by Michael R. Allen
Those who pass by the Mullanphy Emigrant Home likely have no idea what this building used to be or how it appeared in its original state. Marred by a conversion that stole its distinctive pediment and cupola, the building is easier to neglect. This building is not abandoned, but it has fallen into disrepair and its current owner has not been able to keep up with the demands of its upkeep. An auto repair shop operates out of an addition to the building, but most of the original building is empty after years of abuse by previous owners.
The Mullanphy Emigrant Home was one of the charitable projects funded by the estate of Bryan Mullanphy, who left $200,000 — one-third of his estate — to establish the Mullanphy Emigrant Relief Fund for “poor emigrants passing through St. Louis.” Built in 1867, the Emigrant Home was a residential dormitory that provided temporary housing to immigrants. At that time and for decades to come, the near north side was becoming heavily populated by European immigrants. By the turn of the century, though, the tide turned and the European immigration slowed to be eclipsed by immigration into St. Louis by rural blacks from the American south. The Relief Fund abandoned the Emigrant Home in 1877, replacing the dormitory with a stipend for room and board to needy immigrants. The building went into use as Douglas School for the next decade.
The building is a noteworthy institutional application of the Italianate style designed by prominent local architects George I. Barnett and Albert Piquenard. The style was highly popular for schools and hospitals at the time of the building’s construction, but remaining examples are few. The State Hospital (formerly the County Insane Asylum), built in 1869 by plans by William Rumbold, is the one other example of an institutional Italianate style left in the city. The Mullanphy Emigrant Home deviated from conventions slightly by the curves of its central pediment, which exhibit a Spanish influence.
In 1900, H.R. Henderson — honored by the H.R.H. spelled in glazed bricks on the building — bought the old Emigrant Home for his Absorene Company. Henderson presided over some unfortunate alterations to the building, including the construction of an addition in the northeast corner that blocks the original facade.