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By Christine Imbs

It's no secret that St. Louis has some remarkable architecture. But sometimes it's what you don't see that's really amazing. Take for example the 40-year old hunt club with a personality all its own; or the old slaughterhouse that's morphed into a tree house-—minus the tree. What follows is a small peek into these and four other amazing spaces you simply won't believe.

“Tally-ho!”

When Susan Block first laid eyes on her home 15 years ago, it spoke to her.

“It didn’t look anything like it does now. But there was something about the place,” she says. “I just knew this was the house. It had such a feel about it.”

The house, located in Huntleigh, was actually the former club house for The Hunt Club which existed from the mid-1920s through the early 1960s. As its name suggests, fox hunting actually took place on the grounds. But by the time Block, who owns The Designing Block in Clayton, saw the house it had changed hands numerous times, and any indication of its former heritage was either hidden or completely removed.

“There were these incredible stone floors throughout the house, but they had been covered in carpeting. We didn’t even know they were there,” she says. “There used to be a fabulous bar off the dining room, but someone took it out and replaced it with a 1970s-style kitchen. And the staircase and library had this grass green carpeting. So I guess you could say it was pretty outdated. But I knew it had potential.”

Today, the once 5,800-square-foot house has doubled in size. The 1970s kitchen has been replaced with a beautiful bar area complete with a painting of a fox hunt. This along with the now recovered stone floors, animal print throw rugs, archways and multitude of levels have brought back some of the feel of the original hunt club. And yet the home still maintains a personality all its own. Everywhere you look there is something that catches the eye from Block’s collection of cigarette cases and lighters, to the racks of colorful hats and feather boas.

“I like whimsy,” says Block. “And I buy what I like so nothing in my house goes together. But it works. Believe me, you won’t see too many homes like this.”

“Museum Living”

Stephanie Greytak admits it takes a certain kind of person to live in a loft like hers.

“This is like living in architectural art,” she says. “I don’t know that it’s for everyone, but it’s definitely for me. I like the quirky and the offbeat.”

Greytak lives in one of the first lofts created in the City Museum. Being one of the first, she had free reign in how she wanted her loft to be designed. With her doing the dreaming and Bob Cassilly doing the designing, the outcome is simply incredible.

“I told Bob the things that were important to me and he dreamed this up around me,” she says. “And it’s really strange in a way how it all came together. But it’s that Bob Cassilly magic.”

Cassilly’s touch is apparent the minute you enter the 1,379-square-foot loft. You just naturally walk toward the right into the living area where a bank of windows looks down upon the climbing structure outside the City Museum. And coming from the bedroom into the kitchen you again experience that natural rhythm.

“Unlike a lot of lofts there’s a very definite separate area for the living space and bedroom,” says Greytak. “But it flows so nicely it’s not like you’ve boxed everything up. Walking around the curve from the bathroom into the kitchen, it’s like you just naturally walk that way. You just fall into the design and don’t even realize it.”

Much of the design that you find at the City Museum is also found in the loft including an abundance of “creative recycling.” The light over the pool table came from the Bankruptcy Court Building. A mirrored panel on the wall was actually a piece of the Barnes Hospital building façade. The huge iron tanks that make up part of the interior curvature are core processing tanks from American Milling. And Mystic Juice bottles stacked end-to-end curve around to form the bathroom shower.

“There’s a lot of metal and concrete in here, but somehow it has a very warm feeling about it,” comments Greytak. “It’s amazing how things came together. I’ve lived here two-and-a-half years now and I couldn’t be happier. It’s a true indication of who I am.”

“Hello? Room Service?”

The first night Diane Breckenridge and her husband, Don, spent in their new condominium, they ordered room service.

“That’s one of the benefits of living in a hotel,” she says. “When you don’t feel like cooking dinner you can have someone bring it up.”

Breckenridge lives on the tenth floor of the Sheraton City Center in downtown, one of her late-husband’s last development projects. It’s a 6,000-square-foot condominium on one level with an incredible expanse of windows. As owner of Diane Breckenridge Interiors, she designed the space herself, but admittedly not without some difficulty.

“It was this big empty space when we got it. But I like dividing things up, because I prefer a more cozy atmosphere over a loft,” she explains. “And then there were these 18-foot windows that we had to deal with. That was the most difficult part of the project because they were so huge.”

