Austinite Robert Garrett resided in one of the city’s most remarkable homes for five decades. During that time, the house and its grounds were the scene of some of the city’s most memorable parties and social occasions. Despite the home’s looming large in the city’s social history, the majority of those who travel down Red River and MLK have driven by it a thousand times without even knowing the home was there.
On certain fall days, when the surrounding trees are denuded of their foliage, the distinctive mansard roofline coquettishly peeks out among the branches, but one must be quick to see it. Prior to east 18th street being truncated, in a time before the scourge of urban renewal and the unchecked expansion of the University of Texas, the stone mansion was one of dozens in the neighborhood. The lone survivor of a different era, it now stands in the shadow of two brutally unattractive academic buildings.
The home has seen more than 150 summers, various owners and numerous alterations and improvements. Built in 1853 by the sister-in-law of Texas patriot Jim Bowie, each successive occupant has left a mark upon the property. in the late 1940s, caroline roget, a colorful figure on the Texas political stage, bought the structure and undertook extensive reno- vations. it was she who was responsible for the unabashed “frenchification” of the house through the addition of balconies, grillwork and interior fittings from the legendary Weigel iron Works.
None of those who have lived in the house, however, influenced its destiny as much as Arthur Watson and Robert Garrett, the two men who called it home for 50 years. Beginning in september of 1959, when Watson, a nationally known interior designer and Austin native, bought the property from Miss Roget, the pair began creating their own private xanadu. The popular duo promptly opened the doors of their home, christened The Chateau, to an endless stream of Austin society. The city took notice of the handsome couple, and invitations to their frequent cocktail parties, weekly gatherings and holiday soirees were eagerly sought by Austin’s “who’s-who.”
“i think the most we ever served was around 350,” recalled Garrett. “The kitchen, at the time, was like those on a small yacht. as long as everyone stayed in their spot and didn’t flail around too much while working, everything came out just fine.” he added, “The drinks flowed like a river, so that usually smoothed over any otherwise rough spots for our guests. We were known for Arthur’s Bloody Marys, for the chateau Pink Gins and our lethal Velvet Hammers. hardly a day passed that we did not entertain friends, clients or other guests for some occasion.”
The throngs entertained by the couple were a varied group. visitors included people from Texas governors to giants in the world of architecture and design. Architect Philip Johnson and William c. “Bill” pahlmann, the granddaddy of modern interior design, were frequent guests. Rock Hudson also came to The chateau for several low-key respites. “We kept a guestbook from the start and everyone who visited usually wrote something silly in it,” Garrett remembered. “During the bicentennial, Martha Washington signed in at one of our big fourth of July parties, but you know–i don’t remember seeing her.”
Changes, both to the interior and the grounds of the venerable old home, literally began the day the two moved in and continued almost unabated for the next four decades. Between Watson and Garrett’s interior design business and their love of all things beautiful, the home was filled with remarkable objects from around the globe. fortuny fabric lined the walls of the dining room and breakfast nook. a gourmet kitchen was created from the formerly tiny galley and adjoining pantries. upstairs, french chandeliers, european furnishings and priceless art ornamented the public spaces.
Behind The chateau, a nearly life-sized bronze statue of Mercury cheekily presided over a new swimming pool. Blasted out of solid limestone, the pool was connected through a series of terraces and steps to the main house. Twin cabanas and an outdoor shower completed the setting. Below the pool deck, a proper english-style greenhouse housed several thousand rare bromeliads and orchids. With the new improvements fin- ished, outdoor entertaining proved to be the perfect solution for handling the couple’s ever-expanding social network.
“Arthur and I lived a life in The chateau that was magical. The house itself made entertaining easy and our wonderful friends and guests did the rest.” Garrett wistfully recalled. “I would not change one moment of it for anything.”
Edited by David Alan
Arthur Watson’s Bloody Mary Cocktail
note: Gin was widely used in Bloody Marys before vodka gained prominence in the u.s. Gordon’s was the house gin at The chateau. Watson and Garrett usually had chile pequins growing somewhere on the grounds. The expressed oil and juice from the fiery pepper gives this version of the Bloody Mary its memorable kick.
1.5 oz gin
4 oz tomato juice
2 tsp fresh-squeezed lemon juice
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp prepared horseradish
4 dashes Tabasco sauce
2 Tbsp beef consommé
2 chile pequin peppers
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste Pinch celery seeds or celery salt
(use less sea salt if using celery salt) 2 lime wedges, for garnish
Celery stick (with leaves), for garnish
Fill a Collins glass with ice. In the bottom of a mixing glass, muddle two fresh chile pequin peppers. Add all ingredi- ents except garnishes. Shake with ice to chill. Strain into ice-filled Collins glass. Squeeze one lime wedge over the top of the drink. Garnish with the remaining lime wedge and celery stick.
1.5 oz gin
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 dash orange bitters (optional)
Combine ingredients in an ice-filled Old Fashioned glass
Velvet Hammer A LA Chateau
note: recipes for the velvet hammer abound; the high proof of this version made parties at The chateau especially festive. for an even more luxurious treat, substitute a scoop of vanilla ice cream for the heavy cream.
2 oz Texas vodka
1 oz white crème de cacao
.75 oz Paula’s Texas Orange or Cointreau 2 oz cream
Nutmeg, for garnish
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and shake vigorously with ice to chill. Strain into a chilled coupe or martini-style glass. Dust with nutmeg (optional)