A Greek Revival treasure saved from demolition in the final hour

One of the gems of St. Louis architecture

I have been concentrating lately on my Love Me Don’t Leave Me series in order to shine the light on the plight of abandoned buildings, many of which are now sadly teetering on the brink of final death and destruction.

However, I decided I needed a break to put my attention onto creating a painting of a stunning historic building that instead has a happy ending.  It was saved from demolition in the final hour, and now, 60 years later it serves as a house museum in St. Louis.

Allow me to introduce to you my latest painting, the Chatillon-DeMenil House, one of the gems of St. Louis architecture!

Chatillon-DeMenil House

Although the Chatillon-DeMenil House sits right in my neighborhood of Benton Park, my interest to learn more about it was piqued when I discovered an article in the Riverfront Times by one of their best writers in my opinion, Chris Naffziger. He covered the historic preservation scene in St. Louis for many years and his article on the Chatillion-DeMenil House was an inspiration to me.

A little bit of history

The history of this building is quite fascinating. It’s hard to believe that this imposing Greek Revival style home, began as a humble, four-room farmhouse, with a broad porch that overlooked the Mississippi River. Henri Chatillon was a French American explorer born in Carondelet, St, Louis, who decided to settle down after a life of guiding pioneers to Oregon. He built the house in 1848.

Unfortunately, Chatillon encountered a number of problems, the least of which was lack of money to maintain the house and property. He ended up selling it in 1856.

Following the turmoil of the Civil War, the new owners, Nicolas and Sophie DeMenil, began to settle down in their newly purchased house, which was situated close to the rapidly expanding Lemp Brewery. Nicolas earned his wealth from land speculation and a successful drug store. His wife, Sophie, hailed from the founding family of St. Louis, the Chouteaus.

It was the Chouteau relative’s grand mansion in downtown St. Louis, that inspired the DeMenils to expand the simple farmhouse with a massive addition in the Greek Revival style. Towering ionic columns form a dynamic front porch that embraced the mansion’s view of the river. The DeMenils liked to entertain and impressive public rooms on the first floor provided them with ample space to do so.

The Chatillon-DeMenils House is an important component to St Louis’ architectural legacy, being that it is one of only a handful of homes in the St. Louis area that preserve the Greek Revival style so well.

An early photo of the Chatillon-DeMenil Mansion

The house was passed down to the DeMenils’ son, Alexander, and he was the last of the family to reside there before Lee Hess purchased the property in the 1940s. A consummate showman, Hess used the house as storage for his nearby Cherokee Cave attraction. When Interstate 55 came crashing into existence in the 1960s, the house was spared from demolition at the last second by the Landmarks Association of St. Louis, which bought the house and land and set up the nonprofit board that still runs the museum today.

The home today

In addition to it being a magnificent example of the Greek Revival style, the Chatillon-DeMenil Mansion has further historical significance that goes beyond its architectural.

Guided tours are offered and show how the house embodies the stories of the families who lived here, from founding families of St. Louis and Carondelet, a nationally known Western trailblazer, the family of the Native American Oglala leader, and a literary scholar who was a director of the 1904 World’s Fair. The tour guides also tells the story of the caves beneath the property, the highway system that almost destroyed the house, and the preservation efforts that saved it.

Many antiques and artifacts are original to the home, which has been restored to interpret the decorative arts and architecture of the Victorian era.

You can find out more about the tours from the Chatillon-DeMenil Mansion website.

Caio for now, Leisa

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