Tiffany Neighborhood District
The Tiffany Neighborhood District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in December, 1978. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from the a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2007, The Gombach Group.
The Tiffany Neighborhood District consists of 215 contributing structures built between 1891 and 1928. Gradual demolition along Grand Avenue, the major north/south artery in St. Louis, has turned the District's focus inward to the central park and created an irregular eastern boundary. Demolition for Interstate 44 severed Tiffany from the Shaw neighborhood and created the southern boundary. The land drops dramatically from Grand to 39th Street, the western boundary and Tiffany's link to the industrial area north of Park Avenue. This compact District, comprised of all or parts of eight city blocks, presents a catalogue of the evolution of local brick products and middle-income housing types.
1890-1899 The construction in this decade of twenty-seven houses and one, six-family flat reflects the importance of proximity to the then-prime Grand Avenue frontage. On the south side of the 3600 block of Blaine near Grand where houses costing $4,000 to $5,000 were built in the District by 1896, grading sloped gently to street level. At the other end of the spectrum in the 3800 block of Folsom, where the cheaper lots were perched high above the street, the five houses built cost $2,200 to $3,000.
The District illuminates the development pattern of a significant American theme the migration to the suburbs. The neighborhood began development in 1891 as Dundee Place, one of south St. Louis' earliest Streetcar Suburbs. Located some distance west of the inner city, the new subdivision offered improvements in lot space, sanitation and housing to members of the working and middle classes seeking relief from conditions in older residential sections. After critical streetcar lines reached Dundee Place, one of the most costly and intensive subdivision promotions of the decade was undertaken by professional, out-of-state owner/developers. As early as 1897, however, industrial growth in Dundee Place began to transform the District from a middle-class commuter neighborhood into a more diversified population housed in multi-family structures. A resurgence of middle-class residents appeared after two undeveloped blocks were opened in 1911 and 1912. Substantial bungalows and apartments rapidly filled these blocks.
The District embodies a wide range of representative types of urban vernacular housing built between 1891 and 1928. Although approximately only half of the houses and flats were designed by architects, a large proportion of the most interesting and effective buildings were speculatively built by owner/contractors who frequently designed rows as cohesive units while imparting individual identities to the buildings. Whether expressing conservative design traditions or current architectural fashion, many of the buildings are distinguished by the quality of their brickwork and other architectural detailing. Styles include picturesque features of the 1890s, classical turn-of-the-century ornament and examples of the bungaloid mode. The neighborhood's strong visual integrity is a result of density, similar building cost, materials and scale, and a uniform building line.
Originally part of the French common fields, Prairie des Noyers, the Tiffany Neighborhood District was purchased piecemeal by retired Army officer William McRee during the years he was Surveyor General of the Missouri and Illinois District (1825-1832). The southern portion of McRee's tract along with other parcels in the area were acquired in the 1840s by wealthy philanthropist Henry Shaw who was strongly attracted to this elevated prairie land located some distance west of the City of St. Louis. The extension of the city limits 660 feet west of Grand Avenue in 1855 undoubtedly prompted Shaw and Mary S. Tyler (owner of adjacent land) to lay out three streets in 1857 and impose restrictions on their tracts prohibiting the construction of factories and other "nuisances". Twelve years later, the potential of McRee's land was recognized when an independent municipality, McRee City, was laid out with approximate boundaries of present-day Spring, Vandeventer, Park and McRee Avenues. Shaw's cultivation over the years of parts of his land as a botanical garden and Tower Grove Park helped establish this suburban area as a desirable location for affluent residents.
By 1875, McRee, Shaw and Tyler land had not been settled except for scattered farms and the appealing high ridge of land along Grand Avenue which had developed into a fashionable residential address. In the upper right-hand corner of Plate #67 from Compton & Dry's Pictorial St. Louis-1875, the McRee homestead is illustrated in a grove of trees fronting on Grand between Park and McRee Avenues. William Obear's house and Mt. Calvary Episcopal Church can also be seen on Grand at the southern edge of the Tiffany District boundary. The area east of Grand across from the District had also attracted homes of the wealthy on spacious, landscaped grounds. In 1889, Compton Heights (south St. Louis' most prestigious and costly private subdivision) was platted east of Grand two blocks south of the future Tiffany District.
