Today Westmoreland and Portland Places are considered the premiere streets of the Central West End. In fact, they always have been the chic place to live since the World’s Fair. Though, during hard times these fine streets did not go unscathed…though certainly not hit as hard as some of the other fine streets in the Central West End.
During the Depression of the 30’s, the government put a ceiling of $500 ($7,166.40 today) per year on improvements households could make. This ceiling was due to the shortage of supplies and was not nearly enough to keep up the mansions of Westmoreland and Portland. This budget would not even cover repairs to these homes’ carriage houses that were as large as other homes in the city. In addition property taxes were also a big issue since they were levied quite high on these large homes. Some families found it more economical to tear down their houses and only incur the basic land taxes. See below for a couple of the fine homes that we lost during this time. (Westmoreland and Portland Places by Julius K. Hunter)
The massive homes were heated with coal which eventually caused the streets to be covered with smog. To escape smog, families decided to move west which led to growth in cities like Clayton and Ladue. Check out this picture from 1939 of what the smog covered streets looked like.
World War II caused more instability within these private streets. Maids, butlers, nannies, gardeners, laundresses, chauffeurs and cooks left their homeowners and began to work at defense plants. Working there they made double, triple or even quadruple the amounts they were making as servants. These homeowners who had never mowed lawns, cooked, ironed a shirt, washed a window, stoked fire or tended a garden found themselves trying to keep up the interior and exterior of their large homes yet did not do it successfully. Trustees were soon led to relax their strict rules that once stated “no property owner shall cause or permit weeds, underbrush, grass cuttings, broken branches, roughage or refuse of any character to accumulate or remain anywhere in the subdivision.” (Westmoreland and Portland Places by Julius K. Hunter)
Following this, the next concern for Westmoreland and Portland Place owners was how they were going to keep their property values stable. Displaced families who’s homes were destroyed by a tornado near Mill Creek began moving into apartments in the already declining area. Class and racially based apprehension increased as well as crime. Homeowners of the area who had once left their doors unlocked had high-security locks put in. Some of these residents however decided enough was enough and left. The property values plummeted and homeowners took any price they could get. (Westmoreland and Portland Places by Julius K. Hunter)
My great grandparents lived at 42 Westmoreland Place from 1923-1958 so they experienced first hand these difficulties. One of the reasons they were able to keep it up over so many years was because the size of the home was quite manageable compared to others in the area. My grandparents bought the home in 1958 from my great grandparents and lived here until 1970. My parents were given the option to purchase the home but like everyone else in the 70’s they wanted to live further west so it was sold for about $75,000 (today about $500,000.)
Today, Westmoreland and Portland Places are as vibrant and well maintained as in their hey day! The Central West End is as strong as ever and is a highly sought after area in the city of St. Louis and only getting better each year.