“Meet Me in St. Louis:” The Victorian on Kensington Avenue

Meet Me in St. Louis movie house Judy Garland

I was lucky enough to take a tour of about ten historic homes in St. Louis in the Lafayette Square neighborhood, an entire block filled with grand old homes like the ones from Meet Me in St. Louis. I thought I had died and gone to house heaven!

If you’re a long-time reader of my blog, you may remember that my original header was a photo I took there. Watching this movie is like going back in time and seeing how that neighborhood must have looked like in its heyday.

Meet Me in St. Louis movie house

The story takes place at the turn of the century in St. Louis, Missouri, when the World’s Fair was right around the corner (1904). The Smith family lived in this grand Second Empire Victorian home on 5135 Kensington Avenue with their five children (and Grandpa!).

Kensington Avenue, lined with beautiful, stately homes, was constructed at great cost by MGM for the movie. Known as “St. Louis Street,” it can also be seen in films like Cheaper by the Dozen. Here’s how it looked in that movie:

Classic Cheaper by the Dozen Second Empire Victorian

Judy Garland was 21 years old when she played Esther Smith. She initially turned down the role because she was tired of playing the ingenue. She was finally talked into it by the screenwriter, Irving Brecher, who was a friend of hers.

Meet Me in St. Louis movie house

The movie changed her life because she met and married the director, Vincente Minnelli. (His real name: Lester.)

Meet Me in St. Louis movie house

Rose Smith was played by newcomer Lucille Bremer, who only spent four years in Hollywood before retiring from show business to start a family.

"Meet Me in St. Louis" Movie House

A lot of the action takes place around this beautiful staircase in the entry:

"Meet Me in St. Louis" Movie House

"Meet Me in St. Louis" Movie House

At the end of the movie, when they are packing up their belongings to move to New York, we get this view of the staircase looking kind of bleak and sad with the paintings removed:

"Meet Me in St. Louis" Movie House

The movie was based on Sally Benson’s collection of short stories for The New Yorker. Benson, whose maiden name was Smith, wrote about her life on Kensington Avenue where her family lived from 1891-1910. She helped the filmmakers get all of the period details right, from the clothes to the sets.

Benson’s home in St. Louis was demolished in 1994 after standing empty for years. Here’s a sketch of what it looked like when she lived there:

Sketch of the Real 5135 Kensington Ave house

Here’s where it used to stand, on what is now an empty lot (sent to me by Holly):

Site of original Meet Me in St. Louis house

Here is a house that’s still standing that just sold on the real Kensington Avenue, a few doors down from where Benson lived. It was built in 1903, and you can see similarities to the illustration above (asking price in 2009: only $24,000):

5175 Kensington Ave today

Back to the movie, which is so much prettier than reality…

"Meet Me in St. Louis" Movie House

In this scene, the family gathers to discuss the move to New York City. The dad, played by Leon Ames, has decided not to take the job in New York after all because he realizes how important home is to his family.

"Meet Me in St. Louis" Movie House

In reality, Sally Benson’s dad had no such revelation, and her family did move to New York, leaving their beloved Kensington Avenue house behind. They didn’t return for the World’s Fair.

"Meet Me in St. Louis" Movie House

A sequel called Meet Me in Manhattan was talked about, but it never came about.

"Meet Me in St. Louis" Movie House

Rose gets a long-distance phone call during dinner, which is a big deal (I love how they shouted into the phone at each other). The family listens in:

"Meet Me in St. Louis" Movie House

The movie’s costume designer reportedly created many of the movies costumes right out of the Sears & Roebuck catalog from the time period.

"Meet Me in St. Louis" Movie House

A glimpse of the back hall that leads to the kitchen:

"Meet Me in St. Louis" Movie House

The movie took 5 months to shoot, from December 1943-April 1944.

"Meet Me in St. Louis" movie house

“Nowadays,” Esther Smith says in the film, “you can’t get a maid for less than $12 a month!”

"Meet Me in St. Louis" movie house

I read that pots and pans were usually stored on open shelves because they were greasy. Closed cabinets would attract mice and other critters.

"Meet Me in St. Louis" movie house

The house as it looked at Christmas time (the striped awnings are gone):

Meet Me in St. Louis house-Winter

The movie's costume designer reportedly created many of the movies costumes right out of the Sears & Roebuck catalog from the time period.

A scene was cut that had taken place inside the master bedroom. Unfortunately, the film they took no longer exists.

"Meet Me in St. Louis" movie house

The bathroom was only in the movie for less than a minute, but it wowed me with that window!

