Cloche Designs | The Story of Jackie’s Playhouse at The Argyle
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The Story of Jackie’s Playhouse at The Argyle

Written by: Laura Nell Burton, Dedicated to Muffin Moorman
Photography by: Christin Gish

On Monday, construction began to remodel a tiny, magical house deep in the heart of my childhood memories called Jackie’s Playhouse. This Special Project is one that began a year ago, before Cloche even existed…

Jackie’s Playhouse as it exists today at The Argyle.

Jackie’s Playhouse is today located on the grounds of The Argyle, a private dining club in San Antonio, Texas. I grew up with Jackie’s three children while she and my mother were dear friends.

Pictured above: Lovely Jackie on her wedding day.
My mother, Nancy Steen, is the third bridesmaid from the left.

Here is the story of Jackie’s Playhouse…

Once upon a time, in the year 1953, and not so very far away at 312 East Mandalay in the heart of Olmos Park, a devoted and creative mother and father designed an exquisite gift to honor the birth of their daughter, a sixth generation Texan, Jacqueline.

Pictured above: Mary Austin and Jack Beretta.

Mary Austin (a descendant of “The Father of Texas” Stephen F. Austin) and Jack Beretta commissioned an artistic woodworker from their ranch to build Jackie’s Playhouse surrounded by a magical garden that bloomed all year long.

Jackie’s Playhouse as it existed over 60 years ago at 312 East Mandalay.

Mary Austin was an accomplished designer and collector of hundreds of antique dollhouses now on display at the National Museum of Toys and Treasures in Kansas City. She lovingly appointed Jackie’s Playhouse with furnishings, linens, china, art and other treasures from her favorite shops in New England.

The original interior of Jackie’s Playhouse.

The playhouse became Jackie’s sanctuary. “I had my own home—my own kitchen and my own working fireplace.” says Jackie “It felt like a castle to me and I could be anyone I imagined myself to be.” Jackie hosted tea parties by her fireplace for guests including actress Olivia de Havilland and director Henry King. In fact, her parents included her in a dinner at The Argyle with both legends, where Jackie remembers sipping Shirley Temples in a ruffled party dress on the bar sofa by the piano, which sits in the exact same place today. She recalls begging Mr. King to take her back to Hollywood, to no avail!

You see, all along, Jackie’s other magical childhood home was The Argyle. As the daughter of a designer, Jackie innately appreciated the stately Southern mansion rising up from impeccable grounds, the extraordinary cuisine, the gracious staff who cherished her, and the splendor of gleaming silver, freshly pressed linens and beautiful antiques.

The Argyle today in San Antonio, Texas.

Built in 1859 before the War Between the States as the headquarters of a horse ranch, The Argyle was the scene of lavish entertaining even by its earliest owners. In 1884 two Scotsmen purchased it, added the third floor and opened it back up as a hotel named Argyle for their native hills of Scotland. The hotel earned a splendid reputation for fine food and lodging, catering to guests including General Robert E. Lee, John L. Bullis and John J. “Black Jack” Pershing. Today, after a succession of owners, it is the extraordinary result of an inspired and daring idea by Mrs. Betty Slick Moorman, to open a private club devoted exclusively to the support of biomedical research. Mrs. Moorman and her team of founders arranged for the Texas Biomedical Research Institute to purchase the then dilapidated mansion. It was officially founded as we know it now in 1955, when Jackie was just four years old.

In 1974, nearly two decades later, Jackie, a little girl all grown up, gifted her cherished playhouse to The Argyle. Mel Weingart, beloved manager at the time, recounts that the move required sawing it in half for the short journey over from East Mandalay.

Mel Weingart pictured today in front of Jackie’s Playhouse.

Generations of children have since frolicked on the lawn with Jackie’s Playhouse at the heart of it all. It is a place where seeds of lasting friendships and childhood memories are planted, truly where The Argyle story begins for future generations.

One night another little girl all grown up, now a mother of three who deeply adore Jackie’s Playhouse, and a member of The Argyle herself, had a dream. In my dream, I remembered being small again and holding court with Jackie’s own children perched atop of the Victorian chaise lounge inside of her playhouse.

The two photographs above capture me as a little girl enjoying the magic of Jackie’s Playhouse.

Jackie’s three children in 1990 posing for a
Christmas card photo in front of Jackie’s Playhouse at The Argyle.
Pictured from left: Emily, J.B. and Alice.

I awoke saddened as I realized, that time had taken quite a toll on the precious playhouse.

And, with future generations of The Argyle at heart, another inspired idea was born and received with enthusiasm by The Argyle Board of Governors…

We defined the scope and estimated costs to update Jackie’s Playhouse. When the budget wasn’t available, that didn’t stop us. We approached a South Texas family near and dear to my heart to ask for funding. Nearly a year later, Mauzé Construction and Intoto Interiors, with a dream team of talented artisans, has begun carefully restoring Jackie’s Playhouse to its original glory, including a thoughtful porch extension (by Chesney Morales Architects), a new slate roof (by Stone Standard), and the addition of a tiny boxwood garden (by John S. Troy Landscape Architect and Casa Verde Landscaping).

On a personal note, Jackie invited me over for Rosé (chilled upon my arrival in a sterling wine bucket that belonged to her mother) and macarons on Tuesday afternoon. Just like her childhood playhouse, her living room is full of delightful treasures she’s collected throughout her life. What I loved most about her warm home is the fireplace she curated during a remodel because, she says, she can’t live anywhere without one. We sat on opposite love seats and opened up our hearts to moments long gone. We lingered in the memories. We dug up joy. I’m overcome by the privilege it was to relive those happy days with her, and the great honor it is to share them with you on her behalf.

The next chapter of this fairytale begins when Jackie’s Playhouse is reopened at Mr. McGregor’s Secret Garden Party, a beautiful fundraiser Cloche volunteered to plan in September on The Argyle lawn benefitting The Generation Fund at Texas Biomedical Research Institute. Read the darling note we received from Jackie as she opened up the first of two invitations here. Jackie herself will play the starring ribbon-cutting role (if only Henry King could see her now!) while children hunt for the Golden Key that unlocks the door to a glorious a new beginning. And, the magic of Jackie’s Playhouse will bloom and grow, forevermore.