New Home in El Paso

From: “This is my life**

By James G. McNary (Former owner of St. Anthony’s Seminary Facilities).
University of New Mexico Press, 1956.

My two oldest children were born in Las Vegas. Graham Raynolds was born in February, 1904, and Ruth Elizabeth was born on the Fourth of July, 1905. Shortly after moving to El Paso, our second daughter was born, whose tragic and untimely death has been related. Our third daughter, Margery May, was born in El Paso on May 5, 1910, and our daughter, Martha, who has always been proud of being a Texan, was born in El Paso on October 16, 1912.

When we first moved to El Paso, we lived in a modes rented house. After about two years, due to the increasing size of the family and need for more room, we moved to a larger house. About three years later, we purchased a residence on East Rio Grande and moved again; and, in 1915, nearly ten years after moving to El Paso, we purchased a larger and much more attractive home on Arizona Street, which involved our fourth move in El Paso. By that time I decided that it was time to plan for an adequate family home. While El Paso, as a small city, had plenty of attraction and interest and we had begun to enjoy our life and activities there thoroughly, I had always entertained some reservations as to whether or not it offered the most ideal attractions and advantages as a permanent home for my family. Several El Paso friends had acquired residences in California and established summer homes there, especially at Santa Barbara. Mrs. McNary and I had visited Santa Barbara and were greatly attracted by the city as an ideal home site. About 1916, we spent some time there and found an attractive site for a home in Montecito, which we missed purchasing by a close margin. Finally, the course of events clearly indicated that our future destiny was tied in with El Paso, and the logical thing was for us to build our permanent home there.

I was in a financial position then to consider plans for a beautiful residence as a home and background for my wife and daughters and, accordingly, I employed Myron C. Hunt, of Los Angeles, who was regarded as the best residence architect in that city. I acquired a building site, in the newly established Austin Terrace Addition, which consisted of an oval-shaped block, seven hundred feet long and four hundred feet wide, with a considerable slope from the center to the street. It contained between three and four acres. It was on high ground, located near and at about the same elevation as Ft. Bliss, and looked down upon the city, the Rio Grande Valley, the Pass, and the mountains of Old Mexico.

In the summer of 1916, Mrs. McNary took the children to Del Mar, California, to spend several months. I commuted back and forth at frequent intervals, when we made trips to Los Angeles and began our conferences with Mr. Hunt. By the time the summer was over, the plans were well toward completion, and by November first we were ready to begin construction of the new residence. One of my good Army friends, Colonel Hornbrook, was in command of a regiment of cavalry at Ft. Bliss. Our four acres of ground was nothing but a sand hill. Walking over it one would sink in the sand up to his ankles. We wanted to have grass and flowers and trees, and the sand hill seemed to present hopeless difficulties. I conferred with Colonel Hornbrook and he agreed to use our lot as the dumping ground for manure from his cavalry post. Over a few months’ time he actually dumped five thousand loads of manure, transported in big Army vans drawn by four and six horses and this was without a dollar’s cost to me, as it afforded them a very much shorter haul for disposal of their waste. This covering of manure was wet down, plowed under, and mixed in with the sand, and converted our four acres of desert into a veritable gardener’s paradise.

The plans for our new home called for an Italian type of structure with a pillared porch, and the front section of one story. The house was built around a large patio, with a height of two stories on the two sides and rear. The front section consisted of a music room, drawing room and reception room about eighty feet long and thirty feet wide, then a long corridor that extended the full width of the house, one hundred feet long and twelve feet wide. On one side of the patio was the dining room and on the other side the library, each twenty by thirty feet, with high ceilings. The rear of the first story provided three large guest bedrooms, each with its own bath; a breakfast room, large pass pantry, kitchen and servants quarters with two bedrooms and bath. Upstairs there were six large family bedrooms, each with bath, providing a separate bedroom for each member of the family.

