McCloskey Mansion

1 Portland Place, St. Louis, Missouri

Completed in 1912, for Mrs Anna (Busch) Faust (1875-1936) and her husband, Edward A. Faust (1868-1936). Located in the City's Central West End, it took two years to build and was designed by local architect Tom P. Barnett of Barnett, Haynes & Barnett. Throughout, it takes its primary inspiration from various villas, palazzos, and places of worship in 15th and 16th Century Italy. However, its present owners may perhaps demonstrate that no matter how grand your home, and irrespective of how much money you lavish upon it, it's your reputation within your neighborhood that will be more likely to remain as your legacy. The McCloskey's house may look good, but their chapter in its history has been fraught from the start....

This house is best associated with...

Edward Anthony Faust

Edward A. Faust, of 1 Portland Place, St. Louis, Missouri

1868-1936

Anna (Busch) Faust

Mrs Anna Louise (Busch) Faust

1875-1936

Harry George Moore

Harry G. Moore, Sr., M.D., of St. Louis, Missouri

1904-1982

Marjorie (von Fursch) Moore

Mrs Marjorie Irene (von Fursch) Moore

1907-1974

Otto Roeslein Erker

Otto R. Erker, Attorney, of St. Louis, Missouri

1912-1985

Marian (Sherrill) Ittner

Mrs Marian Banister (Sherrill) Bellinger, Erker, Ittner

d.2009

Mark McCloskey

Mark T. McCloskey, Personal Injury Lawyer, of St. Louis, Missouri

b.c.1957

Patricia (Novak) McCloskey

Mrs "Patty" (Novak) McCloskey, Personal Injury Lawyer, of St. Louis

b.c.1959

It's a fairly safe bet to say that when Edward and Anna were engaged in 1896 the news was met with rapturous approval within both their families: their fathers both came to St. Louis from Germany, both became millionaires, and more than that, best friends. Edward's father, Tony, owned St. Louis' most popular restaurant that became so well-known across the country it was dubbed the "Delmonico's of the West". He was also Vice-President of the company that Anna's father, Adolphus, founded with her grandfather, Eberhard: the Anheuser-Busch (A-B) Brewery, today part of the world's largest brewing company. Being independently wealthy through various family investments, Edward and Anna were free to indulge their private passions for art, and in Anna's case, writing.

In 1911, Anna's parents were celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary. To mark the milestone, they gave each of their eight surviving children $100,000 with which to buy or build a house of their choosing, such as Grant's Farm Manor for August A. Busch.

The Fausts built on Portland Place, one of the city's most exclusive private streets. But, it's worth noting that "private" has only ever meant that its residents are responsible for maintaining them. Eric Kendall Banks was the City Counselor for St. Louis and Adjunct Professor at St. Louis University School of Law and Washington University School of Law. He told St. Louis Public Radio: “You cannot control the comings and goings of citizens on your private street," stating that suggesting otherwise through the use of gates and guards, "is a myth that private street residents frequently want to put forth". 

Saint Louis, meet San Luigi

Tom Barnett was a busy man in 1909, already two years into building the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. So perhaps it wasn't such a coincidence that when the Fausts came knocking at his office door he proposed to build them something else that took its inspiration from Italy. The team of juniors he'd sent to make sketches of various cathedrals and basilicas in Italy were now given the additional assignment of sending back blueprints of various rooms with which to embellish the interior of the Faust's palazzo. They also sent back all the stonemasons from an Italian village who lived in a tent on site at Portland Place for the duration of the works, many settling in St. Louis afterwards. 

The exterior of their 20,000-square foot house is faced with Carrara marble and is typical of Beaux-Arts architecture that was then the fashion, following a Neo-classical Italian theme. Several of the principal reception rooms are modelled on those in Italian buildings, the most notable being the Caen stone galleried hall and imperial staircase. The space is said to be identical to that in a Florentine palazzo, but which of that city's many palazzos remains a mystery. The hall reaches up 45-feet to a decorative rotunda from which is suspended a replica of "the Lamp of Galileo" (1586) at the Cathedral in Pisa - the same that led Galileo to invent the law of the isochrony of the pendulum. The four ceiling murals between the pendentive murals each measure 28-feet across and are finished on canvas by an as yet unidentified artist who signed his name simply "Thomas".

Other features of note include the mural in the Drawing Room painted by the German artist Ferdinand Wagner the Younger (1847-1927); the Dining Room that is modelled after a reception room in the 15th Century Palazzo Pitti in Florence, and its ceiling mural which is all one canvas; stained-glass windows in the solarium that are copies of those made by Michelangelo in the Laurentian Library in Florence; and, of course, a token Aeolian Organ - the must-have sound system for any self-respecting Gilded Age millionaire.

