I’m fascinated by Renaissance men and women, those humans who did extraordinary things during their lifetimes but lived in relative obscurity sometimes far from the power capitals of the world like New York. Jason Chilton Matthews was a true Renaissance man. If you’ve never heard of him, you’re like me until I visited Quinta Mazatlan.
As a young man writing and seeking adventures Matthews traveled the world. During World War I he served in 11 countries and knew Lawrence of Arabia. When he was 48, he and his wife Marcia moved to McAllen and built Quinta Mazatlan. He described this then small town of 300 and his house there as the Crossroads of the Western Hemisphere. I’d like to know why. His mansion had a Roman bath, which you will see on a tour, and he invented an adobe brick for Quinta Mazatlan’s construction. The locals told him that rain would melt his house, but it’s still standing. The beams in Cedar Hall were said to be a gift from the King of Lebanon. While living here, Matthews mastered hydroponics. Towards the end of his life, he and his wife edited and published a magazine called American Mercury from their home, This was a very influential magazine at this time that published the writings of William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes, etc.
Quinta Mazatlan was restored and enlarged by Frank, a citrus baron, and Marilyn Schultz in the late 1960s. A lot of the plants you see today as you walk the property’s trails looking at local animals were planted by them. A huge Western Soapberry tree, for example, is especially attractive to birds and butterflies. The City of McAllen bought the estate in 1998 for more than a million dollars, but it wasn’t opened to the public until 2006. Today it’s McAllen’s best tourist attraction and one of the 9 birding centers in the Rio Grande Valley.
Most visitors tour the house and see, among its wonders, the Ann Maddox Moore folk art collection, before strolling many trails with names like Wildcat. On some trails you see bronze sculptures of Texas fauna like a tree ocelot, a species that has not been seen for more than 100 years. My favorite sculpture near the front steps was a Plain Chachalaca family. Unfortunately, a few of the sculptures have either been removed or stolen.