I have come home again, moving back to the community where I grew up.
In the early 1950s, our family moved to Clayton, MO, then the sleepy seat of St. Louis County government with a small-town feel. It was the idyllic family community. There was the postcard loveliness of Old Town with its charming frame homes near the downtown. Clayton streets were lined with grand turn-of-the-century homes and mansions, small mid-century homes and apartment buildings, retail stores, and a few low-rise office buildings. There were a few middle-class neighborhoods such as ours of one-story brick ranch houses with big picture windows, fenced yards, garages or car ports, and nicely landscaped yards. Clayton was also was home to colleges, great public and private schools, a library, and actor Kevin Kline. Not too far from the subdivision where we lived was a public park where I played and picnicked as a child.
Throughout the years, Clayton began to morph into a burgeoning hub of urban and commercial sophistication as restrictions on heights of buildings were eased and residential and office towers began to dot the landscape. Yet, at the same time, it retained the charming character of a quiet residential community. It was this blend that beckoned me back after I become widowed and was living on my own for the first time.
After getting married in the late 60s, moving away for a few years and coming back to St. Louis in 1975, my late husband and I chose a traditional brick Colonial home on a secluded street in a suburban enclave west of Clayton. It was in a neighborhood rife with mostly young families and good schools that were within walking distance of our new home. These were our top priorities then and what we could afford.
In the meantime, Clayton was continuing to boom with construction going on everywhere. It took on the moniker of St. Louis’ second downtown. Soon a proliferation of boutiques, galleries, hotels and restaurants, multiple skyscrapers in the business district, a mix of low and high rise housing and office towers, pricey condos for empty nesters, historic mansions and new McMansions replacing tear downs in Old Town were popping up.
There was a renewed sense of pride in the community with special events such as The Saint Louis Art Fair, a Taste of Clayton, Gallery Nights receptions, a seasonal farmers market, Parties in the Park cocktail gatherings, family and musical events in the area’s public parks, The Big Read literary festival, and more. On some well-traveled streets away from the business district, bike paths were carved out, and a Metro stop was built in proximity to the business district. The region’s largest publicly traded firm, Centene, a $23 billion managed-care company, opened its 19-story glass and sustainable headquarters in Clayton in 2010.
After I decided to move out of my house that was too big for one and too expensive to maintain, I spent months throwing out or giving away decades’ worth of clutter. I wanted to move to something new, my own place. My first ever. Fortuitously, my parents owned a condo in Clayton that was sitting empty after they had moved to a senior community. When I told my mother that I was selling my home, she suggested I move into the condo, then buy it. And I did.
Living in a Clayton condo where I could just walk out my front door and get to my destination within 10 or 15 minutes, was a blessing. I felt free and refreshed in my new neighborhood after almost three sad and difficult years in which I lost my husband, my dog, and then my father and mother-in-law.
I love the area and walking around gives me a chance to take in all the beauty and opportunities of where I am now living. I have discovered new favorite restaurants, a candy shop, bank, Pilates studio, nail place, cookie store, wine shop, and so much more. I can even hoof it to one of the area’s most popular shopping malls, or walk to a friend's condo, since more have moved into other buildings near me.
Equally important, now that I am on my own, condo life is easy compared to maintaining a home. It is smaller, more efficient, and safe with 24/7 doormen and indoor parking under the building. I no longer have to worry about lawn care, shoveling snow and ice, putting up holiday decorations, and if my sink backs up, I just call the front desk. They send someone up to try to fix it. If not, they call in the right professional. Additionally, if I’m not home, someone lets the person in and supervises. The front desk staff brings packages and newspapers to my door, holds and delivers my mail when I am away, calls if I have a visitor to make sure it’s okay to send her up, will drive me to the airport if I’m leaving town, and water my plants while I’m away.
Another perk of condo living is becoming part of a condo community. The condo association holds meet and greets, holiday parities, fun annual meetings, even political gatherings. There’s a fitness center where I’ve often spent as much time talking to neighbors as exercising.
The building is a bit of a mix, mostly older folks, some married, some singles, young families and even a few children. It’s minimally diverse but Clayton as a whole is a good range of ages, incomes, religions and races. For the first time ever, I went to a town meeting and was privy to discussions when a large company proposed a new construction project and a homeowner in Old Town wanted to add on to his home. I found I like the intimacy and feeling of local politics. Now at parties with other people from Clayton, we talk about changes and the changing of the guard in Clayton.
Condo living is not a panacea, however. Unlike living in my own home, there is a lack of privacy at times. I throw out the trash or go to the mailbox and have to be fully dressed. No more slippers and robe. Same with picking up the mail. I never know who I’ll see on the elevator. Since I own my unit can I do what I want? Not exactly. There are certain house rules to follow, most of which are reasonable. For example, owners cannot place decorative or personal items in the hallways, on entry doors or in any common area. Where hardwood or stone flooring has been installed, it must be covered with a minimum of 75% carpet or area rugs with a pad. I am disappointed also that I cannot barbecue on my screened-in porch. I am told insurance dictates.
There are also condo fees and we are subject to assessments. I have little to no say over landscaping decisions or furniture and decorating selections in the public spaces, or the cost, but have faith in the fact that good choices will prevail to make our building desirable and salable. I can always join a committee to get involved in this or that if I so choose. I also know it’s more difficult to sell a condo than a single family home because there’s no property or land. And condos appreciate slower, usually, except for some high-priced ones that are moving briskly right now, though all this can change, as it can with any real estate investment.
Choosing where to live is often based on where you work and your choice of life style. Other secondary factors play a role such as finances, interests, security and transportation. Clayton fit my wish list. I have a wonderful life and community. How lucky I am to walk into the lobby, catch the eye of the concierge on duty and wave, schmooze with a neighbor, pet someone’s dog, and walk to my destination rather than jump in the car. And most days I welcome the banter: "How are you?" "Are you feeling better?" or a simple, "Good night." Yes, it’s great to be home again.