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After years of neglect, this 1893 Broadway Beauty is undergoing major restoration thanks to the vision and hard work of Houstonian Janie Mitcham.
The League-Kempner House at 1702 Broadway, the home of some of Galveston’s leading citizens, will open its doors once again for limited tours beginning in the spring of 2023.
Built by renowned Galveston architect Nicholas Clayton, best known for Galveston’s Bishop Palace, the imposing home in the heart of Galveston’s Castle District withstood the Great Storm of 1900 but in recent years nearly succumbed to time and termites.
Designed by Clayton for John Charles League and his wife Nellie Ball in 1893, the house was intended to be a show of wealth. The expansive three-story mansion with a basement covers one of the largest lots on Broadway and includes the principal dwelling, a garage, extensive gardens, and greenhouse. The house was state-of-the-art for its time with central heat, hot-and-cold running water, and combination gas and electric lighting.
After League’s death in 1916, Eliza Kempner, matriarch of the Kempner family, acquired the house. She commissioned Houston architect Birdsall Briscoe to enclose the second-floor porch of the curved bay and add a garden room at the back of the house, the only significant remodel done to the home. In 1972 John Samuels purchased the home from the Kempner family where it remained in his family until Janie Mitcham purchased it in 2021. During this time, it was the last grand late-nineteenth-century house on Broadway still in private ownership and occupied as a single-family residence.
Janie, no stranger to restoration work on the Island, has thrown her passion, her hands and her dollars into saving this incredible home. The once-crumbling mansion has received new life as Mitcham and her crew battled termites, a leaky roof, and rotten wood to stabilize the house. As restoration progresses, the home will begin hosting educational and cultural events and, eventually, once more be the site of grand weddings and other social occasions.
“Through social media, including YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, the house now has fans from around the world who love it and want to see it saved as much as I do.” she explains. “The longer I worked on this house, the more strongly I felt that it shouldn’t belong to any one person. This house was meant to be shared.”
Those feelings, coupled with concern about the long-term future of the property, led Janie to transfer the house to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation created to restore and protect the house for future generations. As a historic house museum, the last of Galveston’s privately owned Gilded Age mega-mansions enters a new era. On the website, www.leaguekempnerhouse.org, people can make donations or sign up for volunteer opportunities as well as learn more about the history and the people who lived there. There is also a link to the YouTube Season 1 and Season 2 playlists for those interested in seeing the incredible amount of work it has taken to save this house.
Janie looks forward to sharing the house with the community. “Aside from the architectural and historical significance, it’s just a fabulous house. It’s time the house gets to show off again.”