Residential development of land west of Grand Avenue was dependent on factors which stimulated the growth of hundreds of suburban tracts in American cities across the country in the nineteenth century. Aversion to crowded, smoke-polluted conditions in the inner cities made semi-rural peripheral lands appealing to increasing numbers of the working and middle classes. Preliminary to settlement, however, the appearance of experienced speculative developers was necessary to provide initial capital for the purchase, subdivision and promotion of large farm estates such as the McRee and Tyler land. Also essential to development was the construction of networks of utilities and public transit, prerequisites for attracting prospective builders and residents. The houses and flats which built up the new suburban subdivisions also offered improvements over older inner-city neighborhoods. In addition to important sewer and water lines, they provided front yards, separate street-front entrances and porches, and frequently more fashion-conscious architectural detailing. The history of the Tiffany District in many ways follows a typical development pattern of nineteenth century American suburbs and marks the appearance of one of south St. Louis' first streetcar suburbs which allowed the diffusion of population from the inner city.
St. Louis' population swell between 1880 and 1890 (a hefty 29 percent) presented a bonanza for out-of-state capitalists and promoters. Among those attracted to the city was Thomas A. Scott, a young Canadian (born 1854) with experience in Chicago and Kansas City realty markets in partnership with his brother Samuel. Described as "one of the most daring real estate operators St. Louis has ever known," Scott opened a St. Louis office for the partnership in 1888 and immediately embarked upon a 325,000 advertising campaign to tout St. Louis real estate in the eastern press. Within the year Scott had raised sufficient eastern capital to incorporate two companies whose purposes included investment in promising "western" real estate, transportation, utilities and mining. The St. Louis real estate targeted for development was comprised of unsubdivided lands west of Grand Avenue held by the Tyler and McRee estates. in September 1888, the Dundee Land and Investment Company, through share holder Thomas Scott, purchased acreage equivalent to twenty-two city blocks from a McRee heir for $450,352. Platted as Dundee Place in June 1889, the land sloped west from Grand Avenue to Tower Grove Avenue, and was bounded on the north by Park Avenue and on the south by McRee. All but the southern two blocks of the Tiffany District are situated within the boundaries of Dundee Place.
The first auction of Dundee Place lots was delayed two years until June 1891, by which time critical transit lines had reached the District from downtown and nearby railroad tracks to the north were bridged across Grand Avenue. Beginning in May 1891, the Scotts invested $10,000 in a massive siege of newspaper promotion which featured views of the property and extensive copy. Capitalizing on Grand Avenue's well-established residential prestige and its importance as a north/south corridor (linking the city by the new suspension bridge), the Dundee Place sale was advertised as the "Grand Avenue Auction." Trolley, cable car lines and suburban railroad tracks made possible the boast that "no subdivision in the city has so many lines running into the business centre." Improvements included the grading of streets and some lots, a few sewer and water lines and granitoid sidewalks at the eastern and western edges of Dundee Place. Akin to present-day subdivision development, eighteen, two-story brick model homes were offered for sale near Tower Grove Avenue. The only deed restriction controlling Dundee Place lots was a set-back of 15 feet. However, restrictions on the Tyler and Shaw lands to the south were used as selling points offering protection to the "whole section from the inroads of smoke, furnaces. . .and unhealthy factory fumes." The promoters were cagily bipartisan in the naming of two new east/west streets laid out between Park and McRee Avenues. Folsom was the maiden name of President Grover Cleveland's wife; Blaine was named for James G. Blaine, Republican presidential nominee defeated by Cleveland in 1884. The north/south streets, Vandeventer (now 39th) and Cabanne (now Spring), were extensions of existing streets.
The sales pitch was directed to both real estate speculators and home builders ("mechanics and businessmen") — a broad section of the middle class which in fact eventually settled the District. Spin-off from the Chicago World's Fair (1893) (predicted to bring "millions of people into the Mississippi Valley," thousands of whom might settle in St. Louis) was assurance to speculators of a safe investment. Land was expected to "go cheap" with easy terms of one-third cash and the balance in one and two years at six percent interest. According to the St. Louis Globe- Democrat, the promotion and auction were not disappointing for "fully 5,000 people inspected the property." Hundreds attended the auction and nearly half of the lots were sold including virtually all of the present District. Considered one-half to one-third below expectation, lot prices averaged $21.32 per front foot ranging from a high of $81.00 along the choice Grand Avenue frontage and descending with the land grade to the teens.
