PALMHURST – Antique furniture and photos illustrate the past glory of the Rio Grande Valley’s former citrus titans.
A painted portrait of John H. Shary hangs near bookshelves holding antique books and cabinets holding silver platters. Even the wallpaper is impressive, with intricate designs that match the furniture.
The University of Texas-Pan American Foundation, the previous owner of Shary’s estate, used the property for meetings, social functions and fundraising events, but the property became too expensive to maintain.
A new owner plans to inject life into the nearly century-old edifice while preserving its rich history.
Obed Flores, a businessman from Veracruz, Mexico, bought the estate from the University of Texas-Pan American Foundation in March.
He plans to turn it into an events center and museum.
“The idea is to conserve it,” Flores said in Spanish, later calling the estate an “economic symbol that represents the Valley.”
John H. Shary, the original owner of the mansion, developed the Rio Grande Valley’s first large commercial citrus orchard and is considered the father of the Texas citrus industry.
In 1917, Shary built the 17,000-square-foot home, which includes seven bedrooms, a ballroom and a bowling alley, UTPA said upon announcing the estate’s sale.
Shary’s daughter, Marialice, married Robert Allan Shivers at the mansion in 1937. He later became the governor of Texas. The two later lived at the estate.
Famous guests to the mansion include President Dwight D. Eisenhower, war correspondent Ernie Pyle and author and lecturer Dale Carnegie.
The family of Marialice Shary Shivers, who served the Pan American Board of Regents for 13 years, donated the estate to the UTPA Foundation in 1997, said Jaime Ramon, the chair of the UTPA Foundation Board of Trustees.
The Foundation was spending tens of thousands of dollars a year on the property, Ramon said.
“We wanted to keep it given the historical nature of the property, but we also recognized that it was draining funds from the Foundation that could be put to better use,” he said.
The Foundation found its solution in Flores, a history buff and the owner of Proveedora de Fluidos Mexicanos, a contractor for the petroleum company Petroleos Mexicanos, commonly known as Pemex.
Flores, who also owns a Buffalo Wings and Rings restaurant in Laredo, said he is excited about “the new adventure” and the investment will allow him to obtain a visa to move his family to the United States.
The foundation raised about $1 million from selling the Shary estate. The money will go toward the newly created Shary-Shivers Foundation Scholarship, Ramon said.
“We all win,” Flores said.
Dago Rivera, the mansion’s new general manager, said he hopes to open the newly renovated events center dubbed “The Mansion on Shary” in September or October.
“I think we’ll be the best unique, one-of-a-kind venue from San Antonio down to the Valley,” said Rivera, the former operations manager at the Club at Cimarron in Mission.
Renovations will take several steps, Rivera said.
In the first phase, workers will renovate the ballroom and other rooms to serve as a conference and events center. The long-term plan calls for sleeping accommodations and a boardwalk around the 3-acre lake on the property.
Flores said the upstairs bedrooms, which are decorated elaborately, could house the museum section of the mansion. Flores might display some of the historical furniture and curios from the estate in Rio Grande Valley museums.
The property will also feature two antique cars that Flores bought from another building.
Lucy Sisniega, the commercial real estate agent with Nemont Realty who helped Flores find the property, said she remembers showing him an estate with the two antique cars and noted that Flores was more interested in the cars than the property.
That’s when she thought to show him the Shary-Shivers Estate.
“He’s passionate for history and antique items,” said Sisniega, who also owns Bauza Consulting and serves as the treasurer for the Mission Historical Museum.
Flores wants to invite schools and other groups to tour the mansion.
Rivera, the business’ general manager, said he is looking forward to seeing life inside the old home once again.
“It’ll go back to our old glory of what it was used for before,” he said.
Gail Burkhardt covers Mission, western Hidalgo County, Starr County and general assignments for The Monitor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (956) 683-4462.