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Galveston Monthly

Live Oak Terrace

Oct 02, 2019 01:37PM

Almost a century and a half ago, the son of one of the Island’s most prominent families erected a handsome, two-story Greek Revival mansion and named it Live Oak Terrace. John Stoddart Brown (1848-1912), the eldest child of James Moreau Brown who built Ashton Villa, erected his own impressive residence just two blocks down Broadway from his parents’ well-known home. The younger Brown learned from his father to use only the best construction materials, such as lumber from South America and imported ornaments like the European stone lions that guarded either side of the front entrance.

  The slate-roofed house contained 11 rooms including a kitchen and dining room, three hallways, and two bathrooms. Each had fine plastered walls and fashionably papered ceilings. The design also incorporated four closets which were considered quite a luxury at the time. Gas power and four fireplaces provided light and heat to the home, and three broad porches provided areas to enjoy the Gulf breeze. At the back of the property was a one-story building with three rooms and a bath, most likely utilized for servants’ quarters.

   Brown and his wife Helen Delespine (1849-1910) moved into their impressive new home in 1872 mere months before their oldest child Reba was born. In his youth, Reba was considered by fellow Galvestonians to be “a young man brimming over with enterprise and energy” and having studied abroad in England and Germany, had many useful international connections.

  Brown renamed the successful hardware business ‘J. S. Brown & Company’ and eventually turned over the operations to his son. In addition to the family business, he also dealt in real estate, purchasing and reselling houses.

  Live Oak Terrace provided the perfect venue for entertaining family and friends as well as business acquaintances, and the home was often filled with activity. Entertainments such as euchre (a Victorian card game) parties would sometimes bring as many as fifty guests, with the attendees, food, decorations, and game prizes making the society pages of the local paper the following day. Although many people were invited into the home, Brown would not allow insurance companies on his property, as noted by a rebuffed inspector in November 1887.

  In June 1900, the family celebrated their daughter Edgena’s wedding in the parlor of Live Oaks with a guest list that resembled a directory of society’s blue book. Her sister Helen had been married at Trinity Episcopal Church five years earlier.

  At some point after 1900, Live Oaks Terrace’s slate roof was replaced with asbestos shingles, a common practice due to the deadly result of flying slate during the 1900 Storm. In 1905, Brown and his wife had some of the outdated features of their home remodeled, including the kitchen and the bathrooms, where water closets were replaced with modern toilets.

   After his wife passed away in 1910, Brown sold off the entire contents of his beloved home including an impressive book collection. Large advertisements appeared in the Galveston Daily News announcing the sale and touting the bargains to be found, bundled in lots to suit the purchaser.

  The home then changed hands to Anson Wilkens Miller, president of Miller & (Charles) Vidor Lumber Company and head of Peach River Rail Lines. His own home at the time, the 1895 Wilkins Miller Cottage at 1707 Winnie, is still standing. Miller was almost as prominent in social circles as the home’s previous owner; he was a Mason and a member of the Galveston Golf & Country Club, Garten Verein, and the Aziola Club (a private gentlemen’s literary club).

  His wife Donella Campbell, their son Darlington, and daughter Katherine must have been excited about the majestic mansion, but Live Oaks Terrace was locked up and listed as vacant at the end of October 1910. Although documents report that Miller planned to move into the home with his family, that never happened.

  At the beginning of 1911 the home was listed for rent for $60. That same year, Miller resigned the presidency of the lumber company, one of the largest in Texas, and sold Live Oaks in May to Frederick Bernard von Harten for $10,500.

  Von Harten (1864-1918) was a well-known member of the Galveston Cotton Exchange, and his wife Helen Scott (1874-1944) was the daughter of eminent local attorney J.Z.H. Scott. The couple never had children of their own, but their grand niece Helen Scott Santilli lived with them while she was attending school on the Island. They were active in Trinity Episcopal Church as well as the community at large where they were respected and beloved.

  The Von Hartens repaired and updated their home, wiring it for electricity in 1913. It was probably during their ownership that a one-story addition was built onto the back of the home. Five years later, Mr. Von Harten passed away, and Helen remained in the home until she died there in 1944.

  Helen acted as executrix for her aunt’s estate and sold their home that year. United States Revenue stamps indicate the transaction may have been for up to $12,000.

  Live Oak Terrace was purchased by Aaron Doner (1889-1963), a Russian immigrant who was an independent poultry dealer - quite a departure from its previous owners. Doner had arrived at the Port of New York in 1927 and made his way to Galveston where he became a naturalized citizen ten years later. He and his wife Betty, active members of the local Jewish community, had four children: daughter Dora and sons Nathan, Abraham, and Ben.

  For unknown reasons, the family only remained in the home for a handful of years, selling it to Harry Pransky (1908-1996) for $5,000 in the fall of 1948. They were the last family to live in the mansion.

  In December of 1948, Pransky removed the original fireplaces and converted the home into a medical office building with space for twenty doctors and dentists. Galvestonians visited these offices at the formerly grand house for 15 years before it was razed on September 30, 1963 - another architectural treasure lost. A car wash now stands where notable Victorians socialized and celebrated.