Benton Place, West Side

Benton Place is named after Thomas Hart Benton, and is the first private street designed by Julius Pitzman, who designed the majority of the private streets in St. Louis. Originally, a fifty cent levee was charged per foot of frontage on the place from each resident. A light switch for the streetlights was in #25 Benton Place. The street was commissioned by Judge Montgomery Blair, of the same family whose house across Pennsylvania Avenue NW from the White House is now the official guest residence for visiting foreign dignitaries.

Benton Place West Side, Photograph by William Swekosky, 1940-59, Missouri History Museum, N04005

Pitzman filed the plat on September 1, 1868, recorded in Plat Book 8, Page 2. In 1948, the City of St. Louis took over the maintenance of the street, so it is no longer a privately owned street. I’ve looked at the street briefly back in 2014 and 2007.

The west side has only had one loss, which we’ll talk about in a bit, but what is also fascinating is I think there are a couple of lots that have never been built on ever towards the north end of the place. Looking below, we can see that on the west side, which we’ll handle today, there were four houses built already. No. 14, which is now 2107 Park Avenue, actually began its life as #46 Benton Place, as it would have been in 1876 in Compton and Dry’s Pictorial St Louis, below. No. 15 is #5 Benton Place, which was Montgomery Blair’s and then Cynthia Desloge’s residence. No. 16 was General John S. Cavender’s house and No. 17 was C.D. Stone residence.

Much of the street was built up by 1896, but not all off it. Lafayette Square was still an exclusive address, and much of the west side of Benton Place was still undeveloped.

Whipple’s fire insurance map of St. Louis, Mo. Volume 5,1896. Plate 239

Even by 1908, the west side was still largely only half built.

Benton Place Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. St. Louis, Missouri, 1908 December, Sheet 85

But what had been built was magnificent.

“Montgomery Blair Residence,” 5 Benton Place, Built 1868-9, Photograph by William Swekosky, c. 1948, Missouri History Museum, N33490

Book 390, Page 53 recorded in the Recorder of Deeds office details the sale of the property from Montgomery Blair to Cynthia Desloge, for #5 on June 5, 1869, which takes up lots 43 and 44. It sold for $20,000, which was a good chunk of change back then; Lemp Brewery buildings cost only $10 or $20,000 to build in the 1870s.

Cynthia Desloge Residence, 5 Benton Place, Photograph by William Swekosky, 1940-59, Missouri History Museum, N03094

It’s a beautiful Second Empire house, and it looks great today well-restored.

Sadly, we see that the next house, #7, has been demolished, and was owned by another member of the Desloge family, Zoe Desloge Cobb.

Cynthia Desloge Residence, 5 Benton Place, Photograph by William Swekosky, 1940-59, Missouri History Museum, N03095

I suspect it may have been as a pair with #9, which is to the right in the photograph below. It was a wedding gift, as far as I can tell, when Zoe married Seth Wallace Cobb in 1876. When they moved to Westminster Place, the house began its life as a rental.

Zoe Desloge Cobb Residence, 7 Benton Place, Photograph by William Swekosky, 1940-59, Missouri History Museum, N03044

#7 was torn down around 1963, after a fire had damaged it during its rooming house days. Apparently it had been left open after the fire and was vandalized by intruders.

Next up is #15, which is a Romanesque Revival beauty, and further proves my point that the neighborhood continued to thrive well past the decline of the Italianate and Second Empires styles.

Benton Place, Unidentified Residence, Photograph by William Swekosky, 1940-59, Missouri History Museum, N04320

If you look closely, you can see that the house was clearly converted into a boarding house as well at some point, as the telltale fire escape is present coming out of the third floor dormer at the upper left.

While city records say the house was built in 1891, a society directory states that a retired watchmaker, William A. Rosenthal was living at the address by 1889.

Next up is a very cool house, owned by General John S. Cavender, which is missing one dormer window today; can you spot it?

John S. Cavender Residence, 21 Benton Place, Photograph by William Swekosky, 1940-1959, Missouri History Museum, N03025

We’ll talk more about this house in the next couple of days, but it has been wonderfully restored as well, with correct paint colors and wonderful hedges that look nice in the winter.

To the north then are Lots 31-34, which as far as I can tell have never had any buildings built on them. That is not unheard of, though I am wondering if there is the outline of a foundation on the right. Many wealthy families bought extra lots as an investment, and then never sold them until decades later; that is why you will often see very modern houses on the private streets north of Forest Park.

The next two houses, however, are clearly latecomers that were built in the Twentieth Century; they’re very well restored and look good.

However, they clearly date to when Lafayette Square had firmly slid into middle class status, and was definitely not an exclusive neighborhood anymore. The mansions were surely being cut up into boarding houses by then.

You can see that the front parapet walls have been relaid on both houses due to exposure to the elements.

Next up is a house with quite the story. Built on Lot 27, and numbered #35, the house was labeled as the “C.D. Stone” house in Pictorial St. Louis in 1876.

Benton Place, Unidentified Residence, Photograph by William Swekosky, 1940-59, Missouri History Museum, N04321

The property was originally bought by William Maurice, a jeweler and land speculator, directly from Montgomery Blair, recorded in Book 402, Page 168 on March 7, 1876. The house was designed by William’s son. The Maurices built the mansion and then sold it to Dewitt C. Stone for $20,000 on April 24, 1873. It is patently obvious that this house has been manipulated since its original construction.

I suspect it looked largely like the Cynthia Desloge Residence that we’ve already looked at above, and for whatever reason (damage from the Great Cyclone–it wouldn’t have been the only house), they constructed a more modern roof and front porch, probably in the 1890s, regardless of natural disaster or not.

It’s a very cool house, but almost certainly originally in the Second Empire.

Despite the fire insurance maps showing the street going through, there’s long been a massive retaining wall that holds up Benton Place, and even a doorway and staircase that once went up to the terrace. It’s blocked up now, and probably won’t be reopened.

Benton Place Stone Wall, Photograph by William Swekosky, 1960, Missouri History Museum, N04315

You would have had quite the view of the Mill Creek Valley before the factory was built, with the Schnaider Brewery to the northeast, in this extremely rare image of that business.

View of St. Louis from Benton Place, c. 1870, Missouri History Museum, P0119-00155 Left

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