The plans provided for a full concrete basement. I decided to build the main structure of the house of southern yellow pine, imported from our lumber plant in Louisiana, covered with a veneer of one layer of brick and plastered with stucco, and a red tiled roof. I decided not to have a general contractor but to sublet contracts such as the concrete work, main frame structure, and separate contracts for the roof, plumbing, heating, and lighting. Mr. Hunt sent one of his highly competent staff to El Paso to supervise the job. Our original ideas and estimates anticipated a house that would cost about eighty thousand dollars but, as usually happens, as the plans developed, our estimates had to be greatly increased. In addition to the main home structure, I erected a low concrete wall eighteen hundred feet long around the circle. Also swimming pool thirty by sixty feet, with pergola and dressing rooms at each end, was added, as well as a tennis court, a small greenhouse, and a three-car garage with a stable for the horses underneath.

The building, furnishing, and decoration of the home, which started in November, 1916, was completed in December, 1917. I might add that we delayed definite plans for beginning construction until Wilson was elected president, in the fall of 1916, on a platform and pledge to keep us out of the war. By spring of 1917, we were in the way up to our necks and, except that the main structure was already erected and contracts for the other work already let, we would not have been able to proceed with the building; also if I had known that we were going to be involved in the way, I doubt if I would ever have begun the erection of the home certainly not at that time.

The interior decorating department of Marshall Field, of Chicago, prepared detailed plans and specifications for the furnishing of every room in the house, each of which was work of art, and they were given the contract for the complete finishing and furnishing of the home, including the interior painting, the furniture, carpets, rugs, draperies, chandeliers, dishes, silverware, table and bath linen, and as near as it could be planned and figured, every item of furniture and equipment needed. It was indeed a thing of beauty. I have been in many more luxurious and elegant homes but I have never been in a home that was more attractive, beautiful, and homelike than ours in El Paso.

While in California, in the summer of 1916, we contracted with the California Pipe Organ Company, at Van Nuys, to build a pipe organ for a new home. Mrs. McNary was an organist of rare talent and accomplishment, and had studied for a number of years in Boston, where she had lived with her mother while her brothers were attending Harvard. She studied in the New England Conservatory of Music, for seven years, enjoying all the cultural advantages of that famous institution. Along with her basic musical study she specialized in piano, pipe organ, and violin, and when I first met her she was a marvelous musician. I think it is no exaggeration to say that she could play any music that was ever written for the piano. She had a special gift, however, for the pipe organ. I always considered, and often said, that she could play hymns and anthems on the organ more beautifully than anyone else I had ever heard. She and two highly qualified organ experts with the company worked out the details and specifications for the organ. It was built during 1917 and installed in our home in the months of November and December. We moved in just before Christmas and over the New Year’s week end entertained a house party of eight of our close friends.

One of our greatest regrets when we decided to move permanently to Arizona was parting with this pipe organ which had “played” such an important part in our lives there. Accordingly, when we sold the house, we retained title to the instrument permitting us to dispose of it at our convenience. It was only after several years’ deliberation that we decided to make a gift of the organ to the St. Francis Auditorium, in Santa Fe, which is an adjunct to and an important part of the Museum of New Mexico.

The Museum is under the jurisdiction of and affiliated with the School of American Research of the Archaeological Institute of America, among the founders of which were Honorable Frank Springer, Dr. Edgar L. Hewett, Dr. Paul A. F. Walter, Miss Alice C. Fletcher, and Mr. William H. Holmes, of the Bureau of American Ethnology. It was become one of the leading institutions in the humanities in America. TIs board of managers includes distinguished scientists and professional men from twenty states from coast to coast and meets annually in Santa Fe about the last week in September. I have for many years been a member of the board of the School of American Research and had the honor of being elected president of the Santa Fe Branch of the Archaeological Institute in the fall of 1929. The St. Francis Auditorium was built in 1916-17 by the state of New Mexico and private donors as a shrine of the arts for the New Mexico Museum and while not a replica, it is modeled fairly closely after the famous old mission church of the Acoma Pueblo.

