Sunday, March 15, 2015

Wm. C. McBride & HS Changed St. Louis Forever

“I think the most important thing about McBride has been the boys’ respectful outspokenness. They have a freedom and a habit of saying ‘I don’t like this,’ but also of listening to what you have to say…and nowhere but McBride have I found that frank openness, a sort of strong-chestedness…and I have a feeling it will be a long time before I find another school that has it.” 

Fr. Paul Ryan, S.M., Principal of McBride HS, Quoted by Robert J. Byrne (1971), 
"McBride Closing Elicits Memories, Concerns," St. Louis Review

This is the first of several occasional articles on McBride High School: its history, its closing and its impact. This article remembers William Cullen McBride, the school's namesake. Please enjoy and share. Richard Ganahl, McBride HS, 1969

William Cullen McBride High School was a faith-based, gender segregated, inner city oasis for college-aspiring ‘major learners’ regardless of race, economic status or geographical home. 

Courtesy St. Louis Archdiocese Archives
It was located at 1901 Kingshighway at the corner of Kingshighway and Easton (later renamed Martin Luther King Drive) in the heart of St. Louis’ rapidly deteriorating and highly racially segregated inner city. Surrounded by poor, urban African Americans, it was too far north of the city’s central corridor to survive St. Louis’ history of racial segregation. 

Courtesy St. Louis Archdiocese Archives
The Society of Mary, or the Marianists led McBride. The Marianists was founded in 1817 by the Catholic priest Blessed William Joseph Chaminade, a survivor of the French Revolution’s anti-clerical persecution. Today there are about 1,200 Marianists including approximately 400 priests and 800 brothers. McBride's faculty was almost exclusively Brothers of Mary until it was fully integrated with male and female lay teachers in 1967. 
The school was established as the Kenrick Catholic High School in 1911. It occupied three separate locations before changing its name to the William Cullen McBride High School and permanently settling at the Kingshighway location in January 1925 in honor of its late benefactor. 

Katherine Manan McBride, the wife of Mr. McBride, gave $250,000 to Archbishop John Joseph Glennon to build the three-story, colonnaded limestone building to enduringly memorialize her husband’s life.
Photo Courtesy St. Louis Archdiocese Archives

Brother Thomas J. Treadaway’s S.M. (1933) Biographical and Character Sketch of Wm. Cullen McBride documents a life of hard work and entrepreneurship. William Cullen McBride was born on January 13, 1859 in Butler, Pa.  He took his first job at 10 years old, and told his mother he 'could make up for lost schooling by learning something every day while at work.' 

He made good on his promise. Upon his untimely death in 1917 at the age of 58 years old he was the largest independent oil producer in the USA. His estate was conservatively valued at more than $10,000,000, or $216,618,273 in today's dollars!     

The McBride Mansion Washington Terrace
The couple and their four daughters (Ellen, Laura, Kathleen and Dorothy) moved to St. Louis, Mo in 1908 and lived pious but lavish lives upon moving to 29 Washington Terrace. St. Louis Post Dispatch writer Sheila Frayne Rhoades notes in her September 18, 2010 article that after the McBride’s purchased the house it:

became known as the party house on WT. McBride held fantastical parties here, including his daughter's memorable 1921 debutante ball, "Night in Venice." Guests were greeted by gondoliers to transport them across a huge man-made, lighted moat. The three-story mansion is made up of 25 rooms, totaling 11,000 square feet. In records dating from 1910, it's noted that a staff of 10 servants ran the house.

Mr. and Mrs. McBride gifted generously through out their lives, especially to the Catholic Church. Most notable is the magnificently ornate high altar and the baldacchino that incorporates more than four-hundred tons of marble and mosaics and dominates the St. Louis New Cathedral on Lindell Blvd. The $100,000 gift included all design, transportation and construction costs.

Published in the Art World Vol II 
A magazine of the day Art World said the project's architect George Barnett expressed his 'majestic conception' by exclaiming "I want this to be an Emperor's tribute to God!" Mr. Barnett partnered with his father George I. Barnett, who is recognized as the Dean of St. Louis Architecture and is credited with establishing St. Louis' Classical architectural tradition through designs such as the Old Courthouse and buildings at Missouri Botanical Gardens 

The Lotus Magazine described 'this gift from Mr. McBride' and family to the Cathedral of St. Louis as a "structure within a structure (that) is fifty-seven feet in height, with a diameter of thirty-six feet...which uses many varieties of fine marble and mosaics...and which is supported by fourteen columns!" The McBride's oldest daughter Ellen's marriage to Balfour Craib was the first wedding celebrated at the new altar.
McBride Mausoleum

The McBrides purchased in 1917 a winter home in Pasadena, Ca next to their daughter Mrs. Love because her husband had become ill. Sadly, Mr. McBride never lived in the house. On May 16, 1917 he suffered a relapse of an earlier stroke caused by his high blood pressure. The exact cause of his death was ‘chronic nephritis aggravated by uraemic poisoning.’

Seventeen family members, including Mr. and Mrs. Wm. C. McBride, three daughters Ellen, Kathleen and Dorothy, two son-in-laws and other family members are buried at the McBride Mausoleum in Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis, Mo.   

McBride High School closed its doors in 1971. The McBride Alumni Club claims on its website that its roster includes 438 teachers and 7,354 former Micks. More than 2.900 Micks are club members, 4,300 are deceased and 600 are unaccounted.

The St. Louis Business Journal recently reported, the 57,000 square-foot building was purchased for $1.75 million by the Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls founded by Mary Danforth Stillman, the daughter of former Sen. John Danforth and niece of former Washington University chancellor William Danforth. The all-girls public school is sponsored by Washington University, and will emphasize a STEM curriculum (science, technology, energy and math) to grades six through 12.  

I am grateful to the St. Louis Archdiocese Archives and Archdiocese of Saint Louis Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis for their help in this research. Do you have stories about McBride's history? Please send them to me at Thanks! 
This article and its contents are Copyrighted 2015 by Richard J Ganahl III

1 comment:

Thomas Gibilterra said...

One error in this article locates McBride High School at the corner of Kingshighway and Easton Ave. That is incorrect. It was located on a smaller side street, Cote Brilliante and not Easton Ave.