Lafayette Square

The Old House Web

Story and photos by Lisa A. Johnston


Parts of this story: Introduction ~~ Historicalbeginnings ~~ The Great Cyclone of 1896 ~~ The age of blight ~~ Lafayette Square today ~~ Tour Lafayette Square

2108 Lafayette
2108 Lafayette Avenue exterior before (left) and after (right) restoration.

2108 Lafayette

It was the decision to demolish the Barlow Mansion, a wonderfully intact piece of historic architecture and home of an original family of Lafayette Square, that galvanized the formation of the Lafayette Square Restoration Committee.

The St. Louis neighborhood of Victorian houses was suffering a persistent urban blight, leaving many once-grand mansions gutted shells or rundown boarding houses.

The restoration committee dedicated itself to preserving what remained of the Lafayette Square neighborhood, while recapturing what had been lost. The group recognized that to get political and financial support for Lafayette Square reconstruction and rehabilitation, other residents of St. Louis needed to be drawn into the neighborhood.

In May of 1970, the first Lafayette Square House Tour of five homes was planned. The restoration committee lured 400 people to the neighborhood, charging one dollar each for a tour ticket. They offered to refund the ticket price to anyone buying a house because of the tour.

"Someone did buy a house that day too," recalls committee founder Ruth Kamphoefner. "And he got his $1 back!"

Buoyed by its initial success, the committee made the house tour annual. A second event, the "Holiday Parlor Tour," was added in December.

Despite the hard work of the early restoration pioneers, the neighborhoodremained more of a curiosity than a place to live in the minds of many residentsof St. Louis. In 1983, a local newspaper described, "houses (that) look over the brick sidewalks like spirits of the past. And many, with their empty, staring, glassless windows, even look like ghosts."

Residents of St.Louis, leary of crime reports, still shunned core city neighborhoods likeLafayette Square. The suburbs continued to expand. When houses in outlyingcommunities becamepricier, and commutes longer, some people began taking a second look at thelarge houses of Lafayette Square. The restoration committee kept an ongoing listof properties, including mansions, that could be bought for as little as $2,000,or back taxes. Every week the committee described "elegant houses forsale" in local newspaper classified ads.

2014 Rutger
This house at 2014 Rutger Street stands tall and proud after restoration.

2014 Rutger Street
The same house before restoration, showing windows boarded up and landscaping neglected.
(Photo by Ron Taylor)

The hard work and strategy began paying off. By the mid 1980s, theneighborhood was bustling with restoration, and gaining some political influenceas well. One by one, the dilapidated houses were bought by new owners eager toreclaim the architectural treasures. The neighborhood was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, andan historic building code was passed. As a result, it became nearly impossibleto demolish historic buildings, and original facades had to remain unchanged orbe restored.

Inside the stately homes, new owners were challenged byfalse walls and ceilings that needed to be torn down, layers of old paint,paneling and wallpaper, inadequate plumbing, heating and electricalservice. As the houses were restored, property values in Lafayette Squarebegan to rise.

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