Val Verde County Historical Commission

Val Verde County Historical Commission

The Brinkley Mansion
A Recorded Texas Historical Landmark Application

Doug Braudaway
Southwest Texas Junior College, 207 Wildcat, Del Rio, Texas 78840
(830) 775-1803; douglas.braudaway@swtjc.cc.tx.us

The Brinkley Mansion is one of Del Rio's principal landmarks. The Mansion, now addressed as 512 Qualia, Del Rio, Texas 78840, has an unusual legal description because the surrounding land was not subdivided as neighborhoods and residences until long after the Mansion itself was built. For the record the legal description of the property is "Being a 1.81 acre of land out of and part of Section 4, Division A, [San Felipe Agricultural, Manufacturing & Irrigation] Company's subdivision of Survey 159, in the name of Caleb S. Brown and out of and part of Farm Tract 5 of G. Bedell Moore Farm Tract Subdivision out of and part of Tract 1."1

brinkley mansion restored--april 2005

The whole area was once farmland irrigated by Del Rio's canal system. A large tract of this irrigated land was owned by G. Bedell Moore. Moore sold the land around the Mansion to O. J. James on August 10, 1929 (for $3,570). James (or rather his attorney) sold multiple properties, including the Mansion tract to Paul and Mabel Edwards, the Mansion tract for $2,400 on March 2, 1931.2 The Edwards sold the Mansion site to John R. and Minnie T. Brinkley on January 10, 1934 for $14,000.3 This trebling of valuation in such a short amount of time strongly suggests that the original portion of the Mansion was constructed during that three-year period-- 1931 to 1934. The home was built facing what was once Hudson Street, also known as Loop Road and Lovers' Lane, just outside the city limits in an area now called South Del Rio.4

The Brinkleys owned the property until Dr. Brinkley's death in 1942. Back then, it was the only house in a large stretch of pasture. Mrs. Brinkley continued her ownership until her death on January 8, 1980. Sometime during their ownership in the 1930s, the Brinkleys are known to have enlarged the original home, "he wanted it twice as big," into its larger Mansion identity which is shown in publicity photos and used in books about Brinkley and his border blaster Radio XER/XERA. The Brinkley's son, John, died in 1976, predeceasing his mother. As a result, Mrs. Brinkley willed her entire estate to John's daughter and her granddaughter, Adrienne Angela Brinkley.5

After forty-six years, the Mansion, with its identity as "the Brinkley Mansion" well entrenched in the Del Rio community, passed from family ownership. Angela (as she was known) sold the property to LTB Development, Inc. for $124,800. That corporation split off the larger portion of the tract to the west and south from the Mansion and its immediate grounds. LTB then subdivided and developed a neighborhood called Brinkley Estates with streets named Brinkley Circle and Angela Drive. LTB then sold the Mansion and grounds to Murrey and Jolene Burnham for $45,000. The Burnhams sold the Mansion to Peggy Miller who sold it to Thomas Nyman who, on January 6, 2003, sold it to the present owners, Gene Austin and Olga King.6

The Mansion, including its Brinkley expansion, is clearly historic and has also been kept in its historic state and appearance. No color photos from the Brinkley era are extant, but the following passage confirms that the modem appearance, notably its pink exterior walls, is authentic. "Nothing demonstrated Doctor's flair for the unusual more than his luxurious residence and its sixteen acres of lush greenery in the driest part of Texas. The Mansion, known as 'Palm Drive in Hudson Gardens' stood hardly a coyote's howl from the muddy Rio Grande. Two pairs of iron gates ornately spelled out in letters the name of 'Dr. Brinkley' and provided ingress and egress to and from the curving drive that led to the front entrance of the house. One gate was always locked. The other was guarded by two huskies and three biting geese. Dr. Brinkley tried various color schemes on the house, with accessories in related colors. When it was pink, the family cars were lire-engine red. Later its stuccoed walls, the drives and walks were all brilliant apple-green, and so were all the block long automobiles in the Brinkley garage .... "7 The Mansion is pink (with the red tile root), and while pink is not the only authentic historical color, it is one of them and the best remembered.