Life with the Faust Family

Edward Faust was Vice-President of the St. Louis Art Museum and Chairman of the St. Louis Municipal Art Commission. He frequently leant pieces from his own collection to the city, eg., Rubens' "Holy Family," Murillo's "St. Joseph and Infant Child" etc.

While Edward busied himself with art and supporting the St. Louis Philharmonic Orchestra, Anna held aspirations to be a writer. Finding the movie plots of her day painfully stereotypical, she determined to write her own screenplay: The House of Brandt. Unfortunately, it did not turn heads in Hollywood, nor did it capture the public's imagination when she published it as a book. But, curiously, the very next copyright filed after hers for the script was that filed by one Louis Courcil and John Russell McCarthy for a certain little rhyme called Humpty-Dumpty - but alas, their version is not the famous one, and neither has anyone today heard of the The House of Brandt.

The Fausts held their housewarming party here in 1912, but just four years later added an extension for their daughter's debutante season. In 1916, they added the 70-by-45-foot ballroom (again designed by Barnett), the wood beamed ceiling of which is copied from that in the hall at the 14th Century Palazzo Davanzati in Florence. A fun twist to the room is that the beams were fitted with boxes that could be swung open by tugging on a rope, the purpose of which was to have them filled with confetti for celebrations. To add to the effect, fans were positioned over the fireplace to create a blizzard.

Foisted on the Faust Juniors

Anna died in April, 1936, and Edward followed her to his grave less than three months later leaving combined taxable assets of $2.3 million which included their real estate valued at $43,000. Their two children had hoped to donate the house to the city as a museum but zoning laws prevented it from being anything other than a home. They also waved it under the nose of the Mayor as a prospective Mayoral residence, but he declined the offer on account of its running costs. As neither of the children wished to live here, the palazzo quickly grew old as it sat unloved and empty - except for a solitary caretaker. In 1945, facing the threat of demolition, it was rescued by Alabama-born Dr Harry G. Moore and his wife, Marjorie von Fursch, who was born and bred in St. Louis.

From Moore to the Erkers and The Auction

In 1957, the house was purchased from the Moores by an attorney, Otto R. Erker, former Treasurer of the Bar of Missouri. Three years previously (1953) he married Mrs Marian Sherrill Bellinger whose first husband was the son of Rear-Admiral Bellinger, sender of the famous telegram: "Air raid, Pearl Harbor, this in no drill". Otto and Marian lived here with Marian's two children by her first marriage (Sherry and Patrick) and the two daughters they had together (Rianna and Tonette), forming one happy family.

Tragically, Sherry died here in 1965 when she was electrocuted in the bathtub while using her hairdryer. Three years later (1968), Otto and Marian divorced. Patrick was very close to his stepfather (who he regarded as his father, calling him "Pop" or "Father") and custody of all three children was granted to Otto who remained in the mansion until his death in 1985. Otto did not remarry, but he continued to be sociable throwing many parties and charity fundraisers here as well as hosting his daughter, Antoinette's, wedding in 1977 and entertaining the contestants for Miss Universe in 1983. As neighbors and throughout the community, the Erkers are still recalled with much fondness.

Surprisingly for a 'prominent lawyer,' and avid collector, Erker died without having made a will. The following year (1986), his children decided to sell his, "almost legendary collection of art and antiques" which he had spent most of his life collecting, being also a "shrewd buyer... a product of the '30s who would not throw his money around freely". Attracting over 2,000-people, the house and its contents were opened to the public before the auction. The auctioneer, Bruce Selkirk, remembered Otto as, "a dear friend who enjoyed the quest of purchasing an item more than he enjoyed owning it".

Neighbors from Hell? Mark and Patricia McCloskey

Mark T. McCloskey is the son of a medical doctor who served two terms on the City Council. He and his wife, Patricia (aka Patty), owe their fortune to their jobs as personal injury lawyers, a profession some refer to as, "ambulance chasers". Suing comes easily to them: Mark sued a former employer for wrongful termination; and, he also sued his own father, his father’s caretaker, and his own sister for defamation. Jeremy Kohler, a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch who delved into their litigious history wrote that they, “are almost always in conflict with others, typically over control of private property, what people can do on that property, and whose job it is to make sure they do it".

In 1987, 1 Portland Place was on the market and despite being offered more money by the McCloskeys, those representing Otto Erker's estate sold it to another party. Accusing those involved of, "cheating him out of a chance to buy a unique mansion,” McCloskey sued, asking that either his offer be accepted or that he be rewarded damages. The mansion became theirs in 1988, and it seems they started as they meant to go on.

On moving in, the McCloskeys claimed a parcel of land adjacent to their property was theirs whereas the Portland Place trustees were resolute that it belonged to the neighborhood. Even now, the dispute remains unresolved, and whereas disputes of this kind may not be unusual, a sworn affidavit of their behaviour shows their actions to have been anything but usual: They, "regularly prohibited all persons, including Portland Place residents, from crossing the Parcel including at least at one point, challenging a resident at gunpoint who refused to heed the McCloskeys’ warnings to stay off such property.”

