One of Letty Lew Lloyd’s heart’s desires was realized more than two decades ago when the historic Alamo Heights home she had long admired went up for sale. “I told my husband that I had to have that house,” she recalls. With an impish smile and enthusiastic lilt in her voice she elaborates. “He said, “no’, and I said, “Oh yes, I do.'”
Indeed, she and her orthodontist husband, David, purchased the home 23 years ago and moved in with their two sons, David and Christian, both now grown. The architecture is Georgian, the English style popular during the reign of the four kings named George and liberally copied in America beginning in the late 1800s. Letty Lew mentions it is the former rectory for St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. (See sidebar: A Bit of Background.)
“We made some cosmetic changes but did not do anything structural to the house,” says the current homeowner. Hardwood floors are extremely dark, which was all to the good. “I loved them because they are dark,” says Letty Lew.
She found the home a perfect showcase for her vast antique furniture and accessories collection. “I am an avid antique collector,” she confesses. Following in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother, she says, “I liked collecting antiques before it was even in style.”
Explaining her philosophy in buying and decorating, she adds, “I believe in choosing things that you really love and finding a place for them. I like to buy that which is timeless, with a few little fun things thrown in.”
She knows whereof she speaks, for she has been immersed in the field of interior design for 20 years. As a schoolteacher, she observed a couple of co-workers launch into the interior design business. “I said, “I can do that,'” recalls the former teacher. Indeed, she could; she did, and she has loved it every step of the way. She works from home, and her “clients are friends and friends of friends, etc.
“Many early purchases for my home were made from a wonderful former Alamo Heights shop, Town and Country Antiques,” says Letty Lew. “I buy a lot of my things from Don Yarton of Don Yarton Antiques and from Danny Spear at Land of Was,” she adds. She hastens to credit both gentlemen with invaluable assistance in acquiring many objects in furnishings and collections. Additionally, she has numerous collections acquired with her good friend and business associate, Peggy McGaughy.
Stepping into the Lloyds’ entry, illumined by a silver gilt chandelier adorned with rock crystal teardrops, one is introduced to examples of Letty Lew’s extensive collection of antique oil paintings, while gilt brackets display English ironstone plates against pale butter walls. Tucked into a snug corner stands a very tall painted tole roof ornament from a French house — a serendipitous architectural element now forever shielded from harsh elements at nature’s whim.
More of the subtle butter shade, a hue designers associate with serenity, enfolds the formal living room. “The color has no name,” says Letty Lew. “I mixed it myself, and I occasionally do (custom-mix) my colors.” On the actual ceiling around the room’s perimeter, the illusion of architectural detail is created by wallpaper application.
The room is awash in richness found in Fortuny fabrics, cut velvets, linen velvet and tapestries. Brown silk draperies flow from iron rods. A zebra rug is spread beneath an octagonal tea-height table painted in the Orient for English trade, notes Letty Lew.
An 18th-century Italian painted leather screen occupies a corner of the room, and the owner declares, “I pulled most of the colors in the room from this screen — the greens, earth tones and rose.” An Empire-style sofa in deep brown velvet holds rose-colored pillows. A turquoise chair offers dramatic contrast.
Lamps play an important role in this room, where a jade lamp joins a Venetian glass portable and a standing gilt lamp. Among the collection of oil paintings is a large French work depicting a monkey surrounded by fruits and vegetables. In another oil painting, needlework is literally woven into the canvas. “I collect painted furniture and am going to have a lot more than most people would,” observes the homeowner, pointing to a marble-top French chest.
An 18th-century Dutch secretary “is one of my really nice pieces bought from a very good friend, Gwynn Griffith, who is a decorator,” explains Letty Lew. It displays a porcelain bird lamp with Fortuny shade and a group of lacquered boxes. They represent but a small portion of her collection of Oriental and English lacquered boxes. Near the secretary is an 18th-century French chair with antique needlepoint. Antique Persian rugs are from Basil Scaljon’s Oriental Rugs.
