Metro-East Living

From house to funeral home to church to museum

Adviser Margaret Meyer places vintage dinnerware in the kitchen of a Belleville building that’s being converted into a Mid-century Modern Architecture Museum. Its architect, Charles E. King, also designed her home in Signal Hill.
Adviser Margaret Meyer places vintage dinnerware in the kitchen of a Belleville building that’s being converted into a Mid-century Modern Architecture Museum. Its architect, Charles E. King, also designed her home in Signal Hill. tvizer@bnd.com

Belleville Historical Society is converting a Charles E. King home on West Main Street into a Mid-century Modern Architecture Museum in his honor.

The late architect designed an estimated 100 homes and additions, and 38 public and commercial buildings in the St. Louis area. That includes 50 structures in Belleville, where he practiced from 1947 to 1961.

Architectural Digest magazine named King one of the Top 100 architects in America in 1991.

“Belleville was home to one of the most prolific mid-century architects in the St. Louis area, and many people have never heard of him,” said society president Larry Betz. “We decided that we need to bring some recognition to his great body of work, which includes Belleville City Hall.”

The museum building at 8501 W. Main St. was designed in 1952 and built as a private home for contractor Terry Blazier and his wife, Thelma.

Belleville was home to one of the most prolific mid-century architects in the St. Louis area, and many people have never heard of him.

Larry Betz on Charles E. King

The society bought the building in November. Since then, workers have been busy with plumbing, electrical, plastering, roofing, painting and other renovations.

In the coming months, they want to undo changes made by previous owners, who operated funeral homes under several names and rented to a church.

“(The first) funeral home tore out two bedrooms, two bathrooms and two closets to make one big viewing room,” Betz said. “We’re trying to figure out how they were aligned or situated.”

A non-original entrance also will be removed and replaced with a wall of window shelves.

The society is inviting the public to check out its progress and help with restoration by attending a fund-raising concert on Sunday.

Nine musicians will form ensembles and play jazz from the 1940s and ’50s. That includes a trio with Belleville native Ida (Edwards) Mercer, a renowned cellist and music teacher based in Cleveland, Ohio.

Her brother, Ethan Edwards, president of Belleville Philharmonic Society, will sing Broadway tunes from the period.

“It’s going to be a really super program that people are going to love,” said Margaret Meyer, who lives in a King home in the Signal Hill neighborhood and serves as museum adviser.

My grandfather lived big, and that house was part of it.

Terry Whittle on Terry Blazier

Music will begin at 2 p.m. Sunday. The suggested donation is $100. The concert will be followed by a cocktail hour.

Belleville Historical Society has dreamed of turning a King building into a museum for years.

Betz, 74, is an architecture buff who has visited more than 30 homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. He’s also a volunteer docent at the Dana-Thomas House in Springfield.

“King was very much influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, even though he would never admit it,” Betz said, pointing to Wright’s controversial personal life.

King was a Kentucky native who met his wife, Belleville resident Audrey Marsh, at University of Illinois. He also lived in St. Louis, Pennsylvania and Florida before his death in 1993.

Terry Blazier and his partner, Orville Huntley, were successful contractors who built schools all over the country.

Terry and Thelma lived in East St. Louis after getting married as teenagers. They had two grown children by the time they moved to Belleville in 1953. Huntley also hired King to design his home near St. Clair County Country Club.

“They are two extremely different houses,” Meyer said. “You would not know the same man designed them. The only thing they have in common is Permastone.”

Meyer was referring to simulated masonry accents that the contractors installed inside and out.

The Blazier home was a one-story stucco with a three-car garage, porte cochère (covered drive-through) and attached apartment for Thelma’s sister.

The interior had an open floor plan. Grandson Terry Whittle, 70, of St. Louis, liked to hang out in the “Florida room.”

“It had a copper fireplace and a terrazzo floor,” he said. “It was filled with bamboo furniture, including a glass-top table. It had a bar in it. It was just very relaxing to sit in there.”

The home had a sewing room for Thelma, a master seamstress, and an office for her husband’s contracting business.

Whittle remembers the Blaziers lining window shelves in the living/dining room with colorful art glass collected in Europe and other vacation spots. They also owned a beachfront getaway in Miami and a boat on the Mississippi.

“My grandfather lived big, and that house was part of it,” Whittle said.

Today, the copper fireplace and wet bar remain, along with etched-glass pocket doors between the Florida room and living/dining room.

The powder room has the same terrazzo floor, two maroon sinks, pink Formica vanities, gray tile walls and flamingos etched in the glass door leading to a private toilet.

The kitchen cabinets with square knobs and stainless-steel oven and stove top are original, although the cabinets have been painted white.

“We’re doing the (renovation) in three phases,” said Betz, who expects the museum to open sometime next year.

The society has raised about a third of its $150,000 budget. Most rooms will be set up like a residence with period furniture and artwork.

The office will house “A Retrospective Tribute to the Belleville Area Architecture of Charles Erwin King,” a photo exhibit created by Belleville Historical Society in 2012.

The exhibit has traveled to Lindenwood College and Governor French Academy in Belleville and Landmarks Association of St. Louis.

“It has a permanent home now, so it doesn’t have to be boxed up and hauled around and stored anymore,” Meyer said.

The museum also will include a resource room open to high school students and other architecture enthusiasts.

The building hasn’t served as a residence since the Blaziers moved out in 1962. It operated as a funeral home under several owners, most recently William C. Harris Mortuary, before being rented to Kingdom Refiners church.

Whittle was pleased to hear the news that his childhood stamping grounds would be restored to its original glory.

“That was an unusual house in those days,” he said. “Most people had small houses, and it was huge. I had never seen anything like it. It was open. It was pristine. It was magic.”

At a glance

  • What: A Sunday in September concert
  • When: 2 p.m. Sunday
  • Where: 8501 W. Main St. in Belleville
  • Who: Belleville Historical Society presents cellist Ida Mercer and friends
  • Why: Fundraiser for Mid-Century Modern Architecture Museum, featuring Charles E. King
  • Donation: $100 (suggested)
  • Tickets: Stop by Peace by Piece or Fletcher’s Kitchen & Tap
  • Reservations: Call 618-531-7753 or 618-920-3261
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