However difficult it may have been, the result was well worth the effort. The light that comes in the windows brightens the condominium even on the dreariest of days.

“It’s so true. It’s always cheery in here,” Breckenridge says. “You never feel depressed and you never feel like you’re closed in. And at night it’s so beautiful to look out over the City.”

In addition to the great view and natural light that streams in through the windows, Breckenridge also enjoys a large kitchen with wrap around breakfast bar, a dining area with a crystal chandelier, a cozy media room and library, three fireplaces and every girl’s dream—a huge walk-in closet.

“Actually there are two—one is mine and the other was Don’s,” she says smiling. “But Don and I had the same taste—very traditional. We wanted this to look like a home. And with 17 grandchildren we also wanted it to be kid friendly. That was very important to me. And even though I’m in the heart of the City, up here you very rarely hear anything. It’s just very peaceful. I love it.”

“A Slaughterhouse Meets Swiss Family Robinson”

Artist Don Wiegand lives in a tree house.

“Actually, it was the old slaughterhouse,” he says. “I saved it from the headache ball back in 1965. Now it’s kind of like a tree house without the tree.”

Wiegand’s parents started the old Smokehouse Market in West St. Louis County. The slaughterhouse, built in 1926, was the original building for the Smokehouse. Wiegand says he fell in love with the old building and when he learned it was going to be demolished, asked his parents if he could save it and make an art studio out of it.

“I was in junior high at the time,” he says. “I did the design and we physically built it. Everything you see is studio hand built—the glass tiles, concrete, telegraph poles, everything. My inspiration was the Swiss Family Robinson.”

And that’s exactly what comes to mind when you enter the building. This art studio/art gallery/home is not only multifunctional, but multi-leveled. To reach the clay loft where Wiegand does sculpture, you have to climb a set of narrow wooden stairs winding up and around, while dodging low beams. Once in the loft you can look down on more levels of studio space containing his artwork in various stages of completion. And then there’s an atrium filled with all types and sizes of plants and flowers.

“I love horticulture and trees,” he explains. “And being an artist I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford to go anywhere. So I planned on this room early, so I could have my plants. We have more outside around the patio and I bring them in when the weather gets cold. It gets a little snug, but it brings a little of the rain forest inside during the cold winter months.”

But perhaps the most interesting and unique room is the actual slaughterhouse section of the building. With a very distinctive medieval atmosphere, it looks as if it were lifted out of old England and placed in this spot.

“I dreamt as a kid about having a place that was so universal for any age, color, race, and creed,” says Wiegand. “We’ve had guests from France, England, and Germany and they all say the same thing. This looks like my homeland. I think it’s because the pieces of furnishing are real. They are high quality, fine pieces of work and they identify with that. And everything in this space was placed in a specific way. It’s a sculpturer’s vision of the space. And of course, art is a universal language.”

“Where Art and Nature Coincide”

It took a solid year for John Russell’s curiosity to get the better of him.

“I lived in the old part of Kirkwood and went bike riding down here all the time,” he says. “This house was on the market for over a year. I finally just had to see what was wrong with it.”

What was wrong is that the house was outdated and needed a lot of work. But it was the setting that immediately attracted Russell to it.

“I was thinking about buying a house at Lake of the Ozarks, but decided I couldn’t be gone that much,” he explains. “This felt like it could be a real vacation house, as well as a house to live in.”

Nestled within the woods along Sugar Creek, Russell’s home is definitely a place to relax and get away from it all. A narrow driveway takes you across a wooden bridge and up the hill where artwork and nature blend effortlessly. Entering the house you find more of the same as artwork by such local artists as Brother Mel Meyer, James Godwin Scott, Drew Wojcik, and Fred Conway are displayed throughout. And the large floor-to-ceiling windows not only let in the sunlight, but make the outside garden a natural extension to the living area.

“I love the outside gardens. I bought 400 Hostas when I first moved in here. I found if I drank a couple martinis and then just threw the Hostas out it looked more natural,” says Russell laughing. “I put a sprinkling system in 12 years ago so now I can grow lots of things here.”

In the 15 years that Russell has owned the property he’s done a complete remodeling job, which included a huge loft area on the upper level, a finished lower level complete with a wine cellar and large windows overlooking one of the deck levels, and the addition of a gourmet kitchen.

