This Week’s Book Review – All The Houses Were Painted White: Historic Homes of the Texas Golden Crescent

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday.

Book Review

Historic homes show attention to detail, architecture

By MARK LARDAS

Sep 28, 2019

All The Houses Were Painted White: Historic Homes of the Texas Golden Crescent,” by Rick Gardner, Texas A&M University Press, 2019, 196 pages, $40

Texans have their own ways of doing things. This includes architecture.

“All The Houses Were Painted White: Historic Homes of the Texas Golden Crescent,” by Rick Gardner, literally illustrates that point. It’s a pictorial essay of historic homes built around Victoria.

Gardner is a retired professional architectural photographer. His book documents work for a National Endowment for the Arts grant between 1973 and 1975. He captured Victorian-era homes of the Texas Golden Crescent, midway between Houston and Corpus Christi.

Between 1875 and 1910, this was a wealthier part of Texas, rich primarily because of the cattle industry and other agriculture. The well-to-do built houses matching their aspirations. They were spacious and attractive. In the days before electricity and air conditioning, they were as comfortable as it was possible to be.

Although built with high ceilings and generous ventilation, Gardner notes they were hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Yet they were attractive, filled with decorative features and loaded with gingerbread elements.

When Gardner photographed the homes, most exteriors were painted white. He did most of his photography in black-and-white. Only his black-and-white images are in this book.

The images are superb, taken using large format cameras capturing 8×10-inch or 4×5-inch negatives. The resulting pictures were spectacularly detailed. They’re reproduced in full-page illustrations in an oversized 9×10 book.

The book has chapters highlighting houses in Cuero, Gonzales, Hallettsville and Schulenburg, Goliad and Beeville, and Victoria. The photographs highlight the craftsmanship that went into building each house, underscoring unique or interesting features of each. Each house featured also has a historical sketch, telling its history up to the time it was photographed and its fate today.

There are surprises. Several houses originally were built in Indianola but moved to new locations after the hurricanes destroyed Indianola. While many of the houses housed cattle barons and bankers, the original owners had a surprising variety of careers, including a carriage maker, mason, artist and store owners.

“All The Houses Were Painted White” is a book that will fascinate architecture fans, and draw those interested in Texas history.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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4 thoughts on “This Week’s Book Review – All The Houses Were Painted White: Historic Homes of the Texas Golden Crescent”

  1. White paint is traditionally made from zinc oxide, lead oxide (white lead), or titanium oxide.  These are (literally) dirt cheap and are mixed with linseed oil or some other binder (egg white, for example). Alternatively white can be made from slacked lime mixed with water (whitewash) or linseed oil. Again, dirt cheap.

    Other cheap paints come from using soot as the pigment (black) and iron oxide (barn red – a rust brown). Incidentally, the “red” on the inner bulkheads of wooden warships during the age of sail was barn red, not cochineal scarlet. It was made from iron oxide and used because it was cheap – not to hide blood during battle.

    Today we do not use these paints, especially lead-based paints, but in the 1970s when these photos were taken they still being used.

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