Becky Leigh was a first-grader in 1953 when her parents, John and Rose Bardenheier, purchased #15 Washington Terrace as their family’s new home. “We had moved from a home in Brentwood, and my fear was that I would get lost in this new house because it was so much larger than what I was used to,” Leigh says.
Her bedroom is the current girl’s bedroom in the Ladue News Show House. “I kept all my dolls and stuffed animals in the window seat of the big bay window. It was an unbelievably great place to grow up!” Leigh says. “When we were little, my younger sister, Mary Martha, and older brother, John Eddie, and I loved to play hide-and-go-seek in the house, and we would ride our bicycles in the basement. We just had so much fun!” Through the years, The Bardenheiers allowed their children to have “a parade of pets,” including hamsters, dogs, a cat that had nine kittens, gold fish, turtles and ducks.
Leigh’s father was president of the Bardenheier Wine Company, which she notes was “a pretty big deal in the day.” He married Rose Switzer of the noted St. Louis Switzer (licorice) family. “We were surrounded by lots of wine and candy growing up,” Leigh laughs. “At Christmas, we always had a huge, grand tree by stairs in the foyer. We had a lot of friends on the street—a whole neighborhood filled with kids. We had such a blessed life!”
According to Leigh, some of her best memories are from the parties that her parents used to give. “They were really lovely parties—as you can well imagine— with women in long formals,” she remembers. “One party in particular, Robert Hyland Jr. was invited, and when he arrived late, he refused to join the group at dinner. He insisted on waiting in the small room off the foyer (the study).” Leigh, who was about 10 years old at the time, recalls answering the door. “Bob Hyland was arguably one of the best looking men who ever lived. I was so enamored, and then he told me he was a widower!” she says (sighing). “So after he joined the party, I went up to my bedroom and wrote him a love letter. I dangled it down on a piece of string from a window in my sister’s bedroom, which was in front of the French doors where he was sitting on the first floor—so when he turned around he would see my note dangling there.” When she found out that he later married someone else, “I was broken-hearted.”
As Leigh grew into her pre-teen and teenage years, she of course experienced many life-changing moments. “I was about 12 years old, and there was a little boy, who lived in a nearby apartment building, standing next to me in our yard. He looked at me and asked, How many families live in that house? Well, I thought he was crazy. I said, Just us, and it occurred to me that not everyone lived the way we did,” she says. “It really was a lifechanging moment for me—to realize that we were so lucky.”
Another rite of passage for Leigh came at age 15 with her first boy/girl party. “It was supposed to be a small, demure party, until the invitation got put on every bulletin board in just about every high school in St. Louis!” she recalls. “There must have been 300 people who showed up. There was line of people running from somebody’s car trunk, passing beer into the house. We had a really good time, but my mother was so mad—and she really never got angry like that. She made my friend and me go up and down the street to pick up all the beer cans. The next morning, we had just calmed her down—we were getting ready for church, and when she put her hand into her mink stole, there was a beer can in it! So she got mad all over again.”
The prominent French Norman clock tower at the entrance of the Washington Terrace enclave also holds special memories for Leigh. Notably, it housed a night watchman and, Leigh says, “you would have to tell him who you were when entering the neighborhood.” And when Leigh began to date, her parents didn’t want her to see anyone exclusively. “So, my then-boyfriend (nowhusband, Bob Leigh) would send one of his many friends to pick me up. We would then meet at the clock tower, and I would switch cars. My parents thought I was very popular dating all those boys.”
In 1961, Bob Leigh scratched his initials in the painted #15 on the glass of the front door. “And his initials and mine are now exactly the same. It says, BL, and it’s still there after 50 years!”
John and Rose Bardenheier sold #15 Washington Terrace in 1964 while Leigh was away at college.