Hi-Pointe Addition/Tuscany Park Historic District Nomination

by Jean Cody, Jan Anglin, Sally Hezel, and Tivoli Majors

Map of Hi-Pointe Demun Historic District

History of the application

On February 23, 2004, over 50 DeMun neighbors attended a public meeting at Captain School to discuss the benefits of listing the HiPointe/DeMun neighborhood in the National Register of Historic Places. Historian Mr. Esley Hamilton made a presentation on the historic significance of our neighborhood. He spoke at length about world renowned urban planner and architect Henry Wright, designer of HiPointe Subdivision and Brentmoor Park, co-designer of Forest Park, and architect for the Worlds Fair Pavilion.

Mr. Hamilton also told attendees about the Register and the benefits and limitations of having property on this important list. The Federal government itself is the only entity restricted by this designation. There are no restrictions on private property owners. The major benefit is national recognition of the historical value and significance of the neighborhood.

Other Clayton neighborhoods, like Brentmoor Park and Maryland Terrace are already on the Register and those property owners enjoy the benefits of being listed. Given all the pluses, it was unanimously agreed that HiPointe/DeMun should seek listing as well. Several neighbors volunteered to help and the work began in earnest.

It was a monumental challenge to complete over 1,334 pages of documentation, research, and the archival quality photographs required and still meet the November 10, 2004 deadline. Typically, a project of this magnitude would take three years and cost over $10,000. Working together, neighborhood volunteers pushed to get it done this year because of ongoing development pressure in the neighborhood.

The Nation's First Urban Design District?

The Hi-Pointe/De Mun Historic District, roughly bounded by Clayton Road, University Lane, De Mun Avenue, Northwood Avenue and South Skinker Boulevard, straddles the city limits of Clayton, St. Louis County and St. Louis (Independent City). The district encompasses two residential subdivisions that share common lot and road layout and architectural features.

The Hi-Pointe Subdivision is situated on the highest point in St. Louis City and there is a clear view of the St. Louis Arch at the corner of South Skinker Boulevard and Clayton Road. Internationally renowned landscape architect and city planner, Henry Wright prepared the plat of the Hi-Pointe Subdivision in 1917 for the Frisco Building Company. The plat of De Mun Park was completed in1923 by the firm of another giant in landscape architecture, Julius Pitzman. De Mun Park plat followed the convention of streetcar neighborhoods by locating larger and higher density residential buildings and commercial areas at major streetcar stops.

The Hi-Pointe/De Mun Historic District is an exciting example of the early work of Henry Wright. In its design you can see the seeds of much of his later work at Radburn, Chatham and Sunnyside. Wright was noted for his sensitivity to the topography of the site; the efficient use of land to provide shared open spaces for greenery; careful consideration of the impact of sun and shadow on the quality of life; planning communities that were self sufficient and integrated many income levels; and concern for the separation of vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

The plan developed by Wright took maximum advantage of the topography of the property. Clayton Road was then and remains now a major traffic artery and is on the top of the hill from South Skinker Boulevard to University Lane (the full length of Hi-Pointe Subdivision) and forms the Southern boundary of the plat. From Clayton Road the land falls dramatically into a valley the base of which is the De Mun Park Subdivision. Wright’s plan and the subsequent plan for De Mun Park take into account the impact of the hill on the Southern border of the property. The buildings on the highest ground were restricted to two stories in height and the larger buildings of three stories or more were built at the bottom of the hill. This plan accomplished two objectives. First visually, as one progresses down the hill, the heights flow together; second, the step down allowed the developer to achieve relatively high density on small lots while maximizing natural lighting and air circulation. The shorter buildings do not produce a shadow on their neighboring buildings so that all have access to sunlight and air circulation.

