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Round Top’s Revitalization and the Houston Man Who Changed Everything To Save History

BY Anne Lee Phillips // 09.08.15
photography Jenny Antill Clifton

For 34-year-old Mark Massey, Round Top was an idyllic haven from Houston. There, as a child, he ran with his younger brother Owen through fields of bluebonnets and fished on the lake with his grandfather, Northrop Peck, who purchased land and built a farmhouse in Round Top nearly 50 years ago. After graduating from Episcopal High School, Massey left Texas for the University of Southern California, where he earned a bachelor’s degree with a major in finance and a minor in urban planning/real estate development. He honed his skills working for major commercial developer Trammell Crow and a private developer in Beverly Hills, learning the ins and outs of the business. He found he loved interacting with architects, contractors, engineers, city officials and local residents. He then moved to NYC to attend New York University and obtained his masters in real estate development. It was here, while visiting development projects throughout the city, that Massey discovered a true appreciation for historic buildings. Because of New York permitting restrictions, zoning and a general enthusiasm for historic preservation, projects often involved the restoration of historic structures, and Massey became fascinated with the concept of repurposing and achieving an end result far more intriguing than if one had demolished and built anew.

In 2010, the Round Top revitalization story begins. While Massey was living in New York, he and brother Owen, along with their parents, Susan and Fred Massey, bought the seven-acre property called Henkel Square Market, which at the time was a museum village, founded by Faith Bybee, and in need of major repairs. They had a vision: They intended to make Round Top a destination on the map, rather than just a twice-a-year stopping point during Antiques Week. They rearranged, restored, landscaped and added Henkel Hall, an 8,000-square-foot center for weddings, events and community meetings.

Massey racked up frequent-flier miles traveling back to Texas as often as possible to check on progress. With that project, he fell hard for the concept of transforming vintage Texas buildings for contemporary purposes and knew he needed to do more — and come home. He set his sights on a property in town called Village Green, but it would take perseverance and another big project before it would come to fruition.

The Neal Barn at The Compound in Round Top.
The Neal Barn at The Compound in Round Top

The Compound marks Massey’s first solo project in Round Top. The idea for the space originated shortly after he completed Henkel Square Market, in 2012. He felt that Round Top needed an even larger space than Henkel Square for year-round events. He found 57 acres available just two miles south of the town square,where he built what he has dubbed The Compound, which includes four new structures: The Peck Barn, the Neal Barn, the Carriage House and the Gazebo. Each has a unique style and layout, designed to look old and harmonize with the surroundings. The Compound, completed this summer, will host weddings, live concerts, shows, the holiday Christkindlmarkt and, of course, select vendors for the Fall and Spring antiques shows. Massey tapped local powerhouse Kathy Johnston, owner of a marketing and advertising firm for 30 years, as Antiques Show production director for The Compound, and the 15,000 square feet were leased in three days for the Fall 2015 show. Additional buildings — the Monroe Barn, Garden Barn and Stables — are on the drawing board.

A vintage building undergoing restoration in Rummel Square.
A vintage building undergoing restoration in Rummel Square.

On the day we photographed Massey, Yoakum House Moving was relocating Moore’s Fort, built in 1828, from its old spot on Village Green square to its new location 50 feet north (in order to set it in the new spot, the movers had to drive the fort 800 feet around the entire block to avoid damaging landscaping and other buildings). After four years of trying to buy the square, in January 2015, Massey successfully purchased the block.

“It was a diamond in the rough with a great location, several historic buildings and a 500-year-old oak tree,” he says. “It just needed some major love.” First up was rebranding it Rummel Square, after the street on which it sits, which is named after one of two major families in Round Top. The historic Moore’s Fort was the crown jewel in the purchase. The oldest structure in Fayette County, the twin blockhouse was originally built in 1828 by John Henry Moore in La Grange as a shelter for settlers from Comanche raids. A historical marker still sits on the original site in La Grange, although the building was moved to Round Top in the ’80s for restoration. Also included was a former family farmhouse dating from the mid-1800s originally from Frelsburg, Texas, which was also moved to the square in the ’80s. Massey devised a master architectural plan and relocated both buildings to new spots on the square. A quaint blue farmhouse from the 1890s and a red house that served as one of the first local gas stations in nearby Carmine were also part of the purchase. Massey has moved several other historic buildings to the square, with plans to restore them.

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News of his affection for old buildings spread around the network of small towns, and real estate agents knew to call him about old farmhouses, barns, cabins and bungalows, some scheduled for demolition, available for the taking. Such was the case with a 1890s house in New Ulm constructed of well-weathered wood with a heavily patinaed metal porch roof. It was no easy task to relocate the two-story house to the square — the movers had to cut the roof off to fit the building under the power lines along the highway. Another New Ulm original from the 1920s has been moved to the site, and he has plans to relocate a large 1914 farmhouse to the square in October. The latter will serve as a restaurant, with a deck surrounding the 500-year-old oak. His passion for finding decayed historic buildings and giving them a second life has been well received by locals, who sometimes can be wary of change. Massey’s enthusiasm is infectious — once he took over, the farmhouses and cabins leased out as shops and galleries in a matter of weeks.

Yoakum House Moving in transit.
Yoakum House Moving at work.

• A farm-to-table restaurant.
• A spa specializing in facials, manicures, pedicures, massage, makeup and hair treatments.
• Townsend Provisions, handcrafted goods, vintage furniture and accessories, clothing and boots.
• Espressions Coffee Shop.
• Aramando Palacios’ The Fort, a curated store with mid-century furniture and vintage goods by local artists Don Brown, Dana Aichlerb y Greg Fourticq (clothing), George Sacaris (furniture), Randy Powers (J. Randall Powers for Visual Comfort lighting).
• Armando Palacios’ The Blue House, which will stock goods from the South of France.
• A boutique cigar, Texas beers and spirits shop.

Old World Antieks, La Grange, TX
Eneby Antiques, Nashville, TN
Black Sheep Antiques, High Point, NC
Antiques of Dallas, Dallas, TX
Icons & Antiques, Palm Beach, FL
American Spirit Antiques, Leawood, KS
Axe Antiques, Denver, NC
Southern Classic Jewelry, Atlanta, GA
LP Cline Gallery, Chattanooga, TN
Sonny Ideker, Bookseller, Roswell, GA
Franzel Danish Modern Antiques, San Antonio, TX
MC Antiques, Niwot, CO
Comporium, Fort Mill, SC
Henkel Square Market, 201 N. Live Oak Street, henkelsquareroundtop.com; The Compound, 2550 South State Hwy 237, roundtopcompound.comRummel Square, 109 Bauer Rummel Road.

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