Austin | Dallas | Houston
Book Smart

Building a billionaire habitat: River Oaks' real history and hidden stories are revealed

Enlarge
Slideshow
River Oaks book July 2013 GeorgeAnna Lucas, left, Clark Gable and Maria Lucas Langham
Clark Gable returned from Hollywood to escort his stepdaughter, GeorgeAnna Lucas, left, at her wedding. He was married to the bride's mother, Maria Lucas, right, for nine years.   Photo courtesy of Maria Burke Butler
News_Shelby_Ann Dunphy Becker_July 2013
Author Ann Dunphy Becker penned the book with input from George Murray. Photo by Shelby Hodge
River Oaks book July 2013 Alfred Glassell, left,  John Blaffe
Alfred Glassell Jr., left, and John Blaffer at the 30th birthday party of  Joanne King (Herring) in 1959. Photo courtesy of Joan Blaffer Johnson
River Oaks book July 2013 River Oaks Boulevard
Beautification of River Oaks Boulevard leading to the country club began in the early 1920s. Courtesy photo
River Oaks book July 2013 GeorgeAnna Lucas, left, Clark Gable and Maria Lucas Langham
News_Shelby_Ann Dunphy Becker_July 2013
River Oaks book July 2013 Alfred Glassell, left,  John Blaffe
River Oaks book July 2013 River Oaks Boulevard
Jerry & Marvy Finger Lecture Series presents Houston's River Oaks By Ann Dunphy Becker

It's difficult to imagine today that posh River Oaks was once considered a country outpost by sophisticated Houstonians. But historian Ann Dunphy Becker presents exactly that image as she traces the rich metamorphosis of one of the nation's most regaled neighborhoods from wooded hinterland to billionaire habitat in her book Images of America: Houston's River Oaks.

Commissioned by Arcadia Publishing, the 128-page picture book offers a rich and entertaining, as well as informative, look at the growth of the swank subdivision through the efforts of bold entrepreneurs who went to work in the early 1920s to build a stunning country club and 18-hole golf course. Soon after, Will and Mike Hogg, brothers of Ima Hogg (Bayou Bend Collection), purchased 1,100 surrounding acres and began plotting homesites in the carefully-planned development.

 We love the photo of Alfred Glassell Jr. and John H. Blaffer toasting at the Roman toga party in 1959. 

Working with Realtor George Murray, Becker gently traces the area's growth through archival photos and anecdotes provided by lifelong River Oaks residents. The book, which covers the period from 1923 to 1970, serves as something of a companion piece to Becker's first history, Images of America: Houston 1860-1990.

The book is peppered with lore and photos from founding families including those of Neuhaus, Cullen, Masterson, Blaffer, Fondren and Trammell. We loved the photo of costumed Alfred Glassell Jr. and John H. Blaffer toasting at the Roman toga party in 1959 celebrating Joanne King's (Herring) 30th birthday. Likewise, the photo of gallery owner Franny Koelsch in her christening gown in 1968. 

The most entertaining photos come from the '20s with the early images of the River Oaks Country Club golf course, River Oaks Boulevard and portraits of the gents who built it all. Moving forward to the 1930s, the photo of Clark Gable and his then-wife Maria Lucas (they were married for nine years) at her daughter's wedding in Houston is a show-stopper. As a wedding gift, Gable gave his stepdaughter and her groom, Dr. Thomas Burke, a lot in River Oaks for their new home.

When not researching Houston history, the author runs Becker's Books on Westview, where she specializes in used, out-of-print and rare books. In addition to books in the shop, Becker boasts 400,000 titles stored in a warehouse.

Newsletters for exploring your city

Daily Digest

Houston news, views + events

The Dining Report

News you can eat

Insider Offers

Curated experiences at exclusive prices

Promo Alerts

Special offers + exclusive deals

We will not share or sell your email address