Known as The Street of Mansions, Washington Terrace is located in the Central West End. The entire street is listed on the national register of historic places. Residence after residence is stunning, but perhaps the most famous one of all is number 29.
This impressive home was built in 1906 by St. Louis architect J.B. Legg. Oil millionaire William Cullen McBride purchased the house in 1908, and thereafter it became known as the party house on WT. McBride held fantastical parties here, including his daughter's memorable 1921 debutante ball, "Night in Venice." Guests were greeted by gondoliers to transport them across a huge man-made, lighted moat. The three-story mansion is made up of 25 rooms, totaling 11,000 square feet. In records dating from 1910, it's noted that a staff of 10 servants ran the house. Today, their original living quarters, including one marked 'sewing room," are used for storage.
Once home to opulent balls and Hollywood legends, this spectacular mansion is now owned by Kevin and Patti Short, who enjoy continuing its entertaining legacy.
The Shorts had always admired this turn-of-the-century house, and in 2001 they finally moved in with their four daughters.
The mansion's stately architecture is in Palladian style, with imposing Ionic columns, and an ornate pediment above the entrance. The iron gated side portico was the original coach entry way. A wide covered porch wraps around to one side.
Upon entering, one immediately sees the main floor's open and free-flowing space. It's simply party perfect. The grand staircase, unusually placed to the side, opens into a light filled solarium, enclosed by large wisteria-painted glass windows, at the landing. The plaster crown molding is all original, including magnolia leaved urns/sconces allowing indirect lighting. "Those 100-year-old hand blown light bulbs are original and a bit difficult to replace," Patti said.
Indeed, distinct ornamental details are found throughout the house, including original gold leaf. More preserved features are polished hardwood floors, both gas and electric light fixtures, mostly marble fireplaces and bath fixtures.
The ceiling in the first-floor sitting room boasts a mural of a Tiffany oil painting. Here the walls are covered in hues of Wedgwood blue, accented by delicate white plaster design work. Carefully selected antiques grace all the rooms, while contemporary sofas mix in comfort where needed.
The music room with its corner piano has been the setting for numerous fund raisers — including the Bach Society, Opera Theatre and Cathedral Concerts.
In the dining room, deep red and striped wallpaper left by previous owners blends in well with the Shorts' formal table and chairs.
Above the table, the massive crystal chandelier sparkles — an antique purchased by the Shorts to replace the original. Farther back, the butler's pantry/now bar connects to a refurbished kitchen. "I had the kitchen totally gutted and modernized," Patti said. Stainless steel appliances and granite-topped counters await the next party's preparation. The black-and-white color scheme is punctuated by Patti's colorful art glass collection, indirectly lighted in the upper kitchen cabinets. An airy breakfast room and a comfortable office/den complete the main floor.
The best-known resident during the 1960s was the late Stan Kann, famed Fox Theatre organist and TV comedian. Patti shared tales from the mansion's Kann period.
"Stan completely remodeled the first floor, making it lighter and airy," Patti said.
Kann also installed a 40-seat movie theater in the basement (now dismantled). The entire third floor held Stan's large vacuum cleaner collection. Kann owned three Pierce Arrows stored in the back garage/former coach house. A popular '60s poster was printed showing one of his cars parked in front reading, "My tastes are simple. I only like the best." Amazingly, Kevin owned the same poster while in college, never knowing he would someday occupy this very house. The couple were later able to secure three copies, one of which hangs in Kevin's first-floor office.
Then there's the Hollywood Connection; Kann was a frequent guest on Johnny Carson's "The Tonight Show." Among Kiel Opera House's notable events was the first and only televised performance by The Rat Pack on June 8, 1965. Johnny Carson filled in for Joey Bishop, joining Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. on stage. NBC asked Kann to host a house party that night for Carson and 400 guests.
Close friend Phyllis Diller stayed here often, including an extended stay during her divorce to Fang. Today, her bedroom looks like that of a fairy princess.
Patti later found Diller's scrapbook of show biz clippings, and offered to return it. "Keep it!" Diller said.
Kann sold the house when he left for Los Angeles in 1974. Upon his return to St. Louis, he eventually met the Shorts. "It's your house now," he said. In 2005, the magnificent mansion was featured on the HGTV series "If Walls Could Talk." The episode was appropriately titled "Tinsel Town Ties." Kann graciously played piano during the show's re-staged party.
Yes, if walls could talk, they'd tell a long story of the past hundred years at 29 Washington Terrace.