters and cornice show that nothing was ever planned to be built in front. It is a very unusual example with its front facing gable and four-bay plan. Double houses of its vintage were once widespread in the antebellum (and slightly later) urban environment in areas where row houses were not as popular. The concept became used later for cheaper, usually industrial development related housing, though I have found that Philadelphia has a wealth of very high quality double houses. They are referred to as semi-detached, which is the nomenclature for their era of construction (just as double house is for this St. Louis example) Unfortunately, urban renewal removed just about all examples of double houses from the built environment. HABS documented various examples scattered across the country. You would likely be interested in a long-demolished and even more unusual example that was formerly at 1016-18 Sylvanie Street in St. Joseph.

    1. Chris Naffziger says:

      There is a pair left in Carondelet! 1.5 stories and not 2.

      1. W. White says:

        I think you are referring to one in the 6000 or 6100 block of Michigan Avenue. There is one on that street next to a very rare frame, French Creole-style cottage. On the Gulf Coast, the frame cottage would likely be considered a “butterfly” cottage (though its roof would have a slightly steeper pitch if it were in New Orleans or Mobile), a very old type of dwelling that traces its roots in the US back through the French possessions of the Caribbean to France. You have pointed out on this site before such small, frame dwellings – rightfully highlighting them for the old, architecturally important, and rare survivors they are.

        Since Carondelet is a fairly intact neighborhood (at least what was left after the obliteration caused by Interstate 55), I imagine any very old double houses left in St. Louis would be found there.

        Unfortunately, I doubt that St. Louis has any remaining double houses as high a quality as the Girard Double House in Mobile, Alabama. Since Mobile and St. Louis shared French ancestry, they also shared some similar building typologies; they later shared a propensity for vast, needless urban renewal. The Girard Double House is the last of many double houses that once existed in Mobile (about half a dozen were surveyed by HABS). I suspect that if one looked at Compton & Dry maps or other early renderings (pre-1880) of St. Louis buildings, one would find quite a few double houses of a Greek Revival or vernacular style.

        I do not want you to think that the double house was just the result of French influence. Wiscasset, Maine’s Clark-Wood House (The Musical Wonder House) is as architecturally lavish as any surviving Greek Revival double house. The only more lavish remaining ones are from the late 19th Century, when the term double house had been replaced with semi-detached (which has largely been replaced today with duplex).

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