Texas White House at LBJ Ranch closed for now

The National Park Service announced Friday that it will close the “Texas White House,” once the ranch home of President Lyndon Baines Johnson and his family in Stonewall, as well as the adjacent Pool House, until further notice because of health and safety concerns arising from water leakage in various places in the main house.

The Texas White House and pool at the LBJ Ranch in Stonewall, taken in 2012. Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman

For decades, these were the most private zones of the ranch, parts of the LBJ National Historical Park that, until 2012, were reserved for the Johnson family and not generally open to the public.

 RELATED: Exploring the inside of the Texas White House

The Park Service said they will remain closed until the service can confirm that the two buildings do not pose safety concerns.

“We don’t actually know what the problem is,” said Susanne McDonald, the national park superintendent. “We are going into an investigative stage to figure out what is happening. We are focusing on weaknesses in the structure that might be causing water intrusion. We have a few areas that have caused us problems, but we haven’t been able to figure out the exact location where the water is coming in. It could be absolutely nothing, but I don’t want to take a risk with our employees or our visitors.”

The modest buildings, preserved in 1960s styles, look less like the headquarters of the world’s most powerful person and more like a relaxing retreat where your beloved country relatives live. That is, until one notices the three attached televisions ready to broadcast the three big networks of the time.

Interiors of Texas White House were first seen by the public in 2012, preserved in their 1960s styles. Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman

“They just weren’t showy people,” former Superintendent Russ Whitlock said when the buildings were opened to the public in 2012. “The ranch and the ranch house take the Johnsons off the pedestal of president and first lady and make them into people we can relate to.”

In his recent book, “LBJ’s 1968: Power, Politics and the Presidency in America’s Year of Upheaval,” Ken Longley, the newly named director of the LBJ Presidential Library, describes how the ranch served as a safety valve for the  sometimes volcanic LBJ, especially during his traumatic final year in office. Repeatedly during 1968, the president retreated to the ranch, took a swim, then a ate a snack on TV trays, or a tooled around the Hill Country with family or friends to relax.

All other park facilities remain open to the public. These include the Johnson settlement, President Johnson’s boyhood home, and the park visitor center in Johnson City. The LBJ Ranch driving tour is not affected, and the LBJ Ranch hangar visitor center is open as normal.

UPDATE: The quote from Superintendent McDonald was added after this was first posted.

Al Gore picks up Lady Bird Award from LBJ Foundation

On April 24, the Luci Baines Johnson and Lynda Johnson Robb handed over a blue globe resting in bronze hands to former Vice-President Al Gore as part of the 2018 Lady Bird Johnson Environmental Award ceremony in New York City.

Lynda Johnson Robb and Luci Baines Johnson honor Al Gore with the 2018 Lady Bird Johnson Environmental Award. Contributed by LBJ Foundation

Also at the Metropolitan Club that evening, Mark K. Updegrove, president and CEO of the LBJ Foundation, conducted an open conversation with Gore, one of the world’s leading activists on the subject of global warming.

The foundation created the award to keep alive the late first lady’s commitment to environmental awareness.

RELATED: Oral history rekindles Lady Bird Johnson’s voice.

“As Lady Bird did in the 20th Century, Al Gore’s actions acknowledge this is far bigger than one political philosophy but about what affects and unites us all,” said Larry Temple, chairman of the LBJ Foundation. “He is leading the conservation movement and elevating the public’s consciousness on the importance of acting to solve the climate crisis.”

 

Mark Updegrove returns to Austin and the LBJ legacy

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Mark Updegrove, who transformed the LBJ Presidential Library during eight years as its director, is returning to become president and CEO of the LBJ Foundation as of March 1, 2018.

Mark Updegrove

In a dizzying leadership shuffle, current Foundation Executive Director Amy Barbee will be promoted to its Vice-President. Foundation Chairman Larry Temple will continue on as chairman, but he will transfer the title of chief executive officer to Updegrove. Meanwhile, Foundation President Elizabeth Christian will transfer the title of president, becoming a vice-chairwoman of the Foundation, the same title held by former Texas Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes and former Ambassador to Sweden Lyndon Olson.

Got all that?

