I made a wonderful discovery in the Library of Congress’s collection of photographs from the Historic American Buildings Survey, when photographers, in this case Paul Piaget in August of 1960, documented the built environment around the United States. I photographed 3811 Kosciusko Avenue back in November and posted the picture above here.
Despite the mythology I’ve observed about South St. Louis, much of the housing stock built in the mid-Nineteenth century was approaching the century mark in age in the years after World War II.
East of Jefferson, neighborhoods were poor, and they are actually wealthier now than they had been for much of the Twentieth Century–or even in some ways the Nineteenth Century.
But these photographs give us a window into what this almost perfectly preserved house looked like as it settled into possible abandonment, in a neighborhood that is still struggling with many vacant buildings.
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good afternoon chris. the photo’s are incredible. f.y.i the doors and windows feature a hand painted finish to look like wood. I owned a house in tower grove east (2814 Michigan) that had the same look. the stairwell, doors and windows were painted by an artist to make it look much better than it actually was.
Good eye, Dan! Yes, these doors do seem to be painted in a technique known as “graining.” You can also, I believe, see the actual grain of the wood under the paint.
It looks like the third story dormer was converted to a skylight. Cool post!
Yikes, you’re right. Not sure if I’m a fan, but of course the dormer may have rotted off or been lost by the time the house was rehabbed. Regardless, I’m happy the house was rehabbed, reoccupied, back on the tax rolls, and is being enjoyed by new owners.
HABS is an excellent resource. I remember when the Library of Congress digitized the files in the early 2000s. I have spent many hours, cumulatively many days or weeks, on that site.
However, seeing photographs of the Thul-Peters House back in 1960, when it retained a high degree of its original historic integrity, reminds me of why historic preservationists like myself argue for historically accurate restorations of historic buildings. The current trend of gutting historic buildings and inserting contemporary interiors is responsible for the destruction of so many historic details, like those seen in these photographs. While there are limited situations where such a technique might be acceptable, such as when the interior has been completely destroyed by fire or neglect, there are far more situations where mantles, doors, windows, plasterwork, etc., are tossed into dumpsters based upon whatever type of HGTV trend a house flipper can install in the cheapest way or whatever type of contemporary design an architect can use to get himself or herself into the major architectural periodicals. The neglect, abandonment, and low property values so often seen in St. Louis and some other historic cities fosters an environment where even many historic preservationists accept or even advocate such practices, so long as the building is “saved.”
I cannot speak to the post-1960 history of this house; perhaps it was abandoned and little was salvageable except the brick shell. But, the replacement of the original windows and the elimination of the dormer indicates a high likelihood that the original interior details have either been removed or destroyed with a slathering of paint. That is not as bad as if the entire house had been demolished, but it should still leave a bad taste in the mouth of anyone who claims to love historic buildings.
I am likewise incensed by the ugly trend of out-of-town flippers, with little to no knowledge, nor concern with the heritage of St. Louis, dumping the entire historic contents of a house into a dumpster (I’ve heard someone use the verb “dumpstering” recently), without any care to whether or not the materials are salvageable or not. I hope the rehabber only removed the dormer as a last resort, or that it was already gone, and that they did not arbitrarily discard it, as the 1960s photo shows the composition of the house is much more successful with it extant.
You can see the interior of this house at this link and judge for yourself:
I did not know there were those interior photographs of this house when I wrote my comment. It looks like I was right about the slathering of white paint. Some of the doors and mantles could be missing as well.
I will have to add “dumpstering” to my vocabulary. It will go along with “vinylating,” my portmanteau of vinyl and violating, another scourge on historic buildings.