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Storied Texas Mansion Completely Demolished

The Bulldozer Brings Down Houston’s Greatest Architect

BY // 07.18.17

For Texas preservationists, this week is two steps forward, one giant step back.

While a Dallas developer has valiantly saved The Statler hotel, and the newly minted Astrodome Conservancy led by Phoebe Tudor shows promise of saving the 8th Wonder of the World, in the area of domestic architecture, a fabled Houston house has succumbed to the wrecking ball.

Tipped off by a River Oaks resident of the demise of the former home of John Mecom Jr., on a Saturday afternoon in July when many homeowners were away, this reporter took a field trip, and verified a story we wish weren’t true. Driving along the tree and rose-lined Lazy Lane, it was difficult to see anything amiss. Teams of gardeners manicured beautiful lawns. All seemed serene beyond timeless hedges.

Then the sound of a bulldozer pierced the air. Peering behind a wrought–iron fence encased in a green protective cover that effectively functioned as a shroud, and arriving in time for a close look as a dump truck departed, there were the visible remains of a once great house — a mansion notable twice, foremost for its architect, John Staub, as well as for its most illustrious resident, John Mecom Jr., the charismatic only son of a man who was at one-time among the top three independent oil producers in the world, wildcatter John Mecom Sr.

Completed in 1930, 2945 Lazy Lane was designed by Houston’s most eminent architect, John Staub, commissioned by a previous generation oilman, Harry C. Hanszen and his wife, Katherine. Its style was proposed after Staub returned from a European trip moved by a 12th-century Norman chateau. His clients were enthusiastic about the project to add a touch of the medieval to the third mansion in the Homewood section of River Oaks.

Originally called Hanszen (and assigned a different street number then, 2955), it stood across from the first stately house in Homewood, Miss Ima Hogg’s Bayou Bend, built in 1926, at 2940 Lazy Lane.

Staub’s ability to imaginatively, and timelessly synthesize elements of a long-ago historic era, with a respect for the architectural orders, proportion, and massing, made the house a great success aesthetically. In the definitive book, The Architecture of John Staub: Houston and the South (UT Press in cooperation with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; 1979), architect/author Howard Barnstone writes:

“Hanszen is Staub’s greatest picturesquely romantic house.”

With largesse, finesse, and philanthropy, Mecom Jr. (who still resides in Houston), and his ex-wife, the late Katsy Mecom, lived a bigger-than-life lifestyle with a bravado that is fondly remembered. From the couple’s ahead-of-its-time wildlife preserve — People Magazine covered their lawsuit against the U.S. government to protect 75-some exotic animals kept compassionately on their Laredo ranch — to Mecom Jr.’s passion for racing cars and boats, pro football (he was the original owner of the New Orleans Saints), and running the family oil biz, they typified iconoclastic Houstonians that also gave back.

John Mecom Jr. also pioneered a surprising collecting field: he and Barbra Steisand were both early on zealots for Tiffany lamps, the pair responsible for reviving international interest in what was previously seen as an old-fashioned decorative accent. The lamps, alongside Art Nouveau furnishings including rare Bugatti chairs, were displayed to great effect in the Mecom home, set off against pale yellow walls.

This writer visited the mansion during its Mecom heyday, and decades later can still recall the beauty of the living room and entry, a temple to the talents of John Staub as well as showcasing Tiffany’s most stunning creations, lamps that would shatter the one million mark when Sotheby’s auctioned them in 1995.

The Mecoms sold the house in 1999, and attorney Robert G. Taylor II was 2945 Lazy Lane’s next caretaker. Possessing a graceful, commanding presence along with a nearly five-ace lot subsequently made the 14,000 square-foot home in later years a double-digit million dollar property, valued in 2011 at $17.5 million, and much buzzed about on real estate blogs nationally at that time.

The Mansion’s New Owner

Since 2014, its new steward has been listed on the HCAD site simply as Current Owner — the person today responsible for the loss of a mythic home and its DNA. Current Owner is reportedly Matthew Arnold, a former energy commodities director, current board member of a bioscience firm, and brother of philanthropist John Arnold.

John Arnold demolished the beloved River Oaks estate Dogwoods, at 2950 Lazy Lane. A Birdsall Briscoe/John Staub-designed home, it was built in 1928 for Michael Hogg and sat adjacent to his sister’s home, Ima Hogg’s Bayou Bend. In its elegant footprint sits a modern home designed by architect Alexander Gorlin, that is handsome, but so much better suited for an empty lot, not to senselessly topple an iconic Houston estate.

These two properties were more than beautiful homes — they represented the talents, dreams, and optimism of a Houston that can never be brought back. The remains of the day, indeed.

All vintage the photos with this story come courtesy The Architecture of John F. Staub: Houston and the South, by Howard Barnstone, with the assistance of Stephen Fox, Jerome Iowa, and David Courtwright (University of Texas Press in cooperation with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; 1979). Historic photo of Mr. Mecom courtesy Historic New Orleans Collection.

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