Enron "wunderkind" destroys historic River Oaks home

This story about a historic River Oaks home being demolished is really disappointing:

The grand old house at 2950 Lazy Lane an updated historic property known as Dogwoods hardly looked like a teardown. But this week, its new owner, John D. Arnold, the former wunderkind of Enron's energy trading desk, began demolishing it.

Dogwoods, valued with its land at $4.9 million, shares a driveway and a history with Bayou Bend next door, a house museum maintained by the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.

Preservationists bemoan the destruction of yet another of Houston's ever-rarer historic buildings.

"This house is so significant to Houston, so unique," laments Roxanne Casscells, a member of the Harris County Historic Commission. "But the larger issue is that we are not protecting our history in any way."

(The story includes a great history of the house, and I will excerpt that part of the Chronicle story in the extended entry.)

This is a shame. I am not a huge fan of zoning, except for some -- what I consider -- common sense exceptions. I would include historic preservation as one of those exceptions. (Regular readers probably can guess that tree preservation is another exception I would support.)

Casscells, frustrated that the Harris County Historic Commission can't do much more than hand out plaques, nevertheless monitors buildings she considers endangered. Last week, when she found that Dogwoods' gas had been shut off a common signal that demolition is about to begin she began alerting Houston's preservationists.

Maybe it's time to look at that and make some changes -- changes with teeth.

And shame on John Arnold for tearing it down. He should have found some other property, somewhere else, that didn't have a historic house on it, if all he was going to do was destroy it. Hopefully the ghosts of Dogwoods' owners past will haunt Arnold's new mansion.

What a narcissistic goon.

KEVIN WHITED ADDS: Anne sounds like a Houstonian newbie, huh? Those of us who have been around town a little while (it's about ten years for me now) quickly learn that the proper attitude is, bulldoze and rebuild! I better stop, though, before Anne calls me a name. :)

KEVIN WHITED ADDS MORE (05-04-2005): A reader emails to ask why we didn't name the author of this Chronicle story. The author was Lisa Gray, who I thought did a nice job with it.

Here's the history of Dogwoods, from the Chronicle story:

Dogwoods' history dates back to the 1920s founding of River Oaks by the influential offspring of Texas Gov. James S. Hogg. When Will and Mike Hogg and a business partner began developing 1,000 acres of tangled thicket, in what was then a far suburb of Houston, the brothers staked out a spot along Buffalo Bayou to build a grand house, Bayou Bend, for their sister Ima.

Frederick C. Proctor, retired general counsel for Gulf Oil Co., bought seven adjacent acres from his friends the Hoggs, in part to show support for their project, said Stephen Fox, Rice University architecture historian.

To design his house, he hired well-known Houston architect Birdsall Briscoe (the great-grandson of John R. Harris, for whom Harris County and Harrisburg are named). Briscoe drew plans for a "country house," a gracious red-brick place with a turret, a grand spiral staircase and an excellent view of the formal garden perhaps the first garden in Houston to have been professionally designed.

In 1931, Mike Hogg bought Proctor's house. It was christened "Dogwoods," Fox said, when one of Hogg's rowdy journalist friends complained that the woods were overrun by Hogg's hunting dogs.

After Mike Hogg died, the house was sold to oilman Harry C. Hanszen, and later to the family of oil-services entrepreneur R.T. McDermott.

In the '80s, the house spent more than 11 years on the market, sitting empty. To make the property more attractive in post-boom Houston, its double lot was split. The front half more than three acres of lawn was sold separately from the back. Mike and Anita Stude bought the back half, which contained the Proctor House. "It was beautiful," said Anita Stude. "It was one of the prettiest houses in River Oaks."

The Studes updated the house new plasterwork, repairs to the drainage, a new kitchen. "Everything in that house was tops: the doors, the floors, the moldings," she said. "It had double Sub-Zero refrigerators."

The Studes were careful to preserve the house's charm. Anita Stude, who has served on the board of Bayou Bend, appreciated Dogwoods' history. After her children left home, she and her husband bought a River Oaks house on a smaller lot.

Posted by Anne Linehan @ 05/03/05 10:17 AM | Print |

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