by Aimee Levitt
For the third time, the Paint Quality Institute has announced its list of the twelve prettiest painted places in America -- and Lafayette Square is on it!
It's not entirely clear if this is a highly sought-after honor since the last list came out in 2000. The Lafayette Square Restoration Committee was unaware of its existence. When informed of the great honor, committee member Houston Smith was pleased, but unsurprised. "We've always been known as one of those places in the U.S., because of the 'painted lady' thing."
But is this painted prettiness by choice or by design?
Recalling Lafayette Square residents' angry response a few years ago when the city proposed installing a playground made of colorful plastic instead of neutral wood, we were inclined to think the latter. There must be an approved list of house colors, with Pantone numbers for even greater precision. There must be rules for which colors were allowed next to each other. What if they clashed?
So we decided to make a few phone calls, to a Realtor, a house painting company and the neighborhood association, all we thought were in a position to know the neighborhood's mysterious paint code. They all had the same answer:
There's no one painter responsible for the houses in the neighborhood, and, aside from brick, residents can paint their houses any damned way they want.
"We have an historic code," says Houston Smith, "but the Lafayette Square Restoration Committee does not regulate paint color choices. The colors are up to the owners. It's wide open."
Well, not exactly.
"Some colors make us cringe," Smith admits. "Light blues and weird yellows have been issues in the past. Sometimes if we see those colors going up, we try to counsel the neighbor. It's like an intervention."
Fortunately, that's very seldom an issue. "People who come to a Victorian neighborhood have a feel for good combinations. And paint's not permanent. You can always cover it up."
For the record, 193 communities were nominated to be recognized as America's Prettiest Painted Places. Lafayette Square wasn't the only nominee from the St. Louis area; Alton also got a nod. Twelve winners were chosen, two from each region. There appears to be no prize, not even a few cans paint, besides the awesome honor of being chosen to grace such a list.