4251 Penrose Street

A pastime: using Google streetview to find old family homes. Here’s where I lived till fifth grade. My parents lived in the lower right apartment for the births of their first three kids: me (1948), Tom (1951), and Ellen (1957). But wait. My Hohmann cousins George (1940) and Barbara (1942) were born here too. Oh, and my Barrett cousins Bobby (1950), Catherine (1953) and just maybe Carmen (1957) in the apartment upstairs from us.

This four-family flat in Holy Rosary parish was built in 1923. Each apartment was about a thousand square feet. Newspapers advertised living room, dining room “with Murphy bed,” kitchen, bedroom, bathroom. After World War II, young parents had no use for a dining room, so that space became the walk-through master bedroom, while the babies got crammed into the back bedroom.

My grandmother Catherine “Kitty Mom” Flanagan Barrett Curran owned the building.

From the age of 12 through early adulthood, Kitty’s family life had been characterized by death and dissolution. For ten years, till she married Tom Barrett in 1912, she made her own way in the world. Then he died in 1926 and she was on her own again–with four children.

Kitty was a survivor who might have expected the same toughness from her children. But she never lost touch with the pain that survival cost her. She made it her business to ensure that her children would never lack for support.

I don’t know if Tom Barrett had that apartment building in mind as an investment property before he died or if it was purchased after she married Ewald Curran, an open-hearted man who was a kindness multiplier for our family.

In any case, in 1939, when my Aunt Mary finally settled down with Lester Hohmann and was ready to start a family, Kitty provided them with an apartment.

In 1942, she borrowed cash from her green grocer so her soldier son Bob could fly home on leave from California, instead of taking the slow train. The plane crashed. It was a tough pill to swallow that her generosity had contributed to the tragedy. But her sadness only strengthened her motherly resolve.

She arranged a deal with the Corcoran family, a trio of three adult siblings, who lived down the street–a family ravaged by a history of tuberculosis and alcoholism. She gave them an apartment at 4251 Penrose in exchange for their house. 5836 Ridge became the Hohmann’s new home till they moved to south St. Louis in the late ’50s.

5836 Ridge (Google streetview, 2020)

In 1947, she was able to give my mother an apartment when she married Curly Price. In 1949, she did the same for my Uncle Bill when he married Lillian Demme.

By 1960, the Barretts had moved to Overland. We Prices had moved to south St. Louis. Irene, Rose, and Mike Corcoran had all died off. Kitty Mom was free to sell the building. She and Ewald moved to south St. Louis to be near Mary and Kathleen and to continue their generous ways toward the new generation of grandchildren.

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