Ames Place History
The following is an excerpt from the book Ames Place, A Brief History of its Planning and Development By Esley Hamilton. The text is published by The Historical Society of University City and copies may be obtained through the library.
Although it is in the middle of the city, Ames Place is bounded on three sides by greenery. To the south is the landscaped parkway which runs along the north side of Millbrook Boulevard, to the north is Kingsbury Boulevard, which has a parkway running down it center, and to the east is University Greenway, a landscaped former trolley right-of-way adjacent to the undeveloped alleyway behind Westgate Avenue in Parkview. Ames Place includes the 6600, 6800, and 6900 blocks of Pershing, Waterman and University Drive, and the south side of the same blocks of Kingsbury Boulevard. It also includes the contiguous 300 and 400 blocks of Melville. There is not 6700 block in this part of University City.
Ames Place Subdivision was filed for the record on December 7, 1914, by the Ames Realty Company, Lucy V. Semples Ames, president. The ground was surveyed and subdivided by Pitzman’s Company of Surveyors and Engineers. By 1914 this tract of about 53 acres was ripe for development, placed as it was north of Washington University (occupied 1905), west of Parkview (platted 1905), east of West Portland Place (platted 1908), and south of the University Heights subdivisions, which had been initiated by Edward Gardner Lewis in 1903. Ames Place was already included within the city limits of University City, which had been incorporated by Lewis in 1906. The site was also attractive because of its excellent transportation links. To the south and east were the electric car lines of United Railways, while further to the south in the corridor that is now Millbrook Boulevard was the suburban line of the Missouri Pacific Railroad.
The Ames tract was part of Survey 378, a grant of 2722 acres made to Marie Louise Chouteau Papin, a daughter of Pierre Laclede and Madame Chouteau. It extended from Art Hill in Forest Park north to Maple, and from Union Boulevard west to Jackson Avenue. Located as it was astride the western corridor of St. Louis, Survey 378 eventually became the site of many of the most fashionable residential districts in the city, and it was this situation that attracted E.G. Lewis. This particular part of the survey was acquired by the Cabanne family, cousins of the Papins, and passed by descent to James Kingsbury and his daughter Adele Waterman. The line of Kingsbury Boulevard was a property line established in one of the family subdivisions. When Adele and Alfred Waterman defaulted on a loan in 1881, the Ames family acquired this tract for $18,000. They transferred it to Ames Realty in 1897 for $148,668, a remarkable increase in value for a property that remained undeveloped.
Lucy V. Semple Ames was a woman of notable accomplishment. She was the daughter of James Semple, U.S, Senator and Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court. Married to Edgar Ames in 1860, she bore him four children before his death in 1867, then took over the management of his extensive business interests. Ames, a native of Oneida County, New York, cam to St. Louis with his family in 1841 and founded a pork packing plant with his brother Henry. He erected the St. Louis Gratin Elevator in 1864 and was a major investor in the Lindell Hotel built the same year.
Mrs. Ames had been educated at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in St. Charles and, in the words of Patricia Rice, "absorbed the nuns' ideal that women should be educated as rigorously as boys". She became a member of the Equal Suffrage Society in 1869 and championed women's education (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 15, 1990, pp. 4C & 11C). In addition to her home in fashionable Lucas Place, Mrs. Ames had a country estate called "Notchcliff" near Alton, Illinois, property which is now part of the campus of Prinicipia College. The college preserves personal correspondence and a marble portrait bust of Lucy Ames.
The Ames children were educated in France and Germany and became prominent in St. Louis society. Ada (died 1929) married Henry S. Turner (1860-1921), a grandson of philanthropist Ann Lucas Hunt and head of Turner Real Estate. Marty (1865-1943) married Wayman Crow Cushman, grandson of Wayman Crow (1808-1885), the founder of the St. Louis Art Museum and an important factor in local cultural life. An indication of Mrs. Ames's business acumen is that she is said to have required a prenuptial agreement to protect the half-million dollar s her daughter brought to this marriage, although Mr. Cushman's father was president of the Missouri Furnace Company and he himself was the heir of Charlotte Cushman, the noted American actress.
