Neighbors unhappy about River Oaks mansion demolition

HOUSTON The house was a multi-million dollar mansion just off of San Felipe in River Oaks. Now it is a pile of rubble and some folks who live nearby are not happy about it.

Houston has long had a reputation for eliminating the past and the flaw that the house apparently had was that it wasn't new. The new owner said the replacement is being designed by a prominent architect and will be in keeping with the neighborhood. What others argue is that nothing can replace what is lost.

It was built in 1936, a gracious home designed by architect Birdsal Briscoe on a circle of River Oaks mansions. It survived nearly 75 years until Wednesday. That's when bulldozers moved in, leveling a house that once belonged to the Clayton family, as in Houston' Clayton Library.

It was sold 20 years ago then sold again recently. The new homeowners wanted something new.

"My friends told me it was being torn down, and so I raced over with my camera and started taking pictures and yelling at the contractor," said Susan Garwood. "Of course I was irrational because it's an emotional issue for me."

That's because Garwood is part of the Clayton family for whom the home is built. She can't avoid looking at the rubble because she lives nearby and has seen a number of multi-million dollar homes vanish in River Oaks.

"I think the bottom line is that people are looking for new construction sites. What we have to do is educate the owners to designate their homes as landmarks to prevent this because it can't be prevented," said Garwood.

No laws and no rules were circumvented in the leveling of the house, but those who are preservation minded are having their homes designated as historic structures. That provides a three month cooling off period before demolition can occur.

"We have 60 houses already in River Oaks that the owners have chosen that protection, so it is a positive step forward to saving these houses," said neighbor Kelley Trammell.

The home did not have the protection. The new owner told us they are preserving and restoring an historic home in Virginia.

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