“I like to cook, but I don’t know that I’d call it gourmet,” he says. “But I do like to have parties. With the way the house is set up and with the different levels to the deck it’s easy to have 50 people. And they can all go off and find different places to sit and talk.”

Russell says there is really only one drawback to his home—the driveway in winter.

“That hill can be a bit scary,” he explains. “Even in the fall when you have wet leaves it can be a little treacherous. But still, the leaves are so beautiful in the fall. Everything is golden and red all around you, and it comes right into the house. It’s wonderful. I haven’t found any place that I like better than this.”

“A Spiritual Place”

Cheryl and Jamie Andrews knew they made the right move the first night they looked out their front door and saw snow falling on Lafayette Park.

“It was just gorgeous,” she says. “If we had any doubts at all about moving here, that did away with them. I’m not religious, but this really is a spiritual place.”

Andrews and her husband are two of the tenants in Abbey-on-the-Park, luxury condominiums developed in what once was a 120-year old Presbyterian church in Lafayette Square.

“It’s a bit of new mixed in with the old and I love that,” explains Andrews. “Outside it definitely looks like a church with this beautiful stonework and stained glass windows. But inside it’s totally new, so you don’t have all the problems you generally have with an older home.”

The Andrews’ condo has 14-foot cathedral ceilings and a 12-foot high stained glass window. Their front doors are the original church entrance. Other units feature the original stairway, choir loft, balcony, and church pipe organ. And several of the units even have fireplaces designed to replicate the Gothic arch of the windows.

Andrews says what drew her and her husband to Lafayette Square and this condominium in particular was the sense of community and access to the park.

“It’s amazing here,” she says. “The neighbors really look out for and care for one another. And then there’s the park. Behind our large wooden front doors we have triple paned French doors. So we can open up the wooden doors and we have a wonderful view of the park. Who could ask for more than that?”

But Andrews admits living in an old Abbey does pose one challenge. People still think it’s a church.

“It’s not unusual to have people walk right up and peek in our living room. And they’re really startled when they see someone sitting on the couch,” she says laughing. “But really, it hasn’t been a hindrance to our living here and we work with them as best we can. I think as time goes by they’ll get used to it being condos and we won’t have that problem.”

“Never Before in America a House Like This”

That’s how the 1949 advertisement in “The Saturday Evening Post” described the Lustron house. And to date there hasn’t been another house like it.

Designed by Carl Standlund between 1948-50, Lustron houses were all-steel prefabricated homes developed as an answer to the severe housing shortage plaguing the country at the end of World War II. Like automobiles, they were manufactured in a factory, assembly line fashion and distributed through dealers across states east of the Rocky Mountains.

Although one and three bedroom Lustrons were eventually developed, typically it was a two-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot home built on a slab with an exterior sheathing made of two-foot square steel panels. The exposed steel was covered in a porcelain finish which was baked onto the steel panels and roof shingles. Because of the size, built-ins accounted for 20 percent of the total interior space. And you could order a Lustron in pink, tan, yellow, aqua, blue, green or gray with either a beige or gray interior.

Standlund produced nearly 2,500 Lustrons before declaring bankruptcy. Only a fraction of them still remain, many in the Midwest. St. Louis resident and Lustron aficionado Tom Bakersmith has documented over 70 Lustrons in the St. Louis region.

“I’ve talked with well over half the people who live in these homes and found only one elderly woman who didn’t like it,” he says. “Of course, she was a renter. But people who live in a Lustron tend to like them very, very much.”

Bakersmith adds that of the Lustrons in the St. Louis region, he’s found only three that needed roofing work in the last five decades. And each one of those was due to storm damage.

“Being totally metal except for the glass windows, the houses are nearly maintenance free,” Bakersmith says. “Of course if you’re fussy, you can hose them down and scrub them with a brush. Some owners even use automotive paste-wax on the walls to renew the shiny finish.”

 

 

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Shaun Hayes
Cover Story with Shaun Hayes, National City Bank
Amazing Spaces
4545 Lindell
Dave Sapenaro

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Carmele Hall and Leon Henderson
Big Brothers/Big Sisters
Andy Trivers
Steve Smith

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