The Colchester Apartments, now known as the ABC Condominium Building, is a six-story buff brick building on a one-story limestone base. Read More...
The building is of local significance as both a definitive example of the apartment building and good example of the Classical Revival style in St. Louis. Built in 1906, from plans by Boston architect William H. Andrews, the Colchester was one of the first modern apartment buildings in the city.
The developer who built the Colchester Apartments was Jesse Dwight Dana, president of Revere Realty Company. The Revere Real Estate Company acquired the large undeveloped parcel at the northeast corner of Laclede and King’s Highway (now Kingshighway), fronting what would become one the city’s most important thoroughfares, on May 6, 1906. The location was in the middle of the Central West End, which was experiencing rapid growth as the city’s middle and upper classes moved westward away from the inner city.
On June 7, 1906, the Revere Realty Company received a building permit for a six-story brick apartment building with the construction cost reported at $310,000. The Realty Record and Builder announced the construction of the new building in its August 1906 issue. Although the building itself was named the Colchester Apartments, the four entrances each bore a name on the pediments above their doors; Aberdeen; Bellevue; Colchester; and Devonshire. These names invoked a Bostonian pedigree suggestive of both classical tradition and the American free market, where men of enterprise could make their fortunes. They gave each section of the building a distinguishing mark that made the large building seem less imposing. Named entrances subsequently became a trend in St. Louis apartment design, continuing into the 1930s.
When the Colchester Apartments opened in 1907, no comparable buildings had been built in St. Louis. The rents were expensive, at $1,000 to $1,800 per year. Apartments could be furnished at the tenant’s request. The Colchester succeeded in attracting the ranks of the self-made and entrepreneurial upper-middle class. The residents were not the traditional gentry of the city, whose members tended to inhabit the mansions that dominated the Central West End’s landscape. Instead, the Colchester attracted younger residents who were involved in the industries forging new directions for the twentieth century, including finance, railroads, steel, and real estate. Records show that the heads of households in the Colchester were of ages ranging from 21 – 60 and that most households had servants.
In the years after the Colchester opened, apartment living became a respectable and trendy way of life for wealthy St. Louisans. By 1907, 39 apartment buildings were listed in the city directory. Nearly all of them were located in the Central West End. Of these 39 buildings, only 13 remain standing in 2006. The 1909 city directory lists 83 apartment buildings, and the 1910 city directory lists 135 apartment buildings in the city. St. Louis was becoming renowned for its fine apartment buildings. A 1909 article in the St. Louis Republic stated the St. Louis apartment building was becoming nationally known: “Already apartment-house buildings in this city have reached such a high state of perfection that prospective builders from other cities are coming here on tours of inspection.” The article noted that “the Colchester apartments at Kingshighway facing Forest Park, are high class in every particular.”
In 1908, Revere Realty Company sold the building to King’s Highway Apartment Company, a new company headed by Jesse Dana, for $500,000. From 1936 to 1977, the Colchester, which had been given the nickname “ABC Apartments,” went through numerous ownership changes.
In 1915, a sun room and bathroom were added to each of the units at a cost of $20,000. A tornado swept through St. Louis in February 1959, damaging many buildings and toppling broadcast towers in western St. Louis city. The cornice of the Colchester apartments was badly mangled, but the building avoided other major damage. The Board of Alderman forbade the construction or replacement of “unnecessary” building ornament. The Colchester owners settled on replacing the destroyed balustrade with a plain limestone crown designed by architect Raymond Maritz.
In 1977, the owners of the Colchester, Aberdeen Associates, converted the building from rental apartments into condominiums. The building gained its current name, the ABC Condominium Building, in 1979. Two realty companies, Ira E. Berry, Inc. and Lipton Realty, marketed the condominiums. Brochures touted the recently installed, individually controlled central heating and air conditioning system, along with the spacious two and three bedroom units. Mentioned also were the passenger elevator, individual storage lockers, the laundry room, and the totally new electronic security system. “Aberdeen Associates had remodeled the complex while making a special effort to preserve the architectural integrity. Prospective owners would find every unit fresh and ready to move in, with truly remarkable wood work, marble, and ceramic tile appointments that provide a living ambience rarely duplicated with today’s modern construction.” Aberdeen Associates wanted to find “imaginative St. Louisans who want the convenience and contemporary lifestyle of an in town location together with the charm and beauty of the World’s Fair era.” Within two years, all the units were sold and the ABC Condominiums became one of the first condominium complexes in St. Louis.
Subsequently, the building and units have changed hands over the years but few major changes have been wrought to the exterior of the building itself. Between 1977 and 1998, the entrances to the four sections were updated with enclosed stoops, awnings, new steps, and new post lamps on the steps. Side basement windows have been replaced with glass block windows. A new roof crowned the complex. Individual unit owners have replaced some of the upper-floor windows, as well as remodeling kitchens and baths. None of these changes has threatened the integrity of the building, which retains integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanships, feeling, and association. The former Colchester Apartments and the Central West End remain desirable places to live.