Samuel Cupples chose the Romanesque style – more typically found in a church or city hall – for his house on West Pine Boulevard.
Purple sandstone from Colorado was laid upon the pink foundation granite of southern Missouri. Tiffany-style windows bathed the interior of the home with beautiful light that played upon expertly carved rich woodwork.
The exterior of the house was as richly detailed. Expert stone masons chiseled delicate vines along balconies while mythical animals and dwarves hug the rainspouts and gutters. Rounded towers clad in copper and fantastical chimneys shape one of the most interesting roofs in the city of St. Louis. Throughout the house, only the finest woods were used. The floors are English quartersawn oak, a material little used today but one of the hallmarks of the Arts and Crafts period style.
Cupples admired most things English and took great delight in his Anglo-Irish heritage. A Celtic design motif can be seen throughout the house especially in the carved wood panels of the second-floor reception room. He was also a great booster for the city of St. Louis included fleur de lis ornamentation throughout his home as well.
The home's architect was Thomas B. Annan, a man quite familiar with the innovative trends of the era. Cupples sent Annan to England prior to the execution of his design for the residence. It seems likely that while there Annan confirmed his interest in the English Arts and Crafts Movement, especially as exemplified by the designs of William Morris, who drew inspiration from the medieval world of church and manor and promoted the use of natural materials. He saw in the rounded arches and stonework the hallmarks of a simple, practical world.
The Romanesque design of a home like that of Samuel Cupples easily accommodated stained glass, medieval-inspired furniture, and the tapestry-inspired images that Morris promoted. Furniture original to the Cupples House mirrors arts and crafts themes, as do the stained glass windows of the minstrel's gallery.
Decorative inspiration from nature informs the house's exterior ornamentation of intertwining leaves and vines as well as the extensive woodcarving of the interior. A floral motif dominated the original wallpapers that one sees in the vintage photographs displayed in Cupples House today. Indeed, every room but the grand hall and the staff rooms at Cupples House were papered. (See vintage photos and floor plans of Cupples House.)
It is this vision that one finds still today. The decorative detail of the interior and exterior of Cupples House fixes the house to its time while also permitting Saint Louis University to use the Cupples House as a gallery space for fine art, furniture and American glass. The strength of its design elements permits the inclusion and display of artifacts without subverting the integrity and beauty of the residence.
Thomas B. Annan (1839-1906) was born in St. Louis. After graduation from the city's only public high school, Annan secured an apprenticeship with architect Thomas Waryng Walsh, where he remained until the outbreak of the Civil War. After the war, Annan entered the office of George I. Barnett, the "dean" of Missouri architects, before forming a partnership in 1870 with Major Francis D. Lee — a direct descendent of the South Carolina Lees of Revolutionary fame. The young firm quickly established itself in St. Louis by winning the 1871 design competition for the new Merchants' Exchange Building. (Losers included Annan's former employer, George I. Barnett.) Lee and Annan went on to design many important commercial blocks, churches and houses. Nonetheless, in 1879 Annan decided to open his own office.
Walsh, Burnett and Lee had played invaluable roles as mentors in developing Annan's professional skills, but Samuel Cupples would be the important figure in Annan's middle years. Cupples, a transplant from his native Harrisburg, Pennsylvania via Cincinnati, was sent to St. Louis in 1851 to open a branch woodenware house. That small expansion enterprise became the largest of its kind in the country with an annual volume equal to that of all the competitors combined. Related businesses (paper bags, envelopes and the massive Cupples Station distribution center) added enormously to Cupples' wealth and his contribution to the growth and prosperity of St. Louis.
Cupples also devoted considerable time to civic and philanthropic interests; the development and improvement of the public school system was a consuming interest. Cupples served for many years on the School Board and is credited with the establishment of St. Louis' esteemed Manual Training School affiliated with Washington University. Cupples might have met Annan there. One of Annan's brief biographies states that he taught architecture for two years at Washington University, but it is more likely that Annan and Cupples met at church.
Both were leading laymen in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The Cook Avenue (now Scruggs Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal) at the corner of Cook and Spring Avenues was one of their first collaborations. Cupples, a non-member, contributed much of the money; Annan provided a precedent-setting design.
Built of St. Louis limestone with Indiana limestone trim, Cook Methodist features an exceptional example of the so-called Akron plan distinguished by an open, semi-circular Sunday school assembly space ringed by individual classrooms. Cook Methodist got underway in 1884. That same year Annan and a handful of other practitioners founded the St. Louis Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
Annan married in 1863; in 1887, Joseph Paul Annan joined his father's firm. (Sons Alfred and Sylvester also enjoyed employment for a few years, but only Joseph Paul made a career for himself in the profession-first in St. Louis, then in Shreveport, Louisiana.) Important work in the T. B. Annan & Sons portfolio included a robust Romanesque Revival building designed for Boatmen's Bank in 1888. A.F. Shapleigh Hardware Company occupied several of the seven stories; members of the Shapleigh family held all the officers' positions at the bank. Upper floors with a corner view from Washington Avenue at Fourth out over Eads Bridge and the river were home to the Missouri Athletic Club. (A fire in their quarters in 1914 spread to become one of downtown's most deadly conflagrations.)
Cook Avenue Methodist cost $68,000. The impressive new building for Boatmen's cost about $325,000, but the house Annan designed for Cupples would cost the amazing sum of $500,000 before it was completed in 1890.
Another extravagant commission came from Cincinnati with the Brunett Hotel and Office Building soaring to $1.2 million. Back at home, an old St. Louis family called on Annan to design less elaborate quarters: the J.C.C. Lucas house on West Pine came in at $42,000; the house in Normandy for Joseph D. Lucas was built for $30,000. Built in 1891, the Lambert Building located at 2007-2010 Locust in downtown St. Louis was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
In 1895, Annan (now listed in City Directories on his own) was again selected by Cupples to prepare plans for a church project-the Methodist Orphan's Home at 4385 Maryland Avenue in the developing West End.
St. Louis: Its History and Ideals, written by Philip Skrainka, M.D., was published in 1910 by the American Medical Association for its 61st annual meeting. Included in a chapter entitled "Medical Schools, Hospitals and Charitable Institutions" is a photo of the Orphans' Home (complete with an expansive, now removed front porch)
The chapter includes this description: "The Methodist Orphans' Home, on Maryland Avenue near Newstead Avenue, has the double advantage of being situated in a part of the city that has spacious streets and residences above the ordinary, and a building specifically erected for the purpose. After passing through the usual history of makeshift abodes, which seems to be the history of most charitable institutions, the present quarters were made possible through the gift of Mr. Samuel Cupples. The building from an architectural point of view betrays appreciation of proportion, unostentation, and comfort."
Source: Landmarks Association of Saint Louis, Inc. Landmarks Letter (31/6) November/December 1996.