Last year I wrote a story HERE about a house for sale in River Oaks, Houston’s toniest neighborhood. The house, an original to the area, had been featured in Veranda in 1999, after it was decorated for its owners by Babs Watkins, the late interior designer. Watkins played an important role in creating the “Houston Look” – an aesthetic filled with painted European antiques, faux walls, slipcovered furniture, and gilded accessories. When the photoshoot of this French styled mansion was published, Watkins reputation as a visionary was sealed. For years, fans of the house had only the photographs from the Veranda to look at, but when the house was put up for sale – suddenly there was a trove of new photos of Babs work to examine, albeit 15 years later. The decor is still as pretty today as it was then.
The house, whose interiors Babs Watkins designed in 1999. A French styled manse in Houston’s River Oaks neighborhood, it was the work of the very talented and prolific Houston architect, Joseph Finger.
The back side of the house shows the large terrace and the breakfast room – located in the bay window.
The front entry with a winding staircase and scrolled banister – along with a large crystal chandelier. The decor was typical of Watkins – delicate antique furniture with sparse, oversized accents.
At the time, while this house built in 1937, was being well cared for – across town another French mansion designed by Joseph Finger in 1935 had not met the same fate. Instead, this second Finger designed French house was left to the elements and was allowed to decay. The irony of the two twin houses designed by the same architect – one lovingly cared for, the another ignored – was too interesting a story to ignore.
The other Finger designed mansion – left to decay, was sold “as is.” Located on almost five acres, the new owners are restoring the house to its former grandeur.
The back side of the mansion – you can see a similar bay window, one of many architectural details that both houses shared.
Besides the interesting juxtaposition of the condition of both houses, there were other intriguing contrasts. While the well cared for house was built in the heavily deed restricted River Oaks, the decaying mansion was built in Riverside Terrace, where deed restrictions were abolished when the societal turmoil of the 60s hit Houston.
The River Oaks neighborhood was home to the wealthiest of Houstonians. But, one section of the population was missing: the wealthy Jews of Houston. Instead of living in River Oaks, Jewish families moved en masse to the newly created Riverside Terrace which was platted along Braes Bayou. Banned from River Oaks, many Jew built their own two story classic colonial, English and French inspired mansions, while others had architects design contemporary houses. For over 30 years, Riverside Terrace was the center of Jewish life in Houston. But, with integration, came a text book case of “white flight” to Riverside Terrace. A documentary was made in 1987 about the neighborhood and the strife that ensued: “This Is Our Home – It Is Not For Sale.”
And so, it was in the atmosphere before religious tolerance, that the largest house in Riverside Terrace came to be built, on a five acre lot on the bayou – designed by one of Houston’s most prominent architect’s – Joseph Finger. The family that commissioned the beautiful French house was Joe Weingarten – one of the sons of Harris Weingarten, who had started a grocery store chain that at its peak had over 200 stores in several southern states.
Joe and his wife Malvina knew the architect Joseph Finger because he had built many of the original Weingarten stores. They commissioned Finger to design the French chateau with five bedrooms for their young family, including sons Bernard and Jack and daughter Eveta. Joe’s brother, Sol, also hired Finger to design a house for his own family right down the street, also facing the bayou. Their other brother Abe hired Finger to design a large white mansion several streets away from MacGregor on Parkwood:
Joe Weingarten’s brother Abe’s house – similar to his own - was also designed by Joseph Finger.
Joseph Finger was a Jewish architect who in 1905 immigrated from Austria where he had earned his degree. Finger designed many important buildings in Houston, such as retail stores for Everitt Buelow, and Battelsteins. He designed many Jewish buildings including an earlier Congregation Beth Israel, Beth Israel Mausoleum, an earlier Beth Yeshurun, and more. He also designed the Houston City Hall which still stands today along with many other iconic buildings including Houston’s Municipal Airport
Besides the house Finger built for the Weingartens, other prominent Jewish families living in the neighborhood were the Battlesteins, the Sakowitzs, the Bordens, the Turboffs, and the Meyers.
One interesting fact about the Weingarten French chateau concerned his son Bernard, who had grown up there. He eventually married Houstonian Shirley Caplovitz and when his parents moved out of the mansion, Bernard bought it for his own family which eventually included five daughters.
When Bernard moved out, he sold the house to a family who never maintained the house, allowing it to deteriorate. They have just sold it to a couple who are now currently restoring it. Photographs have been showing up in the Houston Chronicle of their incredible progress.
