Mullanphy Emigrant Home: North St. Louis Landmark Slowly Returning to Glory

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The Mullanphy Emigrant Home stabilized, today.
  • The Mullanphy Emigrant Home stabilized, today.

Everyone loves a great lost cause. In 2007, RFT named the efforts to save the Mullanphy Emigrant Home as the "Best Lost Cause" of the year. Coming around on seven years later, the Mullanphy has stood proud, battered by dozens of brutal storms as ferocious as the one that toppled its southern wall years ago. But the future of this 150-year-old building building has perhaps never looked so good.

The Mullanphy's original front door. - PHOTO BY CHRIS NAFFZIGER
  • Photo by Chris Naffziger
  • The Mullanphy's original front door.

The Mullanphy Emigrant Home, built in 1867 according to plans by George Barnett and Albert Piquenard, sits on the southern end of the burgeoning Old North St. Louis neighborhood at 1609 N. 14th Street. The area has seen extensive rehabbing and redevelopment throughout the last decade, particularly the renovation of the neighborhood's commercial core around Crown Candy Kitchen. The building anchors a corner along busy N. Florissant Avenue, the six-lane artery that stretches from downtown St. Louis all the way out to the city limits. The location is anything but obscure and isolated. In fact, the Mullanphy now possesses a strategic and desirable site mere blocks from the new Stan Musial Veterans' Bridge entrance into downtown along Tucker Boulevard.

When it opened in 1867, the Mullanphy Emigrant Home answered a pressing need for a rapidly growing St. Louis. Tens of thousands of immigrants from Europe flooded the city in the decades before and following the Civil War, and many of them arrived without knowing anyone. The Mullanphy sought to provide a warm bed for young men who may have literally just disembarked from a steamboat on the levee with only a couple of dollars in their pocket. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the Mullanphy, despite catering to the downtrodden, was that the building itself was an ornate, almost lavish work of Italianate architecture. High-minded reformers of the day believed that august architecture could influence a building's inhabitants, making them more moral and upright citizens in the process.

Earliest known photograph of the Mullanphy Emigrant Home. - IMAGE COURTESY OF OLD NORTH RESTORATION GROUP
  • Image courtesy of Old North Restoration Group
  • Earliest known photograph of the Mullanphy Emigrant Home.
The Mullanphy functioning as Absorene. - IMAGE COURTESY OF OLD NORTH RESTORATION GROUP
  • Image courtesy of Old North Restoration Group
  • The Mullanphy functioning as Absorene.

Ironically, the Mullanphy only served that noble function for a short time. After the Civil War, St. Louis was expanding rapidly, and the once independent town of North St. Louis joined its larger neighbor growing from the south. The region became one of the most densely settled portions of the city with a population well over 10,000 inhabitants at its height. Responding to the industrial demand of the city, the Mullanphy saw itself converted into a factory for the Absorene Company, a manufacturer of wallpaper cleaner. Elaborate architectural detail proved of no use to the company's practical-minded leaders, and the factory proceeded to strip the building of much of its ornamentation. But the inherent beauty of the building's proportions and scale remained until Absorene abandoned the building in the 1980s.

Continue to read about the Mullanphy's recent salvation.

The Mullanphy Emigrant Home stabilization work. - PHOTO BY CHRIS NAFFZIGER
  • Photo by Chris Naffziger
  • The Mullanphy Emigrant Home stabilization work.

For the next quarter century, the Mullanphy Emigrant Home slipped into a deep slumber. Then, in April 2006, a storm reduced to rubble the entire southern wall of the Mullanphy. Now exposed to the elements, the building suffered further damage. The building was slated for emergency demolition when devoted residents and architectural enthusiasts from both Old North St. Louis and throughout the region stepped in to help.

An interior doorway of the Mullanphy. - PHOTO BY CHRIS NAFFZIGER
  • Photo by Chris Naffziger
  • An interior doorway of the Mullanphy.

Several benefits and fundraisers later, they raised enough money to act on their hopes in late 2007. The effort to save the Mullanphy Emigrant Home received not just monetary donations, but free labor from E.M. Harris Construction Company and the Masonry Contractors Association. The building, while only months before was perhaps worthy of the honor of 2007's "Best Lost Cause," persevered with extensive repair and stabilization. It has since endured the lashings of countless severe storms, proving that the repairs were solid; the building now needs an investor to buy and complete the renovation, which is currently on hold.

Matt Fernandez of the Old North Restoration Group recently gave me a tour of the building's interior; despite heavy rain and snowstorms, the interior was dry and in good shape. Now, almost seven years later, as the area around Old North St. Louis sees increased investment, the Mullanphy Emigrant Home stands ready for a complete rehab to serve its neighborhood and city again.

Chris Naffziger writes about architecture at St. Louis Patina. Contact him via e-mail at naffziger@gmail.com

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