Houston 101: Will Hogg, Houston's Forgotten, Eccentric and Downright Badass Philanthropist

Categories: Houston 101

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MFAH
Will Hogg: He'd rather build a great city than hassle brazen widows with too many gentlemen callers.
What better time than Memorial Day to remember Will Hogg, the man who founded Memorial Park?

If that (and the Arboretum) was all Will Hogg gave Houston, that would rank as one of the grandest local legacies anyone has ever achieved. But Will Hogg did so much more.

He founded and developed River Oaks and built Bayou Bend, now an outpost of the Museum of Fine Arts, which he also helped found. He made the real estate deal that left us today with Bayou Place, City Hall, the downtown public library, Jones Hall and Jones Plaza, the Hobby Center, hell, the entire Theater District. Will Hogg also spearheaded the foundation of the local YWCA and as if all of that was not enough, the pretty little Heights-area neighborhood Norhill was another of his creations.

And today, Will Hogg is all but forgotten. No prominent Houston parks, buildings or other institutions bear his name. (Hogg Middle School honors his father.) While that great Houstonian Tila Tequila does apparently merit a quite extensive Wikipedia entry, Will Hogg has none. Is that where we are as a people today?

Ms. Tequila aside, William Clifford Hogg probably wouldn't have had it any other way. The rotund son of (equally august) Texas governor Jim Hogg, Will was vehemently, almost violently modest. In this city of flamboyant philanthropy, Houston has not seen his like since.

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Bayou Bend, the Hogg family home that is now part of the Museum of Fine Arts
According to Virginia Bernhard's 1984 Ima Hogg biography (Ima Hogg: The Governor's Daughter), when the MFA wanted to honor him at a banquet, he fled town. Another time he uncovered a plot wherein some prominent citizens wanted to surprise him by giving him a medal. On the appointed day, he pretended to be sick, left his office early and spent the night in bed. He once told a Houston Post columnist friend not to publicize another of his charitable feats in no uncertain terms:

"If you put my name in your column of tripe, I'll kick you so hard you'll taste the shoe leather for the rest of your life."

So that's one reason you probably have not heard of Will Hogg. Another is that he died relatively young. In those days of relatively primitive health care, the hefty Hogg men tended to keel over in their 50s and Will was no exception: While vacationing in Germany with his sister Ima, he died at 55 of the aftereffects of emergency gallbladder surgery. There was no third act to Will Hogg's life.

And he also happened to be the brother of Ima Hogg, whose own philanthropic efforts and amusing name made her world-famous for a time. (Famous enough to make it in the New York Times crossword puzzle, at least.)

But let's examine what Will Hogg did for Houston in the 11 years after his family made their fortune through a 1919 oil strike on their West Columbia plantation and his death in 1930.

Will Hogg believed that Texas's oil belonged to Texas, not himself alone. "The government made a mistake in not reserving for its own use all the wealth below the soil," he once said. "What I don't pay back in taxes on the oil which should not have been mine, I'm glad to give back away for the public welfare."


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14 comments
Khalil McMillan
Khalil McMillan

Excellent, excellent, excellent, J.N. Lomax!  I am a  Los Angeleno.  I curse this god forsaken city daily.  Truth be told, though, Houston is beautiful (hot as fuck...but beautiful).  My  Mother, a native Houstonian, told me, back in my teens, that White folk in Houston were far more "liberal" than most of their fellow Southern neighbors.  Liberal/Progressive is defined in degrees...but...Houston feels less bigoty to me now.  Thank you.

RPaul
RPaul

Screenplay waiting to happen!This is amazing, and would resonate highly, especially given the past 30 disgusting years in which the wealthy interests have pushed an agenda of ever-lower taxes, and ever-decreasing services, for purely selfish or ideological reasons. (The Tea Party is just the latest incarnation of this movement). All the while gobbling up splendiforous, picture-filled media displays of works that they do for charity fund-raising... as if this should exempt them from playing a positive role toward Houston in general.Hogg is a role model we urgently need today. And here's about the only place we'll find mention of him. Big kudos, John!

Don John
Don John

You continue to be my favorite writer in town, Mr Lomax. Great story on Will Hogg, and I love that your family's history with this town runs as deep as it does. 

Red
Red

Nice tribute to a guy who's too often forgotten these days. One thing Will Hogg didn't do, however, was write the words on that sometimes-working fountain at Main Street Square — that was actually British art critic John Ruskin in his "Seven Lamps of Architecture" (1849). And putting it in the middle of downtown Houston is still one of life's great ironies.

John Nova Lomax
John Nova Lomax

Wow, they were attributed to him in Dr Bernhard's book on Ima Hogg. On another note, yes indeed that placement epitomizes irony, unless we take that "build as if we are building forever" in a different sense.

Jodi
Jodi

I didn't know Tila Tequila is from Houston.  I assumed she was just some internet trollop from who cares where.  Do we really want to claim her?

John Nova Lomax
John Nova Lomax

I wish we had never annexed Alief, but we did, and so we are stuck with her.

Khalil McMillan
Khalil McMillan

But....as Bobby Hill told Connie, "Youre [Tila] so loose..."...as a single guy?  That isn't a bad thing.

Evan
Evan

"Will Hogg believed that Texas's oil belonged to Texas, not himself alone. "The government made a mistake in not reserving for its own use all the wealth below the soil," he once said. "What I don't pay back in taxes on the oil which should not have been mine, I'm glad to give back away for the public welfare.""

Will Hogg: Communist

ddt
ddt

 Yeah, Will Hogg put that oil there hisself.  Keep your red hands off!

MadMac
MadMac

This was fantastic. I absolutely LOVE the history. Good job, as always, Mr. Lomax.

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