Here is a drawing of how the house will look when the restoration is complete. The main facade will remain the same with the addition of a new porte cochere to the right of the front door, along with a two story garage. In the back a new kitchen wing will be added, along with a pool:
The back of the renovated Weingarten mansion – with the kitchen wing projecting out in front of the swimming pool.
Before: The house was a confection of pink carpet. I talked to Bernard Weingarten’s daughter Ellen and she told me that this pink carpet was not in the house when she lived there as a small child. And even more strangely – the pink carpet was simply laid over the existing carpets and floors – without ever being installed. When Ellen recently went to visit her former home, the stairs were especially tricky to navigate because the pink carpet kept slipping.
The Houston Chronicle visited the house in the middle of its incredible renovation:
During: The floor boards have been removed. Notice the fireplace – there is no mantel. Bernard’s wife loved the marble mantel and had it removed when she moved out, installing it in her new house. Photographs of their new house are coming up!
The French manse already looks so much better now that it has been cleaned and stripped. This room is going to be so beautiful. I can’t wait to see it completed!!
Before: The beautiful entry which looks very much like its twin River Oaks house that Joseph Finger also designed.
During: The current owner shows the renovation’s progress to the Houston Chronicle. The pink carpet has been removed. Notice the niche. The railing is so beautiful – I can’t wait to see the house finished!
The new owner in the bay window room – similar to the one in the River Oaks house. Again, the floor boards have been removed. Notice the wall heater!
To see more photographs of the restoration – with new pictures of its attic and basement(!) go HERE.
After Bernard and Shirley Weingarten bought the house from Bernard’s parents, their five daughters were born and began going to school – on the other side of town. Before the days of the freeway, the commute from MacGregor Drive to Memorial was taxing. Along with all the political upheaval happening in their once bucolic neighborhood, the Weingartens began to think about moving closer to the girls school.
And so, in the mid 1960’s Bernard and Shirley began designing a new house. It would prove to be completely different than the French manse that Bernard had lived in almost his entire life. Joseph Finger, the architect long associated with the Weingarten family and the one who had designed the French house, had passed away in 1958. In his place, the family hired a new architect that would be closely associated with a cousin of the family, building developer Kenneth Schnitzer Sr. That architect was Arthur Evan Jones.
Jones was a very prolific architect who had a hand in designing many of the contemporary buildings in Houston. He was a graduate of Rice University and he worked with Lloyd and Morgan where he later became a partner. He is credited with being lead designer on such projects as the Allen Center, American General Center, Greenway Plaza, Smith Tower, Rice Stadium and too many more to list here. But, Jones will always be best known as the designer of Houston’s famous Astrodome.
A beautiful architectural drawing of the Astrodome, called the Eighth Wonder of the World. The first air conditioned stadium, it opened in 1965 – with its famous faux grass called AstroTurf.
A wonderful interview with the architect Jones is HERE.
While Jones was busy designing many of Houston’s modern buildings, he took time out to design some residential homes, mostly contemporary ones. One such home was built for Bernard and Shirley Weingarten and their five daughters.
Mrs. Weingarten lived a rather short life and unfortunately died at just 56, in 1985. Bernard Weingarten chose to stay in their home and he lived there until he himself passed away last year at the age of 90. He refused to move and told his family the only way he would leave his house was “feet first.”
Now that he is gone, the house is for sale and it is quite remarkable. It’s not everyday that a house designed by such a talented architect as Arthur Jones goes on the market. And even more exciting is that Shirley Weingarten had hired the Houston legend Herb Wells to design the main rooms. Very little of Wells original design has been changed over the years which is so interesting to see.
So. Let’s take a look at the house, located in Piney Point Village.
The modern house is set on 1.77 wooded acres, built around two courtyards, which are seen through its many windows.
The house is 6900+ sq. ft with 5 bedrooms and 3 full, 2 1/2 baths, along with quarters.
The back of the house faces a natural setting. There are two main courtyards that the rooms overlook.
Here’s the floor plan. The house is large enough that there is room for a large wet bar in the den, a large powder room, a playroom with another wet bar, and study areas in the kids rooms. There are quarters over the 3 car garage. To see the listing, go HERE.
The beautiful photos were provided by Benjamin Hill.
The front doors open onto a gallery hall that leads through to the dining room and past that, to the living room. Herb Wells used a green slate floor. Here – two demilunes flank a piece of textile art.
