SEVEN Wonders of the PMA: Wonder #5, The Clapp House

SEVEN Wonders of the PMA: Wonder #5, The Clapp House

By the beard of Zeus! For a split second as you’re driving on Middle Street, it might feel as if you’re on the Acropolis. The Greek Revivalist structure known as the Clapp House is an outlier in Portland—there is nothing on the peninsula quite like it. And if you’re relatively new to the peninsula, you may be surprised by some of the building’s history.

In 1820, Charles Quincy Clapp received the McLellan House as a gift from his father. An amateur architect with a passion for Greek Revival, Clapp was more content to sell the McLellan house to his father-in-law and construct the Clapp House next door. He had to sell the house during the financial panic of 1937, and move back into the McLellan House (where, pointedly, he had the fireplace mantles replaced with ones that feature the Greek Revival style).

The Portland Society of Art purchased the building in 1914, and architect John Calvin Stevens helped them convert it from a home to studio space for the School of Fine Arts (which soon became the Portland School of Art). It continued this way for much of the 20th century. In 1982, the Portland Society of Art disbanded—after constant disagreements on the Board over direction and allocation of resources—making the Portland Museum of Art and the Portland School of Art two separate entities.

As with any divorce, custody of the children became an issue, and the Clapp House was one of the “kids” in this particular breakup. One of the terms of the split was that should the Portland School of Art (now the Maine College of Art) vacate the Clapp House, ownership would revert to the PMA. In the 1990s, the PMA helped facilitate MECA’s ambitious move to the Porteous Building on Congress Street, which enabled the PMA to secure the Clapp House in 2008 and by extension preserve and control the campus’ entire perimeter.

The PMA recently had the exterior of the Clapp House repainted, which will keep passers-by turning their heads for years.

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November 5, 2014
Brand Manager

Robert is a native of Winslow, Maine, and a graduate of Boston’s Emerson College. After spending years as a screenwriter in New York City and an arts journalist in Santa Fe, he moved back to Maine to raise a family in 2008. He currently lives in Portland’s Back Cove with his wife, who owns a business up the street from the PMA, and two young sons.