The elder son, Henry Semple Ames, was born in 1863 and had a distinguished business career beyond his secretaryship of the Ames Realty Company. He was also president of the St. Louis and Meramec River Railroad Company, the Ames Steel Lath Company, and Northwestern Expanded Metal Company, and vice president of Bee Line Construction Company and the Mississippi Valley Trust Company. Never married, he died in 1916, while his mother survived until 1925. Edgar, the younger son, eventually moved to Seattle.
The Pitzman Company had been founded in 1859 by Julius Pitzman (1837-1923), the grand old man of St. Louis planning. Pitzman laid out all the private places in St. Louis from Benton Place in 1867 through Parkview, as well as many other parts of the city and country. He also laid out Forest Park and served as city surveyor from 1877 on His son Frederick Pitzman (1889-1951) joined the firm in 1912 and may have participated in the design of Ames Place with his by then elderly father. Pitzman's Company of Surveyors and engineers continues in 1991.
Henry Semple Ames was on of the three initial trustees of Ames Place, under the indenture, or deed of restriction, dated October 7, 1914. The others were George F. Bergfeld and Elmore Cave. Bergfeld was a native of Chicago born in 1865. He founded a real estate firm in 1889 that later became Bergfeld Realty. The firm was known for its high-quality construction standards. Bergfeld had already been active in Parkview, where he built at least 35 houses, including 6252 McPherson, where he lived from 1919 until his death in 1927. (His son Lucas continued to live there until about 1955). Elmore Cave was the president of his own real estate company. He had built 6253 Westminster in Parkview in 1907 for his father, the Rev. Robert Catlett Cave, and he lived there himself until moving a few years late to Cabanne Avenue. His distinguished family included brothers Edward Powell Cave, the president of Ely & Walker Dry Goods Company, and Rhodes Estil Cave, a judge of the circuit court and founder of Bryan, Cave, McPheeters and & McRoberts, now one of St. Louis's largest law firms.
The appearance of Ames Place was largely dictated by the indenture, which required residences to be a minimum of two-and-a-half stories tall, or two stories with hi roof, to be of masonry construction, or cement on metal lath, and to have the same appearance all the way around, to cost at least five thousand dollars, and to be used for no other purpose than an exclusive private residence (with the exception of doctors and dentists who could practice at home). The lots fronting on University Drive were opened to the construction of apartment houses and businesses, "but no saloon, public garage, public filling station, livery stable or nuisance of any kind" would be permitted.
Some of the early restrictions now sound dated: no bicycles were permitted on the sidewalks, dogs funning at large had to be muzzled, and delivery of goods, merchandise and coal had to be made in the rear. A provision excluding Negroes and Malays, typical of the time, was removed in the sixties. As it turned out, eleven apartment buildings were constructed, but only the Academy Building at University and Millbrook includes commercial spaces. All the other principle buildings in Ames Place are single-family residences, and all of them follow the indenture restrictions as to height and material.
All but three of the houses were built within a period of a dozen years. One house seems to have been built in Ames Place even before it was officially platted. Conrad Blumeyer took out a building permit for 6827 Pershing on May 18, 1914, according to the records, although he did not officially purchase the lot until December 8, thus becoming the first buyer.
In 1915, 13 more houses were started, 17 in 1916, and 11 in 1917 before World War I brought construction to a halt. Nothing was built in 1918, but Berlin Avenue became Pershing. In 1919 construction resumed with a rush; 48 new building permits were issued that year, and development continued at that pace. In 1923 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported "Many Resales of Lots in Ames Place." The Bush-Burns Realty Company had purchased 53 lots from the Ames Estate and had sold more than half of them. By 1927 the last four houses of this major phase of construction were completed. A few buildable lots remained (and still remain, as a sharp eye can see from the enclosed map), and over the years a few of them attracted new houses; 6918 Kingsbury was built in 1936, 6962 Pershing in 1956, and 6917 Waterman in 1965.
