© 2024 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Obituary of Louis S. Sachs: 'Father of modern Chesterfield'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 1, 2011 - Louis Sachs, who took over a real estate business that his father had founded and then gave birth to a thriving west St. Louis County community, died of heart failure Friday at his home in Bozman, Md.

Mr. Sachs meticulously planned and developed Chesterfield Village, a 1,500-acre, $3 billion residential, commercial and cultural community that now encompasses more than 200 businesses, including Fortune 500 companies, and 260 homes.

"He was always a true visionary," his wife, Mary Sachs, said Monday. "He didn't just develop Chesterfield Village, he gave birth to it."

After moving to Maryland, Mr. Sachs, 83, continued to maintain a home in Chesterfield.

Mr. Sachs was just a teenager when he joined the electrical contracting firm that his father, Samuel, founded in the mid-'20s. A Sachs company would be the only place he'd ever work.

Go West, Young Man

After forming Sachs Properties in 1961, Mr. Sachs and his father promptly began developing about a dozen projects, including medical office buildings in University City, a shopping center on St. Charles Rock Road and an apartment complex near the airport. But the younger Sachs was often dissatisfied with neighboring properties and longed to give shape to an entire area.

He looked westward to realize his dream and in 1967, Mr. Sachs bought 37 acres at Highway 40 and Clarkson/Olive Road, with the intent of building apartments. When he learned three years later of a St. Louis County plan for a large shopping center, he bought more land and persuaded developers to locate Chesterfield Mall on his property.

In 1975, Mr. Sachs built his first Chesterfield Village project, a 30,000-square-foot office building at 16300 Justus Post Road, named for the man who was known as "The Father of (Old) Chesterfield." The following year, Chesterfield Mall opened.

The mall was located smack dab in a field, which left a number of people less than enamored of the venture.

He answered critics in 1976 with an ad in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that boldly declared:

"Perhaps you've wondered why we put a major shopping center in the middle of a field. Because Chesterfield Mall wasn't built as an end in itself. In a few years, it will be in the middle of a town."

By the time Chesterfield incorporated in 1988, the mall was, indeed, in the middle of a town.

"He looked at what is now Chesterfield and saw what it could be, not what it was," said John Nations, former mayor of Chesterfield and current president of Metro, the area's transit system. "More than any other single person, Louis was responsible for the quality of life we enjoy in Chesterfield."

For more than 40 years, Mr. Sachs methodically developed Chesterfield Village, seeding the West County corridor with homes and offices, libraries and cultural institutions, and the infrastructure to support them all. He developed the property without relying on today's coin of the realm: eminent domain, tax abatement and tax-increment financing.

"He had a number of properties in St. Louis County and he sold everything that he owned to fund the new development," said Kathy Higgins, president of Sachs Properties. "It took 44 years to do what he's done to date, and he did it all. He built roads, buried overhead power lines, and he did it all himself."

A Peddler's Grandson

Mr. Sachs was the son of Samuel Sachs, a Lithuanian immigrant, and Dena Sachs, who came from Russia. His grandfather and namesake, Louis Sachs, was a dry goods peddler who brought his family to the U.S. from Lithuania and settled in Desloge, Mo.

His parents would later move an hour north to St. Louis. After graduating from Washington University with a degree in electrical engineering, Samuel Sachs went to work on the night shift at Union Electric. He fortuitously fell asleep one night, and was discovered by his boss the next morning because of the imprint his corduroy pants left on a freshly varnished desk. It ruined his pants and cost him his job, but he would soon co-found his own business, S&S Electric Company, with a fellow Washington University graduate, Herman Spoehrer. It was 1925, three years before his son, Louis Stanley Sachs, was born on Jan. 9, 1928.

The two-man company was renamed S.C. Sachs Company in the early 1930s. Its customers included the old Sportsman's Park, home of the St. Louis Browns and Cardinals baseball teams. The company would again change names, becoming Sachs Electric Co., and would continue to boast of bringing light to major landmarks, including the Gateway Arch, the Metropolitan Square building and old Busch Stadium.

Mr. Sachs had begun working part-time at his father's company when he was 14. After graduating from Clayton High School in 1945, he followed in his father's footsteps, earning a degree in electrical engineering from Washington University. They even had some of the same instructors.

He once noted that when he began working fulltime at his father's company in 1948, he got a substantial pay increase from 35 cents an hour to $1 an hour.

Mr. Sachs entered the Army in 1950; he returned from the Korean War in 1953 to become Sachs Electric's president. It was eight years later, after several years of developing real estate projects, that Mr. Sachs began to explore his dream of Chesterfield Village.

When Sam Sachs passed away in 1980, the company was poised for a decade of growth to more than 600 employees, more than $60 million in revenue, and projects that extended as far as Pago Pago. Mr. Sachs sold the company that continues to bear his name to employees in 1990.

Philanthropy Writ Large

Mr. Sachs was known to be a reluctant honoree. When the Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce wanted to bestow its "Spirit" award upon him, there was concern whether he would show up. He did but he didn't have much to say.

"When they handed him the award, he looked out and said, 'Thank you all, I'm very grateful'," Nations said. "And with that, he walked off the stage. He was a very humble man."

Thanks in large part to Mr. Sachs, the Missouri Arts Council honored Chesterfield with the 2011 Creative Community Award. His contributions to the arts included donating land to Stages St. Louis and helping to create Chesterfield Arts in 1993.

"We would not be here today if not for Mr. Sachs," said Stacey Morse, Chesterfield Arts executive director. "His passing is a tremendous loss not only for Chesterfield, but for what it means to be a philanthropist.

"The arts were part of his whole vision for growth of a strong and quality-based community. It's rare that you are able to be part of someone's life's work," Morse added.

Other beneficiaries of Mr. Sachs' largess include the St. Louis County Public Library-Samuel C. Sachs Branch; the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House, the Junior Chamber International; the Seventh Day Adventist Church; Faust Park; Chesterfield's Central Park; West County YMCA; Jewish Community Center; and the city of Chesterfield for a trail system.

He served on the boards of numerous civic and cultural institutions in the St. Louis area.

'That Looks Pretty Good'

On Sunday a private service was held at his home in Bozman, Md., on Chesapeake Bay, where he and Mary had a home for the past 28 years. At times, that home included a small heard of llamas. They only bought two.

"When you get a male and a female, eventually you get a whole herd," Mary laughed.

Mr. Sachs was also an amateur pilot and enjoyed boating.

"He was the most intelligent, the most unselfish man I ever met," said his wife, Mary. "His philosophy in developing Chesterfield was that he wanted to be able to look down from heaven and say, 'That looks pretty good.'"

Mr. Sachs, who remained chair of Sachs Electric until his death, was preceded in death by his parents and a son, Peter M. Sachs, who died in 2003.

He is survived by his wife Mary L. Sachs and his three children, a son, Stephen of St. Louis, daughters Susan E. Sachs of River Forest, Ill., and Charish Campbell of Easton, Md., and a brother, Richard B. Sachs of Gold River, Calif. He was also survived by his former wife, Nancy R. Sachs of St. Louis, and eight grandchildren.

Plans for services in St. Louis are pending. Contributions in Mr. Sachs' honor would be appreciated to a charity of the donor's choice.

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

Gloria S. Ross is the head of Okara Communications and AfterWords, an obituary-writing and design service.