Pasadena Hills Historic District
The Pasadena Hills Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2014, The Gombach Group.
Established in 1928, the small suburban community of Pasadena Hills in northern St. Louis County, Missouri, represents an important transition in the residential development patterns in metropolitan St. Louis. This suburb of 380 primary properties, the vast majority of which are private residences, is the last of the private places or gated communities developed in the St. Louis metropolitan area, a mechanism used as a means of ensuring the continued viability of residential neighborhoods and protecting them from encroaching urban blight and commercial developments. Besides serving as the culmination of this response to the pressures of urban growth in St. Louis, Pasadena Hills was one of the early automobile suburbs in the metropolitan area. Although the suburb's development straddled two of the biggest impediments to housing construction, the Great Depression and World War II, construction in Pasadena Hills, although slowed, was virtually uninterrupted throughout this period. The community provides physical evidence of the continued and unusual growth patterns of this part of the metropolitan area in the early 20th century. Unlike earlier subdivisions that were not specifically built to accommodate the growing popularity of the automobile and later suburbs which lacked the quality of landscaping amenities and building design covenants, Pasadena Hills characterizes the best of both the tradition of private places and of the emerging automobile suburbs. The district is equally significant for its landscape design and architecture. With its beautiful landscape features in both the green spaces and layout of housing lots that were designed by Roland H. Buchmueller, Pasadena Hills remains one of the most significant residential developments in St. Louis County. The impact of the automobile on the housing design and on the layout of the streets and driveways represents an important aspect in the architectural history of the region. The community contains one of the best collections of mid-20th century residential designs in St. Louis County.
In 1876, the City of St. Louis separated from St. Louis County (the city government functions as its own county government), permanently setting the boundaries for the City of St. Louis. This helped encourage the creation of suburban communities adjacent to its borders since these areas could not be annexed to the city of St. Louis. The development of the suburbs surrounding St. Louis would begin spreading out from the core of the city of St. Louis in the late nineteenth century, with the easternmost area adjacent to the western boundary of the city built up by the close of the 1920s. While earlier private places in the city of St. Louis had generally attracted only a wealthier clientele who could move further away from the city's core along the improved streets since they did not require a proximity to public transportation, the network of railroads and streetcars that developed in the late nineteenth century encouraged the middle class to locate further from work. As was becoming commonplace around the nation, more and more families now looked beyond the city limits and into St. Louis County as the haven from city life. New residential developments in St. Louis County offered (and promoted) residential environments where homeowners could escape the congestion, pollution, and clamor of city life. Initially this resulted in the development of new suburban communities in the late nineteenth century; such towns as Webster Groves, Kirkwood, and Ferguson began as railroad and streetcar suburbs in St. Louis County that attracted middle-class residents, but not usually the exclusive private place developers. The proximity of some of the near-in suburbs to the city of St. Louis also began to attract a number of upper class residents, with Clayton especially becoming a city of private street developments for the exclusive upper class homes. Some of the developers of these later private places in the county designed their new developments not just for an upper class market, having learned the pitfalls of such exclusivity and the limitations of that market segment.
Although the population growth in St. Louis slowed during the Great Depression of the 1930s, it still outpaced the nation as a whole and the number of municipalities surrounding the city of St. Louis doubled in the 1920s and 1930s. As a result, numerous new subdivisions opened in the 1920s: Willmore was actively developing a series of subdivisions in the county as well as for St. Louis Hills at the southwestern edge of the city, Holly Hills was under construction around Carondelet Park in the south city, and a number of subdivisions grew up in the northeastern part of the county, including Pasadena Hills. Of these, only Pasadena Hills was a private place development.
The northeastern section, where Pasadena Hills is located, was especially attractive for residential developments because of its proximity to the country clubs of Glen Echo, Bellerive, and Norwood Hills and because of the development of Lambert Field. Opened in 1920, Lambert Airport was acquired by the city of St. Louis in 1928 and became a major, regional airport, attracting a variety of related industries (and employers) nearby, such as McDonnell Aircraft Company, which became one of the nation's leading aerospace industries. By the 1950s, the population rate increased by 70 percent and open land was at a premium in the eastern part of St. Louis County.
Located in north St. Louis County on what had previously been wooded ravines and farmland, Pasadena Hills opened in 1928, strategically positioned at the northwest corner of Natural Bridge Road and Lucas and Hunt Road, two major arteries in the north part of the county. The community is near the northwestern corner of the city of St. Louis and borders a number of other early St. Louis County suburbs (primarily Northwoods, Pasadena Park and Normandy), all built in the early twentieth century, but none with the scale and quality of housing, or the planned landscaping features that are found in Pasadena Hills. At the time of its development, it actually extended north from the Hodiamont streetcar line to Ferguson and Florissant (where the south side of Pasadena Boulevard is today) that paralleled the north side of Natural Bridge Road. The immense, Gothic Revival gateway tower constructed by its promoters, the Carter Realty Company, was actually located south of the tracks along the north side of Natural Bridge Road, marking Roland Boulevard as the main entrance of the community with the tallest gateway found in the metropolitan area, which is even visible from downtown Clayton today.
