Estate of Wonder: Historic Corpus Christi Home's Majestic Charm

Estate of Wonder: Historic Corpus Christi Home’s Majestic Charm

A historic Corpus Christi home along Ocean Drive offers a majestic and unique presence

Photography by Jason Page

On Corpus Christi’s famed Ocean Drive sits a landmark estate with a history as bold as its interiors. With unobstructed views of the bay, breathtaking grounds and four interior fireplaces, this home certainly leaves an impression. That was the intention of the first owner and builder of this grand property: Frank Crook, a cotton farmer and operator of a cotton compress, built the two-story brick Mediterranean-style house in 1930.

The Crook estate became a well-known property to the people of Corpus Christi. Throughout the years, the residence was host to many parties and social gatherings and was even featured in several home tours. Frank Crook passed away in 1980 and the home, unfortunately, lost its spark.

However, in April 1984, local investor Jack Stone purchased the home with the intention of restoring it to its original condition.

Stone was interviewed for a 1984 Corpus Christi Caller-Times article and was quoted, “We want to restore the house to its original condition. We will make a few minor changes all in keeping with the original design and materials.” Stone added central air conditioning and heat and renovated the surrounding gardens, which are one of the home’s key features. He even hired Crook’s original gardener, Manuel Medina, to take care of the grounds.

One of the gardens’ most distinguished features is the original greenhouse by Lord & Burnham, which is the leading manufacturer of greenhouses in North America and was the builder of some of the United States’ most treasured public conservatories. Owning one of these original Lord & Burnham greenhouses is rare.

“There are only six in the state of Texas,” said the estate’s current owner, Dee Braman. “Out of those six, apparently only two or three are privately owned.”

As detailed in an article by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times in 1952, the greenhouse once held rare tropical plants and award-winning flowers. The article also states the Crooks were the first in Corpus Christi to grow hybrid amaryllis extensively in their garden. This feature — along with the rare greenhouse, sunken garden, imported French urns and collected fountains and statues — was so admired in Corpus Christi that the house was featured on the Annual Home and Garden Pilgrimage in 1952.

The Crook family was also known to throw lavish soirees on the property. As documented in a Corpus Christi Caller-Times article from July 1938, many garden parties were held at the estate. Mrs. Crook enjoyed showing off her home and grounds with fêtes held in honor of guests from Austin to Philadelphia.

In addition to the rare greenhouse and unique plant life, the gardens are also said to feature over 250 magnolia trees. “It has been said that one of every species of magnolia that grows in the state of Texas was carted in…and planted in this yard,” remarked Braman. Another unique and historical detail is the antique light posts from St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans that were given to the first owner by his friend. One of the posts even has a brass plaque that reads, “To Frank from Dick, March 1937.”

The oldest aspect of the property, however, is the iron fence that surrounds the estate, which is over 270 years old — it was built in New Orleans in 1750. As quoted in a local newspaper article from 1978, Crook said, “I bought that fence on the last day of July in 1926. It was 175 years old at that time. It was built by the Imden Iron Works in New Orleans. It was around an old New Orleans house that burned.” The writer of the article claimed the iron fence may be “the oldest item in Corpus Christi.” Some of this very fence also surrounds Lyndon B. Johnson’s grave at LBJ Ranch in Johnson City.

When Braman saw the estate was for sale, she was determined to bring it back to life. “This home belongs to the heart of Corpus Christi. There’s this sentimentality that people have towards this house,” she said. An admirer of historic and classic dwellings, Braman fell in love with its Southern California architecture and stately gardens, and wanted to restore it to its original condition.

“It’s got such great bones,” Braman said. “We got the old blueprints. We never moved one wall…but we were able to bring [the house] up to 2020 living standards.” Without reworking the floor plan, she was able to redo all the plumbing and electrical wiring throughout the home. She also salvaged and restored the original pecan wood floors and kept the original redwood bookshelves in the library, which is now a media room. “We were able to make changes to where living is now comfortable,” Braman said.

She also completely remodeled the kitchen to be more functional and appropriate for a modern family. “Storage is so important to make it function. We made the butler’s pantry more functional and added a warming drawer and drink fridge. We turned the pantry into a design element by using wallpaper and added fridge and freezer drawers,” Braman said.

The remodel also included all the bathrooms in the home. Now, the primary bath features a steam shower, and all of the bathrooms have marble tile and quartz countertops. The powder bath, however, was surprisingly the biggest challenge. “When it was coming together, we never could make the powder bath work just right. A week into staging the project, I decided we’d turn an old silverware drawer into a sink. That’s what makes it magical. We’d run into a snag…and something would come out of nowhere and make it work,” said Braman.

Aside from modernizing the home and making it more functional, Braman wanted to revive its glamorous roots. Once a prestigious and opulent host to social events, it needed a restoration to that same allure. Braman’s vision was elevated class, a well-traveled air and Hollywood glam. “We have this house that is planted in the South. It’s Spanish, ritzy and kind of Beverly Hills. Imagine in the ’30s and ’40s, they sat and drank and told stories of their travels. We took that Southern vibe with the horses, equestrian style and magnolias. We took those two worlds and meshed them together,” said Braman.

The home is filled with nods to old Hollywood, exotic travel and equestrian style. The walls of the breakfast room are covered in the iconic banana leaf wallpaper featured in the Beverly Hills Hotel, while the chrome dining chairs, upholstered in zebra hide, add an exotic touch. The living room features an eclectic mix of vintage rattan, modern brass and pops of cobalt blue and emerald green.

The dining room, adjacent to the living space, houses one of Braman’s most distinct and sentimental art pieces. “We took our horses’ harness illustrations and turned them into artwork,” she said. Another innovative design element is the ping pong table in the den. “We couldn’t find a ping pong table that we liked, so we had a leftover dining table base, added glass for the top, bought a table net and painted it gold,” Braman said.

Much like this table, many of the furniture items and art pieces throughout the house are repurposed to be something unique and special. “That’s what is so special about this home. Every piece of this property has a story,” remarked Braman. This estate certainly has a richness of character that cannot be replicated.

“This home makes you slow down. It has this peace…it reminds us every day to cherish something old.”

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