The Legend of Quinta Mazatlan
Quinta Mazatlan is the McAllen Wing of the World Birding Center under the stewardship of the City of McAllen Parks & Recreation Department. Its mission is to preserve the 1930s adobe estate and the native plants and animals of the Rio Grande Valley, by providing a sanctuary for environmental education, eco-tourism and inspiration to people of all ages.
The legend of Quinta Mazatlan begins with an understanding of the name. The word “Quinta” in Spanish translates to a country house, villa or estate. When the owners began building the home in the 1930s, the area was surrounded by grapefruit orchards. The word “Mazatlan” has an ancient Indian translation in Mexico meaning “Land of the Deer”. The owners, Jason & Marcia Matthews, frequented the city of Mazatlan in Mexico and were clearly inspired by the Spanish architecture of the area.
End of the Wild March (1900-1930s)
“Tamaulipan Thornforest” is the plant community that once covered the Rio Grande Valley with a mix of cactus, mesquite, thorny underbrush and river-bound wetlands. By 1900, the landscape began to change as the wild Thornforest was cleared and burned to accommodate the growing number of settlers and industry. Many of the native plants were replaced by railroads, irrigation canals, cattle ranches and citrus groves.
“Crossroads of the Western Hemisphere” (1930s-1960s)
Composer, writer, and adventurer, Jason Chilton Matthews (1887-1964) traveled the globe collecting artifacts and stories while serving in 11 countries during World War I and even fought alongside Lawrence of Arabia. When he finally settled in 1935 with his affluent Pennsylvania wife, Marcia Jamieson (1891-1963), they built Quinta Mazatlan at what Matthews called the “Crossroads of the Western Hemisphere.”
Matthews personally built much of Quinta Mazatlan on the highest knoll in McAllen. He first experimented with adobe by building an adobe block bathing pool. When it was first built in the 1930s, the entire depth of the pool was 12 feet. It had no filtration system and was known as a draw and fill pool because it was drained and refilled whenever the water became dirty. It was filled from a freshwater well located at the backside of the cottage. Mr. Matthews would attach a six inch pipe to an airplane engine and jet water fifteen feet through the air, into the swimming pool, filling it in less than thirty minutes.
The first living quarters built were the cottage and hootch, which contain 3,325 square feet of living area. The hootch was Mr. Matthew’s hide-away. When looking for solitude, he would shimmy up a rope ladder to escape, pulling the ladder up behind him. The main house, which has 6,739 square feet of living area, was the next building constructed. This house is where Jason, his wife Marcia, daughter and son lived for 30 years. An unusual feature of the house is the aluminum sulfate paint on the inside and outside of the adobe blocks which Mr. Matthews believed would prevent radar waves from penetrating the building. An extraordinary feature of the main house is the front doors. Mr. Matthews commissioned Peter Mansbendel, a famous Swiss wood carver, to recreate the stately front doors of the Spanish Governors Palace in San Antonio, Texas. The doors feature two gargoyles and two cherubs, which are carved in the likeness of the children. The back corridor of the home is known as the Cedar Hall. Legend says the ceiling beams are made of Lebanese cedar which was a gift to Mr. Matthews from the King of Lebanon for his fight alongside Lawrence of Arabia in Lebanon’s War of Independence from the Turks.
A 1,450 square foot greenhouse was located on the east side of the estate. This is where Mr. Matthews tried many agricultural experiments, including the study of hydroponics. It is reported that the U.S. military used these techniques, developed at Quinta Mazatlan, to grow tomatoes in Guam and feed soldiers in World War II.
The Matthews published the (New) American Mercury magazine from their home at Quinta Mazatlan during the 1950s. This leading conservative magazine expressed strong pro-American views. The original American Mercury magazine was founded in 1924 by H.L. Mencken and drama critic George Jean Nathan. The magazine featured writing by some of the most important writers in the United States during the 1920s and 1930s.
The family lived at Quinta Mazatlan for 30 years. Marcia Matthews died at the age of 71, on May 22, 1963. Jason Matthews died a year later on November 30, 1964 at the age of 77.
Wild Habitat Disappears from the Land (1930s-1960s)
When Jason Matthews began building Quinta Mazatlan in 1934, McAllen had grown from 300 people in 1906 to around 10,000 by the 1930s. After the Port of Brownsville opened in 1936, agricultural production and shipping boomed. By 1960, remaining pockets of native brushland stood defenseless against urban development, industry and agriculture. The population continued to climb to 33,000 by the late 1960s. For thousands of years, the Thornforest defined the land along the Rio Grande, but by the end of the 1960s, the Valley had lost all but a few small traces of its natural habitat.
Quinta Mazatlan Saved (1960s-1990s)
Between the years of 1964 and 1967, Quinta Mazatlan was up for sale. Some locals had access to the home and allowed churches to use the cottage as The Mazatlan Coffeehouse which offered cultural programs including poetry reading. In the later part of 1967, Hurricane Beulah destroyed much of the roof, leaving the adobe home in shambles. In 1968, Frank and Marilyn Schultz purchased the eight acre estate and its buildings which comprised of more than 10,000 square feet for $24,000. They began restoring the home to its former splendor by adding beautiful cantera (stone) patios and expanding the home. They planted exotic flowers, shrubs and trees, while welcoming the re-growth of the native Thornforest.
In 1985, the Texas Historical Commission dedicated a Historical Marker, now located at the front entrance of Quinta Mazatlan. For the first time, this private residence earned recognition as a public heritage. The Schultz family lived at Quinta Mazatlan for 30 years, and raised a daughter and a son.
Mansion with a Mission...Restoring One Backyard at a Time (1990s-present)
The landscape outside Quinta Mazatlan’s walls has changed dramatically since its construction. McAllen’s population multiplied to 90,000 by the end of the 1990s, and more than 95% of the Valley’s native Tamaulipan Thornforest had been cut.
In 1998, Shultz put Quinta Mazatlan up for auction. Because of the property’s premier location to the airport and mall, developers targeted the area for other business goals. The City of McAllen, however, won the bid and again Quinta Mazatlan and its wildlife was saved. It would become a mansion with a mission.
The City actively promotes residential and commercial landscaping, not only for scenic beauty but for urban wildlife as well—and what better champion of this mission than the fully restored Quinta Mazatlan.
The McAllen Parks and Recreation Department, now the steward of Quinta Mazatlan, expanded the property to 20- acres, built nature trails, renovated the grounds, and hired a staff that encourages visitors to restore native habitat “one backyard at a time”. Quinta Mazatlan, which opened to the public in 2006, looks beyond its city limits as a member of the World Birding Center, promoting conservation and restoration of native habitat throughout the Rio Grande Valley.