Natural Bridge Road was a major commercial artery that connected to the city of St. Louis as part of Harlan Bartholomew's street widening program, which made streets more serviceable to the emerging automobile, although still adjacent to a streetcar line that connected both to the suburbs further west (Ferguson and Florissant) and to the city of St. Louis. Pasadena Hills was designed as an automobile suburb. This was obvious from the focus of the earliest advertisements for the new community, which stressed the location and environment in terms of the automobile. For example, country clubs were identified as "within five minutes drive." Directions were given in relationship to the automotive arterial street, Natural Bridge Road, not the streetcar line, frequently locating the community from the perspective of this automobile traffic, as "Beyond the Big Gateway." Other advertisements promoted the automobile friendly streets as "winding concrete drives and parkways" and frequently referenced the "pretty homes and driveways." Almost every single home, as well as most of the apartment buildings in Pasadena Hills, would be designed with a garage, many of them attached, with access discretely located in the basement or on the rear of the house. The significance of the district as an automobile suburb is heightened by the fact that most homes were designed with a two car garage, not just a single car garage. This pointed not only to the affluence of the community, but also to the dependence on the automobile even by the 1930s.
In planning and promoting their new residential development, Carter Realty Company focused on creating an image of their development as conveniently located to get to work, but removed from the hassles of city living and ensconced in a park-like environment. They especially liked to make distinctions that contrasted the crime, pollution, crowded conditions, and unhealthy environment of the city of St. Louis with the healthy, fresh air, and open land of Pasadena Hills, but as a community that was conveniently located "Out—but not too far out—beyond the city's boundary," where homes would be built "Among trees where the cool breezes blow, with parks and broad boulevards. A place where you can live in the great out doors [sic]. Which means HEALTH AND WEALTH."
The layout of the community had been carefully designed by Roland H. Buchmueller, who identified himself as town planner and later as town planning engineer. His design took into consideration the natural ravines in the area, creating a series of parks and roadways that followed the natural contours and made the most of the vistas created where he placed house lots (at a minimum of 4000 square feet each according to the original covenants). His plans included the gated entries, all of the 38 medians and 147 custom designed, cast iron streetlights with their silhouette of a sundial that provide a delicate light at night onto the meandering roadways and parks. The use of winding streets and sidewalks leading up to the homes was another feature of this stylistic tradition, which hoped to emulate the countryside, rather than the nearby crowded city. The distinctively colored concrete mix used for the roadbeds, curbs, sidewalks, and driveways in the community, appears less strident than the common concrete mix and asphalt on adjacent roadbeds and blends more readily into the natural environment. Before Carter Realty Company began its residential development, much of the eastern half of the neighborhood was apparently already wooded, especially in the ravines, as evidenced by illustrations in promotional brochures, early aerial photographs, and the age of existing trees. Some of these trees obviously survive today, including some clearly visible in an historic photo on Roland Boulevard. Most trees, both deciduous and evergreen, were planted by the original developers according to Buchmueller's plans, appearing as small saplings in early photos, but today towering in the medians, parks, and front yards throughout the community.
Although originally adjacent to a streetcar line sandwiched between Pasadena Boulevard and Natural Bridge Road, Pasadena Hills was designed as an automobile suburb, positioned next to Natural Bridge Road. This road was a major commercial artery that connected to the city of St. Louis as part of Harland Bartholomew's street widening program, which made streets more serviceable to the emerging automobile. Every single home in Pasadena Hills, as well as most of the apartment buildings, would be designed with a garage, many of them attached, with access discretely located in the basement or on the rear or side of the residence. Even the 115 detached garages were positioned to be minimally visible from the street, usually at the rear of the property, often located behind the house, not in a direct line from the street up the driveway. The one exception for the Arthur Wells and Mary K. Buck House at 7247 North Roland Boulevard, T. P. Barnett designed the elaborate house and garage on the steep point overlooking the lake at Roland Park with the garage prominently located at the street, which references the gate houses of large estates. Driveways were usually restricted to a single car width, and at least one house retains an original ribbon driveway (two concrete runners), but other driveways appear to be the original, one car wide, poured concrete paths utilizing the same unique concrete mix as was used for streets and public sidewalks. In addition, the driveways were frequently cut deeper into the ground to minimize their visual impact on the streetscape (so that looking down many of the streets it is difficult to even see the driveways) and even those positioned on the facade are usually basement level garages with driveways cut deeply into the front lawn with retaining walls.
As a result of this careful planning, today the Pasadena Hills Historic District retains all of its original resources, with all but 17 (11 houses, 3 garage, 2 apartment building, and the fire station addition). The district's 496 different resources represent a variety of property types, including 495 buildings and 1 site, which incorporates the entire landscape design of the community, and which in turn contains numerous sites, structures, and objects.
† Karen Bode Baxter, Architectural Historian, Matther Cerny, Mandy Ford, Time Maloney, Research Associates, Pasadena Hills Historic District, St. Louis County, Missouri, nomination document, 2004, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.