In keeping with Wright’s background first as a landscape architect, the landscape of De Mun is critical to the quality of life of the residents. The De Mun neighborhood is distinguished for its park-like atmosphere. The curvilinear layout of the streets dotted with island parks is a signature of the Wright style of landscape architecture. The streets are lined with mature trees and the island parks provide areas for residents to play and have neighborhood gatherings. In addition to the amenities provided by Wright’s plan, the area enjoys access to Forest Park on the East Side of South Skinker Boulevard and a large expanse of park at Concordia Seminary in the heart of the site. The former streetcar track has been converted to park space. These green spaces attract pedestrians from all over the city, who enjoy walking thru the neighborhood to the restaurants on De Mun and Northwood. Pedestrians can enjoy a cup of coffee at Kaldi’s, the best coffee house in St. Louis; a glass of wine at Sasha’s Wine and Cheese Market; or dinner at Jimmy’s on the Park. The ambiance created by Wright and the De Mun Park architects continues intact to the enjoyment of residents and visitors alike.

De Mun could be defined as a streetcar/automobile suburb, despite the fact that over one third of the district is in the city of St. Louis. The area in St. Louis was at the time of its development more suburb than city. De Mun was designed with a streetcar line as a central focus of the development. However, the automobile was a critical component of the development. Most homes and apartments had provisions for parking and many of the buildings had garages. Alleys were provided to keep service traffic in the rear of the homes and to provide access to garages. In Radburn, Wright made significant adjustments to separate vehicular and pedestrian traffic and to control traffic in the development. Early attempts at this were evident in De Mun. Like the superblock of this later development, major traffic arteries at Clayton Road and South Skinker Boulevard frame De Mun and there are significant areas of green space within and adjacent to the district. Within De Mun, the residential streets were private, curvilinear and narrow to slow traffic. A pedestrian walkway was built from Alamo Avenue to St. Mark’s Church and a streetcar loop on the South side of Clayton Road. This walkway remains in use today and is listed a contributing site.

Wright was committed to building communities that could be homes for families for life. DeMun is a perfect example of the execution of this commitment. The range of housing from one bedroom apartments, duplexes, small starter homes, mansions and modest and elegant apartments provided housing for persons from their first home away from their parents to retirement in apartments with doormen and elevators.

Similarly, the commercial areas at the busy intersection of De Mun Avenue and Clayton Road and at the corner of De Mun Avenue and Northwood Avenue provided for virtually all of the needs of the residents. In its early history, these areas provided sources for groceries, medical services, dressmakers and other personal services. Today, these areas provide primarily restaurant and specialty shopping and services. However, within less than four blocks outside of De Mun the residents can still meet virtually all of their needs of daily living. At the Northern boundary of De Mun, there was a grade school. While the original building is gone, there is still a grade school at that location. It is within walking distance from all of the homes in De Mun. On the South side of Clayton Road outside De Mun, St. Mary’s hospital provides and has provided access to a full range of medical services to residents. Finally, St. Mark’s church on Clayton Road was a part of the original landscape plan and continues today to provide religious services to residents in De Mun. De Mun provided in its early days, and still provides today, small town convenience in a large city atmosphere.

Though both Hi-Pointe and De Mun Park Subdivisions were public neighborhoods there were restrictive covenants attached to their deeds. Henry Wright was an original trustee for the Hi-Pointe Subdivision, which had restrictive covenants until December of 1999 . The restrictions were designed to insure architectural consistency, maintain the residential nature of the area, provide a funding mechanism for maintenance of the parks, trees and streets, and restrict the uses of the property to those originally designated. Like many of the neighborhoods of St. Louis, these covenants provided stability and predictability for property owners and have served to maintain the historical integrity of the neighborhoods.

Because of the care that was taken in developing De Mun, the neighborhood maintains a high level of historic integrity. All but 8 of the 305 primary buildings in the district are contributing to the historic district. The largest number of non-contributing resources is garages that have been either added or replaced and have virtually no impact upon the historic integrity of the district.

