Judy and Wayne Nelson had a family of visitors last week — the daughter and grandchildren of the architect who designed their 1927 house on Mills Place.
The former home of W.C. Stroube was designed by David R. Williams, along with his collaborator O’Neil Ford. It’s Spanish Colonial with 15-inch-thick walls and some surprisingly modern features. For Williams’ family, however, it was a marvel to be able to walk in the creation of their ancestor, to see his genius still alive and sheltering people who love it.
“He died in 1962, so none of us got to meet him,” said David McMahon, Williams’ grandson. “He was a rascally guy. I was a rascally kid, so I had this connection to my grandfather. He’s a fascinating guy.”
Williams designed a handful of homes in Corsicana, including the Drane House, the Stroube House and Billie Love McFerran’s house. Williams had a successful architectural career in Dallas, but he walked away from it all to work in Washington, D.C. He went to Washington to help spread his ideas about making architecture work with the land.
“One of the reasons was his interest in indigenous architecture,” explained Davida McMahon, Williams’ daughter, who was named after her father.
That was certainly the case in the Stroube-Nelson house. The Mills Place home sits comfortably at a notch in the short street, and from the street it’s one of a collection of marvelous homes on the posh avenue. From the rear, though, it opens its arms to the outdoors with big verandas and a gorgeous lawn that slopes down to a garden house and a swimming pool.
After leaving college early, Williams skipped off to Mexico armed with only a flyer advertising for an architect in Tampico, where oil companies had a housing shortage in the middle of the drilling boom.
“What he learned there carried over into Texas,” David said.
Following his time in Mexico, Williams went to Europe where he learned more about indigenous styles and buildings that last. He returned to the U.S. and worked in New York for awhile before coming back to Dallas. Bringing his own level of originality and genius to the mix, Ford came on board as a draftsman in Williams’ practice. Williams traveled the world and Texas to hone his style, which was quintessentially Texan.
“As I’ve learned more about him, he’s bigger than life,” David said. “He did all kinds of amazing things.”
Williams’ daughter, along with his three grandsons and grand-daughter-in-law had lunch with the Nelsons and toured the house, filming almost all of it. The goal is to make a documentary about Williams’ life and his work.
Thomas McMahon said he was impressed with the house, both the exterior and interior.
“You can look at pictures but it’s even better on the inside,” he said. “It’s amazing how unique each room is.”
Both Wayne and Judy worked for the Stroubes years ago, and they loved the house even before they owned it.
“We didn’t think we’d ever have the opportunity to buy it,” Wayne said.
It had some minor damage when they bought it about a dozen years ago, so they spent some time renovating. Externally, the only changes they made were to put a leak-proof membrane underneath the tile roof.
“The structure, the bones, are perfect, but we redid the interior,” Wayne said. “The architect was so far ahead of his time.”
Modern features include lots of bathrooms and large closets. Also surprising is that it features a basement that remains snug and dry nearly 90 years after it was excavated.
The house sits on a pier and beam foundation, I-beams sunk deep into the ground. It’s that foundation that has helped preserve the Italian tile floor in the living room, and the leaded glass doors that lead out onto the multiple porches.
“Every door opens and closes just fine,” Nelson said. “There’s not much maintenance.”
There’s a lot to marvel at in the house — and outside of it. Even the swimming pool is vintage but still going strong.
“We were told it was the third swimming pool built in Corsicana. It’s original except for the mechanics,” Wayne said.
Having the McMahons visit the house was fun for the owners, too, Judy Nelson said. The McMahons brought some prints of Williams’ original rendering of the house from their archives.
“It’s thrilling to us,” Judy Nelson said. “It brings it to life for us.”
Janet Jacobs may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.