St. Louis Hills

During the 1920's a large tract of more than 700 acres in southwest St. Louis awaited the efforts of a large scale real estate developer. Originally it was a part of Survey 1839, which had been an eighteenth century Spanish land grant to Madame Anne Camp and her son-in-law, Antoine Reilhe. It was later sold to George C. Clark and was about equally divided between his two sons in 1843. Its division was marked by a lane called Clark Road, which later became Eichelberger Street. Extending south and west from Clark Road toward the River des Peres, was the tract of Joseph J. Clark, covering about 379 acres. John DeBurren Clark was the owner of the other portion of the tract, whose 371 acres reached northward to a property line south of present day Lansdowne Avenue.

In 1884, the two sections of the tract were acquired by David R. Francis, who became Mayor of St. Louis in the next year and Governor of Missouri in 1889. He later became Secretary of the Interior in the cabinet of President Cleveland and Ambassador to Russia during World War I. As president of the 1904 World's Fair, Francis had considered his farm as a site for the Fair, but rejected the idea because of lack of access by public transportation. In 1916, he donated a 60 acre section of his tract for a future City park. However, the area, known as the Francis Farm, remained unimproved except for a few dairy farms. Unofficially, it became a rural rendezvous for picnickers, hunters and other adventurous spirits.

As the growth of the City progressed into its southwestern reaches, this largely vacant piece of land attracted the attention of real estate entrepreneur Cyrus Crane Willmore. Willmore came to St. Louis in the early twenties after graduating from the University of Illinois law school. After starting a real estate business here, he began subdivision developments in University City, Webster Groves and Normandy. In the City, he created Kingshighway Hills along that thoroughfare between Fyler and Pernod Avenues in 1926. Soon thereafter, Willmore organized the St. Louis Hills Realty Company for the acquisition of the Francis Farm property. Surveyor Frederick Pitzman was engaged to make a layout for the St. Louis Hills subdivision, the first part of a development which was finally completely platted in 1950. The first section was bounded by the eastern line of the former Clark tract, which was about 125 feet west of Hampton Avenue, on the south by Eichelberger Street, on the west by Jamieson Avenue and on the north by Watson Road, Bancroft and Prague Avenues and a line one-half block south of Lansdowne Avenue. Excepted from this plat were the previously established streets of Watson Road and Donovan and Nottingham Avenues, Francis Park and a tract owned by the Board of Education since 1926. The plat for this subdivision, known as St. Louis Hills No. 1, was recorded in March, 1929. In December, 1930, Pitzman made a survey of St. Louis Hills No. 2, which included land west of Jamieson Avenue to the River des Peres drainage works and which reached northward to a line south of Lansdowne Avenue. This completed the platting of the area north of Eichelberger Street, with the exception of the Hampton Hills Subdivision of 1940.

In accord with the high standards of his previous subdivisions, Willmore made quality of construction and artistic landscaping hallmarks of his subdivisions in St. Louis Hills. All homes and multiple dwelling structures were designed in fine architectural styles and were to be built of brick with tile or slate roofs and with generous use of stained glass and other luxury materials. Two distinguishing features in St. Louis Hills were the red concrete sidewalks and the profusion of rose bushes that were planted along its streets. Despite the troublous economic conditions that were prevalent in the early 1930's, Willmore responded with a spectacular display of advertising and events to attract the attention of the public to the new subdivision. In addition to the completion of several model homes, entertainment and refreshments were provided on various important occasions. During the decade, homes in St. Louis Hills were featured in the pages of national magazines. Willmore believed in enhancing the homes in his subdivisions with plentiful quantities of trees and shrubs. A bouquet of roses was presented to newcomers on the day that they moved into their new homes. From the beginning, a proud sense of ownership was evident among the residents of St. Louis Hills, in the aesthetic manner in which they landscaped their yards and maintained their houses. As the centerpiece of this beautiful environment was Francis Park, whose development paralleled that of the subdivision. A measure of Willmore's sense of civic consciousness was his permission for various new churches in the subdivision to hold services in his real estate office building until they could complete their own structures.

Although housing construction was temporarily suspended by World War II, the Cyrus Crane Willmore Organization proceeded to survey and plat subdivisions in the area south of Eichelberger Street. First of these was St. Louis Hills No. 3 in 1942. It included frontages on both sides of Rhodes Avenue from Hampton to Childress. Two years later the first St. Louis Hills Estates was platted in an area west of Jamieson and south of Eichelberger, and in 1945 St. Louis Hills Estates No. 2 was planned, being bounded by Jamieson, Donovan, Eichelberger, Childress, Clifton and Loughborough Avenues. The Estates consisted of generously sized lots on curving streets with large ranch style homes, in its postwar development.

A Willmore sales brochure of 1944 quoted the Estates as providing "country living in the City" at an altitude where it was "swept by cool breezes."

While home construction in the St. Louis Hills subdivisions proceeded somewhat slowly during the 1930's, after World War II its pace increased appreciably, and by 1950 the original St. Louis Hills was about completely occupied by quality-built homes.

In 1946, a multiple dwelling subdivision known as St. Louis Hills No. 4 was laid out in the triangle formed by Loughborough, Hampton and Jamieson Avenues. Three years later, St. Louis Hills Estates No. 3 was opened in an area southeast of Eichelberger and Childress. St. Louis Hills Estates No. 4 completed the subdivision of the Willmore properties in 1950. It extends from a line east of Southland Avenue westward to Clifton and Childress Avenues and from Loughborough northward to St. Louis Hills No. 3.

In 1945, Willmore was appointed to the City Plan Commission and in 1946 he donated 70 acres to the City for park use. Combined with adjacent City-owned property, this became Willmore Park in 1947. Cyrus Crane Willmore died on April 11, 1949, thus ending a colorful career in urban development. Over the years, St. Louis Hills and its Estates have been exceptionally well maintained and continue to improve their beautiful environment. An important factor in this has been the Lawn and Garden Awards which were initiated in 1971 by the St. Louis Hills Home Owners Association. From this friendly competition has resulted in an improved appearance which benefits the entire area. As an expression of this proud heritage, the residents of St. Louis Hills will observe the fiftieth anniversary of their subdivision by planting 50 Hawthorn trees in Francis Park.

Image- Residential Vista on Pernod Avenue near Hampton.
Image- Hampton Village and vicinity in 1948.
Image- Jamieson Avenue near Marquette before widening about 1950.
Image- Aerial view northeast from Macklind Avenue and Walsh Street in 1949.
Image- Chippewa and Hampton looking northwest in 1949.