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Lafayette Square tours, and one resident who made it her own

Kelly, a calico cat, lived in Lafayette Square
Donna Korando | St. Louis Beacon Archives

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 29, 2013 - "From Our Homes To You” — that’s the theme of this year’s parlor tour in Lafayette Square.

In little ways the press release tells how far the area has come. "Enjoy one of the finest neighborhood examples of urban rebirth,” it says.

My late husband was involved in the Square when the house tours began in the tail end of the 1960s. He saw the tours as marketing efforts to bring newcomers into the “transitional” neighborhood and demonstrate that people could take the old, large houses and restore them as beautiful family homes.

Now "residents make their homes in former factory buildings, 19th century storefronts and handsome mansions,” says the release. Indeed, some of the current residents might be surprised to see the in-progress rooms that were so proudly displayed in the early days.

"Distinctive decorating, exposed brick, lofty windows all contribute to the cosmopolitan feel” brought a chuckle as I read the word drafty in the place of lofty. Plaster often deteriorated to the point that trendy exposed brick was just all that was left. And when brick exterior walls were combined with 11-foot original windows (for which air-tight was not even a hope), winters were an adventure. At get-togethers, neighbors one-upped each other in “what was your heating bill?” conversations.

“Live music will fill homes with performances by a flute choir, cello and harp musicians.” One of the ways music would combine with houses during some years was a partnership with Opera Theatre of St. Louis. A street would be closed off and a tent set up where a dinner would be served. Before and after the meal, people would go to homes on the block, where furniture had been replace with folding chairs, the pianos freshly tuned and a recital of opera favorites would be offered.

I always loved being part of Opera Promenade, as it was called. The free piano tuning was a bonus and the young singers were always fun. But I especially remember the family member who made herself part of the show. As people settled into their seats, as the singers were getting ready to come in from the family room to the dining room, our calico Kelly would calmly walk out, survey the seated throng and hop into the window. There she could be admired.

“St. Louis’ first historic district, where the old lives in harmony with the new.” And where tourists have long been welcomed – even by the home’s cat.

This year’s parlor tour will be from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Dec. 8. Tickets are $16 in advance or $20 the day of the tour. For more information go to www.lafayettesquare.org.

Other tours of note: Christmas at the Campbell House, 1508 Locust St., 6-8 p.m. Dec. 19

Webster Holiday House Tour, noon-4 p.m. Dec. 8, sponsored by Hixson Middle School

Fete de St. Nicholas, Chatillon-DeMenil House, 3352 DeMenil Pl., 6 p.m. Dec. 6

Donna Korando started work in journalism at SIU’s Daily Egyptian in 1968. In between Carbondale and St. Louis Public Radio, she taught high school in Manitowoc, Wis., and worked at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the copy editor and letters editor for the editorial page from 1973-77. As an editorial writer from 1977-87, she covered Illinois and city politics, education, agriculture, family issues and sub-Saharan Africa. When she was editor of the Commentary Page from 1987-2003, the page won several awards from the Association of Opinion Page Editors. From 2003-07, she headed the features copy desk.