"Meet Me in St. Louis" movie house

Sally Benson, the author of the stories that the movie was based on, was called “Tootie” as a child. In real life, Tootie’s older sister Agnes pulled most of the pranks attributed to Tootie in the film.

"Meet Me in St. Louis" movie house bedroom

This scene between Esther and Rose primping at the vanity mirror was the first one Minnelli shot:

"Meet Me in St. Louis" movie house bedroom vanity scene

Instead of trick-or-treating for candy, the kids in those days carried bags of flour to the homes of their “enemies.” Back then, if you hit someone with flour on Halloween night, you could say that you “killed them.” Grandpa advises Tootie to get the flour wet first so it’ll stick.

"Meet Me in St. Louis" movie house Esther's bedroom

The house in warmer weather, when the roses are blooming:

"Meet Me in St. Louis" movie house

"Meet Me in St. Louis" movie house

St Louis Street, the MGM back lot where the streets were lined with Victorian homes built for Meet Me in St. Louis, is now sadly gone. Derek sent me a photo of how the Meet Me in St. Louis house looked in 1970, just before it was demolished:

Meet Me in St. Louis house on backlot in 1970s

In 1970, MGM auctioned off most of its property, including St. Louis Street. Lot 3 was 80 acres with a lake, where they filmed this and more MGM features. Now it’s reportedly lined with new condos instead. At least we can still revisit the glory days of Kensington Avenue in the movie!

Julia-simple-teal-signature2

P.S. Visit Houses Onscreen to see more, including…

Little Women movie 1994 Orchard House

Alvin and the Chipmunks movie sets
When a reader asked me to do a post about Alvin and the Chipmunks, I thought she was joking. I hadn't seen the movie, but…
Remember the inn with the blue shutters from the Richard Gere-Diane Lane movie Nights in Rodanthe? In real life, it's known as "Serendipity," a house…

See More

Comments

  1. says

    Hi Julia
    This is one of my all time favourite movies.. everything about this movie is a delight.. from the actors to the divine period sets. Thanks for posting these fabulous images.. I will savour every one!
    Have a great week.. Julie
    .-= Julie´s last blog ..Black & White Sunday: Buon Natale =-.

  2. says

    Thanks for the post, Julia! I simply adore that movie and all those beautiful old houses. *Sigh* Even though that particular house was built for the movies, it’s such a shame that they let it go to ruin and then demolished it later on. I absolutely hate to hear about any old home being neglected!
    .-= Cyndi´s last blog ..Another Snowman Purse =-.

  3. says

    Great post! I love this movie with a big puffy heart! There’s so much humor in it, too, like Tootie’s odd obsession with dolls dying (Tootie: “…she has four fatal diseases” Mr. Neely: “and it only takes one”) . I love how they take the trolley “way out” to Skinker’s swamp to see the future site of the Fair; the Fair was held in what is now Forest Park, and it is practically down town to us suburbanites. Now most people would have to go “way in” to get to Forest Park. There’s still a road in St Louis called Skinker, so I assume there may be some truth to that part of it.
    And lest anyone get excited and think St Louis real estate is in a time warp, the reason that house was only $24k is, I’m quite sure, because it’s in an area you wouldn’t want to live in. A decent house in the suburbs would be more like starting at $224k, and even in the city proper for a safe/nice neighborhood.
    .-= Holly´s last blog ..Second Weekly Thrifty Gifty Round-up and Linky Party =-.

  4. Kim says

    I absolutely love this house. It’s gorgeous inside and out. I would love to have a victorian home just like it.

    Thanks for posting this. A Month ago I watched this movie just so I could take a look at the house. Now I can come here and look at it.

    The outside is the same exact house used in the movie Cheaper by the Dozen 1950 film, but the inside is totally different.

  5. says

    Julia, you are almost single-handedly responsible for the huge expansion of my Netflix queue 😉
    But I’m happy enough with that growth – what are the holidays for if not to snuggle up and watch?
    .-= Struggler´s last blog ..Watch out! =-.

  6. says

    I absolutely ADORE this movie…and love the house! I am so sad to hear that the home was demolished in the 70’s- but thank you so much for posting this “virtual” tour of the home! I love how so many of the spaces in the home were utilized for everyday family gatherings:)
    .-= Jamie Wright, REALTOR´s last blog ..Open House Sunday- Great Condo Alternative! =-.