A former sunroom, now enclosed, carries the original Redondo tile floors. An 18th-century Italian painted daybed is dressed in antique tapestry, silk velvet pillows and a leopard skin throw. A painted table with white marble top and a painted standing lamp, marbleized and gilded, stand nearby. The sheepskin lampshade is favored there and throughout the house “because they sort of mute light and are very good-looking,” observes Letty Lew.
Centering the room is a “very unusual 19th-century billiard table,” says Letty Lew. The legs are gilded elephants with ivory tusks garnered before it became illegal to so do. A custom marbleized top makes it a spacious buffet surface for entertaining. Centering the table is a collection of her antique santos surrounded by alabaster fruits on a tole tray.
Evidence of her majolica collection is everywhere. “Interestingly enough,” notes the homeowner, “I started (collecting) 20 years ago with just a few plates before majolica became popular. When I was working at the Junior League rummage sale, someone was getting rid of her collection. I got 25 or 30 plates from that sale, and it got me started before it became expensive to collect.” Among numerous antiques in the room is another painted screen that Yarton says would have been built into the wall of a home.
A latter-day add-on room for casual enjoyment is faux-painted green. A serape rug in shades of coral, blue, green and red establishes the palette, where furnishings are slip-covered in white duck and tossed with animal print and tapestry silk velvet pillows.
An expanse of built-in cabinetry anchors one entire wall. Painted a pale terra cotta, shelves display an extensive collection of American Indian arrowheads and other artifacts gathered throughout South Texas. It is a very meaningful collection, initially belonging to Letty Lew’s great-grandfather and handed down to subsequent generations. She received it from her father, Wayne L. Hartman.
Centering the cabinets is a fireplace with a unique faux stone mantel by Mission Stone, owned by Tom Northington and Michael Taylor. It complements the casual, albeit elegant, d8Ecor. Once more, authentic antiques abound, along with a large round table flowing with a paisley scarf and holding numerous silver-framed family photos.
The formal dining room holds what Letty Lew says is “the prettiest piece in the whole house, and it doesn’t belong to me but to my very, very good friend, Judy Crawford.” It is an immense 18th-century corner cabinet, and she’s the fortunate caretaker as her friend’s ceilings are too low to accommodate the piece.
Flanking an English chest centered with the homeowner’s portrait are a pair of “pretty wonderful 16th-century Italian terra cotta figures that were once an architectural element on a building,” elaborates Letty Lew. Displayed on custom columns, “they were a huge splurge that I did not need,” she confesses. “I actually bought them to sell, saying (to myself) there’s no place in the world to put them in my house, but then I found one,” she admits with a contented smile.
An Oushak Oriental rug in shades of green, rose and salmon sits beneath the dining table served by English Chippendale mahogany chairs that were a surprise gift to Letty Lew from her husband when their first son was born. Host and hostess chairs are upholstered in Clarence House fabric she had custom quilted. Above the table is an 18th-century Italian crystal chandelier. Striped Roman shades with silk tassel trim hang beneath green silk draperies.
A curved staircase leads from the entry to the second floor. Artist Greg Manino, the son of friend Gwynn Griffith, painted a whimsical niche on the wall midway up the stairwell. It was the perfect solution to adorn an expanse of curved wall that would accommodate little else. A monkey is featured in the work, and his tail extends beyond the painting with such expertise as to appear as trompe l’oeil. In other words, there is a temptation for more than one passerby to think he might be able to give the tail a pull, laughs Letty Lew.
The master suite has taupe walls. Silk drapery in a charcoal toile print offers pale citron as background. The bed and armoire were the first antiques the Lloyds purchased after they married. A painted settee with animal-print silk velvet pillows is served by a Moroccan inlaid coffee table.
