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
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
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
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
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.