Monday, October 29, 2012

Historic Aerial Photos + My House's History


I recently came across this website which offers aerial photos from various years throughout the 20th century. You just punch in your address and voila! 

In 1958, my subdivision was still under construction as is evidenced by the below photo. Ignore the 2011 Historic Aerials watermark all over it- I haven't wanted to pay for an aerial photo yet (although was thinking it may be kind of neat down the track to have one of the area under development).

I've put a star over where my house is going to be!

And no, I'm not too worried about stalkers because from the air, this subdivision looks like thousands of others popping up around America in 1958 (and dozens upon dozens in the St. Louis region alone). 

It's hard to imagine- but the entire area in the above photo is now filled with houses- all of which popped up within a year of this photo. 

The previous owner of my house, 'Birdie' as she was known to neighbors, bought the house off the plan with her husband Rich in 1958 and moved in upon completion in 1959. 

It must have been so exciting to move into a brand new home in the suburbs and particularly into this subdivision (which is still regarded amongst the best in the area, astonishingly). They left North City along with droves of other middle class Caucasians seeking the space, safety and fresh air that the suburbs then provided.

Considering Birdie & Rich's previous homes (thanks, Census records!) their new suburban ranch must have felt like a dream come true.

Here are (the late) Birdie & Rich's previous homes before moving to the suburbs, as they stand today:

Also in JeffVanderLou:

Obviously these houses didn't look like this when Birdie & Rich lived there over half a century ago. However, when you consider that the second house was a duplex occupied by 11 people (including Birdie) in 1940, it must have been such a boon to have her own, spacious 2100 sq ft suburban home less than 2 decades later. 

As Birdie passed away in Feb 2012 according to the STL Post Dispatch obituaries, and Rich in 2002 (as evidenced from information I found within the house) they surely saw the decline of their childhood homes. I wonder if they ever ventured back to North City to see what became of the houses they grew up in?

I wonder if the decay and neglect haunted them as much as it does me? Or were they just so thrilled to be away from the city that the decline of their former neighborhood didn't phase them. 

I'm of the impression however (no offense intended to anyone) that JeffVanderLou has always been on the shady side. In the early part of the 20th century it was occupied by immigrants and former slaves. I could be wrong- but from my general knowledge of St. Louis in the mid 20th century, this, even then, could have been considered the slums as seen in this video from the 1950s:

This video was evidently filmed sometime post 1956 as the fabulous Mid Century Mod Lambert St. Louis International Airport Terminal is shown at the 0:41 second mark. At the 4:56 mark, the ill fated Public Housing complex, Pruitt Igoe (also completed in 1956) can be seen in the distance. 

Pruitt Igoe was developed in an effort to ease the crowded slum conditions that plagued St. Louis in the Post-War years. The project, like a lot of 'Tower Block', 'Public Housing' and 'Council Housing' efforts throughout the world, ultimately failed and the complex was demolished after less than 20 years in existence.

I highly doubt that Birdie or Rich ever lived in Pruitt Igoe, considering they had the funds for a new suburban house by 1958. Also, from letterheads I found in the house (which was also confirmed by the neighbors), Rich referred to himself as a financial executive. In spite of having been raised in a less desirable area of St. Louis, Rich and Birdie had done quite well for themselves.

They both had Irish Immigrant backgrounds and their Catholic faith was important to them (from the number of Crucifixes left in the home). 

I wonder if they met here- at Saints Teresa and Bridget Church (est 1865) on North Grand Boulevard. They would have lived 0.5 of a mile and 0.1 of a mile away respectively, so it's highly likely that this would have been their church.

Another possibility is that Rich and Birdie met through Rich's cousin, James J. Eagan who lived just a few houses away from Birdie in JeffVanderLou, with his family here:

Seemingly modest beginnings for the longest serving mayor in Missouri, and the second longest serving mayor in the entire United States (he was in office 1963-2000). 

Family must have played an important role in their lives, as James lived just around the corner from Birdie & Rich in their new suburban subdivision. My neighbors told me that it was a long running joke that the reason our subdivision got such good snow plowing service, was because the Mayor lived there. 

Birdie & Rich frequently hosted Democratic Party events at their house (now my house) for James. According to my neighbors, the amount of entertaining used to be a great drain on Birdie, but the Retro Party Pad with the lux coral & mint wetbar in the basement makes a lot more sense knowing this. 

The streets where these people grew up is now subject to extreme blight as evidenced below.

If this is what had become of my childhood home, I would be all the more thrilled with my mid century modest ranch home in the suburbs.

I want to love and appreciate my house as much as they would have. They evidently looked after it- even if the garden needs some care and there are still some repairs to do. You probably think I'm psycho / stalkerish wanting to know so much about the late occupants of my home, but I think it's only fitting that I understand them, in order to appreciate my house all the more. 

(Yes, I know the Grass is dead and the bushes need some TLC- this was taken 7 months after Birdie's passing so the garden saw some neglect until my husband and I purchased it in September).

Houses need to be loved. They need to be respected and appreciated. The stories they tell are the ones of those who've lived there in decades past. You can feel when a house has been loved and respected in it's lifetime. 

I can't wait to move out of our shabby two bedroom home here in NC and into my St. Louis house. I only hope that I can give it the respect and appreciation that Birdie and Rich did.

Stay Glamorous, and love your house! 


  1. Very cool that you've learned so much about your 'hood! Interesting post:)