Saving the Jim West Mansion

A beautiful and palatial old house on Clear Lake could fall victim to the wrecking ball in the foreseeable future, if someone doesn't come up with the money to buy it. It's the old Jim West mansion, and, fortunately, there are people in the bay area who want to save it, as Jim Bell reports.

The Jim West mansion is a 17 thousand square foot Mediterranean villa on NASA Road 1 near the Johnson Space Center. It was built in the 1920s by Texas oil and timber baron Jim West, and designed by the famous architect Joseph Finger.  Sadly, no one has lived there since before World War II.  The West family sold it when Jim West Senior died in 1941. Over the past 67 years, it has belonged to Humble Oil, Rice University, which let NASA use it for a few years, the Pappas restaurant family, and currently, real estate tycoon Hakeem Olajuwon, the former Houston Rocket.  Olajuwon bought it several years ago to flip it, but no one wants it, and Linda Sansing of Clear Lake says that just doesn't seem right to her.

"I would pass it every day going to and from work, and I happened to be sitting at the light there, and I noticed the sign. And I looked at that and I thought, you know it'd be a shame if that got torn down. Somebody needs to save it."

Sansing and two friends formed the Preserved In Time Foundation in 2003, and made it their goal to raise money to buy the mansion, or failing that, find other buyers willing to restore it and open it to the public. Five years later they're still looking, and Sansing says she can't understand why.  It's prime water-front property in a booming real estate market.  They've made an offer, but they don't have the earnest money.

"The price is extremely high. Our latest offer, which they appear to be interested in or they would not be asking us for earnest money, is eleven million for eleven acres."

So that's where things are today. Olajuwon can't sell the house, and he can't develop or demolish it because it's under deed restrictions that expire in 2012, and with that deadline approaching, Sansing says the Preserved In Time Foundation isn't about to give up.  And David Bush at the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance says you never know what will happen. A buyer could come forward when the deed restrictions get close to expiring. He says right now Sansing and her friends are the only interested buyers, but they don't have the money, yet.

"The hard part with the museum angle of the project, which is most of what we've heard, is that they have to raise the purchase price."

But Linda Sansing says they're hoping to raise that money with help from professional fund-raisers she plans to meet with next week. Here's a link to Preserved in Time website.

Jim Bell, KUHF, Houston Public Radio News.