St. Louis is a city with layers of stories, from its historic archives to the personal journals of its citizenry throughout the years. Yet, there are countless tales yet to be told; and earlier this month, Ladue News uncovered one of them. Fittingly, this story involves one of the first families to occupy #23 Lenox Place, the setting of the 2013 LN Show House.
Polly de Penaloza Kramer had a story to tell. Polly is a former Ladue resident who now lives in Kansas City with her family. Polly’s brother, John, read about the Show House in Ladue News and recognized the de Penaloza family crest in an accompanying photo. He immediately told his sister, who confirmed the identity of the crest after seeing the LN article online.
Polly and her husband, Jeff, along with her brother, John, and his daughters, recently visited #23 Lenox Place on a picturesque St. Louis fall afternoon. But unlike most of the visitors who come to see the home’s professionally designed spaces, Polly wanted to experience a cherished childhood memory one last time.
Her story begins with an heiress, Marie Reine Fusz, who was born in 1874 and grew up in Ferguson. Marie went to finishing school in Paris, and that’s where she met Count Henri de Penaloza of Spain. The count reportedly was sent to Paris to work on getting the World’s Fair to St. Louis. The young couple fell in love and returned to St. Louis to marry in 1897.
Now Countess Marie Reine Fusz de Penalosa, she and the count returned to Paris shortly after the wedding. As quoted in a 1970 Globe-Democrat article, the countess described an idyllic life as newlyweds: We went to teas at palaces on the Champs Elysees…and to dinners in the home where Ben Franklin lived. We were announced by footmen in satin breeches and patent leather shoes, and the dining room was lit up with dozens of candles.
The couple returned to St. Louis in 1900, and she bore him two children: Eugene (Polly’s grandfather) and Henriette (who later owned #23 Lenox Place). Sadly, the union was short-lived: The count and countess divorced in 1904, the same year #23 Lenox Place was built.
In chronicling the divorce in St. Louis Circuit Court, a New York Times article reported that the presiding judge accused the count of spending the heiress’ fortune and “had paid attention to other women.” The judge also further commented on the actions of the count, saying that the case was similar to most international marriages of the time: It is always the way that these foreigners treat their American wives. Ambitious mothers and cultivated daughters traveling abroad are constantly falling into such traps as these. The courts are full of such cases. It seems to me that mothers ought to wake up some time.
Years later, the countess would move in with her daughter at #23 Lenox Place. Mrs. Hubertus A. Schotten (née Henriette de Penaloza) was Polly’s great-aunt. Polly remembers the neighborhood way back when, and says it was always “an adventure” to visit. Some of her favorite memories involved spending time with ‘Amie,’ the family’s name for the countess, in her room on the second floor. “She was in her 90s at the time, and she always had the radio on. She was a huge baseball fan, and especially a Cardinals fan,” Polly says, adding that the countess also had a dog named Pepi, who always sat on her owner’s lap.
Polly’s sister, Margaret ‘Midge’ de Penaloza LaSenna, recalls big family dinners in the dining room. “The food was brought in by the maids and butlers,” she says. “But the most fascinating thing to the cousins was the button under the carpet near the head of the table—it was a buzzer that rang in the kitchen.” Midge also remembers a closet in the dining room. “It had candy in it. I remember the long strip of lollipops handing on the door.”
Another favorite memory was looking down into the basement. “We weren’t allowed to go down there—they told us it was because there were alligators down there,” Midge explains. “I always wanted to go down and see those alligators.”
We’re happy to report that there have been no alligator sightings at the Show House, but there definitely is plenty to talk about. Don’t miss the de Penaloza family crest on the mantle in the Grand Hall. The 2013 Ladue News Show House at #23 Lenox Place runs through Sunday, Oct. 20. Tickets are available at laduenews.com or at the door.