  7. Nita Hiltner says

    Now you tell me that today is better than those times! I think not. They were simpler, way simpler. Do you notice how even the girls’ underwear is beautiful? I love that movie so much. It reminds me of all the old Indiana homes that still stand. My mother’s aunt dresses like they did back in those times even in the 50s and 60s and I had other older women in my life who were living the Victorian life even in the 50s and 60s. One lady lived in an old clapboard house, had one of those phones that you wound up on the side to work. She made her own egg noodles and laid them out on her feather bed to dry. I slept in that feather bed, me and my two sisters, and in the morning, it would have settled so that we were nearly on the floor. I love those times. I think we all missed a wonderful time.

  8. says

    Julia-I love anything with Judy Garland..though her live makes me a little sad. I would love to get inside one of those houses now! No wonder they had to have a maid…all that STUFF :) Thanks for all your research and pictures…another great Monday. I am popping over to the holiday tour!
    .-= susan´s last blog ..Handprint Ornaments =-.

  9. says

    Oh, Julia, this was a fun post! I do love that movie. . . “Clang, clang, clang went the trolley. . . .” But I haven’t seen it in a long time, and I’d forgotten just how beautiful the sets were.

    Your Movie Mondays are just wonderful. What a great way to start a busy week!
    .-= Richella at Imparting Grace´s last blog ..Christmas Tour of Homes =-.

  10. Rhonda Hughes says

    Simply delightful! I love the movie and the house is just stunning… though I am impartial to Second Empires… I love the scenes from the Christmas Ball The interior of the house where the ball is held is wonderful! Hoping to have a nice big Victorian one day to decorate for Christmas

  11. Allie says

    One of my absolute all-time favorite movies! This is one of the movies that really kindled my love for old movies, this and Singin’ In the Rain. Thanks for a great post!

  12. Shannon says

    Thank you for this post! This movie is such a holiday classic! I’ve always loved the house! One of my favorite scenes is when Ester sings “Over the Banister” with John Truett on that beautiful staircase.

    I’d love to see a post about Holiday Inn…if you’re taking suggestions!

  13. says

    I liked this post a lot, Julia! I haven’t seen MMISL in ages, but this brought back lots of memories. My mom always says that Margaret O’Brien was a really good “crier.” I read somewhere once that Judy Garland had to do a lot of dieting for this film. :( Such a gorgeous set…can’t believe it’s condos now. :(
    .-= Amanda @ Serenity Now´s last blog .."The Seaweed Is Always Greener…" =-.

  14. Mustang Sally says

    What a great post Julia! This is my all-time fave Christmas movie and I watch it every year at this time. It was a real walk down memory lane getting to see all these pictures of that great house. I wanted to BE Esther when I was a little girl. Well, her and Haley Mills.

    Anyway, thanks for the post. I’m new to your site and absolutely love it because I am also hooked on houses and have been since I can remember.

    Happy holidays, Sally

  15. says

    The house looks wonderful! I live in STL and agree with the other poster, if you knew the subdivision it was in, you wouldn’t even pay have paid $10,000 for it. that sucks though..there are a ton of houses that would look awesome with a bit (or a lot!) of elbow grease but they just aren’t in the areas where it’s safe to live.
    .-= Kris´s last blog ..Win a handmade ornament from yours truly! =-.

  16. says

    Loving this victorian! It’s been so long since I have watched this movie. I am going to add it to my NetFlix list. Which reminds me, have you ever posted on Gone With The Wind 12 Oaks? I am going to have to do some digging on your blog and find out.

  17. says

    Thank you for posting! This is a great roundup on one of my favorite movies… I love how detailed the sets & costumes are! I also wrote about this on Halloween – I adore the little kids running around as “horrible drunken ghosts!”… It’s great to hear the history behind it all too.
    .-= Ms. P&C´s last blog ..Bang Envy – Anita Pallenberg =-.

  18. says

    I love this movie!! My grandma used to sing me the song from the movie when I was little and in fact, I have just bought the DVD to give her for Christmas!! Loved seeing all the images of the beautiful house and for the wealth of interesting informatin you provided about the film and its making.
    .-= Amanda´s last blog ..Five Minutes Peace =-.

  19. Kellye says

    I’ve seen the whole movie only once, but I’m a huge Judy fan. It’s strange to imagine that she was only 21 at the time, because she looked much older. (In fact, even children in the 40s/50s looked much older than the same aged children now.) I love the bones of the house, but all of the trappings would be too much for me.

    If anyone is interested, there was a great PBS/BBC series…actually, it was a number of separate shows–The Frontier House, the 1940s house, Manor house and another one. Here’s the link to the 1940s house. Basically, they put people in homes that were representative of the period & had them live for several months under basically the same conditions as those of the particular period would have faced. Fabulous! http://bit.ly/7gXOC2

  20. Jessica says

    I just wanted to say thanks for posting this! This has been one of my favorite holiday movies since I was a child. I grew up watching it with my Grandmother and now watch it with my own little girls. I’m off to watch it right now! Maybe even get some wrapping done.
    Happy Holidays!

