Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Quick! John Staub Houses For Sale! But Why the Hefty Price Tag?

John Staub estate in Shadyside
Earlier this month, the Houston Chronicle published a short article that resembled a real estate listing on some of the most elegant homes of the area (like the one on the right), designed by none other than the late John F. Staub, a residential architect based in Houston for more than 40 years. On the market for several weeks now, these houses boast grand lawn entrances, gallery views of water, and intricate interiors, all yours for just millions of dollars and counting. Though the price tag alone certainly gives these Staub houses an appealing aesthetic, what really made them the cream of the real estate crop? Size? Site location? Attention to detail? 

According to Stephen Fox's The Country Houses of John F. Staub (TAMU Press, 2007), the answer lies in Staub's conscientious effort to mold a sense of elitism in the very architectural design of each house. The understated elaborateness of each home's details and finishes gave them just as much a concrete flavor of sophistication as did the thoughtful consideration given to site location and spatial organization. Constructing a very perceptible awareness of upper class identity in the features and spaces of his houses not only fashioned a feeling of belonging for the emerging American patrician class, but also allowed Staub to function as the authority of taste and style in the greater Houston area. 

So it seems that every single building element within and outside these estates, no matter how subtle, contributes both to their beauty and current market value, even decades after they've been built. All of these architectural attributes possess their own John Staub signature of minimal elegance organically cast to fit the upper class. To own any of these houses would mean to hold on to a piece of the historic past uniquely designed by John F. Staub.

-L. G. Miranda        

Monday, July 21, 2014

Going Native

Native American Seed is a seed propagation farm and seed cleaning and sales business, located a few miles from Junction, Texas. The 262-acre property includes a mile of frontage on the Llano River—the source of irrigation water for the 60 acres devoted to cultivating native plants for seed. In addition to the farm’s riparian habitat, the acreage encompasses bottomland hardwood forest, an alluvial flood plain and uplands. The business is owned and operated by two generations of the Neiman family—Bill and Jan, who founded it near Dallas in 1988 and relocated it to Junction in 1995, and their children Emily and Weston. After finishing college and working briefly elsewhere, Emily and Weston have returned home to work with their parents. The Neimans harvest seeds not only from the plants they cultivate, but also from widely scattered remnants of the prairie, and their business is the foremost seed source for numerous plant species native to the ecosystems of Texas and surrounding states, including those of northern Mexico. 

If you farm or ranch and are restoring native plants to your landscape for wildlife habitat and livestock forage, you’ve probably bought seeds from the Neimans. If you live in the city and cultivate native plants on your property or are involved in native plant projects in parks and other spaces, you’ve probably bought seeds from the Neimans, too. And if you attend conferences of conservation organizations, you’ve probably heard Bill Neiman speak about native plants and his long and varied work with them. 

Click here to see the full post.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Churchill Tour

By Charles Backus, Edward R. Campbell '39 Press Director 

Charles Backus in London
I recently had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to represent the Press at all of the major Churchill sites in England. This special tour was arranged by Celia Sandys (pronounced "sands"), Winston Churchill's granddaughter and author of two books Texas A&M Press reissued in Fall 2013: From Winston with Love and Kisses: The Young Churchill and Churchill Wanted Dead or Alive.

Last October, to coincide with the release of these two publications, we were enabled to invite Ms. Sandys to Texas through the good offices of Davis Ford and other members of the Press Advancement Board. She lectured in College Station first at the Bush Library's Annenberg Center and then at Rudder Auditorium for the "Community of Scholars" lecture series, as well as at UT's LBJ School and the Austin Country Club. Strong audience interest resulted in brisk sales throughout her stay in Texas.

Honorary Press Advancement Board member and former First Lady Barbara Bush,  commenting on Sandys'  presentation, described her as "charming, a great speaker, and she painted a picture of a grandfather and  granddaughter that I will long remember." 

Having had a wonderful time in Texas, Celia designed our visit to England as a reciprocal tour. Our group of eleven congenial individuals included Davis and Gwen Ford; Advancement Board member Lynn Box and husband Richard, former chairman of the Texas A&M Board of Regents; Press author Janet Pollard; and former US Senator Joseph Tydings, from Maryland.
Celia Sandys (second from right) pictured in the Chartwell book and gift shop with (from left to right) past Press Advancement Board chairman Davis Ford, Chartwell retail manager Nicola Watson, and Charles Backus.
The tour generated a great deal of camaraderie and good will for Texas A&M University among those whom we met. In addition, with Celia's personal involvement, we were able to assure that the two titles by her that are now published with the Texas A&M imprint, and perhaps other books from our list, will be stocked and sold in most of the Churchill sites in England.

Our journey began with a lovely dinner prepared and served by our host and her daughter in her London home on the banks of the Thames.  A special guest that evening was Jane Portal (Lady Williams of Elvel), the last of Churchill's private secretaries and the mother of the current Archbishop of Canterbury.  

Churchill War Rooms
We took in birds-eye views from The Shard (the tallest building in Western Europe) and enjoyed a guided visit through St. Paul's (an iconic symbol of English resolve that Churchill was determined to protect throughout World War II). We were also given a personalized tour of The War Rooms in central London, the stark underground headquarters from where Churchill and his staff saw England through the Battle of Britain and mapped out strategies and alliances that ultimately won the war.