In contrast to nearby University City neighborhoods (including Parkview, University Heights Number One, and University Hills), where the majority of houses were built by individual owners for their own occupancy, Ames Place was constructed primarily by developers large and small who were confident that they could sell the houses they were building in such an attractive neighborhood. More than half of the houses, 114, were built by nine contractors who built five or more houses each, and two of those contractors, Bergfeld and the E.L. Wagner Construction Co., built 63 houses between them-Bergfeld 38 and Wagner 25, a third of the total. George Sokol and Reliance Construction Company built 11, and Jacob Rubin built all but two of the apartments on University Drive. Other important developers were Ray A. Matthews, B.J. Charleville working with the Saum brothers, Samuel H. Simon, Joseph H. Preiss, and Albert L. Woas. Among the, these nine developers accounted for more than half of the houses.
In several cases two or more houses were built to the same plan, but there is little sense of repetition because the houses are given individuality by changes in materials and detailing. George Bergfeld, for example built Tudor Revival and Georgian Revival versions of the same house. More important to the unity of the neighborhood are the characteristics of size, scale, materials, and ornament shared by many houses built by different contractors. Most of the houses, except those built by Bergfeld, have the brickwork of the walls starting above the foundation material at ground level or below, so that the foundation materials are not exposed. This was a fashionable practice also followed extensively in Ladue.
The brickwork itself is predominantly dark in color, shaded by the textured brick surfaces then popular. Most brick walls are laid up in stretcher bond, but occasionally Flemish bond is seen. Another characteristic pattern used early in this century alternated six or seven courses of stretcher bond with one of Flemish bond; such brickwork is often called American common bond. Another way to vary the appearance of a house was to use colored mortar rather than the usual sandy or light gray color. Black was most frequently used, sometimes red, and in at least one instance an ocher color harmonizing with yellow-brown brick. Garages match the main house in brick and mortar color as well as in other features such as roofing material. The placement of parking to the rear instead of in the front contributes much to the parklike appearance of Ames Place.
Most of the houses in Ames Place have dormers suggesting a third interior floor, but in fact they typically light only attics or at best a room or two. George Bergfeld's front-gable houses, however, have substantial usable space on their top floors.
Bergfeld was known for his side-entry designs, which he also used in nearby Parkview. This plan is especially suited to urban sites because it frees the entire front of the house to the light and view. Other houses increase use of the front by means of a long terrace, and in this case first-floor windows are often replaced by French doors. To judge by houses in Ames Place, the fashion for the full-length front porch ended sometime in the late teens, because only houses built then, and particularly by Bergfeld, have them.
The combination of French doors and a center entry created an opportunity for a triple-arched faćade that was seized by many of the designers. Elliptical fanlights are a frequent feature in Ames Place. Ames Place is also unusual these days in retaining a large number of working shutters in a wide variety of paneled and louvered designs.
The architects who made the greatest impact on Ames Place were those who worked with active developers. T.C. Lee did at least 18 houses for Bergfeld, while Nolte & Nauman did five more for Bergfeld as well as six for other clients. Oliver Popp designed all of Jacob Rubin's apartments plus the house at 6960 Kingsbury, while Charles R. Green designed five for Sam Simon and two for Richard H. Meyer. Saum Architects designed seven of their oven and A.L. Woas four of his own. Jesse W. Leigh, another architect-develop, designed three houses for himself and three for other builders.
Of these architects, Nolte and Nauman were probably the most distinguished designers. Even more important was the firm of Maritz and Henderson. Raymond Maritz (1894-1973) and Gale E. Henderson (1890-1969) were partners for only about four years to 1919, but separately they had long and successful careers. Their five houses here for B.M. Matthews and Federal Investment Company were among very few of their works together that are known today. Guy Study (1880-1959) designed only one house in Ames Place, 6930 Waterman, and it stands out in this homogeneous environment as being exceptional in design, a small masterpiece of Tudor Revival styling. It is unusual too in Study's career, coming in the brief interval between his partnerships with John Roth and Benedict Farrar.
Ames Place attracted the mix of doctors, lawyers, insurance men, and business executives that one might expect to live there even today. Perhaps the most unlikely famous resident that Ames Place can claim was Spiros Skouras (1893-1971). When he lived at 6950 Pershing in the ‘20's, Skouras was managing a chain of 37 theaters he and two brothers had assembled, including the nearby Tivoli. In 1932 he took over management of the Fox Metropolitan Theaters and became president a decade later. In 1952, he became a household name when he produced the first Cinemascope movie, "The Robe."