  21. Jim says

    Thanks for a posting wondering tidbits and photos connected to this treasured classic. I have a copy on VHS that I taped from a local television channel and I’m patiently waiting for the DVD in the mail. I hope it arrives for Christmas as I want to play it at our party. Time is running out!
    I’ve lived in St. Louis my whole life, except for leaving to another Missouri town for college. I agree Kensington Ave. isn’t the most loveliest neighborhood in older St. Louis, but there are plenty of neighborhoods that have older homes like the one in the movie, which are restored and are in safe neighborhoods. I don’t want people to think St. Louis is all run down. True, a lot of those homes have been neglected, and are near demolition, and that, too, makes me sad, but thinking about the poor insulation from back then, I can’t imagin ulitity bills to heat and cool a home like that.
    The homes that surround Forest Park are just beautiful and are kept up very nice. I looked at a real estate site and found a home that looks close to the one in the movie. You’ll need 1.6 million to buy it. Actually, I bet it would of sold for more a couple of years ago. It is a beautiful home.
    The Skinker swamp mentioned is true, shortly after the World’s Fair, an underground drainage tunnel was built to feed into River Des Peres which leads out to the Mississippi River. Forest Park has really been vamped up the past few years, and is really a gorgeous park. It is one of the largest in the country. In fact, it is 500 acres larger than Central Park in New York City.

  22. Clyde Chaffin says

    Its sad to know all the old Victorain Homes are gone .

  23. says

    Lafayette Square….I went to school at Lafayette, and used to go the the park that is in the center of Lafayette Square in St. Louis. I have lived in Virginia 25 years now but soon as my house sells I am actually moving back to Missouri, south of St. Louis. Lafayette Square is like stepping back into time.

  24. Kyle says

    Thanks for these pictures, especially the 70’s shots of the house. They did such a great job copying a Second Empire style house for this movie, although the interior layout does not match up with the house’s exterior. It’s really too bad they got rid of it.

    I love this movie– I hate to hear anybody other than Judy Garland sing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

  25. says

    I live two hours from st louis and want to move in closer so that i could research and investigate St louis much more it is a fascainting old twon full of history noks and carnies it investigate and research i like really also love the st louis worlds fair era and the movie meet me in st louis!

    sally benson who wrote the book and her living relatives of today of which i do understand at least one is still living somewhere out west Arizonia i think i have heard so

    so am also intersted in contactin this person she may have addtional information about all of that

    i would also like more pictures of the real house in st louis of which i was able to get too before it was demlished back in 1994 i tryed to asave it at the time but was unable to finally stop it ah well i often try to get over to the lots where the houses were at kensington and am interested in that as well for many reason besides it being where the hosuses were so please where are you in st louis or what please do contact me i am at jleslie492@hotmail.com or eleventhdr @gma

    sure would like to hear from others who share this interest like i do i love that era and want to go back in time and form a base from there thta would be fascainting st louis in the early 20th late 19th century!

    please do let me know so gald i found your site i am alwauy out hera reseaching and investigating history st louis and lots else!

    Thank’s Later Jay!

  26. Patty says

    I love the film and the book! Throughout the movie you can tell Mr. Minelli was expressing a visual/nostalgic love affair with the house, its family and the period they lived in. Thank you for the photos! I love old houses too. I lived in an 1890’s Victorian (complete with horsehair plaster walls!) for nine wonderful years. Such character old houses have.

    ps-With the enormous size of the Smith family house in the film, there was only Katie to help with the household? :)

  27. Carmen says

    This has made my day! I do love the movie, however, I love the house more…
    I grew up in the house at 5175 Kensington Avenue! !!!!!!!!

    Can you give me any additional history? I’m 70 now and have many a fond memory of my growing up there!
    WOW!

