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Obituary: Architect William Bodley Lane helped preserve historic buildings

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 17, 2012 - When St. Louis sought to raze the historic Winkelmeyer building to make way for a new jail downtown, the city consulted with William Bodley Lane, an architect who, in 1997, managed the Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation's facade program. The alliance owned the building's facade and no one could alter it without the alliance's written permission. It was not forthcoming.

Mr. Lane told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "We're supposed to be protecting buildings, not giving permission to tear them down."

The building, which was renamed Court Square, still stands.

Mr. Lane, who designed contemporary buildings and passionately helped to preserve some of the St. Louis region's greatest architecture, died Jan. 11 at the Carrie Elligson Gietner Home in south St. Louis. He was 87.

Saving History

Mr. Lane served as the restoration architect on numerous homes built in the 1800s: White Haven, the childhood and marital home of Julia Boggs Dent, wife of General Ulysses S. Grant, and the French-inspired Felix Valle House, built as a combination home and store in Sainte Genevieve.

He restored the oldest brick home in the St. Louis area, the Sappington house in Crestwood; Oakland, the Louis A. Benoist Home in Affton; the Christopher Hawken House, the oldest house in suburban Webster Groves, and the "haunted" Payne-Gentry House in Bridgeton. He helped restore Casa Alvarez (the Eugenio Alvarez House in Florissant), the only remaining structure linking the St. Louis area to its Spanish colonial past, and the Old Stone Church (Old Bonhomme Church in Chesterfield), the second oldest Presbyterian congregation west of the Mississippi River.

The historic home for which Mr. Lane is best known was his own, Mudd's Grove in Kirkwood, where he lived for nearly four decades. He said he'd coveted the house since he was a teenager. He bought it in 1955 when he was 30 and lived there until 1992, when he reluctantly had to part with it because the upkeep had become too great. He sold it to the Kirkwood Historical Society, of which he was a past president. It is now the museum home of the society.

The house was believed to have been built by developer John Hoffman in 1859. Henry T. Mudd, a St. Louis county auditor and civic leader who helped draft Missouri's constitution while serving in the state legislature, purchased the big red brick antebellum house in 1866. The house sat amidst a grove of oak trees on 100 acres. Mudd lived there with his wife, Sarah Elizabeth, and their seven children until 1882.

Mr. Lane, who never married, lived alone for much of his time in the house. But for several years during the 1950s and '60s, his brother, James, and his wife and sons, shared the home. Mr. Lane's nephews, Rick and Jim, recently toured their uncle's former home.

"It's not nearly as scary as I remember it," Rick Lane told Patch.com. "It was a little spooky when I was four or five years old."

"I can remember I always wanted to slide down this banister," Jim Lane recalled. "We were forbidden to do so."

Various owners had made changes to the house over the years. Francis X. Muckerman installed an elevator, complete with telephone. Mr. Lane ripped out modern walls to restore the house to its original grace; the telephone in the elevator was allowed to stay.

Modern Work

Many of Mr. Lane's designs are more contemporary.

One structure, the Quarry House, so-named for its proximity to the old Meramec Highlands Quarry, had special meaning for Mr. Lane.

"That is the first building I ever designed that got built," Mr. Lane told Kirkwood Historical Society members who, in 2009, visited him at Geitner Home and recorded some of his memories.

"It was the love nest for my brother (Jim) and his Yorkshire (England) lover ... Yvonne Marjorie Dudley. They didn't get married until she arrived here."

He designed the main house at Hunter Farms that belonged to the owner of Hunter Engineering and the home of Raymond and Lucille Masek (which he called one of his "first billionaire jobs"), located near Kirkwood's Museum of Transportation. The home, which is not particularly large, has a unique feature: attached horse stables.

"I was like a second son to them before we got through with it because they had no children," Mr. Lane said. "They used to take me down to horse shows in southern Illinois and things like that. They had these world champion Arabian horses."

"It's a wonderful house," said Susan Burkett, recently recalling the society's interview with Mr. Lane. The house is currently vacant and up for sale.

An Architect's Life

William ("Bill") Bodley Lane was born May 7, 1924, the son of the late James P., a manufacture's agent for an electric company, and Sarah Bodley Lane. He graduated from Saint Louis University High School in 1942 and received a bachelor's in architecture in 1946 and a master's in architecture a year later, both from Washington University.

Following graduation, Mr. Lane worked for several architectural firms in the area. In 1947, he became chief draftsman for architect Robert Elkington, whose designs included Schneithorst's Hofamberg Inn and the Delmar Gardens nursing homes. Mr. Lane remained with Elkington until striking out on his own in 1951.

Throughout his long career, Mr. Lane was active in professional architectural organizations and groups dedicated to preserving beautiful and significant buildings.

In addition to serving as president of the Kirkwood Historical Society, he had served on the board of the St. Louis Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and he was chair of the St. Louis County Historic Buildings Commission in 1970, when the organization published its first book, "100 Historic Buildings in St. Louis County."

He was a founder of Kirkwood's Landmarks Commission, a former vice president and board member of Landmarks Association and on the board of the Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation. He was a member of the advisory board of the Historic American Buildings Survey and a board member of Heritage St. Louis. He was also a consultant for the St. Louis County Parks Department and the Missouri State Park Advisory Board.

Mr. Lane was a boating enthusiast, an adult leader in the Sea Scout and Boy Scouts of America programs for more than 30 years and held the rank of commander in the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

He was preceded in death by his parents, a brother and a sister.

In addition to his nephews, James P. Lane III and Richard G. Lane, Mr. Lane is survived by his sister, Harriette Baggett of Jefferson City; another nephew, Dennis D. Lane, and three nieces, Emily Groves, Laura Black and Ann Marie Persinger.

Services were private.

Gloria Ross is the head of Okara Communications and the storywriter for AfterWords, an obituary-writing and production service.