Landmarks Association of St. Louis

Herbert C. Chivers (1869-1946)

by Carolyn Hewes Toft, Former Executive Director


Women's Magazine Building, now
the University City City Hall. 
Today, the reputation of Herbert Caleb Chivers is derived almost entirely from one commission: his 1903 Women's Magazine Building extravaganza built for the first Mayor of University City, Edward Gardner Lewis. In continuing service as that city's City Hall since 1930, the building is still remarkably intact even though the terra cotta cherubs that once graced its roof line have been removed. Also gone is the tunnel that connected the Magazine Building to a much larger and far more curious structure on Delmar, the Egyptian Building. Chivers took the credit for that design as well. It was demolished in 1930.

It is easy to guess how Chivers and U. City's Lewis were attracted to each other - Chivers would probably be dismayed to discover his relative obscurity for he devoted considerable time and talent to self-promotion. In addition to advertisements in Lewis' magazine, Chivers published a monthly called the Home Builder, took out ads in City Directories (not a common practice for the early 20th century architectural profession) and developed a far-flung mail order business selling house plans.



In 1910, he compiled a handy, hard cover volume of over 1000 of these plans. Artistic Homes is replete with testimonials from former clients, admonitions from Chivers about the value of using an architect and an essay on the City Beautiful: "For years I have been eminently successful as a Deviser of Civic Improvements ...."

6915 Amherst, University City 
Three of the house plans featured in Artistic Homes were built in the University Heights #1 Subdivision: 6975 Cornell, 6935 Cornell and 6915 Amherst. Although the order forms for stock plans, plans with changes and new plans list Henry C. Chivers, St. Louis, orders were actually placed through Chivers on the 16th floor of the Call Building in San Francisco.

Did he move to San Francisco after the earthquake? He certainly knew where to find a market. Chivers died on May 13, 1946 in Tecumseh, Kansas at age seventy-seven. His obituary in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on June 5, 1946 reveals little about this fascinating character. The only building mentioned other than the University City City Hall was Union Station for which he "worked as a draftsman on plans."

Some sense of the man's spirit can be gleaned from the beginning of a five-stanza poem he wrote for Artistic Homes:

               -- Herbert C. Chivers

He made a fortune buying lots,
Converting them to pretty spots,
And building pleasant homes to sell,
For Roycraft always builded well.

Substantial healthy, handy homes;
With arches, gables, peaks and domes,
Piazzas, oriels and handsome towers,
Half hidden in the trees and flowers.

Each house was varied from the rest--
Like pretty women, nicely dressed.
He scarce could hold a house til done,
For at least two buyers sought each one.

How Roycraft did it, none could learn;
He was so very taciturn.
When dying, Roycraft told his spouse
The secret: "When you want a house,
Secure an architect at once."

(He who hires himself, a dunce employs.)