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The League-Kempner House

The magnificent 1893 League-Kempner House is one of the few remaining "Broadway Beauties" in Galveston, Texas. After years of neglect, this amazing house was at risk of collapse and was placed on the Galveston Historical Foundation's Heritage at Risk List.

 

Purchased in January 2021 by Janie Mitcham, who was committed to restoring it to its former glory, the house has been transferred to a non profit to ensure that it can be preserved for future generations. This once abandoned Victorian mansion is undergoing a massive restoration. Designed by noted architect Nicholas Clayton, this Galveston historical treasure is slowly coming back to life.

 

Restoration of this historic house is not easy, and the extensive yard and gardens add to the complexity and expense. 

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History

Real estate investor and self-described “capitalist” John Charles League and his wife Cornelia “Nellie” Ball commissioned Nicholas J. Clayton to design their new residence in 1892. The expansive three-story house with a basement covers one of the largest lots on Broadway and includes the principal dwelling, a garage, extensive gardens, and greenhouse.

 

After League’s death in 1916, Eliza Kempner, matriarch of the Kempner family, acquired the house that remained in the family until 1972. Houston architect Birdsall Briscoe enclosed the second-floor porch of the curved bay and added a garden room at the back of the house in 1920. 

FAQ

What are the plans for the house?

The house will become a house museum, open to the public for tours, educational programming, and limited events. There will be a classroom and temporary rotating history exhibits. There will be two small apartments on the ground floor for long-term tenants. The ground floor will also house a gift shop. Janie’s original plan was to fix the structural problems with the house and modernize the bathrooms and kitchen so the house could be sold as a family home. But once she saw how much of the house was original to the 1893 build, she decided to keep the house as it was built and open it to the community.

How many people lived here?

When it was built, the house only had three occupants – JC and Nellie League and their teenaged daughter, Daisy. There was also a servant's bedroom. The second owner, Eliza Kempner, was a widow with a large family. Some of her adult children and grandchildren lived here with her.

How long will the restoration take?

There is no set timeline. How quickly the renovation can be completed depends on many factors, including funding. The current estimate is that the remaining work will take between five and ten years.

What has been done so far?

The first three years of work focused on preventing additional damage and repairing structural issues. The house has been fully treated for termites, the underground cisterns have been filled in, the roof has been repaired or replaced, and work to repair the masonry has been completed. New structural supports and joists have replaced those that were rotted, and the kitchen floor was raised nearly five inches where it was collapsing due to lack of support. The yard has been cleared and regraded to direct water away from the house. A retention pond was added to facilitate swift water removal in the event of heavy rain. New cement flooring on the ground floor has been poured, and the walls for the two apartments and gift shop have been framed. Plumbing has been installed on the ground floor and we now have two flushing toilets, which was a huge milestone for us!

What happened to the house? Why was it in such bad shape?

Most of the damage was caused by water and termites over time. Gutters and roofing failed, allowing water to flow into the walls. Many of the lintels over the windows had also failed, and the arches supporting the porch failed as well.

How big is it?

There is a ground floor, which housed servants’ quarters, a laundry, a chauffer’s apartment and other workspace. The first and second floors were for the family. The third floor was work space and storage, but was converted by Eliza Kempner to add a bathroom and more bedrooms to accommodate her large family. Overall, the house is around 14,000 square feet, and the lot is just under an acre.

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