During his eight years at the Library, Updegrove directed an $11 million redesign of its core exhibits. He also oversaw two big symposiums, the Civil Rights Summit in 2014 and the Vietnam War Summit in 2016. Both events provoked examinations of Austin’s own history with civil rights and the Vietnam War.

Earlier this year, Updegrove, an author and former media executive, accepted the position as CEO of the newly minted National Medal of Honor Museum planned for Charleston Harbor in Mount Pleasant, S.C. He has resigned that position, al though he will continue to serve through January

Yet he and his wife, former Texas Monthly publisher Amy Banner Updegrove, had put down deep roots in Austin. He also encountered a recent health scare.

“I could not be more excited to be back in the world of LBJ,” Updegrove says. “After resolving a case of early stage prostate cancer, I look forward to leading the 50th anniversary events recognizing LBJ’s momentous last full year in office, 1968.”

Austin and DC parties that trilled and thrilled this past week

KMFA Classical 89.5, the Texas Book Festival and the LBJ Foundation showed us all how to do good and have a good time this past week.

Dianne Donovan and TresMusicos at Sound Bites for KMFA. Contributed by Katrina Barber

Sound Bites: KMFA at 50

When you throw your first gala 50 years into your history, you really want it to sing. The good folks behind Sound Bites for KMFA Classical 89.5 made it trill. First, they picked a music-themed venue, Hotel Van Zandt, then they placed musicians at key spots. Even the dinner dishes came with (stretched) musical analogies. Among my favorite touches was a mock-up of longtime “Voice of KMFA,” the late Leonard Masters, in his studio. The man looks like he was born to be a classical DJ.

The fundraising duties were kept classy and relatively short. We were hoping for a hint at bigger news, but none was forthcoming by the time I left, which, alas, was also before additional performances from some of my favorite local artists. But I did have time to relish one of the best things about Austin society: A long, far-ranging chat with somebody who knows our city well, cares about its future and does everything she can to make good things happen. In this case, it was Sharon Watkins, owner of Chez Zee, and a constant friend of the arts her entire life.

Lois Kim and Min Jin Lee on the opening night gala at the Texas Book Festival. Bob Daemmrich

First Edition Literary Gala

Before I go into detail about this benefit for the Texas Book Festival, always one of the high points in the Austin social season, I must relate a sweet case of mistaken identity. It is the custom of the First Edition Literary Gala to place one of the year’s honored festival authors at each table of 10 guests. I was ushered to Table 2 as a reporter, but the table hosts from Dallas assumed I was “their author.” These incredibly gracious people treated me like royalty and it wasn’t until very late in the evening that I realized their misapprehension. Too late to disappoint them with the truth, that they spent dinner with a mere workaday writer whose second book is coming out in December.

On the dais, Dallas journalist and author Skip Hollandsworth (Texas Monthly, “The Midnight Assassin”) managed to be genuinely funny while retaining his dignity, a hard balancing act. The author-speakers, including Min Jin LeeAttica Locke and Kevin Young, were not only incredibly distinguished in their own rights, they were more charismatic than any writer has a right to be. I can’t wait to read Locke’s “Bluebird, Bluebird,” set along Highway 59 in East Texas.

Two days later, at the actual festival in the Capitol district, I mostly haunted the tables of the small presses that don’t receive much attention, and made a neat discovery of a small book about the drug wars by Texas senatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke with Susie Byrd, “Dealing Death and Drugs” (El Paso-based Cinco Puntos Press). Plainly written in a powerful style.

Lynda Johnson Robb, Luci Baines Johnson and David Rubenstein at LBJ Liberty & Justice for All Award dinner. Contributed

LBJ Foundation Award

We were not free to jet up to Washington, D.C., for this one, but the Austin-based LBJ Foundation handed David Rubenstein its LBJ Liberty & Justice for All Award during a dinner at the National Archives Museum. Rubenstein was honored for helping to preserve the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Declaration of Independence and other treasures. How’s that for a list of accomplishments?

“David Rubenstein has distinguished himself as one of the most grateful and generous Americans of our generation,” said Larry Temple, chairman of the LBJ Foundation. “He embodies the beliefs that President Johnson held dear — that our mission in public service is to serve man and provide opportunity to all.”

Among the dinner guests were Lynda Johnson Robb, Luci Baines Johnson, Amy Barbee, Ben Barnes, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Joaquin Castro.