The Brinkley Mansion and its grounds became a source of entertainment for Del Rio residents. People would drive out to "this lush, man—made paradise” and watch the dancing fountains bought from the Chicago World's Fair and the flashing colored lights while listening to the Brink1eys' pipe organ. Organist Joe O'Toole seems to have been multi-talented, serving as organ player, bodyguard and tutor for Brinkley's son. People could even put in requests, and O'Toole would play them. The organ was inside the house, but loudspeakers were mounted out on the fence. Inside the fences the Brinkleys also had a menagerie including peacocks, large tortoises (which sometimes blocked the drive) as well as some kangaroos for a time. Brinkley even built a parking lot in the cow pasture across the street from the house for the convenience of the community's spectators. Families would park, and kids got out and danced on the gravel8

"At night, Dr. Brinkley's hacienda was an even more memorable show place.... Neon lights flashed and played over the home place set amid the sage, over the eight-thousand-bush rose garden, over the tiled lily pool, the two fountains (five thousand dollars each), throwing water thirty feet into the air, each column shot through with changing multicolored lights." The fountains had electrical nozzles to shape the water burst, small and large, and direct the bursts through the colored lights. The water use was so extravagant that Brinkley asked for and received from the City of Del Rio (in October 1936) a special, four-inch water line from the nearest point of the municipal water system to the Mansion.9

The marker will be placed alongside the subject marker for Dr. John Brinkley, both to be placed between the two gates, in a position to make a good camera shot. The Mansion has long been photographed, and the Val Verde County Historical Commission believes that it will continue to be. The attached photograph has been circulated widely around Del Rio and nationally published books. The main frame shows the Mansion with insets of Doctor, the yacht Doctor Brinkley II, the log shack in which Doctor was born, and son Johnny.

A comparison between this photograph and modern ones show that the roofline and roofing materials, window frames, and walls are nearly, if not fully, identical. The Mansion was built (or rather rebuilt and expanded) as a Spanish Eclectic. The Mansion sports low-pitched, ceramic tiled, multi-level gabled roofs with little overhang. The stuccoed walls and asymmetrical facade show a mix of squared top and rounded top easement windows. An arcaded wing wall and the nearby decoratively tiled fountains are extra flourishes that come right out of the book.10

 

Bibliography-
Gerald Carson, The Roguish World of Doctor Brinkley, New York; Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1960.
City of Del Rio, City Council Minute Book 4.
Virginia and Lee McA1ester, A Field Guide to American Houses, New York; Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.
Leslie Schmidt to Doug Braudaway, interview on April 15, 1998.
Property ID #12526, Val Verde County Appraisal District.
Val Verde County Clerk's Office, Deed Records.
Val Verde County Clerk's Office, Probate Records.
Val Verde County Clerk's Office, Map Record Book 4.

 

Footnotes-
1 Val Verde County Clerk's Office, Deed Records Vol. 607, pages 84+. The site map is an illustration that is included in all of the post-Brinkley land transactions.
2 Deed Records Vol. 75, pages 29+; Vol. 79, pages 71+; Vol. 79, pages 150+; Vol. 81, pages 613+; Vol. 87, pages 235+
3 Deed Records Vol. 87, pages 236+.
4 The mansion was also the origin of Del Rio's Brinkley Lumber Company. When the Brinkley's bought the house, they expanded it greatly from its former size. According to Brir1kley's wife, the local lumber merchants gouged Brinkley, and so Brinkley started his own lumberyard to "give them some competition." The business remained active for several years. Leslie Schmidt, interview on April 15, 1998 (tape 2).
5 Leslie Schmidt, interview on April 15, 1998; Probate Records Vol. 75, pages 451+. The will was dated March 25, 1978. John was known as Johnnyboy while growing up in Del Rio and on the radio.
6 Deed Records Vol. 326, pages 267+; Vol. 342, pages 38+; Vol. 500, pages 270+; Vol. 607, pages 84+; Vol. 833, pages 588+; Map Record Book 4, page 152, dated February 7, 1978.
7 Gerald Chrson, The Roguish World of Doctor Brinkley, pages 210-211.
8 Carson, The Roguish World of Doctor Brinkley, page 211; Leslie Schmidt, interview on April 15, 1998 (tape 1).
9 Carson, The Roguish World of Doctor Brinkley, pages 211-212; City of Del Rio City Council Minute Book 4, pages 28-29.
10 Virginia and Lee McAlester, A Field Guide to American Houses, pages 416-429.

 

Attachments-
Floor plan from Val Verde County Appraisal District.
Sight plan (of the Mansion and grounds) from Val Verde County Deed Records.
Photograph of the Mansion and the surrounding land from Carson, The Roguish World of Doctor Brinkley. The photograph dates to the mid- to late-1930s.
Photograph, with inserts, of the Mansion. The inserts include Doctor, Johnnyboy, the Brinkley yacht and the log cabin Brinkley grew up in.
Elevation photos taken 2003. (The legal description is written into the narrative.)