At one time, the Quick Meal Company was the largest stove manufacturer in the world.
Their bestselling products were later marketed under the brand name Magic Chef. At one point, the Magic Chef plant in St. Louis employed 2,000 people and covered 600,000 square feet.
In 1907, company co-founder Charles Stockstrom began building a splendid mansion for his family in the Compton Hill neighborhood of St. Louis. Designed by noted St. Louis architect Ernst Janssen, the mansion was finished in 1908 at a cost of $49,500.
Charles Stockstrom died in 1935 at age 83; his daughter Adda Ohmeyer continued to live in the mansion until her death in 1990. The furnishings were sold at a week-long public auction that year, with the mansion itself being sold to a neighbor, Shelley Donaho, soon after.
Although the Stockstrom house (today known as the Magic Chef Mansion) has been Donaho’s private residence for the past 26 years, she has also been keenly interested in restoring the mansion to its former splendor — tracking down, repurchasing and returning many original furnishings to the house. Other original items that were lost have been replaced with similar items from the same period. Where artwork and ceiling designs had been painted over, meticulously-detailed reproductions were commissioned to match the originals using historic photographs as a guide.
The basement of the Stockstrom mansion includes a 70-foot long maple bowling lane and approach, with a very rare above-ground ball return design. The ball travels under the entire length of the return before rolling up the curved railing at the back of the approach, then dropping onto the top rail with the other balls.
The bowling lane did not appear in the plans for the mansion, but it appears to be original to the home (the alcove that accommodates the pin deck suggests that a bowling lane had been intended from the very beginning). The original maple bowling pins were found, too rotten to use; so Donaho had reproductions made (modeled after one of the pins that had survived in decent condition). Unfortunately, the maple replicas became dented after just a few impacts from bowling balls. The original and replica pins have been relegated to a wall display; a set of modern, plastic-coated tenpins is now used whenever visitors wish to bowl.
A Brunswick-Balke-Collender scoreboard was also in poor condition, so Donaho commissioned a reproduction made from a slate chalkboard (although the wooden B-B-C frame is original). An adjacent game room includes a couple of tabletop “ball bowler” games popularized in the 1950s.
The bowling alley aside, a mansion tour will easily occupy visitors for two hours or more. In addition to public and private tours, the mansion is available for event rental.
Story and photographs © 2016 by Kevin Hong.