Saturday, September 10, 2011

Marianists Reject Brownhust Purchase Offer, Plan to Demolish the Mansion

Friday was the deadline proposals to move the Shingle Style mansion known as Brownhurst from the edge of the campus of Vianney High School in Kirkwood. The Post Dispatch reported Saturday morning that the Society of Mary intends to move forward with demolition of the mansion pending final approval from the City of Kirkwood.

Demolition had been delayed twice by the Kirkwood Landmarks Commission, and most recently the Marianists had offered $30,000 toward moving the mansion. Moving the mansion however has been estimated to cost over $400,000, including the cost of a new foundation on which to place the structure. Purchasing a sufficient site in the area would be an additional expense that could have cost upwards of a few hundred thousand dollars depending on the location.

The Marianists refused an offer from an unidentified Kirkwood philanthropist who wanted to buy the mansion, invest between $500,000 to $2,000,000 to rehabilitate the building at its existing location, and use it as an incubator for non-profit organizations.

For over 20 years, the Society of Mary has treated the mansion like a slumlord property, leaving it in an abandoned state with little to no maintenance, and then claiming it is a "danger" to students of nearby Vianney. Although abandoned for so long, the mansion is still in amazingly good condition with the only exception being the roof of the wrap-around porch. It's hard to see how a renovated non-profit incubator would be incompatible or a "danger" to Vianney's students.

Just a few hundred feet southwest of Brownhurst and also adjacent to Vianney is the Marianist Galleries, which the home, studio and gallery of resident artist Brother Mel Meyer. The studio/gallery building is surrounded by large metal sculptures by the artist. The studio/gallery has been on the campus since the early 1970's and has never been deemed a "danger" to the nearby students.

The fact that Brownhurst will likely be allowed to be demolished is a disgrace to Kirkwood, a city that for the most part does value its history. Unlike Clayton, Ladue and many other St. Louis suburbs that have no ordinances to protect historic properties whatsoever, Kirkwood does have a Landmarks Commission. Unlike St. Louis' Preservation Board, the Kirkwood Landmarks Commission apparently does not have the power to say NO to demolition, or at least in this case was not willing to do so. If someone has more information about the Commission's authority, please comment.

As you can see from the interior photos that I took several weeks ago, Brownhurst is in no danger of collapse, nor does it really have any serious damage. There is some water damage mostly from the windows that the Marianists have left open for years, but no structural issues.

After I did a previous post on Brownhurst, at the request of a member of the Kirkwood Landmarks Commission I set all of the interior photos so that they could not be seen by the public. This was done in an effort to protect the interior elements, but now that the mansion appears headed for demolition, I have re-set all photos to public viewing. According to the member of the Commission, over the last several weeks, an authorized team has salvaged important interior architectural elements, including hopefully most of the items in these photos. It was hoped that these could be re-installed in the mansion one it was moved, but now it appears that they will be orphans as the structure seems doomed for senseless destruction.

All of my photographs of Brownhurst may be seen here on Flickr.



Anonymous said...

"Danger to the students"??? Please! I'm sure those Vianney boys have been more of a danger to the building in the past 20 years than it has been to them. An old, abandoned house on a boys' high school campus just begs for them to sneak in and smoke, drink, etc. To their credit, the boys have left it in remarkable condition (if they've been able to sneak in). All the more reason for it to stay.

Matt G said...

Man, that makes me embarrassed to say I graduated from there over 10 years ago. I always wondered what the story was with it, and what it looked like inside. Danger to students? Please! What a disgrace.

Joline said...

That angers me. What a beautiful structure and it is a shame if it does get destroyed.

Anonymous said...

Im a 2003 Vianney grad (not proud of that fact) who is upset to hear the building is to be torn down. Vianney has been pressed for space and they ended up building classrooms in an old gym while I was there. Meanwhile, they let this great building rot. I expect them to replace Brownhurst with parking. I think these actions accurately reflect the intellectual level of Vianney. I am not saying that as an adhominem. I really am not surprised after spending 4 years there that they would do something like this.

Rusty Fryman said...

I just wanted to say thank you for documenting this beautiful home before it fell victim to the ages. It is tragic that it has been neglected for so long, and perhaps a greater tragedy that now it faces destruction at the hands of the very owners who left it neglected so long. (I am hard pressed not to say a great many vile things about the Marianists over this, but given how many similar situations I have seen throughout this city, it seems inaccurate to single them out... A drive down Cabanne or Enright will show anyone exactly what I am referring to.) But again, thank you for taking the time to take these photographs, at least some part of the grandeur of such a home can be maintained for posterity, even if the home itself will not be.