Category Archive 'Fighting McCloskeys'

01 Jul 2020

Those McCloskeys Have One Helluva House

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When you learn more about it, and how much work they did restoring it, you wonder why Mark had not gotten himself an M2 Browning .50 caliber machine gun, just in case…

St. Louis Magazine, 2018 feature:

When attorneys Mark and Patty McCloskey bought their home in February of 1988, it was the color of cigarette ashes. Still dirty from the days when St. Louis lay under a blanket of coal smoke, the home’s Carthage marble facing “had quarter-inch-thick carbon on it in some places,” Mark says. The two Carrara marble urns out front, copies of a pair at the Vatican, had turned black, obscuring Neptune and his attending dolphins. The imported Caen limestone in the entry hall had been painted battleship gray, and the intricate wood carvings in the dining room (which, as Mark points out, are so detailed, you can see the birds’ individual claws), were smothered in layers of white and robin’s-egg blue. What had once been St. Louis’ most dazzling mansion now felt more like a haunted house. It didn’t help that the first time Mark and Patty turned the key in the door, the temperature had fallen to 4 below zero and the house didn’t have a functioning furnace. The prior owner had heated the house with 48 kerosene space heaters that had since been removed.

The McCloskeys joke that they were too young and naïve to know what they’d signed up for. But 30 years later, the house is as magnificent as it was when Edward and Anna Busch Faust held court here, meeting guests at the top of the grand staircase for afternoon tea or smoking cigars around the billiard table in the sub-basement.

Adolphus and Lilly Busch, the story goes, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary by giving their children money to build houses. “August Sr. built Grant’s Farm,” Patty says. “Hugo Reisinger, who was married to one of the sisters [Edmee Busch Reisinger], built a big house on Fifth Avenue. Wilhelmina built a castle in Bavaria…”

And Anna and Edward—son of Tony Faust, Adolphus’ best friend—set out to build a Renaissance palazzo. “The goal was to build one of the most lavish and grand houses in the Midwest,” says Patty. …

The dining room is a re-creation of a residence chamber in the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, constructed in 1458 by Luca Pitti, though its more famous residents included the Medicis and Napoleon Bonaparte. It took six people an entire year to carefully remove multiple layers of paint glommed over the intricate woodwork. The ceiling murals, however, were in great shape: “The guy who owns St. Louis Architectural Bronze said that when he was an art student at Wash. U., he lived here for two years, restoring the ceiling,” Mark says. “This is all on canvas, and it had all fallen in. He put it back up and repainted the parts that needed to be repainted, and you can’t tell.” Across the way in the solarium are gorgeous reproductions of 16th-century stained-glass windows decorated with cartouches, putti, and stylized vegetation, copies of the famous ones in Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library in Florence. And beyond those glowing panes is one of the most remarkable parts of the house: the ballroom.

It’s 70 feet long and 45 feet wide, a reproduction of the second-floor reception hall at the 14th-century Palazzo Davanzati in Florence. “The glass in the windows is actually from there,” Patty says, “and the shutters, at least the ironwork, are probably original.” That’s because in 1916, the year the ballroom was built, most of the palace’s contents were sold off; the McCloskeys found two of the original chairs at auction, and they now sit in the entryway. (The matching table is on view at the Frick Collection in New York.)

One significant divergence from the original, Patty says, is the floor, which was Portuguese tile. This one was once described as “the most beautiful dance floor in America,” a flawless plain of glossy teak joined by small, carved pieces of ebony, made without a single nail. It also boasts a hidden trapdoor (“For theatrical entrances!” quips Mark). The other whimsical detail: The ceiling beams are equipped with confetti boxes. “You pull the rope, and they dump confetti,” Mark says. “Mrs. Faust said that at Christmas parties, they’d put fans on the top of the mantelpiece and dump confetti so you’d have snowstorms.”

RTWT


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