In 1992, having become part of the Portland Place Homeowner's Association, the McCloskeys clashed again with their neighbors. Patty led a movement demanding that the trustees enforce an out-dated neighborhood rule prohibiting unmarried couples on Portland Place from living together. So determined were they to see this rule enforced, the McCloskeys appealed the case all the way to the state Supreme Court... unsuccessfully. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that, "several neighbors said it was because the McCloskeys didn’t want gay couples living on the block”. Patty thought the accusations, "insanity," explaining somewhat ambiguously, "I want to enforce certain restrictions," and then citing a neighboring doctor for running his business out of his home. The doctor told the paper, "I have not officially seen a patient since 1984". Patty was ejected from the Association the following year, "over disagreements about the neighborhood rules".

Since Patty was ousted, the McCloskeys have fought the Association a further four times in court; and, in 1996, McCloskey sued the Central West End Association, accusing them of trespassing for taking a picture of his house. On another occasion in 2000, he was fined $1,800 for frivolous filings. McCloskey paid the fine... with 18,000 dimes delivered in a box. In 2002, the McCloskeys faced eviction from their showpiece home when the Portland Place Association sued to foreclose on their house for their refusal to pay dues. Had the McCloskeys not backed down, we may have been spared what followed.

In 2013, McCloskey took objection to a row of beehives that were lined up on the opposite side of a fence segregating their property from their neighbors to the north, The Jewish Central Reform Congregation. The hives had been placed there as a project for the children to produce honey for the Jewish New Year. But, because the fence sat six inches inside the McCloskey boundary, rather than pick up the phone or drop an email objecting to the beehives, Rob Eshman reported for Forward that Mark McCloskey took, "an ax or sledgehammer" and destroyed them, killing all the bees. Afterwards, he left a note threatening to sue the synagogue for damages if the mess was not removed at once.

"Always Part of the Problem, Never Part of the Solution"

In 2020, footage of Mark and Patricia McCloskey brandishing guns at BLM protesters walking past their mansion went viral. Mark pleaded guilty to misdemeanor fourth-degree assault and was fined $750 while Patty pleaded guilty to misdemeanor harassment and was fined $2,000. They both agreed to give in the guns they were handling. Some, however, have applauded them for their actions and Mark was invited to speak at Trump's Republican National Convention. In May 2021, with his new found ill-got celebrity, he announced his intentions to run for one of Missouri’s U.S. Senate seats and three months later, as promised, Governor Mike Parson pardoned the McCloskeys for their crimes.

Robert Dolgin, a former Portland Place trustee told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he had nothing good to say about the McCloskeys: "They've always been part of the problem, never part of the solution". Another of their neighbors, Rabbi Susan Talve, spoke out to the same paper opining it's, "upsetting we make heroes out of people who hate." Whatever your thoughts about the McCloskeys, personally or politically, even their most diehard fans might be forgiven for harboring at least some lingering concerns about the prospect of ever becoming a neighbor to Missouri's hopeful representative in the U.S. Senate.

Restorations Get Repeated, Reputation Remains...

When they first moved here, the McCloskeys took great pride in removing the thick layer of dirt that had built up on the exterior of the house. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how the McCloskeys might go about removing the veneer attached to their tenure which threatens to overshadow their restoration work here: they've enjoyed spending vast amounts of their money restoring their spectacular home to its original state; and, they've enjoyed spending vast amounts of their money filling their home with original antiques. But, house restorations will always be repeated, and it's the reputation of the McCloskeys that has so far clung to this chapter of the mansion's social history.

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Contributed by Mark Meredith on 05/08/2021 and last updated on 14/08/2021.
Image "Portland Place Mansion" Courtesy of joseph a is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0; Oysters to Angus by Elizabeth Terry; The McCloskeys Restored Midwestern Palazzo, by Stefene Russell for the St. Louis Magazine, 2018; Long History of Suing their Neighbours and Own Family... by Harriet Alexander for the MailOnline, 2020; Neighbors from Hell?, by Kelly Weill for The Daily Beast; Opulence Dazzles Auction Crowd, St. Louis Dispatch, 1986; Archives of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; They Are Bullies... by Rob Eshman for Forward, 2020; Westmoreland and Portland Places: The History and Architecture of America's Premier Private Streets, 1888-1988, by Julius K. Hunter & Esley Hamilton; Missouri governor pardons Mark and Patricia McCloskey, by Meryl Cornfield, for the Washington Post, 2021; Justia US Law: Bellinger v Boatman's National Bank of St. Louis; The Crazy, Paranoid McCloskys of St. Louis, from JimmyCsays.com

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