Monday, July 6, 2009

A “Time-Capsule” House

2204 Stephen Court, St. Louis (photo by Circa Properties, St. Louis)

Living Room (click image for larger view)

Living Room (click image for larger view)

Living Room, leading to kitchen (click image for larger view)

Master Bedroom (click image for larger view)

Kitchen, with “Republic Steel” Cabinets (click image for larger view)

Detail, Kitchen (click image for larger view)

Pink Bathroom (click image for larger view)

Detail, tile of bathroom floor.
(click image for larger view)

1950s ERA ENTHUSIASTS AND PRESERVATIONISTS LOVE TO FIND A HOME THAT HAS NOT BEEN MODERNIZED since the period. And rightly so, as they are difficult to find. Oddly though, I think my city of St. Louis, Missouri is full of them. Had we left our 1950s ranch home alone when we moved in 2o years ago, it would have been 98% vintage fifties. I think only the living room carpet had been changed—once. Still, we have bathroom tile like you see above and the original Steel Republic kitchen cabinets. The basement has a knotty pine rathskeller, and on and on.

Back in March of this year (2009) the local newspaper (
St. Louis Post-Dispatch) did a story about the Frank and Elizabeth Formenti home at 2204 Stephen Drive, located in “The Hill” section of St. Louis, an Italian-American neighborhood. The Formenti’s were new immigrants back in the early 50s, who came here for their piece of the American dream.

The children recently sold the house with all of its pristine 50s furniture to a couple who delighted in moving into a genuine home from that time period. There, it was if time stood still since the days of ’55 Chevy’s, 45 RPM records, Elvis Presley and neighborhood sock hops. Preservationists call this type of house a “time-capsule” house, where everything is as it was during the period in which it was built.

All of the photographs you see above, with the exception of the exterior view of the home, was taken by photographer William C. Hutton, Jr., who has a web site (and more pictures) about the house ( here. )

According to the Formenti children (in the P-D article), the kids were never allowed upstairs in the main living area except “to follow carefully placed carpet squares” to their bedrooms. Now, you’ll find this odd, but the original “Magic Chef” stove upstairs was used only 28 times in their life, and that was at each Thanksgiving. The family basically lived in the basement, using the upstairs bathroom sparingly and always walking on plastic or carpet squares laid down for the path to this place or that. Today, the lamp shades upstairs still have their original furniture store price tags. All of the furniture is still in it’s nearly unused, mint condition. Even the same rotary dial phone still hangs in the pristine kitchen.

Apparently, it was not so unusual for first-generation immigrant families to save the main living area of the house only for special occasions. It was, I guess, their way of showing off their beautiful home to guests. For the Formenti children—living downstairs—watching TV there, cooking, eating and studying, was the only way they knew. “We just didn’t know any better,” said Dave Formenti.

And that’s how you end up with a “time capsule” house!


Larry the Artist said...

I was born and raised on the Hill and know that phenomenon. I had friends who lived on that same block. What a time capsule it is! Our house, however, was well used (my father still lives in a 1953 model with the original bathroom). My grandmother emigrated from Italy to the Hill and had a second kitchen in the basement, with 6.5' ceilings. My aunt's kitchen was downstairs next to the furnace room! There are several houses that are in the back yards of other houses. The Hill is definitely a village.

Unknown said...


Robert said...

Truly fantastic. Thank you for sharing this, and thanks to the Formentis!

Christopher Paquette said...

what a gem... thanks for sharing this!

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