The District's first decade of construction (1891-1899) fulfilled projections of a single-family, middle-class neighborhood. Although volume of building was low, all but two of the twenty-seven extant houses were erected for single families. By the time construction began, however, the District's ample fifty-foot front lots had been exchanged for a denser urban pattern of twenty-five or thirty-three front feet with the exception of lots which fronted on Grand Avenue. All of the 1890s houses were two story brick (with two stone-front) and varied in cost from $2,200 to a high of $7,000. Although more than half of the houses were speculatively built and only two were designed by architects, the early established practice of speculatively built contractor housing generally reflected high art fashions in home building, often with interesting effects.
The largest concentration of early construction occurred just west of Grand Avenue on the south side of 3600 block of Blaine where seventeen single-family houses stand today. A correlation between social standing and house type is confirmed by the listing of Blaine Avenue residents in Gould's Blue Book and by census tract findings. The U. S. Census for 1900 revealed residents working as a commission merchant, lumber company manager, restaurant manager, carpet salesman, chemist, minister and railway depot superintendent. A few of the households had one or two servants and several included boarders. The residents were almost evenly divided between first and second generation Germans and Anglo-Americans.
A number of the 1890s houses are distinguished architecturally. A sedate but interesting red brick house at 3620 Blaine (1894) features pointed-arch openings on the facade. It was designed for realtor Walter Boeck by Theodore Link, architect of St. Louis' Union Station completed in the same year. Standing on the largest single-family lot in the District (thirty-six front feet), the house emulated in size and location houses now demolished which once fronted on Grand Avenue. Overshadowing the Link-designed house, however, is 3621 McRee, an example of the consummate skills of contractor-built houses in its impressive display of stonework. The house was built at a cost of $7,000 by contractor J. G. McMillan for owner Peter Hoelscher, who coincidentally was in the stone business. One of the strongest groupings in the District is a row of nine speculatively built, detached houses at 3656-80 Blaine begun in 1895 by contractors Louis and Frank Gray. The stylish, attenuated gables of the row combine with buff face brick and rusticated brick trim to produce a striking, cohesive unit with individual variations. In April 1896, the houses were advertised in the Globe-Democrat with an illustration of one in spacious isolation. The group was described as "elegant, detached dwellings, all up to date; conveniences." Each sold for $5,500 and had eight rooms, a reception hall and bath and were equipped with furnaces.
The flat-roofed, multi-family building which makes up the largest percentage of the District's housing after 1900 made an early appearance in 1895 at 3639-43 McRee. The 56,000 unit for six families was built by carpenter/contractor Elihu Iddings who lived in a two-story house he built in 1894 at 3661 Blaine. The two-story flat employs popular buff-colored face brick and gabled porches with separate front entrances for each unit. In 1900, occupants included railroad clerks, a life insurance agency, lumber salesman, railroad inspector and a widow.
The sharp decline in construction of middle-class, single-family houses in the first decade of the twentieth century was no doubt related to the emergence of industry in the area. In contrast to the initial 1891 promotion of Dundee Place which promised refuge from factory smoke and fumes, by 1897, Dundee Place was proudly acclaimed as the "heart of the most rapidly growing industrial district in St. Louis." This reversal of values which attracted a new "industrial army" was due primarily to the construction of the mammoth Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company complex which covered several blocks in the northwest sector of Dundee Place. In October 1897, The Brickbuilder reported:
Only recently the Liggett-Myer [sic] Tobacco Company, finding it advisable to concentrate their business, erected in Dundee Place perhaps the largest tobacco manufactory in the world. The site is quite a distance from the business portion of the city, and at the time of its commencement was in a comparatively unsettled part of the city. The plant itself cost upwards of one and half million dollars, and equally as much more has been expended in the immediate neighborhood in providing homes for the employees, etc.
In addition to Liggett & Myers, the smaller Wellman-Dwire Tobacco Company was building in Dundee Place in 1897, and close by were the Huttig Sash & Door Company, the Koken Iron Company, the yards and shops of the Missouri-Pacific Railroad and, after 1899, the new headquarters of the United Railway Company.