An 18th-century carved secretary is a treasure tucked into space adjacent to the bed, where Letty Lew says, there was no room for it. With a chuckle, she adds, “If it could get in (that space), it was going if I had to jam it in.” Not to worry, it slipped in and fits with grace and perfection.
A collection of blue and white delft ceramics graces a Dutch chest enhanced with elegant marquetry inlay. A recently remodeled bath is resplendent in Carrera marble and appointed with antique furnishings.
The Lloyds’ backyard is a welcoming green space. Beneath towering trees an expanse of flagstone patio offers comfortable seating served by antique painted furniture. Redondo tile forms the background for a former pond, and a large Grecian stone head sits nearby. A massive stone clamshell birdbath is surrounded by similar shells found in antique stores such as Land of Was and The Cottage.
A BIT OF BACKGROUND
Some 23 years ago, prominent San Antonio residents Dr. David and Letty Lew Lloyd, along with two young sons, David and Christian, moved into their newly purchased stately Alamo Heights Georgian home — a house that served long term as the St. Luke’s Episcopal Church rectory.
Forty-five years earlier, another prominent couple, Hubert W. Green Sr., and his wife, Lois, with their young sons, Hubert Jr. and Warren, moved from their South Side Highland Park home and took residence in that very house, which had been lovingly and meticulously custom-built for them.
A noted San Antonio attorney, the late Green, Sr., located the lot and worked very closely with architect Carlton Adams and builder W.A. (Bill) Sonnen to ascertain it met his exacting specifications and expectations as a home for his young family.
Hubert W. Green Jr., respected attorney and former Bexar County District Attorney, says he was nearing age 11 and would soon enter fifth grade at Cambridge Elementary School when the family moved in June 1937.
The lot is expansive, and Green observes, “My father personally staked out the driveway, which curves to avoid (cutting down) many trees. I can remember mowing that big lawn many times with an old push lawnmower.” Indeed, mowing that lawn with even updated equipment is a formidable task. Trees abound, thanks to the senior Green’s foresight and environmental consciousness, long before it was a general consideration.
“The neighborhood was sparse at the time,” adds Green — still a sleepy little community yet to come into its own. However, the city was incorporated, for his father served as a city councilman.
The Cambridge Elementary School campus also held the Alamo Heights junior high and high schools. Eventually, the high school football stadium was built, and Green remembers team members had to walk, catch a ride with a friend or ride bikes from high school to the current stadium location.
Bike riding was the main source of transportation for youngsters, and Green recalls many hours on his bike, up and down significant hills that made up this young entrepreneur’s newspaper route. One poignant return home on his bike was Sunday, December 7, 1941, when he was greeted with news of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Green’s father included maid’s quarters over the garage, but they were never used as such. During Hubert Jr.’s senior year in high school, the area became a darkroom to serve his photography hobby, and the 1944 Alamo Heights yearbook holds many photos developed therein. The Lloyds maintain it as guest quarters.
Green and his brother, Warren, a Floresville resident, have fond memories of their cozy mid-20th-century neighborhood, not unlike the Lloyd brothers of their own Alamo Heights of the latter 20th century. The Green brothers can name numerous friends of their youth — many of whom are still residents of their little city.
For a number of years, the monogrammed brass doorknocker from that childhood home appropriately graced the door of Hubert Jr. and Leah Green’s home. (A number of families called the Georgian beauty home after the senior Greens sold it in the late 1940s.) The couple at one time considered purchasing the house when it was on the market. Alas, there were not enough bedrooms for their two sons and one daughter. Their nest emptied many years ago, and Leah smilingly laments, “It would be perfect now.”
A grateful nod goes to those who helped us discover the origin of this gracious family home and a small portion of its considerable history: Warren Taylor, St. Luke’s communications and publications director; Dr. Colette Kohler, and Stella Brown, widow of the Rev. Joseph L. Brown, who was St. Luke’s rector when the church acquired the house as a gift from a group of donors.
Author: Kay McKay Myers
Photographer: Al Rendon