The History and Homes of St. Louis

Jun 19, 2023 | Historic Homes

Looking into the history and homes of St. Louis neighborhoods

Lafayette Square and Holly Hills


St. Louis is a beautiful city abundant in its history and unique architecture.  Each St. Louis neighborhood has its own distinct personality where history and design intertwine.  You can find character and charm in a historic St. Louis City home that you simply can’t find elsewhere.  Examples of historical, charming neighborhoods are abundant, but today we are going to look at two –Lafayette Square and Holly Hills.

Lafayette Square

With its stately Second Empire Victorian Townhomes surrounding St. Louis’s oldest park, Lafayette Square is truly a St. Louis gem! However, this charming neighborhood came very close to being just a memory!

Lafayette Square

Lafayette Square took shape around Lafayette Park, which was platted in 1836 and dedicated in 1851, making it St. Louis’ oldest park and the first park west of the Mississippi River!

Lafayette Park

Lafayette Park was named after the Marques de Lafayette, a French statesman who volunteered under George Washington during the American Revolution.  The park was very popular in the late 1800’s with patrons enjoying boat rides on the lake, picnicking, and listening to music at the music stand.  During this time, many stately homes were constructed around the park by the wealthy St. Louis elite. 

However, in 1896 a tornado swept through the city and severely damaged many of the houses and the park, causing a large exodus and eventual decline of the once prominent neighborhood. 

1896 tornado St. Louis

Photo of Lafayette Square in aftermath of 1896 tornado – Missouri Historical Society

Over the decades, urban decay continued and by 1970, this historic neighborhood just minutes from downtown, was nearly leveled to make way for urban renewal developments.  It had become a crime ridden neighborhood full of dilapidated homes, squatters, prostitutes and drugs.  Then in 1970 a young woman, Ruth Kamphoefner, visited Lafayette Square on a house tour and set out to save the historic neighborhood.  She purchased one of the old homes and began renovating it, doing much of the work herself.  She bought many more homes in Lafayette Square and remodeled those as well!  A movement to save the neighborhood had begun and more young professionals began moving into the neighborhood, restoring the homes.  In 1972 Lafayette Square was designated a historic district, thus saving it from demolition! 

second empire Victorian townhomes in Lafayette Square

Today, walking along the outskirts of the park you can see the rows of beautiful, stately Second Empire Victorian Townhomes.  They feature a mansard roof, typically over a third story.  Many of the homes feature arched doorways and windows and elaborate cornices.  Some of the residences are painted in fun, vibrant colors and are referred to as Lafayette Square’s Painted Ladies.  Beautiful!

Holly Hills

Another neighborhood that had its birth around a city park is Holly Hills.  In the 1920’s developers purchased land from the Missouri Pacific Railroad adjacent to Carondelet Park.  They planned to build a residential neighborhood with the elegance of Hollywood.  (Thus, the name Holly Hills!) However, the Great Depression set in, and the developers decided it best to scale down the grandness of their neighborhood.  The result was smaller, adorable, Gingerbread homes throughout the tree lined neighborhood. 

Holly Hills Carondelet Park

The Gingerbread home is actually a form of Tudor Revival.  It is affectionately referred to as a Gingerbread after Hansel and Gretel’s house.  They do look like a home right out of a fairytale!  Gingerbreads vary from house to house, but many have zigzagging yellow and brown brick and limestone facades, terracotta roof tiles, arched doorways and so much charm!

Gingerbread Houses Holly Hills

Agape Construction specializes in Historic home renovation, be it a Painted Lady or a Gingerbread!  If your lovely St. Louis historic home needs some TLC, give Agape a call!

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