The number of multi-family units built between 1900 and 1909 outnumbered single-family houses almost three to one. Multiple units were all two-story brick and ranged in size from two to twelve families. During this decade building in the District soared to one of its peaks, a phenomenon attributed by the Globe-Democrat to a post-World's Fair boom, but which seems more directly related to industrial growth and the demand for workers' housing. The 1904 World's Fair buildings, however, did leave an architectural legacy which is visible in many of the post-Fair flats which display varying degrees of classical detailing and ornament. A common practice was disguising the ubiquitous flat roofs with such devices as attic windows, pediments, heavy cornices and pseudo-hipped roofs. Examples of classicizing tendencies of the period can be seen on twelve two-family flats in the 3800 block of McRee exhibiting garlands, quoining, pediments and cornices, and again in the 3800 block of Blaine where six-family buildings employ stone lintels, attic windows and quoining. Single- family houses such at 3681 McRee also have abandoned picturesque profiles for more restrained forms with "colonial" porches.
Shortly after the turn of the century, both Grand Avenue and 39th Street began to develop as commercial strips. Thirty-ninth Street, which was served by a branch of the Tiffany Trolley Line, added three store/flat combinations between 1906 and 1909 which are within the District boundaries. Eventually, both sides of 39th Street spawned small shops selling shoes, hardware, cigars and groceries, etc., offered services such as haircuts and tailoring and provided entertainment in the form of taverns, a pool room and a restaurant. Inroads on Grand Avenue's prime residential frontage appeared in 1902 when the Bell Telephone Exchange Building was constructed on the northwest corner of McRee and Grand Avenues. Designed by architect F. C. Bonsack in an up-to-date commercial style, the two-story red brick and terra cotta building (with a third story and western addition built in 1916) maintained the scale and materials of the Tiffany neighborhood while bringing an important "modern" utility. The opening of the exchange in 1903 marked St. Louis' dramatic expansion of telephone service between 1900 and 1904 when the number of subscribers jumped from 6,237 to 19,963. In 1912, a two-story commercial building responsive to residential scale and style was built for stores and offices at the northwest corner of Lafayette and Grand Avenues.
The opening of two new subdivisions in 1911 and 1912 along the southern boundary of the District rapidly filled up City Blocks 5437 and 2122N between McRee and Lafayette Avenues. These blocks were part of the land sold by the McRees to Henry Shaw in 1848 and later bequeathed by Shaw to the Missouri Botanical Garden. The Trustees of the Botanical Garden platted Shaw's Lafayette Addition in 1911 (which included City Block 5437) and in 1912, opened Shaw's Lafayette Addition #2 which absorbed City Block 2122. Both of the Lafayette Additions extended south beyond the Tiffany District blocks and are now severed by the path of Interstate 44. Construction in the new subdivisions nearly equalized the District's ratio of single-family houses to multiple units for this decade, establishing another enclave of solidly middle-class residents in the neighborhood. With the important exception of four apartment buildings, Lafayette Avenue was developed almost entirely with speculative single-family houses whose residents were included in Blue Book listings until it suspended publication in the 1920s.
Builders and architects working in the Lafayette Additions kept abreast of changing architectural styles and responded to influences of the Arts and Crafts and Bungalow movements gaining popularity across the nation. Although most of the houses rise a full two stories, they adopt generic bungaloid traits such as broad half-timbered gables, large scale brackets and porches extending across the facades. The work of contractor Sam Koplar (who built 3851 through 3861 Lafayette, prompted the Globe-Democrat to observe that "this neighborhood is taking on quite a bungalow city aspect since the bungalows on Lafayette have been put up. The rejection of historical detail and exploiting of construction materials for aesthetic effect also spread into other areas of the District where new construction arose.
In 1912, a new building type was added to the District when the first three-story apartment house, the Marquette, was constructed on the northwest corner of Lafayette and Spring. Heralded by the Globe-Democrat as only the fourth three-story apartment building to appear on the city's south side, the Marquette Apartments offered more amenities and services than the conventional flat. Planned with suites of varying sizes for twelve families, all the Marquette apartments were designed with sun porches, "adapted for conversion to conservatories." Although a rarity on St. Louis' south side, the "modern" apartment building was gaining fast acceptance in the fashionable Central West End as an attractive alterative to the burdens of single-family home ownership. The acceptance of the Marquette and obvious economy in land use afforded by an additional story prompted the construction in 1913 of two more three-story apartment buildings on Lafayette, and one on McRee in 1915. The richly ornamented Aida, a two-story apartment house, was built on Lafayette in 1916. These apartments account for the dramatic climb in living units.