The plats and original covenants divided De Mun into a number of general residential areas. The area was designed to allow middle to upper middle class families in the St. Louis Metropolitan area to move to De Mun and stay their entire lives. In the Hi-Pointe Subdivision two story one-bedroom brick apartment buildings and smaller brick single-family homes were built on Clayton Road and on De Mun Avenue. As one progressed down the hill on De Mun Avenue from Clayton Road, one finds to the west first one block of two-story two bedroom brick apartment buildings on Alamo, then one block of two-story two and three bedroom brick duplexes on San Bonita. To the east and further removed from De Mun Avenue, the lots and homes generally became larger and more elegant. The single-family residences increased from two- to two-and-one-half story brick buildings. The single-family residential area was separated from the streetcar line by two small island parks. Four of the original island parks remain and are half of the contributing sites listed in the nomination. At the base of the hill in De Mun Park at a major streetcar stop, larger three-story brick multifamily residences and a commercial area were constructed. The apartments in these buildings are generally significantly larger than those on Clayton Road and Alamo Avenue. Many have three and four bedrooms and more than one bathroom. South Skinker Boulevard was divided into two distinct areas. To the South, at the top of the hill in Hi-Pointe, the lots were large and the residences echoed the grand mansions on the north side of Forest Park on Lindell Boulevard. To the north, in De Mun Park, the lots were platted for luxury hi-rise apartments. Two of these buildings, the Versailles and the Wiltshire, are listed on the National Historic Register.

De Mun was built by many of the same developers responsible for much of the construction of the near western suburbs of St. Louis. E.A. Wagner and his partners, Grant and Bell, built more than one half (49) of the large multifamily buildings on Northwood, Southwood and Rosebury Avenues. V. Chinberg built 20 multifamily buildings including 11 on the 6400 block of Alamo and 7 on the 6400 block of San Bonita. Jacob Rubin and his partner, George Pomeroy, built 18 multifamily buildings including 10 on the 6400 block of Alamo and three large buildings on Southwood Avenue. Charles Wilcox built 8 buildings including 1 commercial building, 2 multifamily buildings, and 5 single- family residences. The multifamily buildings at 6401 Alamo Avenue and 915 De Mun Avenue were owned and designed by Henry Wright. Other important builders included Sol Abrahams, H.A. Barnett, J. Beveridge, William Boenecke, R.A. Bullock, B.J. Charleville, Mederacke Company and Sam Simon.

In the multifamily areas, buildings of similar size used similar plans with individuality attained by changing the decorative tile roofs and brick patterns. The single-family neighborhood has a more interesting and eclectic collection of homes. However, the commonality of size, scale, and materials throughout De Mun and in each distinct residential area gives the neighborhood a comfortable sense of unity. The majority of the buildings have cut stone foundations with brickwork walls that are dark in color and vary from heavily textured to smooth faced brick. The brick varies in color including greens, tans, yellows and browns. The brick is generally laid in an American common bond pattern. All colors are muted. The mortar colors vary. The predominant mortar color is black, however, brown, red, light gray and sand are also common. Accents on the buildings are created using limestone, terra cotta and bricks of different colors and textures. Many of the original roofs were terra cotta tiles – either red unglazed or green glazed. The other main material used in the roofs of the original buildings is slate. Many of the homes include leaded and art glass windows and doors. The garages matched the homes using the same brick, mortar and in some cases roofing accents.

A variety of architects worked on the development of De Mun. Nolte and Nauman designed 6 residences on San Bonita and one on Buena Vista. Oliver J. Popp designed 13 multifamily buildings. Other builders such as L.A. Rice, H. A. Barnett, George Pomeroy, and V.A. Chinberg. Ben Shapiro designed six residences and multifamily buildings. Leo Abrams designed two single-family residences for builder Sol Abrahams. J.W Leigh designed a duplex on San Bonita. Marcel Bouilicault designed an elegant building built by E.A. Wagner at 6231 Rosebury Avenue. Foeli Architects designed two homes on adjacent lots in the 6200 block of Alamo on lots owned by Henry Foeli and August Foeli. F. Peipers designed the commercial building at 800 De Mun Avenue. Study and Farrar designed four modest one and one-half-story Dutch Colonial houses for owner C. Crawford. All are variations on the same basic design. Finally, Henry Wright designed two multifamily buildings and two residences in the 6200 block of Alamo on lots that he owned. He is also given credit for being the architect for a third multifamily building constructed by Charles Wilcox