Thursday, June 26, 2008
Destruction at the McKee Mansion!
Vacant houses attract kids like ants to sugar. When I was growing up there wasn't a vacant house in the neighborhood that we were unaware of. Our favorite was a two-storey home built in 1913. Its main attraction was its cupola - a place where we could sit, survey our domain, and tell wild and fanciful stories. We were aware that our trespassing could get us into trouble but we were not fully initiated yet into all the implications of private property. We never vandalized and never picked up a rock or brick to break a window. Adrenalin and camaraderie were our only motives.
It is now heart-breaking to see the destruction going on at the old McKee mansion on Richmond Avenue - just across the street from Newman Park. This beautiful 9,000 square foot home sitting on a 22,000 square foot (1/2 acre) lot was built in 1920 by none other than Robert E. McKee, who in time would be not just the foremost builder in El Paso, but probably the nation as well. He built the Marine Hospital in San Diego, military facilities in Hawaii including the power plant at Pearl Harbor, more military facilities at the Panama Canal and Los Alamos, the Los Angeles Airport and the Air Force Academy chapel. In El Paso he is responsible for so many of the City's hospitals, bank buildings, schools and churches. He constructed the football field that bears his name at Austin High School, Southwestern Children's Home on Altura, the Natural Gas Company building (remember when the flame was blue no change was due?), the Hilton Hotel (now Plaza Hotel), and much, much more including so many beautiful homes in our Newman Park neighborhood.
McKee and his beautiful wife, Gladys Evelyn Woods were patrons of the arts and liberal philanthropists. He donated to the Museum of Art, procured a portion of the Kress collection for permanent exhibit here in El Paso, and gave generously to charities. The Robert E. and Evelyn McKee Foundation still makes generous grants to worthy recipients in the El Paso area.
Although the Mansion housed the Foundation for awhile and then became a medical rehabilitation center, it was purchased in 1987 by David and Edith Davis and subsequently sold to Dennis Deregla and Dennis Reydom. After an attempt to sell the property, it went off market and remains vacant now that Mr. Deregla and Mr. Reydom have moved elsewhere.
Since becoming vacant, the lovely plants that make-up the landscaping have either died or are near death. A swimming pool in the backyard is half full and the water is an algae green just waiting for west winds to blow mosquitoes from the Rio Grande River Valley. There is enough water in the open pool to drown a child - or even a careless adult. Windows have been broken out from the inside and outside. Even the windows of the attic are either broken or wide open - a call to pigeons to gather. The back alley gate is wide open and the home is accessed easily through an opening to the old boiler room in the basement. Three teenage girls were caught breaking windows from inside of the building just the other day. Reportedly, there is graffiti on the inside of the house and vagrants have occupied it.
I can understand the often irresistible temptation of a vacant house to any kid. I don't understand acts of destruction. I especially don't understand the blatant irresponsibility of homeowners to leave a home vacant without security and without maintenance. It may be private property but it is in a public neighborhood. It isn't just a matter of pride of ownership. It is also a matter of civic pride and civic duty and responsibility to one's neighbors. I shudder to imagine a young child becoming a drowning victim in that open pool in the backyard. Mr. Deregla and Mr. Reydom would carry that on their consciences (if they have such) for the rest of their careless lives.
The owners paid over $9,000 on taxes for the home this past December. If they could afford to buy the home and pay those taxes, they can afford a regular upkeep and security of the home even as it is vacant.
As you can tell, I'm angry. Angry, yes, at needless vandalism of a beautiful home. Angrier about the irresponsibility of owners to protect a vacant property (especially one of such historic and aesthetic value) and to maintain it so to show that they have some respect for their neighbors.