Some years after we sold the El Paso home, Mrs. McNary and I informed Dr. Hewett that we wished to make a gift of the pipe organ to the Museum to be moved and erected in the St. Francis Auditorium. He, accordingly, made arrangements to have the organ dismantled, transported by truck (it weighed over ten tons) to Santa Fe, and in the course of time, with due ceremonies, it was installed in the auditorium. It bears a bronze plate stating that the organ was presented by Mr. and Mrs. James Graham McNary in memory of MR. and Mrs. Joshua Saxton Raynolds.

In 1938, when my eldest daughter, Ruth, was planning her wedding to Mr. C.J. Warren, she decided she wished to have the wedding in the mission auditorium in Santa Fe so that she could be married to the strains of our organ. In June of the year 1954, when arranging the plans for his wedding, my grandson, Graham Raynolds McNary, Jr., likewise chose to be married in the St. Francis Auditorium. Nothing in this life is indestructible, including pipe organs, but when well built, as this organ was, and well cared for, as it will be, a pipe organ will last for generations and we were happy for this organ to find a permanent home in a permanent institution where its lovely tones will be a joy and an inspiration to music lovers for long years to come.

When we occupied the new home, we let a contract with the well-known firm of Howard and Smith, in Los Angeles, to plan the landscaping of our grounds and the planting of trees and shrubs. They sent us an expert gardener, a Scotchman named David Goodfellow, and with their advice and supervision, he had full charge. He trained and directed the staff of three or four Mexicans whom he employed for a number of years. With the foundation of fertile soil provided, our trees, shrubs, plants, and flowers grew and flourished, and in a few years the grounds were very beautiful.

Our new home, from the time we opened it, was dedicated to entertainment and hospitality. Mrs. McNary and I loved to entertain and it was a natural corollary of my position as president of the Firs National Bank. Also, Ft. Bliss was greatly extended in size and importance during the years just preceding the way. With the Army officers and their wives, social entertainment was a high art and the Army activities brought many distinguished visitors to El Paso to be entertained. We especially enjoyed the friendship and exchange of the social courtesies with the Army people and delighted in entertaining them.

We could seat thirty people at our dining room table and frequently gave dinners with two dozen or more guests. We also made a practice of having musical entertainments in our home, to which the public was invited. Soon after moving into the house, Clarence Eddy, a famous organist of that day, gave the opening concert. Later on, among the special artists, we engaged Pietro Yon, a Spanish organist of note, for a concert. In addition to the organ, we had a Steinway grand piano in the music room and in the course of time engaged the well-known French musician, Bonnet, who was famous both as a pianist and organist, for a concert. Other musicians of lesser note gave concerts in our home at various times.

In the fall of 1919, the Chamber of Commerce arranged a celebration at which seven governors were invited, including of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, and four governors of from the states of northern Mexico. In addition to the public entertainments and events arranged for them. I entertained the governors with a stag party of about one hundred men in our home, which proved to be a very hilarious and successful affair. When Secretary McAdoo visited El Paso promoting the sale of Liberty Bonds, we entertained him at a luncheon. Also, on one occasion, we gave a luncheon party for General Luis Terrazas which, as I recall, was in celebration of his eightieth birthday. He was Mexico’s most distinguished private citizen and truly a grand old gentleman. He was a good friend of mine and I was highly honored to have him accept an invitation to be in our home as, during his years of residence as a refugee in El Paso, he was somewhat a recluse.

In 1920, when General Pershing and the members of his staff toured the country following his return from Europe, we gave a dinner and reception for him and his party, which was especially enjoyable, as he had been stationed in El Paso as a brigadier general in command of Ft. Bliss for three years before his appointment as a commander of the American Expeditionary Forces. During those years he was a close friend of our family and frequent visitor in our home and we felt especially honored to entertain him after the way, when he was one of the famous military leaders of the world.

