ABOUT US | History
The Central West End is a century-old, historic neighborhood located in the center of St. Louis, adjacent to Forest Park.
When Forest Park was dedicated in 1876, the rolling farmland to its north and east was favorably viewed by wealthy citizens who wanted to escape the rapidly growing city that was east of Grand Avenue.
St. Louis is well known for its grand private places. And, because of the strict regulations regarding building standards and single-family zoning, they remain as a rare collection of outstanding turn-of-the-century architecture.
A private place is not the same as a cul-de-sac, although both are plentiful in the CWE. Private streets control traffic and maintain a quiet, almost park-like atmosphere. They are owned by the residents, represented by a Board of Trustees. Each private street has an indenture, or covenant, that outlines its governance and acts as a deed restriction. Property owners pay annual fees to support projects approved by the residents. The City of St. Louis provides police and fire protection, as well as trash removal services. The residents pay for maintaining or paving sidewalks and street surfaces, maintaining or planting the trees, and maintaining or installing street lights and entry gates. A cul-de-sac, such as those in the 4300 blocks of Maryland and Laclede Avenues, serves the same traffic control purpose but remains a public street.
In 1888, Westmoreland Place, Portland Place and Forest Park Terrace (now Lindell Boulevard) were established to provide the opportunity for city business leaders to build grand houses on streets that were set up as private places. Other, nearby Central West End private places include Washington Terrace, Kingsbury Place, Waterman Place, Westminster Place, Hortense Place, Pershing Place, Walton Row and Lenox Place.
The Central West End has been home to several famous people in the worlds of business and the arts. Tennessee Williams lived in the 4600 block of Westminster Place, and the rear fire escape undoubtedly inspired the opening scene of The Glass Menagerie. Author Kate Chopin lived on McPherson Avenue, and William Burroughs owned a house in the 4600 block of Pershing Place. Poet T. S. Eliot’s family lived in the 4400 block of Westminster Place, and poet Vachel Lindsay courted poet Sara Teasdale at her family’s house on Kingsbury Place.
Among the business leaders of the turn of the century was Albert Bond Lambert, who built and lived in No. 2 Hortense Place. He was a pharmaceutical manufacturer who also was a pioneering pilot. He was the initial benefactor of Charles A. Lindbergh’s historic solo flight to Paris, and St. Louis’s Lambert International Airport was named in his honor. Other noted business leaders included the founders of A. G. Edwards and Ralston Purina, both of whom built houses on Kingsbury Place. Newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer lived on Pershing Place, and Dwight Davis, donor and founder of the tennis tournament’s Davis Cup, built his home and lived on Portland Place.
The Central West End’s housing opportunities and population burgeoned because of the access afforded by good public transportation – an amenity that was made necessary by the proximity of Forest Park. Even more significant was the fact that the influential owners of homes in the private streets had learned to control their peripheral environment – they financed the building of luxury hotels on Union Boulevard and of fine apartment buildings elsewhere near their borders.
Additional single- and multi-family buildings followed, and much of the neighborhood’s built environment was in place by the end of World War I.
The Central West End has weathered rough times. The neighborhood suffered from the effects of the Depression and World War II. Several elegant buildings were lost to demolition1 (*) and, as the highway system improved, the Central West End lost population during the flight to suburbia.
The neighborhood today represents the efforts of many, including residents, business owners, politicians and real estate developers. Pantheon Corporation’s successful DeBaliviere Place rehabilitation project in the western section of the Central West End was the largest UDAG-funded (**) project in the United States.
The Central West end has come full circle from its elegant beginnings to its current renaissance.
– by Mary M. Bartley ©
(*) See St. Louis Lost, by Mary M. Bartley
(**) Urban Development Action Grant (HUD)
Bartley, Mary: St. Louis Lost. Virginia Publishing Company, St. Louis, MO, 1994.
Blythe, Jeanne C. and Cunningham, Mary B.: The Founding Family of St. Louis. Midwest Technical Publications, St. Louis, MO, 1977.
Compton, Richard J., and Dry, Camille N.: Pictorial St. Louis, 1875. Reprinted by Harry M. Hagen, 1971. Knight Publishing Company, St. Louis, MO, 1971.
Gill, McCune: The St. Louis Story. Historical Record Association, St. Louis, MO, 1952.
Goell, Suzanne (Ed.): Days & Nights of the Central West End. Virginia Publishing Company, St. Louis, MO, 1991.
Hunter, Julius K.: Kingsbury Place, The First Two Hundred Years. The C. V. Mosby Company, St. Louis, MO, 1982.
Hunter, Julius K.: Westmoreland and Portland Places, The History and Architecture of America’s Premiere Private Streets, 1999-1988. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, MO, 1988.
Loughlin, Caroline, and Anderson, Catherine: Forest Park. The Junior League of St. Louis and University of Missouri Press, Columbia, MO, 1986.
Lowic, Lawrence: The Architectural Heritage of St. Louis, 1803-1891. Washington University Gallery of Art, St. Louis, MO, 1982.
Primm, James Neal: Lion of the Valley – St. Louis, Missouri. Pruett Publishing Company, Boulder, CO 1981.
Savage, Charles C.: Architecture of the Private Streets of St. Louis – The Architects and the Houses They Designed. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, MO, 1987.
Tallent, Jeff: Terrace Tales: A Contemporary History of Washington Terrace, Street of Mansions. The Finbar Company, Inc., St. Louis, MO, 1992.