Thomas Wolfe once wrote “You Can’t Go Home Again,” but, you can peek into the past. While I was in St. Louis, Mo., I visited the house on Westminster Place, where my Leong (Song) grandparents and their family once lived. The house is located on a tree lined private street with limited access in St. Louis Historical District. After taking a few photos, I got up enough nerve to introduce myself to the current owner. I waited while my husband climbed the steps and rang the doorbell. The current owner/resident, Joseph E. Scoggin, Jr. opened the door and welcomed us in.
The last time I was inside the house I was three years old, so I only had a child’s vision of the house. I remembered the dual staircase and playing hide-and-seek with my aunties in the many bedrooms—some with adjoining baths. Once inside, the house seemed smaller than my childhood memory.
All the houses on the street are large mansion-style structures built in the late 19th and early 20th Century.
Joe Scoggin, a psychotherapist by profession is also a history buff. He enthralled us with a wealth of information. The tract of land was purchased and developed by Civil War General Joseph Scott Fullerton in 1882. The two-block street has since been known as Fullerton’s Westminster Place. Although the 1950’s resulted in deteriorated conditions in some of the houses, zoning laws restricting homes to two-family occupancy saved the neighborhood from obliteration. Today all the houses have been restored to its original authenticity. The neighborhood is now beautiful!
In 1974, Westminster Place became St. Louis’ third historic district. The Landmark Association described the neighborhood as an urban mixture of owners, renters, singles, marrieds, blacks, and whites.
The house across the street was once the home of T.S. Elliott. Author Tennessee Williams lived on that street. Actress Susan Sarandon rented one of the houses on Westminster Place while she was making a movie. As an author, I soaked in all the creative juices from previous residents of Westminster Place.
At the end of the street, the towering steeple of the Second Presbyterian Church of St. Louis overlooks the neighborhood. Hence, the name Westminster Place.
According to public records, my grandparents purchased the house in the early 1940’s. Since my widowed grandmother lived in her house until the late 1940’s, and Joe’s father purchased the house in the late 1950’s, we do not know who lived there in between the times.
Joe related his experiences growing up in racially segregated St. Louis. According to the Central High School Yearbook of 1933, my father was the only Chinese student to graduate that year. Joe indicated that black students were not allowed to attend Central, but were educated at an all-black school instead.
My grandparents were buried in the Chinese-only Valhalla Cemetery in St. Louis. The White Star Laundry which my grandfather founded was located in what is now the Busch Stadium parking lot – where most of “Hop Alley,” the Chinese section of St. Louis was located.