Clemens House: Can Paul McKee Rehab Historic North Side Property? (PHOTOS)

Categories: News, Photos

clemens-house-fp.jpg
Courtesy of Bill Hannegan
Clemens House.
Last month, the Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation announced its annual list of the most endangered properties in the state, which included the James L. Clemens House in St. Louis -- a home constructed in 1860 that preservationists worry may not survive. Local activists have taken an increasing interest in the landmark in recent months, in part, because from the outside, it appears to be crumbling with no rehab plan in sight.

The fate of the Clemens House, built by Mark Twain's uncle, is now in the hands of developer Paul McKee, whose controversial, long-delayed NorthSide Regeneration project passed a significant hurdle in April with the Missouri Supreme Court ruling in his favor.

"We've invested a ton of money into stabilizing it, waiting for redevelopment," McKee tells Daily RFT. "That's a very, very important, strategic home and history on the north side here."

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Located at 1849 Cass Avenue on the north side, the Clemens House is known for its Palladian-style villa with cast-iron ornamentation. It's one of the most intact antebellum mansions in the metro area, though its condition today is pretty rough.

Clemens-House-23.JPG
Courtesy of Bill Hannegan
Clemens House.

It was designed by architect Patrick Walsh for James Clemens, a businessman and the uncle of Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain. It's listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was also formally designated a city landmark in 1971.

Missouri Preservation, which designated it as an endangered property this year, says that it was sold to the Sisters of Carondelet in 1888, who then had a chapel addition constructed. It was later used by a number of Roman Catholic communities and charities, but its condition has deteriorated in recent decades.

McKee eventually took over and in 2009 promised a massive rehabilitation and redevelopment. But while stuck in a legal fight, little has been done to move any project at Clemens House forward. A roof on the nearby chapel has collapsed. A cast-iron façade has been removed.

Paul-McKee-file.jpg
Photo by Jennifer Silverberg for RFT
Paul McKee.

"It just breaks my heart," Bill Hannegan, a St. Louis activist who runs the blog Keep St. Louis Free, tells Daily RFT. "My first love in life is architecture.... If St. Louis loses its most beautiful buildings, it's lost everything."

Hannegan, who works as a painter and specializes in old buildings, has been closely monitoring the condition of Clemens and has collected photos on his blog, which he has shared with Daily RFT.

Clemens-House-22.JPG
Courtesy of Bill Hannegan

Hannegan says it seems unlikely the property and its historic value could be salvaged at this point.

"I just don't think anything can be done with it now," he says. "It's just too far gone."

Michael Allen of the St. Louis-based Preservation Research Office tells Daily RFT, "It's one of the most important parts of our heritage, and it's just sitting, hanging in the balance."

Allen says, "If Paul McKee isn't the person to rehab it, we need to find the person who is."

Continue for more on Clemens House from Paul McKee and for more photos.


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16 comments
sublunar
sublunar

There are other blogs in STL with far more comparative photos of the Clemens House.

sublunar
sublunar

There are other blogs in STL with far more comparative photos of the Clemens House.

sublunar
sublunar

I've been documenting the Clemens House since 2008. And in 2008, the chapel still had a roof. It's so depressing to see it now that I don't go back much anymore...

There has been very little activity whatsoever in terms of structural integrity improvements. The only thing that has happened here since the roof collapsed was they had the debris removed and they dismantled the front porch. I don't see that costing 1.5 million dollars. And now, the roof of the house itself is collapsing.

McKee has had the power to do something positive for this place and we haven't seen it happen yet. This is yet another reason why he is so disliked.

sublunar
sublunar

I've been documenting the Clemens House since 2008. And in 2008, the chapel still had a roof. It's so depressing to see it now that I don't go back much anymore...

There has been very little activity whatsoever in terms of structural integrity improvements. The only thing that has happened here since the roof collapsed was they had the debris removed and they dismantled the front porch. I don't see that costing 1.5 million dollars. And now, the roof of the house itself is collapsing.

McKee has had the power to do something positive for this place and we haven't seen it happen yet. This is yet another reason why he is so disliked.

lakerealtor
lakerealtor

How old are these photos? I personally did a lot of historical research on this project. I worked for one of the developers brought on to do this project in 2009-2010, to turn into senior housing and a museum. The chapel was in ruins at that point, but Paric had done quite a bit to stabilize the main house structure. The entire Northside Plan is really quite remarkable & inspiring, and I for one give McKee my full support. I've seen his plan & think if the general public could hear and see it too they would have a much different opinion. He is working hard to bring more $, jobs, schools, and corporations to the St.Louis area that will benefit the whole city in the long run. I think it's a shame that the legalities of the situation have prolonged the progress for this long. I have no doubts that McKee is strongly passionate about preserving the historical attributes of the Clemens House! It saddens me to see these comments as though McKee is heartless and has forgotten about this gem. I'm sure that is far from the case & can't wait to see what he does with it.

hanneganlounge
hanneganlounge

No one did  1.5 million dollars of work on the Clemens House as claimed in your article. $10,000 maybe. Look at the pictures! For 1.5 million dollars Clemens House could have wrapped in plastic and saved if from the ravages of the elements.

Una McGarry
Una McGarry

I just mentioned this to someone tonight, not much has happened lately

Alex Carlson
Alex Carlson

McKee is a powerful, singular blight on St. Louis, and City Hall lets him run rampant. Shame on all parties involved.

Sarah Kathleen
Sarah Kathleen

Of course not. Paul McKee has let that beautiful property rot beyond any kind of reasonable repair. I wish people were paying more attention to what this person is doing and, more importantly, is not doing, to kill north city. Shame on you, Paul McKee.

Alex Carlson
Alex Carlson

He'd be "saving" it from himself. So, no. It will continue to go to ruin if left in McKee's hands. Much like the rest of the North side he owns.

Lynn Pevey
Lynn Pevey

First he needs to do something with all the land he's acquired over the last 15 yrs and then once he does that then people might trust him...til then NOPE!

smdrpepper
smdrpepper topcommenter

Heres an idea, take it over through eminent domain and then hand it over to someone who can actually DO the job.  Make into a museum or something since there is not a lot of that on the north side.

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