Those of us who work at Villa Finale are fortunate to have leadership that encourages staff enrichment and development. For the second straight year, we loaded a mini van and all headed to Galveston to visit historic sites, places of interest and meet with other in the fields of museum and preservation.
As in 2013, our accommodations were once again at the Michel B. Menard House. Built in 1838, the house is now the oldest surviving house in the city and is operated by the Galveston Historical Foundation. After carefully picking out our rooms for our stay, we headed out to the Texas Seaport Museum to tour the Tall Ship Elissa. Built
in Scotland in 1877, the barque is one of the oldest sailing ships in the world. The ship is kept in tip-top shape by caring volunteers, many of whom have an opportunity to sail on the Elissa as a reward for number of hours served. Many thanks to Rachel for the wonderful tour! After our visit on the Elissa, the staff received its own private boat tour of Galveston Bay by the very entertaining Captain Wes and his one-woman crew. The staff was enthralled by the amount of dolphins we saw frolicking throughout! A highlight of the day was an Italian dinner with colleagues from the Galveston Historical Foundation. Sharing stories about historic preservation over fine food and a glass of wine was a fitting way to end day one.
Day two began early the next day. The staff, still tired from the boat ride and all the excitement of our arrival, stuffed itself in the van for a ferry ride that was the beginning of our trip to Orange, Texas and Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center. The Center, a program of the Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation, is sprawled out over 200 acres; the Botanical Gardens contain over 300 plant species, many of which are in meticulously maintained green houses. For me, the Pond of the Blue Moon and the Children’s Garden were the most fascinating. After lunch at Shangri La, the staff received a tour of the 1894 W.H. Stark House, also in Orange. The three-story house is furnished with original family pieces and is definitely something to see if you’re ever in Orange.
Our historic homes tour did not end there. Our next stop was Beaumont and the McFaddin-Ward House. The house, built in 1905, was the home of W.P.H. and Ida Caldwell McFaddin and family who made their fortune from the cattle and oil business. The entire house is lavishly decorated but I think the staff would agree that our favorite place in the house was in the third floor, where the McFaddin boys lived. It was quite the “man cave!” For those of us who have made our careers in the museum field, the curatorial storage was an incredible thing to see – everything is carefully stored with proper materials and using best practices. I was like a kid in a candy store! Thank you so much to the McFaddin-Ward staff for sharing the space
with us! After yet another long day, the staff enjoyed down-time back in Galveston with a delicious dinner at the Saltwater Grill: you can’t go to Galveston and not have sea food!
On our last day in Galveston, the staff made its way to the Bishop’s Palace. This was a stop during last year’s trip, however, some of us were unable to travel so I am happy it was added to the agenda once again. The Bishop’s Palace is an absolute must-see if you’re ever in Galveston! Designed and built in 1892 by architect Nicholas Clayton for railroad magnate Walter Gresham, the unfurnished house is nearly 21,000 square
feet on an incredibly small lot but, wow! What an amazing structure! From its intricate wood details to its beautiful windows, the Bishop’s Palace does not need any furnishings in order to shine.
Next stop after the grandeur of the Bishop’s Palace was The Menil Collection in Houston. This was an opportunity for each staff member to wander on their own to enjoy their preferred forms of art. The stop at the Menil was fitting before our visit to Rienzi – the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Rienzi is actually a house museum for European decorative arts located in Houston’s historic River Oaks neighborhood. The home itself was built in 1952 for philanthropists Carol Sterling Masterson and
Harris Masterson III who, among their many endeavors, were avid collectors, much like Walter Mathis who owned
Villa Finale. Unlike Villa Finale, however, Rienzi continues to add to the collection for the purpose of displaying items that are the best examples of its European theme. It is always a treat to visit unique sites like Rienzi.
Needless to say, the staff was tuckered out after our three days of nonstop visits! We arrived back in San Antonio safe and sound, just ahead of a rare freeze. I guess it was very fitting as we “cooled down” from a very busy and exciting trip.