Thomas Anthony Dooley III was born on January 17, 1927, two months after his parents had bought 6940 Pershing. He lived there until 1934, when his grandfather died and left the house at 6314 Waterman in Parkview to the family. Dooley came to international attention as the result of his efforts to evacuate more than half f million refugees from North Vietnam in 1954. He then set up a series of clinics in Laos and helped to found MEDICO (the Medical International Corporation) to bring medical help to underdeveloped countries. Dooley recorded his experiences in a series of best-selling books: Deliver Us from Evil (1956), The Edge of Tomorrow ( 1958), and The Night They Burned the Mountain (1960). By the time of his death from cancer in 1961, Tom Dooley was one of the most admired men in the world.
Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) was considered by many to be the nation's finest dramatist of the post-World War II era. He is particularly remembered for The Glass Menagerie (1945), A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), the last two of which won Pulitzer Prizes. Born Thomas Lanier Williams, he graduated from University City High School in 1929 while his parents, Cornelius and Edwina Williams, were living at 6254 Enright, an apartment building that has been demolished. About 1935 they moved to 6634 Pershing. During the time they lived here, Tom was attending first Washington University and then the University of Iowa, where he graduated in 1938. By that time, the family had moved to 42 Aberdeen Place in Clayton, and Williams left St. Louis soon after.
Dr. Carl G. Harford bought 6940 Waterman in 1945. His son John, born in 1937, grew up here and later, as John Hartford, gained fame as a musician and Mississippi River enthusiast. His song, "Gentle on My Mind," written in 1966, became one of the most popular songs of the generation.
Ames Place is marked on Big Bend by a series of stone pylons of Renaissance design. The taller pylons flanking the roadways are topped by electrically lighted lanterns, while smaller piers mark the sidewalks and the alleys. In 1982, a conflict erupted between residents of Ames Place and the county highway department over the widening of Big Bend Boulevard, which it was feared would displace the ornamental gates and make the corner houses unlivable. Partly because of this, the McGarry House at 6965 Pershing was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Designed by Russell Conzelman, the house is primarily significant because of the tile floors, baseboards, and fireplaces installed by its first owner Thomas J. McGarry, a tile contractor. In the event, the road was widened by about two feet, and the pylons were moved. During the course of this work, the pylon at the south corner of University Drive was moved to the south corner of Kingsbury Place, which previously had been unmarked.
The 1914 trust indenture for Ames Place expired after thirty years, but it has been amended and renewed every ten yeas since then. The trustees, called agents in the indenture, can be credited in part with the good appearance of the neighborhood. This has sometimes involved litigation, particularly regarding the limitation of housing to single-family use. Do two unrelated men and a woman constitute a single family? Can parents buy a house for their son who then rents rooms to his classmates? Can servants' quarters be rented to people who are not performing household services? These and similar questions are not always easy to answer, but it he integrity of the neighborhood it to be maintained thy must be asked.
The neighborhood also has the advantage of being largely brick, which means it has not suffered as have so many smaller Missouri towns from asbestos, asphalt, aluminum, and vinyl siding. A few houses have been subjected to some restyling, but her again the predominance of brick has kept the impact of these alterations to a minimum.
Ames Place gave its streetlights to Union Electric, which retained the original light poles but replaced the gloves with standard Union electric issue. The University City Historical Society has one of the original globes in its collection. Centered at one end of the parkway in Kingsbury Boulevard is a more elaborate lamp, with shafts designed like strapped bundles of rods, and with elaborate crossbars topped by covered urns. The standard once supported two large pendant globes, but now has only one modern fixture on top in place of original finial. The lights at the tops of the pylons have recently been reilluminated. All these streetlights contribute importantly to the neighborhood's ambiance.
Ames Place residents have been vigilant guardians of their many shade trees. As about four to six of them reach the ends of their lives each year, they are replaced with the aid of a neighborhood tree committee. One third of Ames Place trees are pruned each year. The agents have recently acquired the Kingsbury Parkway from the city and now maintain it themselves. As the trees have grown up around Ames Place and the landscaping has been improved to the south and east, the neighborhood probably looks better now than it did originally.