In the final decade of building (1920-29), construction dropped from a high of ninety-two buildings in the previous decade to a low of nineteen structures. However, another peak in number of living units was reached in 1923 when the District's largest apartment building (the three-story, nineteen-unit Marlow complex) was constructed on the southeast corner of McRee and 39th Street. In 1922-23, the bungalow tradition of the Lafayette Additions closed with the construction of eight, two-family flats at 3616 through 3640 McRee. The District's sole institution appeared in 1922 when the Church of Christ was built on the north west corner of Spring and Blaine. (Demolished.)
The built-up neighborhood enjoyed forty years of stability. A photograph taken from the corner of Park Avenue and Grand in 1942 shows the northeast edge of the dense neighborhood with a few high, hipped roofs breaking above a sea of flat roofs. Also visible are the "inroads of smoky furnaces" both domestic and industrial as well as one of the large single-family houses which shared Grand Avenue frontage with banks, offices, filling stations and shops.
The District took a dramatic downward turn at the end of the 1960s. Long-time residents cite as the reasons an influx of poor (mostly black), displaced by the demolition of the enormous Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex, and "slummy landlords" who overloaded their rental properties with tenants. Another factor was the construction of Interstate 44 at the south edge of the District, physically isolating it from the residential area to the south and providing a convenient boundary for "red lining" by banks and insurance companies. Vandalism and fear of crime led many homeowners to sell "for a song." Nine vacant lots in the District are the result of demolitions of condemned buildings in the 1970s.
The Tiffany District's future is brighter now, however, as a result of an intensive rehabilitation effort which began in the late 1970s by the Midtown Medical Center Redevelopment Corporation (MMCRC), an organization formed by a group of nearby hospitals on Grand Avenue to counter the blight which threatened their institutions. The District today has a fresh identity founded on its historic and architectural strengths. Named for the old Tiffany streetcar line which ran along 39th Street, the Tiffany Neighborhood has a new park with a pavilion, a fountain and a community center in a rehabilitated two-family flat. Plans envision the commercial revitalization of the once-convenient Grand Avenue and 39th Street shopping strips. The historic mix of single- and multi-family housing for a range of incomes is being preserved through renovation of buildings as affordable condominiums, single-family houses and rental apartments with provisions made through subsidies for low-income and elderly residents.
Promotional literature for the District recalls advertisements for the 1891 lot auction, with accessibility to downtown attractions and opportunities featured. The architectural heritage of the Tiffany District has become an important marketing point. MMCRC, with offices at 3680 Blaine, illustrates the cover of its annual reports with the splendid gables and dormers of one of the Gray Brothers' 1895 houses. Publicity about completed rehabilitation projects stresses the architectural features which dignified the most modest structures and enriched the more pretentious.
The Bell Telephone Company of St. Louis. The Pulse of a Metropolis. St. Louis: The Bell Telephone Company of St. Louis, n.d.
The Brickbuilder 9 (October 1897): 232, 233.
Cox, James, ed. Old and New St. Louis. St. Louis: St. Louis Central Biographical Publishing Co., 1894.
Darrah, Margaret. Long-time Tiffany District resident, St. Louis, Missouri. Interview, September 1982.
Dry, Camille N., and Compton, Richard J. Pictorial St. Louis-1875. St. Louis: n.p., 1875; reprinted., St. Louis: Harry M. Hagen, 1971.
Hanser, William. Long-time Tiffany District resident, St. Louis, Missouri. Interview, September 1982.
St. Louis Globe-Democrat. 20 May 1888; 2 June 1891; 4 June 1891; 6 June 1891; 26 April 1896; 26 May 1897; 2 April 1905; 8 December 1912; 12 March 1916; 21 March 1916.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 20 May 1891; 23 May 1897; 20 May 1982. "St. Louis Real Estate in Review," Glimpses of the Past (Missouri Historical Society) 4 (October-December 1937): 138-39.
St. Louis Republic, 25 May 1891; 28 May 1891; 4 June 1891.
The Spectator, 11 May 1889, p. 609.
Warner, Sam B., Jr. Streetcar Suburbs. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press and the M.I.T. Press, 1962.
The Urban Wilderness: A History of the American City. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, Inc., 1972.
Wright, Henry. "The Sad Story of American Housing." Architecture 67 (March 1933).
[†] Jame M. Porter and Mary M. Stiritz, Tiffany Neighborhood District, nomination document, 1982, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.