Welcome to Elegant Living's exclusive preview of the 2014 Central West End Association House & Garden Tour, now celebrating its 44th year. Slated for May 31 and June 1, this year’s event features the mansions of Portland Place, which, along with neighboring Westmoreland Place, is one of the few remaining World’s Fair-era private streets in the city. Portland Place was designed in 1888 by noted St. Louis private place surveyor Julius Pitzman for wealthy St. Louisans who wished to escape the densely populated city core. The wide boulevard, lush green median and stone mansions made Portland Place a popular draw for the titans of St. Louis banking, commerce and industry, whose magnificent homes have hosted local, national and international dignitaries throughout the past century. It is not an overstatement to say that Portland Place boasts a social, cultural and architectural heritage unparalleled in St. Louis and beyond.
No. 23 Portland Place
No. 23 Portland Place was designed in 1892 in the Italian Renaissance style by the architectural firm of Eames & Young. Built of saffron-colored brick with alternating bands of Carthage marble, the exterior features richly molded terra-cotta ornamentation and a truncated Romanesque two-story tower that breaks the flat façade.
The interior of the spacious residence features 22 rooms, including 10 bedrooms and a massive ballroom on the third floor that spans the entire width of the house. The home’s large central double-door entry vestibule gives way to a massive baronial wood-paneled hall with a sweeping staircase, over which are beautiful leaded-glass windows in the Italian style. A second side entrance off the porte cochere features a sitting area and one of seven fireplaces in the home. In back is a two-story carriage house, incorporating an 1,800-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment.
The current owners have kept the interior of No. 23 Portland Place faithful to its original iteration, preserving and restoring, where necessary, the home’s impressive architectural features, most notably the handsome dark woodwork throughout and carved-leather frieze in the dining room. Furnishings also are in keeping with the home’s vintage architecture, such that one can easily imagine how the original owners might have lived and entertained within this grand residence.
No. 32 Portland Place
No. 32 Portland Place was designed in the Beaux Arts style by Weber & Groves in 1898. The graceful front portico is distinguished by four sets of stately columns, while the elegant limestone façade is adorned with exquisite garlands and swags, and provides a wonderful example of the stone-cutter’s art at the turn of the century.
Stepping into the home from a small but beautifully decorated vestibule, one enters the grand foyer. Originally decorated in a heavy, dark Victorian style, the foyer today retains its original black-and-white marble floor; but is lighter and brighter, thanks to an impressive crystal chandelier, soft yellow walls and crisp white woodwork. As lovely as the foyer is, the morning room on the western side of the house is breathtaking. Designed by Arlene Lilie, the room is a symphony of soft blues and yellows, and filled with clean-lined modern furnishings that are the perfect foil to the ornate white plaster work on the ceiling and walls. A counterpoint to the airy morning room is the library across the hall, distinguished by masculine, dark-wood paneling. At the rear of the house is a new gourmet kitchen, family room and dining area. A generous expanse of windows overlooks a large covered porch, in-ground pool and large pergola, all of which are new additions, but look as if they have always been there—a true sign of design success.
No. 38 Portland Place
Situated on a corner lot, No. 38 Portland Place was designed in 1905 by Theodore Link in a generalized Elizabethan style with high-pitched gables at each end, stepped buttresses and tall chimneys. A renovation of the home resulted in the enclosure of a central loggia in the front of the house, and the creation of a large entry hall with a carved-wood staircase typical of Elizabethan-style architecture. The renovation also led to the creation of a large living room by combining the former parlor, library and music room. Unifying the space is a coffered and ornately painted ceiling. The current owners have wisely chosen not to compete with the strong art and architecture of the room, relying on understated rugs and furnishings in a quiet, neutral palette.
A recently renovated trio of rooms on the second floor, which the current owner refers to as her ‘apartment,’ provides a beautiful private refuge for the lady of the house. The style is light, airy and feminine, in contrast to the heavy masculine character of the first floor. A small bedroom, sitting room and study, the latter filled with elegantly spare French furnishings, are enveloped in luxurious fabrics and paint in a French blue and cream palette.
No. 39 Portland Place
The regal Queen Anne-style mansion at 39 Portland Place has graced the street since 1891, earning the distinction of being the oldest on the boulevard. A very popular architectural style at the time, the Queen Anne design provided a convenient floor plan that exchanged a long, dark corridor for a spacious center hall with a variety of smaller rooms nestled around it. In turn, these intimate rooms were each outfitted with a fireplace, making the home a cozy place for both family living and entertaining. At one time, this 9,000-square-foot home had 11 working fireplaces. The Victorian-era home also is noteworthy for the amount of natural light that illuminates the interior hall, thanks to a very large arched window with stained-glass details overlooking a broad staircase.
No. 30 Portland Place has seen dramatically different levels of stewardship in its long and illustrious history. At one point, the ceiling in the formal parlor was lowered and finished with acoustical tile, while the wood floors were painted with black and white stripes. Fortunately, the home has been restored in meticulous fashion, including the rejuvenation of the parlor’s original ceiling fresco featuring plump cupids that were so popular in the late 19th century.
No. 42 Portland Place
No. 42 Portland Place is a joy to behold—a feast for the eyes and the senses, and bearing the hallmarks of a home that has been lovingly cared for by the various families who have resided there over the past century. Designed by the Mariner & LaBeaume in 1908, the three-story manse retains most of the original architectural features that made it a noteworthy residence when it was built, yet it feels remarkably fresh and new. Every surface in this home is in perfect repair, reflecting the meticulous attention of its current owners, California transplants who have imbued the interior with their unique personal style and placed the historic structure firmly in the present day.
One enters the house via an attractive foyer, where a built-in, floor-to-ceiling mirror commands attention. Nearby, a sensuously curved staircase appears to float as it winds its way to the second level. Overlooking the stairs are two large, west-facing windows that bathe the room in natural light. The finish on the original wood floors, which glow with a spit shine, is a customized ebony hue. The walls and woodwork in both the foyer and living room are swathed in a Farrow and Ball paint color called Pointing, a rich, warm white. It’s the perfect backdrop for an eclectic collection of streamlined modern furnishings and artwork, which look completely at home in this turn-of-the-century manse.