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Historic American Buildings Survey: The Clemens Mansion

It seems like it’s been far longer, but it’s coming up on three years since fire gutted the James Clemens Mansion, resulting in its final demolition. But back in November of 1960, Paul Piaget photographed the mansion when it was still part of a religious complex as part of the Historic American Buildings Survey, cataloged in HABS MO,96-SALU,55.

Designed by Patrick Walsh, and built in 1859-60, the house would have been far out in the country, and I might note, near the Civil War fortifications that surrounded the city. As some of my readers might know, James Clemens originally owned and sold the the brewery property to Adam Lemp on the Levee. Clemens had bought it from the United States Treasury, so he must have built the house that became Lemp’s saloon, and possibly the brewery building Lemp built into the what was originally known as the Western Brewery.

The front pediment is a masterpiece of cast iron decorative work, something that can still be seen in Laclede’s Landing and perhaps more famously in Soho in New York. The women’s faces are supposedly his wife’s, but I doubt that; they are probably just allegorical figure’s such as perhaps Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture.

It foes without saying but the woodwork, including the floor, was exceptional, with alternating bands of dark and light wood. Perhaps readers might know what the two woods might be.

The exterior is Italianate showing the influence of Michelangelo, but the interior is more Greek Revival, typical of the 1850s and 60s, which was a time of architectural stylistic transition.

The plasterwork was by Irish American Porter White, who was active in St. Louis.

Everything you see is now gone, thought some of the triangular temple pediment lintels had been stolen before the fire.

Just look at the foliated crown moulding by Porter White; it was truly an amazing house even up into the late Twentieth Century. Its abandonment led to rapid deterioration over the course of really only a decade. I know people who have told me they were inside the house in the new millennium and it was still in excellent condition. It’s gone now.

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