“Like living on Fifth Avenue” is how Texas Governor R. B. Hubbard described the Tyler neighborhood of West Houston at Vine. It was on this corner that the Bonner-Whitaker-McClendon house was built in 1878.
Judge M. H. Bonner, a Texas State Supreme Court Associate Justice, bought a parcel of land from the estate of his former law partner, Texas’ first governor, J. Pinckney Henderson.
When Bonner’s oldest daughter, Mattie, married attorney Harrison Whitaker, the newlyweds were gifted two acres on which they built their home in 1878. The Whitakers shopped in New York for their fire mantles, light fixtures, wallpaper and furniture. They selected an East Lake Bracketed architectural design for construction of their two-story nine room home. The house became a center point for Tyler society as the Whitakers presided over dinners and parties, all celebrated in grand Victorian style. Sadly, Mattie suffered an untimely death and five years later, Harrison remarried and moved Beaumont with his children and new wife.
The house was then sold to Mattie’s younger sister, Annie, and her husband, Sydney McClendon. Mr. McClendon opened Tyler’s first book and stationery store and served as the Democratic Chairman of Smith County for over 20 years. Mrs. McClendon was a suffragette who was active in the East Texas “Votes for Women” rallies in addition to raising nine children. Their youngest child, Sarah, embodied the values of her parents and grandparents, as she became a noted Washington D. C. news journalist whose career spanned from Franklin Roosevelt to George W. Bush.
In 1981, only two McClendon sisters remained in the house. The once glorious Victorian home was now unpainted and shrouded by overgrown trees and shrubs. The other Victorian homes of the neighborhood were gone having succumbed to fire or “progress.”
The McClendon family made the decision to donate the house for historic preservation. A non-profit organization was formed and dedicated solely to the restoration and maintenance of this historic structure. The energetic board began raising funds and planning the restoration. The furniture was removed in order for work to begin on the interior. Two weeks later an arsonist broke into the house and set it on fire. It was at this juncture that the quality of the house was realized. Due to the superiority of materials used in construction, the structure sustained minimal damage.
Working on limited funds, board members spent years working on weekends mowing the lawn, scraping off old paint and applying new as well as hand finishing the furniture.
In 1988, the Bonner-Whitaker-McClendon house opened to the public as the Designer Showcase for Historic Tyler’s Azalea Trail Heritage Tour. The light fixtures were gleaming bright and there was a grand celebration as the house regained its’ place in Tyler’s society.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the McClendon House is a Texas State Historical Landmark, and a Tyler Historical Landmark.