Antebellum Home of the Friendless Undergoing $10M Redevelopment

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Charless3

It’s a major entry point to the City of St. Louis off Interstate 55. It’s an historic landmark dating to 1853. It’s now set to emerge from years of uncertainty and vacancy with a bright future and remarkably, with its lifelong mission intact.

This is the Home of the Friendless at 4431 South Broadway in the city’s historic Mt. Pleasant neighborhood. Also known as Charless House, it will be renamed Heritage Village when completed. Already well underway, the redevelopment will have 71 total senior living units, with 47 in historic buildings on the site’s 8 acres, and an additional 24 in a new three-story addition.

Developers Hart Development, and Dalmark Group of Kansas City closed on the property late last year, purchasing it from the Charless Foundation for an undisclosed price. The property was added to the National Register of Historic Places in November 2015, and awarded 9% Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC). Rosemann & Associates is the project’s architect, and Roanoke Construction serving as general contractor.

Charless6Charless

The approximately $10M redevelopment will maintain the site’s structures except for a small kitchen addition dating from the 1990s. According to the National Register application, a total of ten additions were made to the original building in 1930, 1931, 1934, 1939, 1961, 1963, 1980, and 1995.

A new addition will provide modern residential accommodations as well as an elevator that will provide access to an existing third story space. Planned are a mix of one and two bedroom units of approximately 600sf and 825sf respectively. Rents are estimated to be in the $525-$650 range.

The complex has been vacant since 2012 and it had been feared that it may be demolished. For well longer than a century, the Home of the Friendless was owned and operated by a nonprofit of the same name. In 2006 Bethesda Health Group acquired the property. At that time, the Post-Dispatch wrote that the existing nonprofit operator was finding it difficult to update the property and maintain a high level of care.

Bethesda then closed the facility in 2012, stating that despite some investments, it continued to lose money and occupancy stood at just 71 with a capacity of 116. Residents and employees were offered assistance to moved to one of Bethesda’s eight other St. Louis area facilities. With the closure, ownership reverted to the Charless Foundation.

A brief history from the Missouri History Museum:

In 1855, Ellen Gelling found herself far from home, penniless, and alone. A few years earlier, Ellen’s husband, her daughter Christina, and Christina’s husband had journeyed from their home on the Isle of Man seeking a new life in America. Ellen stayed behind with Christina’s grown daughter. When Ellen came over, she found that her husband and son-in-law had both died of fever. Christina, strained by the loss of her husband and father and saddened by her separation from her daughter and mother, broke under the emotional weight of her situation and was committed to the County Insane Asylum. Ellen’s granddaughter was able to secure a job in St. Louis, but it was not enough to support herself and her widowed grandmother. With no means of support and no skill to make a living on her own, the elderly Mrs. Gelling had little choice but to ask for assistance. With the help of a kind benefactor, Mrs. Gelling was recommended to the Home of the Friendless.

Ellen Gelling’s situation was not uncommon in the mid-19th century. Women could often find themselves alone in the world with no family or financial support. Long before the advent of Social Security or state assistance, women like Mrs. Gelling had few alternatives but to turn to charities or rely on the kindness of strangers. One such institution was the Home of the Friendless. Established by Charlotte Charless in 1853, the home was created as a place where women over 50 could find refuge and the companionship of others who shared their fate.

We’ve learned that at the Home of the Friendless, women found a clean and welcoming place to live. In return they were expected to follow a strict set of rules which were established at the time of the institution’s creation. Inmates, as they were called, were required to sweep and clean their rooms each morning; no alcohol was permitted on the premises; each was expected to contribute her time toward the good of the home either by knitting, sewing, or some other skill; and it was expected that inmates attend a religious service each morning.

While women of all nationalities and religions were accepted, rule breakers were not tolerated. The inmates were expected to respect the authority of the home’s matron, who kept a record of each inmate, including detailed biographical information and comments on her present situation. The records show that most women lived quiet lives and died peacefully at the Home, but there were a few who did not get along and were asked to leave. If the woman could prove that she had learned her lesson and could follow the rules, she would be readmitted. One such woman had done just that in 1859. Two years later, however, the matron had had enough and once again the woman was asked to leave. The matron commented in the register, “Dismissed for lying, tale bearing, and violence of temper. We hope never to be so blind and foolish as to receive her again.”

*images from the National Register of Historic Places Registration

Charless_Home_earliest photo{earliest known photo of the Home of the Friendless, late 1800s}

Home of the Friendless_late 1800s{Home of the Friendless, late 1800s}

Charless_Home_1900{Home of the Friendless c. 1900}

Home of the Friendless_c 1935{Home of the Friendless c. 1935}

Existing conditions c. 2014:

Charless2   Home of the Friendless_additions

Home of the Friendless_floor plan   Home of the Friendless-page-046 Home of the Friendless-page-047 Home of the Friendless-page-048 Home of the Friendless-page-049 Home of the Friendless-page-050 Home of the Friendless-page-051 Home of the Friendless-page-052 Home of the Friendless-page-053 Home of the Friendless-page-054 Home of the Friendless-page-055 Home of the Friendless-page-056 Home of the Friendless-page-057 Home of the Friendless-page-058 Home of the Friendless-page-059 Home of the Friendless-page-060 Home of the Friendless-page-061 Home of the Friendless-page-062 Home of the Friendless-page-063 Home of the Friendless-page-064 Home of the Friendless-page-065

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  • jhench

    In the late 1980s I was asked, as an architect, to examine the brick housing unit that I believe was constructed in the 1960s. It had started to list to port and the women in wheelchairs were coasting into the corridor walls. Hired a civil engineer who, after many tests, determined that the building was sited above a massive sink hole used as a cinder dump from the riverboat days. The cinders were compacting and draining out the bottom of the sink hole causing the settlement. Brought in a structural engineer who design a remedy, sadly an expensive remedy.

    • Kseniya Cholock

      LoL OMG a GIANT SINK HOLE! Even it was remedied I’d have been horrified to know that! My mother was there just before it closed, my husband and I both fell in love with the place, loved going to visit her there, he’d take his metal detector and once found a OLD U.S. Marshal’s bag still has us both puzzeled as to how it came off the marshal and why two of the stars are missing and bent where they were detached

  • Sandy LaRouche

    a friend and I had always said, in our antiquity, we would live there. Then that possibility went away but now it’s back. When my granddaughter was a baby her mother would walk her on the grounds.

    • Kseniya Cholock

      Me too I have a lot of pleasant memories from when my mom stayed there, my husband and I both loved going to spend the day there with her, so glad to see them bringing it back for seniors! It’s where I’d want to spend my end years!

  • Riggle

    Feeling some mission creep here

  • Dan

    Amazing history and structure, had no idea it was there and am glad it will continue to serve!!

  • brickhugger

    Imagine the ghosts in a place like that!

    • Kseniya Cholock

      I was there in it when my mom lived there, no ghosts there but my apartment I was living in at the time she was there had ghosts and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone!!! (seriouslY!)

    • Kseniya Cholock

      LoL sounds like something I’d think, or say!