by Michael R. Allen
We shall never again see this beautiful house at the northeast corner of 20th Street and St. Louis Avenue in St. Louis Place, just north of the boundary of the Clemens House-Columbia Brewery National Historic District. Wreckers took down the house last week as part of a city demolition package. The house had fallen on hard times. Vacant for years, the house lost its roof through collapse and sections of the western wall were beginning to collapse inward. Its owner was an elderly man who lived in the ruins; he was apparently on a bus downtown to try to stop the demolition when the wreckers started their work. The home was mostly gone when he returned.
Nonetheless, the beauty shone through the devastation. This was one of the few early large corner houses on St. Louis Avenue. Notice the shallow setback from St. Louis Avenue and the lack of any setback at all from 20th Street. Originally a single-family home possessing the same grandeur of its peers on the avenue, the house is resolutely urban in character. St. Louis Place had an order of fine houses, and homes on St. Louis Avenue were more prosaic than the slightly more expensive ones that lined both sides of the St. Louis Place park. Hence this house balances the expression of wealth its owners intended with a conventional placement of the home typical of the street. No one could have expected seclusion on a main thoroughfare.
What was most striking about the home was its intact features. Although derelict, the house was never painted and kept its wooden windows, the cornice, dormer, slate shingles and even its roof cresting. The eclectic mix of Second Empire and Italianate features was restrained by the purity of expression typical of its time (likely the early 1880s). The front wall was brick, the lintels simple stone arches. There was little pretense despite its stylistic impurity.
Standing vacant, the home was almost frozen in time. While the home remained immobile, the forces of water, gravity and time moved forward against the house.