March 5, 2016, marked the 50th anniversary of Bayou Bend’s opening to the public. We’re celebrating throughout the year with monthly blog posts offering behind-the-scenes perspectives on this cultural and historical Houston treasure.
On May 9, 2008, hundreds of people gathered on a warm, sunny morning under a huge white tent on an empty expanse of land at the corner of Memorial Drive and Westcott Street in Houston. The occasion? The groundbreaking ceremony for the Lora Jean Kilroy Visitor and Education Center at Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens.
Within three years of Bayou Bend’s opening in 1966, Ima Hogg—Bayou Bend’s founder—had identified the need for more public support space. She bought land at Memorial and Westcott for that purpose. In 1973, at a ceremony for the placing of a Texas Historical Commission marker at Bayou Bend, Miss Hogg focused less on the past and more on the future, asking those present to “dream along with” her toward the erection of a much-needed building on the corner to provide new amenities: a lecture hall, exhibition areas, larger staff offices, a library, and additional storage space. She hoped that by “working together,” Bayou Bend’s supporters could make this dream a reality.
Although 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of Bayou Bend’s opening to the public, 2007 commemorated the 50 years since Miss Hogg gave Bayou Bend to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Under the banner “Realizing the Vision,” a 50th-anniversary capital campaign was launched in 2007 with the primary goal being the construction of a visitor and education center on the land that Miss Hogg had purchased almost 40 years earlier.
Attendees at the groundbreaking ceremony in May 2008 included the Houston-based architects who led the project: design architect Leslie K. Elkins; production architect Larry Burns of Kendall/Heaton Associates, Inc.; and landscape architect Johnny Steele of McDugald-Steele.
Also attending was the honorary chairman of the 50th-anniversary campaign, Lora Jean Kilroy, who had made the lead gift to the campaign and for whom the building would be named. Her decision to be the major donor was inspired by a defining moment more than 30 years earlier, only a few years after Bayou Bend opened to the public, when Miss Hogg invited Kilroy, her husband, and other guests to dinner at the mansion and directly “urged us, the young people, as she called us . . . to care for her legacy.”
Kilroy, with a school-age granddaughter, Colleen, was also inspired by the fact that education was “the force that drove Ima Hogg,” who saw Bayou Bend’s “purpose . . . as an educational oasis.” Colleen was with Kilroy, shovel in hand, at the groundbreaking and again in September 2010 when the building opened and Miss Hogg’s 1973 dream became a reality.
Top to bottom: Colleen and Lora Jean Kilroy at the groundbreaking in May 2008 and at the Kilroy Center’s opening in September 2010.