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Residents remember West Mansion and mourn its demolition

PASADENA, Texas – What was once a historic vision at 3300 Nasa Parkway is now in a state of demolition, as the city of Pasadena reluctantly approved the permit to take the West Mansion down.

"It was built like a fortress,” said Bonnie Conrad, a neighbor of the mansion. “It’s a loss for our area. It’s a loss for history.”

Now, the structure is almost rubble. The West Mansion used to be a 17,000 square-foot Italian Renaissance Mansion, designed by renown architect Joseph Finger. The mansion was home of oil mogul James Marion West Sr.

However, for Conrad, it was a place with so much meaning.

"I have five children and 10 grandchildren,” Conrad said.

He said his children and grandchildren have heard the stories of the beloved home in their community. These tales, rooted in history, would become legendary family moments for generations.

"I would drive them by the mansion and I would tell them stories about the mansion,” Conrad said.

He is a volunteer historian, researching pieces of local and national history as a serious hobby. History is Conrad’s passion.

“We need our history here also,” Conrad said. “Everyone I know has loved that mansion. We had all hoped all through the years that finally they would use it for weddings and as a venue.”

However, in 2006, despite a preservation group’s attempt to buy the mansion, Houston Rockets legend Hakeem Olajuwon bought the property under Olajuwon Farms LLC.

This week, Pasadena approved permits to have the mansion demolished. The city stated that the protective deeds restrictions for the historic landmark lapsed in 2014.

"It made me sick to my stomach, quite literally,” said Jon Keeney, Taylor Lake Village Mayor.

Keeney said he is disappointed with the city of Pasadena, saying they should have done more to stop the demolition. City officials maintained that their hands were legally tied. Keeney said Taylor Lake Village is heartbroken.

"No respect for the beauty of that place. (The owners) gave no one the opportunity to even have a title,” Keeney said.

The West Mansion was a place filled with history.

In 1968, the mansion was renovated to be NASA’s Lunar Science Institute. The West family lineage also had stories there, including stories involving the original homeowner’s son, James West Jr.

"I think the favorite story was ‘Silver Dollar Jim’... (who) carried silver dollars around in his pocket, and he would just throw them at people, and they said that the entranceway had silver dollars,” Conrad said. “My grandkids loved that one.”

People in neighboring communities will remember its history.

"People drive by it every day and people loved to look at it,” Keeney said.

The mayor is working with County Commissioner Adrian Garcia to do whatever they can to preserve the mansion’s story.

“He and I are turning over all the information to Vince Ryan, our county attorney, to see if there’s any action we can take as a result of this horrible tragedy,” Keeney said.