A Little Gem Dazzles in Montrose

Nestled among towering ancient oak trees, and often overlooked even by Houstonians, La Colombe d’ Or Mansion is an oasis in the midst of Montrose, one of the few remaining oil baron mansions in the area.

Built in 1923 by Texas architect Alfred C. Finn for W.W. Fondren, Sr., founder of Humble Oil and Refining Co. — now ExxonMobil, the mansion almost didn’t survive. After her husband died, Mrs. Fondren moved into a home in a new little subdivision called River Oaks in 1949 and gave the Red Cross a 25-year grant to the mansion. The Prairie School-style building housed the organization’s home for mentally challenged children and then visiting nurses over the next two decades.

By 1979, the Red Cross had moved out and the family sold the building for the cost of the land to Steve Zimmerman, an attorney and law teacher at nearby St. Thomas who had been buying up land along Montrose Boulevard at the advice of his friend Mrs. de Menil.

“The architecture of the mansions built near downtown around the turn of the century was amazing,” he recalls. “ And I was interested early on in someday buying one.” But Zimmerman feared the one he bought would be a teardown, until he began demolishing the interior — ripping out tacky vinyl and florescent lights — and the bones of the original building emerged. Antique hardwood floors, marble mantels and stunning, intricately paneled walls and ceilings were all still there, hidden underneath the 70’s renovations. To his credit, Z i m m e r m a n abandoned any ideas of razing the building for townhomes, and restored the mansion to its former elegance. La Colombe d’ Or Mansion opened to the public in 1980 as one of the world’s smallest luxury hotels. And the restaurant, with its French cuisine, stellar service and delicate china, became wildly popular. And it made a national name for itself when the oil bust hit and Zimmerman starting selling lunch for the price of the day’s barrel of oil. Since then it’s been a favorite of energy CEOs, lawyers, Republicans and even ladies who lunch.

In 1996, Le Grand Salon was added, built with 300-year-old artifacts from the country chateau of Comte Henry Greffulhe and Princess Elisabeth de Caraman-Chimay, La Comtesse Greffulhe. The addition of the ballroom made the tiny hotel a perfect spot for weddings and parties. Over the years, everyone from royalty to Madonna to Bishop Desmond Tutu has stayed at La Colombe d’ Or.

“In 1997 President Clinton stayed here,” remembers Zimmerman’ s 26-year-old son Dan, who along with his younger brother Mark, is now working in the family business. “I was 13 and we got to wear little suits to school instead of our uniforms. Police cars came to pick us up from school that day and bring us to the hotel to meet him. I’m not sure the other kids believed we were going to meet the president.” That’s just one of the special memories he and many other Houstonians have of this historical mansion. Today, the mansion has undergone an elegant facelift and the restaurant has been rebranded as Cinq, in honor of the five rooms in the hotel, the five dining areas in the restaurant and the five senses. New executive chef Jeramie Robison has left some of the traditional dishes such as the lobster bisque and rib eye, while adding some new menu items like his melt-in-yourmouth braised short ribs with wild mushrooms. Three decades after opening, the dining room and downstairs bar are more popular than ever, and the five exquisite suites on the second floor offer luxury accommodations including a dining alcove on what were once sleeping porches, necessary since there was no air conditioning when the home was built. On the third floor, the 2,000-square-foot penthouse suite is now an art gallery available for special events.

If you’ve never been to this little gem, or haven’t been in a while, it’s certainly time to enjoy a fine meal and revel in some of Houston’s history.

La Colombe d’Or, 3410 Montrose, 713.524.7999
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By: Marene Gustin