In 1899 French immigrant and merchant Francois LaBorde (also spelled Laborde or La Borde) built a majestic Parisian-style home for his family in the border town of Rio Grande City in Starr County. The home was originally designed in Paris by French architects in 1893. In 1896 LaBorde purchased two lots on Main Street in Rio Grande City. Architectural plans for the complex were perfected by one or more San Antonio architects onsite, and it was finished in 1899. The complex consisted of two single-story buildings for a general store and office that faced on to the street, and each building was attached to a two-story residence set back from the street and with a central courtyard. The LaBorde family never lived in the home full-time. Eva Marks LaBorde and her five children spent most of the year living in San Antonio. According to a feature in the Brownsville Herald, the LaBorde children “more often visited than resided.” For them the residence became “a point of departure to a far-away exclusive school or a plush home in San Antonio.” As a merchant and businessman, Francois quickly saw the potential of the home and started drafting plans to transform it into a hotel. He employed well-known San Antonio architect Leo M. J. Dielmann, and the design included the addition of a second story to the front buildings. The hotel opened about 1917.
The European architectural detail of the house combined with its exquisite furnishings and splendor made the LaBorde House an unexpected surprise to visitors of Starr County. A number of features, including the use of courtyards and flat roofs, reflected Spanish-Mexican influences in layout and architecture. The house sits on a corner lot on Main Street and is surrounded by a detailed baroque cast-iron gate with “extended front-gabled parapets of the projecting front wings and intricately corbelled brickwork…in the parapets and throughout the building.” The complex has a “wooden gallery where American, Texas and Mexican flags wave” and an “open, tropical courtyard.” A second interior courtyard features a fountain with a hand-carved lion gargoyle that spews water into a stone basin.
In 1917 Francois LaBorde died suddenly of a gunshot wound to the head. It is unclear to this day if it was a suicide or an accident. Years after his death, and with business at an all-time low during the Great Depression, the LaBorde family sold the home. It was purchased by George Boyle and retired Brig. Gen. James S. Rodwell in 1939. It was re-named the Ringgold Hotel after nearby Fort Ringgold and was remodeled to include a restaurant and a number of private baths.
Over time, the home deteriorated until the Sheerin family, local ranchers, purchased the property in 1979. J. Laurence Sheerin embarked on an extensive project to restore the hotel to its old glory. Former Braniff Airways executive Rob Kendall supervised the restoration, which was based on original records and photographs, and the interior decorating. Builders also obtained replacement bricks from the same brickyard located in Camargo, Mexico. In 1980 the LaBorde House was entered into the National Register of Historic Places because of its historical architecture. At that time, the National Register narrative listed a total of twenty-three guest rooms. In 1982 the home reopened “as perhaps one of the most lavish hotels in the south.” Sheerin received an award from the San Antonio Conservation Society for the restoration. Period furnishings in the house included antique furniture and Oriental rugs, and guest rooms reflected a Victorian-period style.
Beginning in the mid-1990s the Starr County Historical Foundation assumed management of the hotel. LaBorde House offered a total of sixteen guest rooms in the 2010s. The luxurious hotel served as a time capsule to Rio Grande City’s rich historical past.
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Brownsville Herald, April 18, 1982. Francisco A. Chapa Family Papers, MS 405, University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries Special Collections. La Borde House (www.labordehouse.com), accessed March 25, 2015. “La Borde House, Store and Hotel,” National Register of Historic Places narrative, Texas Historic Sites Atlas, Starr County (http://atlas.thc.state.tx.us/shell-county.htm), accessed March 25, 2015. Rio Grande Herald (Rio Grande City), April 1, 1982. San Antonio News, May 11, 1983.
Hotels and Theaters
Houses, Mansions, and Plantations
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