Mary Moore stops in her kitchen, puts her hands on her hips and offers a story she hadn’t quite planned to tell about her historic home and her extensive collection of Art Deco furniture.
“You know, some people see ghosts here,” she blurted out, knowing that single line would catch anyone’s attention.
Moore went on to tell how there’s a man who has been seen at the top of the attic stairs. She believes he died in the house a century ago during an influenza epidemic. There’s a woman wandering around, too, and her spirit is felt when she breezes by, giving visitors an instant chill.
Doors open and close on their own, which might be a draft — then again, maybe it’s a supernatural spirit telling you to move on or get out. Who knows?
Mary and Tyler Moores’ 1920’s-era home will be open to the public along with six others, for the biennial East Montrose Home Tour happening April 22. You’ll see two contemporary townhomes, a Victorian/Arts and Crafts hybrid, a Victorian cottage, a home made of two shotgun shacks.
Platted in the early 1900s, East Montrose remains pedestrian-friendly, and visitors will find early bungalows and stately mansions alongside new, four-story townhomes.
The Moores’ home originally was built for Samuel McNeill, a widower and cotton classer at Sanders & Co. downtown. His sister and a boarder lived there, too. His cook, Cornelia Watson, lived in quarters behind the house, according to Preservation Houston.
The Moores, who previously lived in a historic home in Bryan, bought their home in 2004 and spent two years in a restoration and renovation that is true to its Arts & Crafts beginning but also gave it new wiring, plumbing and drywall, restored its tiger oak floors and made the kitchen and bathrooms usable for 21st-century life. Even its windows were removed from the house, cleaned up and reinstalled.
When Mary Moore saw this East Montrose home, she fell in love with its clean lines and gorgeous porches. And she didn’t mind taking on a new project – historic preservation had become her ‘”thing.”
She had been collecting art and Art Deco furniture since the early 1980s, when she and her good friend Lynn Goode, owner of Lynn Goode Vintage, would go shopping. Moore talked to Goode about Art Deco, and Goode taught her much about art, including the works of Mark Flood, Dorothy Hood, Sandy Bryant and Sylvia Ordonez.
Sometimes, her Art Deco finds cost thousands of dollars; other times, they were great steals. Moore once found a set of eight dining chairs, perfect specimens were it not for the rough shape they were in.
“I thought I was doing hot stuff,” Moore says. “I got eight chairs for $400. Then, with all the fabric and redoing them, they ended up costing $9,000.”
They are beautiful, though, with curvy period frames, embossed leather seats and unusual upholstery with velvet cutouts in different colors.
Mary Moore shopped for Art Deco items everywhere they traveled, and sometimes the travel was about nothing but Art Deco buying trips.
Scattered throughout the home are Nichols and Fette rugs, made in China in the 1920s, and a mix of Western Art Deco style with traditional Eastern elements. Other touches include Art Deco-style stenciling in a powder room and in the dining room, where a stenciled border matches the design of the chairs.
The brick masonry porches are Moore’s favorite part of the home, where she can sit as long as she wants and greet neighbors and others passing by. At one time, she used them for “porching” – just inviting people over to visit. They’d have food and something to drink, and someone might get out a guitar and play.
“I got the idea from Molly Ivins, who had people over to her house every Friday night, whether she was in Austin or not. They talked about all the things your mother said you could never discuss: politics, sex, you know, whatever,” she says. “Everyone asks when we’re going to porch again.”