The view facing the front door. The kitchen is off to the right of the door while the family room is off to the left. The living room and dining room are straight ahead from the door.
View towards the front door.
Past the front hall is the dining room. It overlooks the courtyards on both sides.
Looking the opposite direction towards the living room. On the left is the interior courtyard with doors that open up to it. Across is the master suite. The table seats 12 – you can see how large this room actually is.
I can’t help but wonder what the new owners will do to the house! I can’t wait to see!! I have a feeling the walls will be white white – which will be perfect for modern art work. I wonder if they will keep the green slate – or remove it and put down light hardwoods which is so trendy now?
Two steps down from the dining room is the large living room with the views toward the natural landscaping of the courtyard. The carpet covers the slate floor. You can see into the kitchen on the left past the dining room.
And the view towards the fireplace. Out the window is the incredibly dense Piney Point forest.
It’s hard to believe the house was decorated in the 1960s and is still so pretty and well done. A nod to the great Herb Wells!!!
The views are incredible.
Notice the marble mantel – that is the one that was once in the Weingarten French mansion on MacGregor. Mrs. Weingarten loved it so much, she hated to leave it there – so she moved the mantel with her!
The house is filled with beautiful art work.
Past the dining room is the cross gallery hall, then the kitchen. There is a small eating area inside the kitchen and a larger breakfast room on the other side of the kitchen. I wonder if the new owners will remove the wall between the kitchen and breakfast room and create one large kitchen.
You can see into the breakfast room via the pass-through over the sink.
This shows the view through the kitchen, past the entry hall, to the family room that leads to the kids rooms. I love the clock over the refrigerator – and I love the water fountain!!!
The breakfast room, which has beautiful cabinetry. I do feel that the new owners will create one large kitchen by removing this wall. Today, people want a huge, open kitchen. Through the double doors is the playroom.
The large powder room has a foyer.
The family room overlooks the courtyard and the front yard. I really like the decor here with the striped rug and the skin sofas. Behind the sofa is a large wet bar.
Facing the fireplace. Behind this bookcase are the doorways to the bedroom wing.
The celadon green master bedroom is separated from the four kids rooms. It faces the courtyard and the living and dining rooms past it.
Facing the courtyard – you can see the living room from these windows.
Above the armoire is a photograph of one of the original Weingarten stores!!
Looking towards the door, that leads to the four children bedrooms and the family room.
The master bath has beautiful white marble with celadon painted cabinetry.
There are four bedrooms. Each is decorated in the 70s style. Mrs. Weingarten had hired another designer for the girls rooms and the playroom.
Two rooms share a bathroom each. And, in the bedrooms, the study area is separated from the bedroom.
I hope you have enjoyed this slice of Houston architectural history – a house designed by the legendary Arthur Evan Jones. The Weingartens built this house for their large family – it was a complete departure from the French mansion on MacGregor built by the also legendary Joseph Finger – the house where Bernard had himself grown up in. Mr. Weingarten loved his modern house so much that he chose to stay here, after his children grew up and his wife had passed away. Hopefully a new family will move in and create their own happy memories.
For years Herbert Wells was the top designer in Houston and beyond. He had partnered with Jerry Jeanmard and the two worked together on their numerous jobs.
Mr. Wells passed away a few years ago and today, Jeanmard continues to design with Lauren Hudson.
Next month, Jeanmard and Hudson are opening a store in the design center that will include original Wells designed furniture – taken from drawings found in his office. These iconic pieces have been updated for today’s client, while still retaining the wonderful Wells touch.
An original Herb Wells design.
A room designed by Wells Design of today – led by Jerry and Lauren. I really love this room!!!! For more information on their new store, go HERE.
One of Cote de Texas advertisers, Maison & Co., has unloaded a new shipment of gorgeous antique furniture and accessories.
There is a collection of chairs and settees and cabinets from Sweden and France. Gorgeous pieces!
And there are interesting items like these old grape hods in different sizes!!
Be sure to look at all their new accessories along with their antiques. To visit, go HERE!
Simon Paul Scott, manufacturer of marble goods, brass goods, and an assortment of other goodies, sells mainly to online stores. He is now offering his wares to Cote de Texas readers!! My favorites are his marble grapes – which come in a variety of sizes.
And there are his handpainted panels – large and small. He also sells custom wallpaper (I used his wallpaper in my own bedroom.)
Don’t see what you like? Ask him!!!! He has a warehouse full of pillows and textiles and more!!
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This includes free shipping this month!!!