Winston Churchill's gravesite 
at St. Martin's Church in Bladon
We journeyed to Chartwell, the picturesque country estate and personal residence of Winston Churchill's family, located in Kent, about an hour south of London, where Celia arranged personalentrĂ©e to some areas not usually open to visitors. That afternoon we traveled northwest to Woodstock, in Oxfordshire, and visited St. Martin's Church in Bladon, the gravesite of Churchill and many close family relatives. Its simplicity presents a striking contrast to Blenheim Palace, the magnificent ancestral estate of the Duke of Marlborough, barely a mile away, where Churchill was born.

Bleinheim Palace
That evening we dined with Celia and her good friend, actor Robert Hardy, known in the US for his roles as Siegfried Farnon in the PBS series "All Creatures Great and Small" and as Cornelius Fudge in the Harry Potter series, but perhaps better known in England for portraying Winston Churchill in movies and on television.    
En route back to London, we stopped off at Harrow, the "public school" where Churchill received much of his early education and from where many of the poignant letters of a lonely child that appear in From Winston with Love and Kisses were written. 

For our final night in London, we were the guests of Lord Gordon Wasserman in the private dining room of the House of Lords.  We were treated to an extensive tour of Parliament and Westminster Hall, parts of which date to the 11th century. This storied complex, the location of so many of Churchill's triumphs and failures, was the perfect finale to our memorable tour.
House of Lords Chamber

Monday, July 14, 2014

TAMU Press Wins Another Two Ottis Lock Awards for Best Book on East Texas

Earlier this month, the East Texas Historical Association named two TAMU press books winners of the 2014 Ottis Lock Award for Best Book on East Texas. Both Lawrence T. Jones III's Lens on the Texas Frontier and Bernadette Pruitt's The Other Great Migration: The Movement of Rural African Americans to Houston, 1900-1941 will be sharing the award at the Association's annual fall meeting held during the first weekend of October.

The Ottis Lock Endowment Committee presents the award to works that demonstrate excellence in charting the history and culture of East Texas in honor of Ottis Lock, who served as a prominent educator, public official, and business leader in the region for much of the twentieth century.

Chronicling the personal and cultural forces that prompted nearly 50,000 blacks to move from small, rural Texas and Louisiana communities to Jim Crow Houston in the first half of the twentieth century, Bernadette Pruitt presents a riveting account of migration as an act of defiance against oppression in her book The Other Great Migration: The Movement of Rural African American to Houston, 1900-1941 (2013). Focusing on the often neglected subject of black migration within the South, Pruitt draws from a variety of primary artifacts to narrate the ways in which the black working class and the metropolitan city mutually transformed one another.

Written by Lawrence T. Jones III, Lens on the Texas Frontier (2014) photographically traces the lives of historical leaders and common folk alike across the state as well as the evolution of photography itself in the near century between 1846 and 1945. Featuring the most memorable items of his collection housed in Southern Methodist University, Jones allows all his readers to relive the moments that make up the fascinating history of Texas.

TAMU Press works have been honored with the Ottis Lock Award multiple times since 1988.

-L. G. Miranda

Friday, July 11, 2014

UNT Press Book Wins Award for Excellence in U.S. Army History Writing

At its Seventeenth Annual Members’ Meeting, held June 18, 2014 at the Army-Navy Country Club in Arlington, VA, the Army Historical Foundation recognized six books, one book series, and three articles as outstanding achievements in writing on U.S. Army history.  General William Hartzog, USA-Ret., announced the winners of the 2013 AHF Distinguished Writing Awards.

Pacific Blitzkrieg:  World War II in the Central Pacific, by Sharon Tosi Lacey, published by UNT Press, won the award in the category of Operational/Battle History. Pacific Blitzkrieg explores the combat in each invasion to show how the battles were planned, how raw recruits were turned into efficient combat forces, how battle doctrine was created on the fly, and how every service remade itself as new and more deadly weapons continuously changed the character of the war.

The book award winners received a plaque honoring the book and a $1,000 cash award.  The article award winners also received a plaque and a $250 cash award.

The AHF Distinguished Writing Awards program was established in 1997 to recognize authors who make a significant contribution to the literature on U.S. Army history.  Each year nominations are submitted to the Awards Committee by publishers and journal editors.  A small group of finalists are selected and a final judging is made.  The winners are announced at the annual AHF Members’ Meeting. 

For more information on the Foundation and its activities, please view the AHF website at www.armyhistory.org.

To learn more about the book, click here

-Korey Acuna

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Fight Against Extinction

Last Monday, a federal appeals court overturned a lower court’s ruling that held state and river authorities liable for the deaths of 23 whooping cranes five years ago. Despite the reversal, Jim Blackburn, attorney for the party filing suit and author of The Book of Texas Bays (2004), recognized that the court still found causality between the state’s actions and the loss of the federally protected endangered species, even if it did not find authorities to blame.

This recent reversal echoes many similar struggles that Blackburn documents in his book to preserve the fleeting beauty captured in the coastal waterways of Texas. As he aids various endangered species to fight extinction, Blackburn also aims to ensure the conservation of the irreplaceable natural resources that the Texas Gulf Coast offers to plants, animals, and people alike. More than just a work of natural and environmental history, The Book of Texas Bays illustrates one man’s profound commitment to safeguard the natural world of the Texas coast.

His legal crusade seeks to protect the last naturally migrating flock of whooping cranes that winters on the Texas coast.  

According to the Austin American-Statesman, Blackburn anticipates continuing his conservationist battle in the Colorado River basin, where water policies may be harming an endangered species of sea turtle. Extending beyond the borders of Texas, his national campaign to prevent the extinction of these animals will be closely followed.

For the full article on the whooping crane ruling reversal in the Austin American-Statesman, click here

For further details on Jim Blackburn’s The Book of Texas Baysclick here

-L.G. Miranda