Houston’s little piece of Mt. Rushmore

Peggy

Peggy at its current home, MacGregor Park.

Those of you who attended the Delman Theatre on Main from the mid-seventies onward may remember a statue, located to the left of the theatre building facing Richmond Avenue. Say hello to Peggy.

This work of art featured a bronze statue of a young woman in profile inset in a granite background. It remained there long after the Delman had closed its doors, before a full restoration was completed and its relocation to Macgregor Park in 1996–its third home since its original commission. The sculpture’s ties to the Delman are marginal–it bears closer relationship to one of Houston’s influential businessmen, as well as the famous faces carved into Mt. Rushmore–but for some Houstonians, this is the statue they saw when going to the movies during the Delman’s final years of operation.

Peggy was commissioned by the estate of Henry Frederick MacGregor (1855-1923), a prominent politician and businessman who came to the city in 1883. His real estate ventures included the development of Riverside Terrace in the 1920s. In 1885, he married Elizabeth “Peggy” Stevens (1864-1949). In the commission for the statue, which was completed after his death, MacGregor stipulated that it honor his wife.

PeggyThe assignment was awarded to John Gutzon Borglum (1867-1941), a sculptor who at that time resided in San Antonio, but who is best known for his creation of the presidential portraits on Mount Rushmore. This is one of the two Borglum works in the state of Texas, the other being “Trail Drivers” in San Antonio. Austin-based artisan Joe Machac designed and carved the supporting stone backdrop. Peggy was dedicated in 1927 and was placed at a small parcel of land donated to the city by the MacGregors. This area of property is now known as Peggy Park.

The sculpture, measuring some eight feet in height, bears the five-foot-tall bronze sculpture on one side, and a bronze inscription plate on the other. The back side featured a pedestal bowl, now absent from the sculpture, as part of a water fountain that ran water into a tile-lined basin at the feet of the figure. Also on the back was a plaque bearing the inscription:

“A man is not his best until he has a wife and a home, and so much depends on the wife.” – H.F.M.

Below this is the following dedication:

It was his wish–And here in stone and bronze is builded a memorial. May it grace, perpetuate and fulfill the conception of Henry Frederick MacGregor that in this park given and dedicated by him to the people of Houston and named for his wife, Elizabeth Stevens MacGregor, whom he affectionately called “Peggy,” should be erected a fountain as a tribute to the inspiration of a devoted wife.

PeggyAt the time, the property at Wheeler, Chenevert, and Almeda was surrounded by little more than pasture land. In time, the city expanded around the park, and the statue fell into neglect and disrepair. Vandals broke off one of the figure’s arms and the water ceased its flow from the fountain. At some time around 1974, the city of Houston commissioned Borglum’s son to cast a new arm, based on the original sketches. The elder Borglum had died in 1941. The arm was delivered in 1976 to a contracting firm, but was never installed. According to a December 1993 Houston Press article by Barry Moore, the missing appendage had disappeared and no one could recollect what might have happened to it. The arm, apparently recovered thereafter, was restored to the sculpture during its 1996 restoration.

It may have been during the initial restoration period in the seventies that Peggy was moved to the strip of land on Richmond next to the Delman Theatre. The theatre was still operational at the time, but due to sluggish business, it would shut its doors in February 1978. It reopened briefly in the eighties as the Maceba Theatre, a performing arts center, then sat vacant into the following century. It was razed in 2002.

Peggy demonstrated its longevity far better than the Delman. The statue was given a restoration in 1996, including the replacement of its arm, the work paid for from the Mayor’s Initiative Fund. The sculpture was moved yet again, this time to the park bearing the name of benefactor who first envisioned the memorial art–MacGregor Park, off Old Spanish Trail and Calhoun. Peggy remains there to this day, only a short distance away from the MacGregor Memorial (designed by William Ward Watkins, 1931), with its inscription:

Erected to the memory of Henry Frederick MacGregor in commemoration of munificent gifts for MacGregor Park and MacGregor Parkway along Brays Bayou. Public benefactions to the city of Houston under the will of Henry Frederick MacGregor, an esteemed citizen of this community. His was a personality rugged, sincere, patient, loyal, and outstanding. His was a life of vision, tireless and unselfish in its devotions and benevolent in its contemplations. From hard beginnings through adversity it emerged triumphant in rich achievements. It’s fulfillments in the public weal command wide appreciation. The people of Houston are the beneficiaries of the generosity, public spirit, sense of civic duty and social obligation of a man who for forty years was a forceful factor in the industrial, financial and social life of this city.

MacGregor Memorial

The memorial for H.F. MacGregor, a short distance away from Peggy at MacGregor Park

Special thanks to Melissa Noble, who recently asked me about the sculpture and what might have happened to it.

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Cinema Houston celebrates a vibrant century of movie theatres and moviegoing in Texas’s largest city. This weblog is a companion to the Book, Cinema Houston: From Nickelodeon to Megaplex (University of Texas Press, 2007), and website, www.CinemaHouston.net.

David Welling is a writer and artist who lives in Houston with his wife and two children. His lifelong interest in movies (and the places that show them) led to the writing of Cinema Houston, which included fifteen years of research, and its subsequent website.

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