  28. says

    Helo have not contacted you for a few months now but wanted to let you know that i was able to make it into St Louis Just yesterday May 23 2010 and was able to make it over to Kensington Street for sevaerla minutes the lot is still their but is geting over grwon with weeds once again this time of year os am still wondering how your project might be going to build this stuff over their it sure needs lots of attetion along theses lines i am most very willing to help and to come in and meet with you sometime where are you able to be located so tht we might get together and do this kind of thing i love that old street and would love to see it renovated in grand fashion like it might have been at the turn of the 2oth century not nessaraly like it might ahve been in the meet me in st louis movie but like the real house in st louis might ahve apperared at that time althouhg their just might be a few ideas you might borrow from the movie as well Anyway i was able like i do from time to time when it is spring summer and early fall to get over to Kensington and get to the lot where the houses were i think another idea would and might be to rebuild the houses like they were at that time this would require a major effort but could be done i was able also while their for a short time to look at the houses over to the right of where the others stood one looks lik e it jsut might be under reconstruction the other is still in very bad condition but might be salvaged if and when someone can come in in time to do something about it would be asame to lose any more of thses old hpuses i am very sure a lot of them stood at the tiem of the St louis worlds fair so to keep losing them now should be avoided and stopped at all cost nesacary to reconstuck them the one at 5141 0r 5143 is stilll over on the left and someone is occupling that one anyway as for my own major porject what i have been working on since 2003 and was aware of way back in the 1980’s was rebuliding the fair itself or at the very least a major part of it i ahve been trying for almostten years to get this going it would require a mojor mass movemnet to locate land several thousands of acres soewhere just perhaps way out in one of the counties and then to set it all up so tat we i could start reconstucktion of the fair itself i still think and maintian that a big major part of the fair could be rebuild on a permanent basis just think what this would do for St Louis it would put it back up on top once again llike it was during the fair of 1904 and it would alos jsut very problay stimulate the enire economy of the US just think of putting hundress of people back to wrok runnning this kind of thin on a permanent basis it would be bigger then Disney where do you every think he got the ideas for disney land in the frist place he got them form those early expostions so this is my major plan to rebuild the fiar this can be and still must be done but in order to do it you must think and plan on a hugh very big massive plan and then you must never let up you must very simple get it done like they had and said att he frist st louis worlds fiar nothing is impossible and i still belive and maintian that it is still this way even today it can and must be done and i am the one who is willing to take it all on so lets do it!

    But in the mean time please do keep in touch with me on your project as well i can come in and meet with you and we can get your and mine going and then st louis will shine like it did once again the sound of meet me in st louis wil really maen something once again think really realy big and it can be done!

    Thank’s Jay!

  29. hookedonhouses says

    Hi, Jay! I think you got me mixed up with someone else because I don’t have any project in the works for Kensington. Sounds like a great idea, though! I would love to see the real street someday. -Julia :-)

  30. says

    Please esnd me another contact email i ahve been byt the Kensinton %135 severla time this summer and was over thier once agijn just this last Saturaday i am still very much interested in your plans and want to do something along those smae lines plus my own grand paln to restore the St louis Worlds fair of which i ahve sent you emial about!

    But in the mean time please let me know more on how your plan is going i am interested in that whole area of St LOuis just a very short way from Froest park where thew whole fair was

    I would like to see Kensinton restored to it’s former glory and thier are some places just down the steet from Kensinton that need to be looked into thier is this old store down thier that i also drive by i think it is closed right now it has old signes on the outside of it and the crossstreets over thier as well i usually try to come up in the ally behind 5135 so i can get back thier those steets need to be made two way once again a s tey problay were back during the fair it is difficult to get back in thier with one way steets!

    please let me know i would like to met you over thier if you ahve the time some time on a weekend so we mu\ight discuss thses plans i would like to help very much

    the next time i will be up will be for the muny show sound of music in about ten day if i can mnage to get the money to come up for that show trying to mkae all the ones i want to see this season i drive to a lot of places scott joplin house the forest park locations where the fair was and all of that and then i try to swing over to kensington!

    please let me know either via emaiel as ssoon as is possible or do you have an office phone no to reach you at i would like to discuss it with you in person those restoration of thses properties if that is at all possible so let me know via email for now!

    I am behind you on all of this very much so!

    Thank’s ever so Jay !:

  31. says

    My favorite movie at Christmas time. I torture my poor kids with this, Little Women (with Winona Ryder) and the Family Stone. Do you see a trend here? I love big old houses and the families I imagine live inside them!

  32. chris says

    The movie has always been a favorite of mine. I grew up in the St.Louis area and have toured many homes. Lafayette Square and homes around Tower grove park on south Grand are beautiful. It’s always sad when urban blight causes the lose of so many beautiful homes.

  33. says

    THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, for posting this information. I have ALWAYS loved this house and neighbourhood, and had often longed for the day when I could go to St Louis to find it. To say I was deflated when I read that it was just a set on the backlot, and torn down as well, is an understatement!! WOW, what a loss!!! I LOVE architecture, and the old ones with lots of character get my best interest. Thank you again! I still want to go to St Louis and see the houses you have mentionned though. Best wishes!!