Update: Completely destroyed by suspected arson in the early morning hours of July 12, 2017. The City of St. Louis cut ties with Paul McKee’s Northside in June of 2018.
I took a look at the Clemens Mansion this weekend, the long suffering country home turned convent originally built by the uncle of Mark Twain, James Clemens, Jr. What was once “out in the middle of nowhere” is now deep within the city, on Cass Avenue. Many things had changed since the last time I drove by; there were obvious signs that the long anticipated renovation of the mansion by Paul McKee had begun.
It doesn’t seem to have gotten very far, and I hesitate to use the word “stabilized” when referring to the structure. The original mansion, seen in the first two photos, still has much of its original cast iron columns and architectural elements, though the theft so many years ago of many pieces of iron have left the front porch with a bedraggled, unstable appearance. Those paired columns just to the right of the doorway look like they’re about ready to fall off the building. Looking at earlier photos at Built St. Louis, it’s obvious that much damage has occurred to the structure in the last decade.
The most remarkable change has come in the chapel portion of the complex, built when this was the Convent of Our Lady of Good Counsel. The infamous collapse of the chapel’s roof happened almost three years ago, and as can be seen from the photos taken last Saturday, much of the presumably damaged or weakened masonry along the second floor chapel’s east wall is gone. See pictures from two years ago that show the interior before partial demolition here. What was once an incredibly unique space in St. Louis is now largely gone.
The picture below illustrates how much of the east wall apparently had to be removed. Due to the falling of the roof trusses and the subsequent two and a half years of water damage, I suppose it’s only logical that the brickwork will need to be replaced.
The back of the dormitory portion, built out of the back of the mansion looks well sealed and should remain stable for the near future.
I always enjoy looking at the old Sanborn maps of the city. Apparently the convent once had chicken coops in the backyard, of which no trace that I know of survives. The brick wall around the buildings, apparently not original, continues to deteriorate, and will not require much demolition to remove its remnants.
We’ll see if this project gets done before the ravages of time or vandals destroy this important historic site.