Walter Annenberg was the Rupert Murdoch of the 20th century when print media reigned.  He owned and ran Triangle Publications, which published The Philadelphia Inquirer, Seventeen, TV Guide, etc. He became very wealthy, was named the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain where he was knighted, and entertained  Presidents.

One of his 2 permanent homes was called Sunnylands.  It’s in Rancho Mirage, CA, and can now be toured.  Since only 7 at a time are allowed in, it can take months to gain entry and is a quite popular activity so I was lucky to see it yesterday.  It’s probably nothing like your residence.



The Unofficial McDonalds

The McDonald Brothers 1st hamburger making restaurant was in San Bernardino, California.  The Corporation took shape in the Chicago area, so it claims that the 1st official  fast food Mac was in Des Plaines.

The site in San Bernardino has become a fun museum that contributed to the making of the movie The Founder and hopes one day to be officially certified as the place with the most McDonald memorabilia.  In the meantime, it welcomes lots of Brazilians who enjoy traveling The Mother Road all the way to Chicago.


Brownsville’s Mitte Cultural District

Brownsville is often on lists of the poorest towns in this nation, and many people who knew I was going there asked, “Why are you going to the Rio Grande Valley?”  Poor Brownsville is trying to improve its image.   The SpaceX South Texas Launch Site and The Mitte Cultural District are part of its image-changing plans.  The former was not planned.   SpaceX announced its choice of a near-Brownsville location in 2014. The Mitte Cultural District was planned.  In fact, this complex has been developing for almost 10 years and contains Brownsville’s biggest tourist attraction, the Gladys Porter Zoo.  Ruth and I found a worthwhile, very unheralded attraction here, the Costumes of the Americas Museum that isn’t getting a lot of attention either locally or nationally.

As near as I can tell, Costumes of the Americas (CAM) opened when the Mitte Cultural Education Center did in 2005.   Many locals don’t know anything about it, so we had the fun of introducing them to an attraction they were suddenly interested in.   The growing CAM accumulation began with Bessie Kirkland Johnson’s collected Mexican costumes and handicrafts, and it already contains more than 500 original native costumes from the nations and cultures of the Americas.  Ruth & I saw a 3-part show that included a Guatemalan market scene and many colorful Mexican designs that reminded us of Mexico City’s fantastic Museo Nacional de Antropologia.

Karen Ray, my contact person, indirectly told me that what was on view would be changing in March or April, and “Costumes, Passion, & Community” is now on display to celebrates the bicultural uniqueness of this border city.  This show sounds ideal for Brownsville and will, I assume, be up until next March or April.  The Costumes of the Americas Museum is with the Children’s Museum of Brownsville, and they share a unique gift shop.

Roy Mitte grew up in Brownsville.  As a young man he joined the army, became a teacher and basketball coach, and married Joann Cole.   After teaching for a while Roy entered the insurance industry and built one of the largest agencies in the United States, got into real estate, and made a fortune.  The Mittes established a charitable foundation in 1994, and the cultural district benefitting bedraggled Brownsville resulted in the 21st century.


CAM deserves a look.  Not only does this country have an increasingly important Hispanic population, this relatively new museum deals with an interesting subject that is part of its mission statement:  CAM plans to exhibit “authentic indigenous dress and costumes, jewelry and accessories of the Americas, with emphasis on Mexico” our increasingly important neighbor.


Quinta Mazatlan: An Adobe Mansion

I’m fascinated by Renaissance men and women, those humans who did extraordinary things during their lifetimes but lived in relative obscurity  sometimes far from the power capitals of the world like New York.  Jason Chilton Matthews was a true Renaissance man.   If you’ve never heard of him, you’re like me until I visited Quinta Mazatlan.

As a  young man writing and seeking adventures Matthews traveled the world.  During World War I he served in 11 countries and knew Lawrence of Arabia.  When he was 48, he and his wife Marcia moved to McAllen and built Quinta Mazatlan.  He described this then small town of 300 and his house there as the Crossroads of the Western Hemisphere.  I’d like to know why.  His mansion had a Roman bath, which you will see on a tour, and he invented an adobe brick for Quinta Mazatlan’s construction.  The locals told him that rain would melt his house, but it’s still standing.  The beams in Cedar Hall were said to be a gift from the King of Lebanon.  While living here, Matthews mastered hydroponics.  Towards the end of his life, he and his wife edited and published a magazine called American Mercury from their home,  This was a very influential magazine at this time that published the writings of William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes, etc.

Quinta Mazatlan was restored and enlarged by Frank, a citrus baron, and Marilyn Schultz in the late 1960s.  A lot of the plants you see today as you walk the property’s trails looking at local animals were planted by them.  A huge Western Soapberry tree, for example,  is especially attractive to birds and butterflies.  The City of McAllen bought the estate in 1998 for more than a million dollars, but it wasn’t opened to the public until 2006.   Today it’s McAllen’s best tourist attraction and one of the 9 birding centers in the Rio Grande Valley.

Most visitors tour the house and see, among its wonders, the Ann Maddox Moore folk art collection, before strolling many trails with names like Wildcat.  On some trails you see bronze sculptures of Texas fauna like a tree ocelot, a species that has not been seen for more than 100 years.  My favorite sculpture near the front steps was a Plain Chachalaca family.  Unfortunately, a few of the sculptures have either been removed or stolen.


Weave Into and Out Of The Textile Museum

The last time Ruth & I visited The Textile Museum it was in its founder’s family home.  Now it has linked up with George Washington University and is in a new building on GWU’s campus at 701 21st Street.  Four blocks from the Foggy Bottom-GWU Metro stop, it’s a bit hard to get to but worth the effort.  We were told about the move when we visited the old Textile Museum for the first time, but we didn’t get back to Washington, DC, for its official reopening in its new location in 2015.  We saw two temporary shows and some pieces from The Textile Museum’s large collection.  Neither show is now there but the dragons can still be seen.   They are on a Pilar rug woven in China during the Qing Dynasty.  When first made, this rug would have covered a column in a Buddhist temple.

The Textile Museum has a long history.  It was founded by George Hewitt Myers, a material collector, in 1925.  At the time he only had 275 rugs and 60 textile items.  The museum’s collection has grown to 20,000+ and includes items from 3,000 BCE to the present.   A much larger exhibit space was clearly needed, and the new museum is a 5 Compass venue for showing fabrics that once had practical uses but are now treasured for their artistic merit.  Fabrics tell us about the people who made them and the culture they lived in.  The man’s cap below is from Peru, is very, very old, and was made from the hair of a camelid, probably a llama or alpaca.  It’s part of this museum’s permanent collection.

Myers’ residence, once known as the Tucker House, was in the Kalorama neighborhood close to many embassies.   It was also a bit hard to get to and parking was a problem for visitors who didn’t arrive on the Metro.  After the museum closed to move, the house was sold for $19 million.  Its 29,000 square feet are currently being converted into one of the largest homes in our nation’s capital.   The new owner was originally anonymous but that couldn’t last.  You may have heard of him.  Jeff Bezos.

Textiles reveal human ingenuity and show how people throughout the ages have created materials and advanced technology in the process.  One sign in The Textile Museum explains why we should care about old cloth, “People created these fabrics to meet basic human needs, whether physical, aesthetic, social, or spiritual.  Textiles clothe us, protect us, define our living spaces, and accompany our rituals and ceremonies.”

The Textile Museum’s new show opens on March 31, 2018, and will surely be popular.  “Breaking News:  Alexander Hamilton” will highlight, according to, some “important life events and accomplishments” of this suddenly hot founding father.