by Paula Bosse
I posted a screenshot of a “mystery house” (here) to see if anyone could figure out where it was — and a few people identified it! The screenshot was from a June, 1960 WFAA Channel 8 news piece on an embezzlement case against the owner of the insurance business that was then occupying the old house — it was the home of the State National Life Insurance Company at 2516 Maple Avenue. And I don’t know what happened with its “remodeling” along the way, but… yikes. Someone did an unbelievably bad job!
According to a 1947 Dallas Morning News article (see “Sources & Notes” at bottom of page), the house was built in 1897. The address then was 154 Maple Avenue, back when Maple Avenue was lined with very nice homes, occupied by well-to-do families who would later move to Highland Park. You can see the house at the corner of Maple and Mahon (which for a while was called Martin) on the 1899 Sanborn map here, the 1905 map here, and the 1921 map here.
I’m not sure who built it, but in 1901 it was occupied by banker Roderick Oliver who sold it to Capt. John P. Murphy in 1906 for $18,000 — or $500,000 in today’s money. Murphy was the legendary pioneer real estate man of Dallas. He started his real estate company in 1874 and was joined by partner Charles F. Bolanz in 1884 — Murphy & Bolanz was the premier real estate company in the city for decades.
Dallas Morning News, May 18, 1906
The house stayed in the Murphy family for many years. In 1947 the house was elaborately restored by three women (two of whom were Murphy’s daughters) who opened it as The Laurels, an elegant location for weddings and receptions. The house had been slated for sale and demolition, but the women thought that the old house would serve brides well, as “the highlight of any young girl’s life is her marriage, and few places in Dallas offer a suitable environment for such an occasion,” said one of the women (DMN, Oct. 5, 1947). The Laurels appears to have been in business only through the end of 1948 — about a year; a classified ad shows that it had become a boarding house “for young working people” soon after.
It seems to have been sold in the 1950s when it became home to various businesses. After the embezzlement interlude, it was, among other things, a theme club called The Haunted House in the 1960s, community radio station KCHU in the ’70s, and an antique shop in the ’80s.
Below is how it looked in June of 1960 as it was passing into receivership. A news story described it thusly: “…a big house that is a study in contradictions. Outside, flat green paint peels and cracks, gentility sliding headlong toward an ‘arty’ disrespectability” (“Old House on Maple Services Insurance Empire,” Dallas Morning News, June 9, 1960). It looked pretty sad.
It was spiffed up a bit in the early ’80s for the antique shop, Booth Galleries, but it still looked weird, like someone had sheared off the sides of the house, removing any and all character.
1980, Historic Dallas, via Portal to Texas History
Then — saints preserve us! — the gods smiled down and Claire Heymann bought the decrepit old house (which was waiting for its all-but-inevitable date with the wrecking ball) and worked absolute miracles to transform the house into the stunningly beautiful Hotel St. Germain, located across from the Crescent. This is one instance where a restoration/renovation actually improves on the original! I’ve loved this redone building — Dallas’ first bed and breakfast inn — since it first appeared in 1991. Long may it stand. Thank you, Claire!
Sources & Notes
Top photo showing the home of John P. Murphy, circa 1910, is from Dallas Rediscovered by William McDonald, with photo credited to the Dallas Historical Society.
The Dallas Morning News article “Early Dallas Home Restored for Weddings” (DMN, Oct. 5, 1947) states that the house was built in 1897. “The Laurels” was opened by Murphy’s daughters Mrs. Louise Boyce Sanford and Mrs. Eugene P. Locke in partnership with Mrs. Dorothy Doran Walker.
Copyright © 2019 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.