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Go ahead and admit it. Ever since you were old enough to work your parents VCR you’ve dreamed of being Scarlett O’Hara—a center-of-attention drama queen living in a big Southern mansion and rattling off phrases such as “Fiddle-dee-dee” and “As God is my witness they’re not going to lick me!”
Well no one’s bringing back the Old South (too many petticoats, not enough vodka) but you can get a taste of aristocratic charm at Bayou Bend, the sprawling estate and cultural mecca in Houston’s Memorial Park. In 1927, legendary Texas philanthropist Miss Ima Hogg (yes Virginia, there really was an Ima Hogg) and her brothers saw promise in 14 swampish acres on the edge of Buffalo Bayou, just a few miles west of downtown. Today, Bayou Bend is a quiet oasis in the midst of this bustling metropolis and home to a spectacular collection of American decorative arts spanning more than two centuries.
Commissioned by the Hoggs to craft a residence reflecting the history and culture of the Texas Gulf Coast, legendary Texas architect John F. Staub designed Bayou Bend in the 18th-Century Georgian style that characterizes many antebellum plantations. He borrowed other elements from Southern architecture as well, such as the home's Spanish Creole stucco and wrought iron accents that evoke New Orleans' French Quarter. Several formal gardens inspired by goddesses of ancient mythology surround the home and served as “outdoor rooms” for the Hogg family, but per Miss Ima's wishes the rest of the estate was left in its natural state and remains so today.
For most of her life Miss Ima was known for her commitment to the arts, education and other philanthropic causes, a devotion that didn't stop at her front door. In 1957, this daughter of former Texas Governor James Hogg donated Bayou Bend and the thousands of antiques and furnishings she had collected there through the decades to the Museum of Fine Arts. But the “First Lady of Texas” continued to live at Bayou Bend for the next eight years, overseeing the home's transformation into a museum. Today, 28 of the mansion’s rooms depict specific periods in early American life between the early 1600s and the post-Civil War era.
Bayou Bend recently opened the Lora Jean Kilroy Visitor and Education Center. The two-story center houses a library, retail shop, offices and more. Several rooms within Bayou Bend itself that were undergoing restoration were also reopened to the public showcasing new acquisitions and other objects not previously displayed.
Hogg once said that her dream for Bayou Bend was that it “serve as a bridge to bring us closer to the heart of an American heritage which unites us.” Amen, Miss Ima.
By AJ Mistretta
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