During the fifty years or more of active business life I have been considerable of a “joiner.” Of course I have always belonged to chambers of commerce in whatever locality I have been temporarily “operating” and also during most of my life have taken an active inters in YMCA activities. In my teens, I joined the United Presbyterian Church of which my father was pastor and, later, when I migrated westward where there were no United Presbyterian churches, I became a member of the Presbyterian Church. In 1928, after my accident when I was recuperating and had time on my hands, I felt that for the first time in my life I had sufficient time to study the Masonic degrees and I, accordingly, made application to join the Masonic Lodge in Albuquerque. I took the first three degrees in Albuquerque in the spring of the 1928 and in that summer went to Santa Fe and at the Master Lodge there I went through the degrees up through the thirty-second.

The first club I ever belong to was the Toltec Club in El Paso, named after the ancient tribe of Indians, which was a n active and flourishing club in those days but has since been dissolved. After embarking on a banking career I joined a bankers club in New York City and continued that affiliation for a good many years. During various stages in my life I was a member of the country clubs of El Paso, Albuquerque, and Phoenix, and was president of the El Paso Country Club when the new clubhouse was built in 1923. Being eligible for a membership in the Sons of the American Revolution I joined that ancient organization and continued this affiliation for a good many years. IN about 1920, as nearly as I can recall, I became a charter member of the Biltmore Country Club, at Rye, New York, which was organized and promoted by Mr. McIntee member of the Congressional Country Club which was organized in Washington about 1922.

Of all the clubs with which I was affiliated during my lifetime, I took the most active interest in the Toltec Club, composed of business and professional men of El Paso. It was primarily a social club occupying several floors of a five-story building with the usual facilities such as a lunch room, banquet room for dinners and dances, and one floor equipped for lodging for both local and out-of-town guests. The club was an important center of social activities in El Paso and the annual stag banquets were very entertaining affairs. I was the moving spirit in organizing a very excellent chorus of about eight good fellows who always entertained the members at our annual stag banquets with special songs written for the occasion, which we sang to the tune of “down Where the Wurtzberger Flows,” for most of which I composed the words myself. The songs were calculated to extol the virtues or frailties of various members. After exaggerating their virtues or accomplishments, the chorus ran as follows:

‘Twas a Toltec pipe, just a beautiful Toltec dream,
As we puff, puff, puff, it makes everything seem to seem,
We fill up our pipes and we puff and we pant,
We’d love to believe it, but dammit we can’t!
The tales sounded true but between me and you,
It was only a Toltec Pipe Dream.

I can remember some of the verses which we sang, after nearly fifty years, one of which ran as follows:

John “Doe” we were told, was out walking one night
When a lady stepped up to his side and said,
“My dear John, it would be a delight
Just to be for one hour your bride.
”But John looking into her beautiful eyes said,
“Really now, what do you mean? Don’t you know
That my virtue o’er all this I prize?
So leave me and don’t make a scene.”

And then the chorus was the Toltec Pipe. On one occasion we had the pleasure of entertaining a group for the highest Santa Fe officials for whom I composed a special song which I have always regarded as one of m outstanding poetical accomplishments, which ran as follows:

The name Santa Fe is well-known I theses parts
But its meaning is not always plain
To some it suggests an old well-beaten trail
To others a beautiful train
The name stands for virtue and world-wide renown
Its engines have never been known to break down
And they run like a bat out of hell.

Then the chorus. On many festive occasions our chorus, which contained some of the finest voices which I have ever had the pleasure of getting together, provided hilarious entertainment for the members and guests. The Toltec Club played an important part in the social life of El Paso in the early days and it is sad that it did not survive.

** Autobiography of the famous musician, businessman, teacher, and financier, who served as comptroller of the currency under President Warren G. Harding. McNary was also a prominent educator and business man in New Mexico, where he lived much of his life.

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