The Bixby Mansion at 13 Portland Place was built in 1893 for industrialist and financier and richest man in St. Louis, William K Bixby. The palatial Chateuesque styled mansion was designed by Architect William Albert Swasey. Bixby made his fortune in the railroad industry first as a purchasing agent for the International and Great Northern Railroad. Then working railroad car manufacturing at Missouri Car and Foundry Company which under his leadership through multiple mergers to create the American Car and Foundry Company, at which he served as President and Chairman of the Board.
He also had many other business interests include Lacede Gas and Commerce Bank. He retired from active involvement in his rail car business 1904 but retained his other business involvement. At this time he sold the mansion and moved to 26 Portland Place. For the remainder of his life Bixby dedicated his life to philanthropic interests in the areas of art, literature, and education in St. Louis. He held positions on the boards at Washington University, St. Louis Art Museum, and the St. Louis Library among others and gave substantial in both time and money to them. He also was a collector of rare art and historic and literary manuscripts and documents.
After the mansion was sold by Bixby it was owned by two others until 1923 when Bixby’s son William H. Bixby purchased the mansion. William H. Bixby, financier and investment banker, lived in the mansion until his death in 1967.
In the late 1800s, word of St. Louis hosting an event to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase in 1904 was sweeping through the city. By 1888, preparation for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, or St. Louis World’s Fair, was in full swing. Improvements were made to the city’s water supply, parkland was cleared, and surrounding neighborhoods were built. Portland and Westmoreland Places became popular locations for wealthy residents to build homes.
In 1897, George Warren Brown, the founder of Brown Shoe Company, participated in the development boom by building his dream home at 40 Portland Place.
E.R. Lerwick, the current homeowner of the property, has extensively researched the home and collected memorabilia related to the property. Lerwick’s late husband purchased the estate in 1961, and her family is the fourth to own the estate during its 120-year history. She provided us with some insights into the home’s history.
“Our family has spent 56 years at 40 Portland Place, and we have treasured all the history and the wonderful privilege it is to live in such an historic and unique place,” says E.R. Lerwick.
Brown, along with two other investors, Alvin Bryan and Jerome Desnoyers, founded Bryan, Brown & Company in 1878. At that time, most shoes sold in St. Louis had been shipped from manufacturers located in eastern United States. Brown, Bryan, and Desnoyers started the first St. Louis shoe factory so they could sell shoes locally at a lower cost. The factory was successful, and the company rapidly expanded to western parts of the country.
By 1881, the company incorporated as Bryan-Brown Shoe Company. After Desnoyers retired, the name was changed to Brown Shoe Company.
George Warren Brown hired notable architect Frederick Bonsack to build his Richardson Romanesque Revival–style home. Bonsack had earned his reputation after working as the general contractor for the Bell Telephone Building on Olive Street. He would later build many St. Louis buildings, including churches and homes.
When the Brown home was being built in 1897, the Richardson Romanesque Revival look was going out of style. It was a conservative choice, says E.R. Lerwick, especially compared to newer styles being built in the area. For example, around the same time as the Browns’ home was built, architect Theodore Link—who also designed Union Station—built a home in the newer French Renaissance–style just east of Portland Place.
At first, just George Warren Brown, his wife Bettie Bofinger Brown, and George’s mother lived in the six-bed, eight-bath limestone home. But in 1899, says E.R. Lerwick, the Browns took in a two-year-old foster son who they later adopted.
Lerwick notes that despite the large square-footage of the house, it is obvious it was constructed for a childless family. “The second floor layout contains a very small bedroom with a connected bath and then two enormous suites of rooms, which include separate bedrooms, baths, dressing rooms, and sitting rooms,” Lerwick says. “The third floor was built for the live-in staff to occupy.”
One of the biggest highlights of the property is the solarium with the large art-glass skylight. This room was part of a large addition attached to the east side of the house in 1908. It was designed by architect Albert Groves, the same architect who built the Brown Shoe Company’s headquarters in 1907. “The addition, which included the basement, first, second, and third floors was so seamless, it’s barely detectable today,” Lerwick says.
The addition was built around the same time Brown’s line of children’s shoes, “Buster Brown Shoes,” were taking off. Brown Shoe Company debuted these shoes at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair with the help of their mascot—a boy named “Buster Brown” and his dog “Tige.”
Today, 40 Portland Place is once again on the market. “Our family has spent 56 years at 40 Portland Place, and we have treasured all the history and the wonderful privilege it is to live in such an historic and unique place,” E.R. Lerwick says. “We feel a tremendous responsibility to ensure the next family will love and care for it as much as the Browns did and we have.”
The historic Berger Chapel begins a new life as The McPherson Wedding Venue and Event Center. The 100+ year old Berger Chapel located at 4715 McPherson Avenue just East of Euclid will begin a new life as an upscale Wedding Venue and Family/Corporate Event Center. After two years of renovations and modernization, the McPherson will begin operations with the CWEA’s August First Friday!
The CWE’s Newest Venue
4715 McPherson Ave.
St. Louis, MO 63018
$5 for Non-Members
Free to all CWEA Members (RSVP please) RSVP Here
7 Forest Park Terrace, the residence of Colonel Charles Spears Hills, a Lieutenant Colonel in the 10th Kansas Infantry. The home has since been demolished and the street renamed. The empty lot now sits at 5065 Lindell Blvd. Colonel C. S. Hills is buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery and his Obelisk, erected by Eva Struges Hill in 1891, is the tallest obelisk in St. Louis and one of the tallest in the United States.
16 Westmoreland Place was built in 1914 by architect J.P. Jamieson for Edward Mallinckrodt, Jr. Edward Mallinckrodt, Jr. was involved Mallinckrodt Chemical Works, a pharmaceuticals and other chemical processing company started by his father and two uncles. He headed the company in 1928 after his father’s death. During World War II and after the company was involved extensively in refinement of uranium ore for the U.S. Government.
David Rowland Francis is remembered as not only the president of the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition Corporation, but also one of the city’s youngest mayors as well as governor. The home of David and Jane Francis at 4421 Maryland Avenue (below on left), once encompassed half a city block and was bounded by Newstead, Maryland, and Berlin (now Pershing). In 1895, Architects Eames & Young reduced the home to four rooms and built a palatial new house around it inspired by Palladio’s Villa Rotonda (below on right.)
5855 Lindell Blvd was once the Residence of Morris M. Corn. The French style home was built in 1926 by architects Maritz & Young.