As an organization, the DePelchin Faith Home (now the DePelchin Children’s Center) dates back even further than 1913. Houstonian Kezia Payne DePelchin was born in 1828, in the Madeira Islands. She lost both her mother and father by the time she was eight, and was raised from that age, in Houston, by her father’s second wife, an English governess. She married during the Civil War, but the marriage failed. Immune to yellow fever, she spent many years as a nurse. She later became the first female matron at the Bayland Orphans’ Home for Boys.
DePelchin founded the “Faith Home” in 1892. While the home’s original purpose seems to have been to fund the care of two homeless children (elsewhere described as “three unwanted babies”), the home was organized to provide day care for the children of working mothers, charging only those mothers who could afford to pay.
DePelchin’s September 1892 report of donations to the “Faith Home” notes: “We have eight besides the matron, although they come and go. Per week, 75 cents; per day, 10 cents. None turned away. . . . This is for little children.” The report also mentions that “one of our little ones died and the cemetery company gave it a resting place.”
DePelchin herself died just a few months later, in January 1893. In that same month, in honor of her memory and to carry on her work, 100 Houston women organized the “DePelchin Faith Home”, which continued operating primarily as an orphanage.
In 1913, Jesse Jones commissioned a building for the orphanage at 2700 Albany, in the Fourth Ward. Jones also led the fundraising for the project, raising $55,000. The neo-Mediterranean-style three-story stucco building was designed by the St. Louis architecture firm Mauran & Russell, which also designed the Rice Hotel and the Hotel Galvez. The Greater Houston Preservation Alliance notes that “[i]ts broad eaves and sleeping porches were important features in the days before air conditioning when dozens of children lived here.”
Jones continued to raise money for the home after it was built. Copies of some of his fundraising letters, including letters to “Messrs. Neuhaus & Co.”, “Messrs. Sakowitz Bros.”, and Howard Hughes are posted on the DePelchin Children Center’s website. While all are very straightforward, one of the more humorous letters, to “Mr. Bassett Blakely”, reads: “You have not sent me your check for Faith Home. For all I know, you are responsible for some of these unfortunate children, and whether you are or not, you have got to kick in just the same. So come on across for $2,000. I asked you for $1,000 the first time, but you did not hear me.”
The orphanage relocated to its current Memorial Drive location in 1938, and the Albany building was later purchased by Lorraine Priester, who ran a club on the first floor called either the Rams Club or Ram’s Club (depending on the source) from the mid-1950’s to 1970. However, Priester carried on DePelchin’s philanthropic tradition by using income from the Rams Club to care for the elderly residents to whom she gave rooms on the upper floors of the building.
The Rams Club was an upscale private supper club frequented by leading Houston politicians. Houstorian commenter Elizabeth Rinker recalls it as a “fantastic place” featuring “dancing to Jose Ortiz’s orchestra,” and remembers her father being given the microphone “for several songs each and every time we went.” (Pianist and band leader Jose Ortiz was popular in the area as early as the 1940’s – a 1948 newpaper article describes Ortiz and Victor Lombardo (Guy Lombardo’s younger brother) playing together at the Balinese Room in Galveston. Ortiz’s history requires a separate posting.)
Other generations of Houstonians remember the building for the clubs that came later. In the 1970’s, a gay dance club called The Farmhouse was located there. The Farmhouse later became The Officer’s Club, popular during the disco age, and supposedly once visited by Robert Plant.
In the 1990’s, the 1913 building housed the memorable music club Emo’s – and, for a time, the after-hours club Club Some. (In 2000, the Houston Press reported that the building had been sold and that Club Some had already vacated, but that the general manager of Emo’s, which had been there for more than 10 years, promised that “[w]e’ll always be here.”) Reportedly, the swimming pool that Emo’s patrons will recall as a depository for empty beer bottles, remains.
While many Houstonians were sad to see Emo’s leave in 2002, the transformation of the Fourth Ward to “Midtown” was already underway and property values were on the rise, threatening the aging building’s existence.
The former DePelchin Faith Home building would have yet another patroness in Linda Bramlett Stewart. Stewart, along with her partners in HHN Homes LP, acquired the property in 2001 and renovated it to house condominiums. Stewart’s grandmother lived across the street from the building, which is now known as Villa Serena, and she remembered it from visits as a child.
M. McDermott Hamm, “Saving a Slice of Houston History – Good Brick Awards Honor Diverse Preservation Efforts”, Houston Chronicle, Dec. 26, 2003.
GHPA, 2004 Good Brick Awards, HHN Homes LP for Villa Serena.
J. Mathieu, “Pam’s Last Stand”, Houston Press, Apr. 25, 2002.