Richmond Heights Celebrates 100 Years
Originally published in the West End Word, Feb. 13, 2013
By Eileen P. Duggan
The city of Richmond Heights, Missouri, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, but its history goes back much further than its incorporation on Dec. 29, 1913.
The St. Louis suburb is celebrating all year with a series of lectures, tours, concerts, exhibits and festivals highlighting the city’s past and present. The activities cover many aspects of the city’s history from homes, neighborhoods, architecture, trees, business, hospitals, arts, literature, food, weather, war and peace.
“It’s really exciting,” said Mayor James Beck. “It’s a great thing that the city has lasted 100 years. It’s as much about the friendship of the neighbors as anything. It’s a very consistent neighborhood, there are a lot multigenerational families. It’s celebrating the whole neighborhood feel of Richmond Heights.”
Richmond Heights started as an exclusively residential community. As early as the 1800s, six original landowners began building homes for their families on their large estates. Eventually, all of their property was subdivided. When part of the former Rannells farm was purchased by Evens and Howard Brickworks, the company built homes to bring African-American workers to the area.
Like St. Louis’ west end, University City and other neighboring communities, Richmond Heights grew in conjunction with the 1904 World’s Fair. The fair, which was held in what is now Forest Park and Washington University, triggered construction of commercial, religious and residential buildings all over the surrounding area. The extension of a streetcar line from the fairgrounds into Richmond Heights stimulated growth, and some homes on Wise Avenue were built expressly to house fair employees.
By the time the city was incorporated in 1913, the residents already were asking city officials to loosen restrictions on business development. Schulte’s Market and Riley’s Hardware were among the first businesses to open. At the first census after incorporation, in 1920, the population numbered 2,135.
Over the next two decades the city grew, not just due to expanding families but through expanding boundaries. The original city limits were roughly Big Bend Boulevard on the west, Wise Avenue on the north, just below Glades and Hiawatha avenues on the south and the St. Louis city limits near McCausland Avenue on the east.
A very large section to the west was annexed in 1918, bounded by Big Bend, what is now Hanley Road on the west, Clayton Road on the north and Bruno Avenue on the south. A small section to the north including St. Mary’s Hospital was added in 1919, followed by another small tract northeast of Wise and Big Bend in 1920. Three more annexations followed by 1928, mostly to the west and a few blocks south of the original city.
Although the city wasn’t incorporated as a fourth-class city until the end of 1913, the first mayor, James M. O’Keefe, was appointed in 1912, and City Marshal Louis Gloeckner was sworn in along with other city officials. After incorporation, James M. Jensen was elected mayor and served seven terms. Richmond Heights has had 15 mayors over those 101 years. The shortest-serving mayor was John Flanagan, who served less than a year in 1932, and the longest-serving was Lee Duggan (great-uncle of the author), who served for 24 years (1948-72).
The mayoral class includes one father and son duo, Brainerd LaTourette Sr. (1932-48) and Jr. (1992-96). Current Mayor Beck, who is in his second term, is married to a daughter of a previous mayor, James W. Finger (1988-92).
The city marshal position evolved to a full-time year-round police department during the 1920s. After starting with one volunteer firefighter, Ted Hart, the Richmond Heights Fire Department was established in 1926.
The public library had its start in 1933 when the Richmond Heights Lions Club disbanded and donated its remaining $16 to the city to establish a library. Residents went door-to-door to collect the first 1,800 books, which were housed in an upstairs room in the city hall, Dale Avenue at Big Bend Boulevard.
In 1932, with a population of 10,000, the city was upgraded to a third-class city with commission status. The apex of the city’s population was 15,622 in 1960. Today, the population of the charter city has settled back to about 10,000.
The population growth and geography of Richmond Heights took a hit in the 1950s with the construction of U.S. Highway 40 right through the middle of the city. Then another hit came in the 1970s when the Innerbelt highway (now Interstate 170) cut through on the perpendicular to Highway 40. But the city countered with the expansion of Westroads Mall into St. Louis Galleria and the addition of other successful shopping areas.
Today, Richmond Heights celebrates the concept of “Progress with Tradition,” offering its residents modern shopping amenities, high-quality dining spots and access to light rail transportation alongside historic homes and century-old trees.
Century Trees and Homes
Historians and city officials are taking advantage of the centennial to catalog 100-year-old houses and trees. The parks department plans to formally recognize century trees and is seeking information about trees that may qualify. To have a tree evaluated, contact Tim Brunsman at firstname.lastname@example.org or (314) 655-3656.
One of the 100-year-old homes in the city is a post-1904 World’s Fair house known as a “Forty Thieves” home on Silverton Place. Paul Pagano of Paul Pagano Designs will give a presentation on March 7 describing the rehabilitation of the house. The Forty Thieves homes were built, according to legend, with materials salvaged from fair buildings after the exposition left town. Most of those homes still exist in scattered locations east of Big Bend Boulevard.
The Richmond Heights Historical Society will recognize century homes and present plaques to the homes’ owners at a city festival on Oct. 11 and 12. The society will research and confirm a century home upon receipt of an application and a $100 fee. Applications will be accepted until Sept. 15, and are available at City Hall, 1330 S. Big Bend, or The Heights, 8001 Dale Ave.
The centennial celebration will include construction of a new gazebo in front of The Heights dedicated to all those who served in the military. The gazebo will serve as a site for veteran’s events and a place for quiet reflection on the sacrifices of all veterans.
Citizens will have the opportunity to honor specific veterans by purchasing inscribed bricks. For information, visit www.vetsmemorial.org or call (314) 884-7527. The gazebo is scheduled to be dedicated on Nov. 11.
The Richmond Heights Public Library is marking the centennial by updating its Veterans Roll of Honor, which lists the names of veterans of foreign wars. Friends and family of Richmond Heights veterans may come to the library to view the document or obtain a form to add a name.
The Richmond Heights Centennial Celebration opened Dec. 10, 2012 with a ceremony at The Heights, and will close with an all-day event Dec. 13 at The Heights, 8001 Dale Ave.
The city will hold nearly 40 centennial events throughout the year, featuring speakers such as preservation historians Esley Hamilton and Ruth Keenoy, Missouri Historical Society archivist Dennis Northcott, tour guide Maureen Kavanaugh, columnist Bill McClellan and others.
Each month’s events focus on a particular aspect or subject. March puts the spotlight on history seekers and bus tours. April brings tours, talks and trees, and May focuses on art and architecture. Events during the rest of year will cover past and present; Americana; homes and hospitals; veterans; and celebration.
The Richmond Heights Historical Society has been instrumental in organizing the centennial events.
“They’re comfortable events,” Beck said. “We’re just going to celebrate.”
• “Renovating a Forty Thieves Home.” Paul Pagano describes the rehab of a post-1904 World’s Fair home. 7 p.m. March 7.
• Coach Bus Tour of Richmond Heights. Noon to 5 p.m. March 24 and Sept. 22.
• Bill McClellan — “Commentary: the Passing Parade.” 7 p.m. May 15.
• Walking Tours. Maureen Kavanaugh leads tours of various sections of the city; 2 to 4:30 p.m. on April 14; 9:30 a.m. to noon on June 1; and 1 to 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 2.
• House History Workshop. Missouri History Museum Library and Research Center shows residents how to research their homes’ history; 9:30 a.m. Aug. 29, MHS Library, 225 S. Skinker Blvd.
All events take place or begin at The Heights unless otherwise noted. A complete brochure of events is available at the Richmond Heights Public Library, The Heights lobby and City Hall or at www.richmondheights.org/DocumentCenter/View/7259.