Decorum insists that you never ask a man the size of his spread. But Lyndon B. Johnson didn’t seem to mind fielding inquiries about his ranch near Stonewall (2,700 acres, if you must know). In fact, his tours of the property were legendary: Foreign dignitaries, friends, and reporters would pile into the president’s Lincoln convertible, and he’d drive them through fields, pointing out the Hereford cattle and the grove where he and Lady Bird hosted nearly a hundred barbecues. Today, visiting the Texas White House isn’t as intimate an experience, but with the opening of LBJ’s office this month—on no less significant a day than the centennial of his birth—the public can finally peek inside what the Johnsons called “our heart’s home.”
Perched above the Pedernales River, the 8,400-square-foot stone-and-wood house, which LBJ bought from his elderly aunt in 1952, was quite possibly the most significant building in the nation (the one at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue excepted) during the five years LBJ led the country. Like no presidential retreat before or since, the LBJ Ranch was as much a political asset as it was a relaxing haven: Nowhere was the Johnson treatment—the persuading, the cajoling, the outmaneuvering—more effective. It was where he most liked to do business, whether he was taking UN ambassadors horseback riding, addressing the press from atop a hay bale, or conducting lawn chair meetings with his Cabinet under the four-hundred-year-old oak out front.
For the big debut, his Hill Country office has been painstakingly restored to its sixties’ glory. The knotty-pine walls have been stripped and refurbished. Furnishings and decor that Lady Bird was forward-thinking enough to save have been pulled from storage: the aqua leather couch, which matches LBJ’s chair and desktop; the walking canes that stood in a corner; the portraits of the Johnsons’ beagles Him and Her that were commissioned by Barbra Streisand. One thing that won’t be returning: the tan shag carpet, which Lady Bird specifically requested not be put back in (it was replaced with parquet when the room was turned into a den).
Although this marks the first time the public is allowed inside the house—it was naturally off-limits while Lady Bird was alive—for now visitors will only be able to see LBJ’s office; more rooms will be on view eventually. (During a month-long trial run, those making the pilgrimage will also be allowed to drive their vehicles onto the property instead of having to be bused over from the neighboring state park.) The annual wreath-laying ceremony at the family cemetery, which always takes place the morning of LBJ’s birthday, holds added meaning now that Lady Bird lies next to her husband. How fitting that August 27 is also the day the Johnsons officially open their home to us. Near Stonewall; 830-868-7128, lbj100.org and nps.gov/lyjo
One man’s trash may be another’s treasure, but does it have its own museum? It does if the object in question has been found along the shores of South Padre Island, where you’ll also find the Beachcomber’s Museum of Local and Natural History. Housed in one of South Padre’s oldest buildings, this seaside repository was started on a whim in 1998 and now takes up half a used-books store (which also happens to sell both coffee and ice cream). Co-owners Steve Hathcock and Kay Lay—he’s a jack-of-all-trades historian with a penchant for excavating war booty; she’s an unabashed naturalist with a soft spot for sea beans—had decorated their shop with so many tchotchkes that customers had trouble figuring out what was (and wasn’t) for sale. “It was a problem because people kept asking, ‘How much is that?’” says Lay. “So we started joking that we should open a museum.” Seashells and old bottles abound, but the glass displays also boast rare finds: Civil War buttons; bones from a Columbian mammoth; a peg leg that belonged to local legend Harpoon Barry, a surfing enthusiast who was the island’s first licensed tattoo artist (he died in the 2001 causeway collapse). Although nearly all the items have been found in the area, Lay’s favorite piece was carted from halfway around the world. “Two years ago a missionary brought in a segment of petrified sea floor from near Morocco that’s well over a hundred pounds and two and a half feet tall. It was unexpected, but it fits right in with our collection.” As for where to find your own treasure? Lay suggests heading north, away from the developed areas, to Beach Access 5 or 6. Open Tuesday through Sunday; 956-761-5231, islandtraders.biz
The possibility of a black president has us all talking (and frankly, at that) about the complexities of race in this country. So it’s a ripe time for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston to be opening “The Black List Project,” an exhibit anchored by a revelatory documentary about being black in America. The Black List: Volume One, which debuted at Sundance in January, illuminates the palpable tension in our culture and also reminds us— not unlike Barack Obama’s much-parsed speech on race relations— of the less obvious commonalities of the human experience.
The film’s delivery is simple: Twenty-two influential black Americans speak directly to the camera about their personal and professional experiences. Director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders wanted to create something akin to an animated coffee-table book, and his candid talking heads are riveting, if randomly assembled, chapters. Interviewed by film critic Elvis Mitchell (who is neither heard nor seen), Louis Gossett Jr. laments that no good roles were offered to him after his 1983 Oscar win for An Officer and a Gentleman. Sean “Diddy” Combs talks about staring at an image of himself on a Times Square billboard for hours. Some speak of influences (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on meeting Miles Davis), others of challenges (Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash on butting heads with his bandmates over the use of the n word in a song). There are heavy moments (Colin Powell on living through “the second Civil War”) and lighter ones (Vernon Jordan on