An original ‘Old Town’ Clayton house faces demolition

CLAYTON — A developer plans to demolish one of the oldest homes in Clayton and replace it with four luxury condominiums, dismaying its former inhabitants and some of the home’s neighbors.

The 118-year-old house at 139 N. Bemiston Avenue, sits atop a hill overlooking a handful of stately, tree-lined streets that many call “Old Town Clayton,” just north of downtown between Jackson Avenue and Brentwood Boulevard.

The owners, an aging couple, sold it for $1.7 million. And the new owner, Douglass Properties, is already advertising sleek condos — for at least $2 million each — even before applying to the city for a demolition and construction permit.


This digital rendering of new condominiums that are being planned for the site at 139 North Bemiston Avenude in Clayton. The site concept includes four condo units in two buildings. A real estate listing on Zillow advertises one of the three-bedroom, four-bathroom, 3,882-square-foot units for sale at $2.7 million.

Guy Petzall, the couple’s son, wants to see the house preserved.

“It’s part of the history of Clayton, of St. Louis,” said Petzall. “They don’t make houses like it anymore.”

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Doug Cohen, owner of Douglass Properties, said demolitions in Old Town are nothing new. This is the fifth house in the neighborhood he’s replacing with new construction, among dozens of others in the area.

“The market is calling for new houses or new condominiums and not renovated 130-year-old houses,” Cohen said. “I’m not looking to redirect the focus of the neighborhood. The precedent has already been set.”

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The circa 1906 house at 139 North Bemiston Avenue in Clayton.

The debate has echoes in historic corners across the region. But it’s part of an especially strong trend in Clayton, where the downtown, just blocks away, has been transformed from squat storefronts to high-rise offices and condominiums, upsetting residents who say the city is losing its character. The same is happening in Old Town, some residents say.

“It’s taking away the color and the character of the neighborhood,” said Carol Withington Hake, a longtime resident who lives in a 1912 house, one of a handful of original homes in Old Town.

She said she expects her house will “probably go too” once she leaves.


A digital rendering of new condominiums which are being planned for the site at 139 N. Bemiston Ave. in Clayton. The two buildings designed by CORE10 Architecture include 4 condo units. A real estate listing on Zillow advertises one of the 3 bed, 4 bath, 3,882-sq.ft. units for sale at $2.7 million.

“They’re tearing them down everywhere,” she said.

‘The end of a long progression’

The Petzalls, who moved into the Bemiston house in 1977, are the fourth family to have lived in the home, said Petzall, 54.

The house, completed in 1906, is one of the few remaining original houses built in the early 1900s, when Clayton was a small town expanding around land Ralph Clayton dedicated about two decades earlier to serve as St. Louis County’s seat.

It is one of 13 residences built in 1906 or earlier, according to county property records. The oldest is the Historic Hanley House, an 1855 farmstead that is now a museum portraying 19th century Missouri life. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places, which gives it protection from federally funded projects. The second-oldest Clayton property on the national register dates to 1912.

The Bemiston house is also older than 310 Clayton buildings on the St. Louis County Historic Building Commission’s registry, which began designating “county landmarks” in the 1970s.

Many historic homes in Old Town Clayton were torn down before the commission got around to surveying that area, said Esley Hamilton, a retired St. Louis County historian. Demolitions began as early as the 1970s and accelerated over the following decades in the absence of any Clayton laws allowing property holders to petition to preserve historic structures.

1906 home in

The circa 1906 house at 139 North Bemiston Avenue in Clayton is one of the oldest original houses in the “Old Town” area, as seen on Tuesday, March 26, 2024.

“So many of them have been torn down now,” Hamilton said of homes in Old Town. “It’s disappointing, but in this case, it comes at the end of a long progression.”

In contrast, University City in 1988 established the Linden-Kingsbury Historic District to preserve homes that were part of the same Old Town subdivision, Hamilton said. On one stretch of Linden Avenue, homes on the east side, in U. City, dating between 1900 and 1910, are still standing. On the west side, in Clayton, all but one of the houses were built in the early 2000s. One historic home, from 1910, remains.

Clayton in 2009 established an ordinance allowing a majority of property owners in a neighborhood to petition to create a historic preservation district.

No neighborhoods or property owners have filed a petition since the ordinance passed, City Manager Dave Gipson said.

Gipson said no plans for the Bemiston house have been submitted to the city for approval. But approval of a demolition of a private property would largely be routine.

Jill Petzall, who owned the home and sold it, declined an interview through Guy Petzall. He said his mother and her husband were aging and needed to downsize from a three-story, five-bedroom house. But they tried for weeks to find another buyer other than Cohen who would preserve it.

Cohen said Jill Petzall rejected his offer for at least a month.

The house, Cohen said, wasn’t “salvageable” to would-be buyers. The floor plan is “obsolete” in today’s real estate market, he said. The finishes were a century old. The house has asbestos. The condos will be an improvement to property values, he said.


A digital rendering of new condominiums which are being planned for the site at 139 N. Bemiston Ave. in Clayton. Conceptual designs include four condominium units in two buildings.

Read More: An original ‘Old Town’ Clayton house faces demolition

2024-04-01 13:30:00

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