A Fallen Eden
By Christopher Evans
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Sunday, February 4, 1990
The view from Anglin Dr. yields little inkling of the rock walk along the river, the wine house, the wishing well, the chicken house with the wide, angle-buttressed roof and a French garden that were elements of Leon and Peggy Bandy’s little Eden.
A glimpse at the Italian rose garden can be had from the road. But it is neither startling nor imposing nor indicative of what lies behind it. Mostly, it is brown.
You cannot see Leon Bandy’s immobile ship, which sits like some misplaced vessel half-immersed in earth.
But wander 75 yards west of the road, past the house and garage over a rise where the Bandy’s built their first home. Instantly, you are there – ensconced in a stone-and-mortar fairyland built on 10 undulating acres bisected by an azure Chambers Creek.
Leon Bandy called it Dripping Springs because, for years, a large outcropping above the creek oozed water.
But is it Scotland, as the stonework and terrain suggest? Was it meant to be a piece of France, as some of the landscaping seems to indicate? Or, taking a hint from the rose garden, is this a touch of Italy in Cowtown?
Only the Bandy’s, who created it between the early 1930’s and 1960 – and died in the
middle 1970’s – knew for sure.
The property now is the domain of Sue and Randy Weston, who opened a landscape
nursery across Anglin Drive in 1984 and bought the old Bandy estate four years later.
The Westons know precious little about the Bandys. “Any information we can get,”
said Randy Weston, 37, a native of Spearman. “We need to know how it was before we try
to put it back like it was.”
“The main thing is, it’s fairly clean right now,” he added. “You can see it pretty well
now. It’s been a battle just getting it like this.”
“When we started, everything was overgrown and you couldn’t see half the rockwork.
After the flood last year, a lot of it was buried in mud. We had to do a lot of digging.”
And if they have their way, the rock ship will sail the prairie for many more years. In
time, the Westons hope to restore not only the ship but also the exotic gardens and estate
that surround it.
In the process, they plan to reconstruct a history of this little-chronicled but beatific
tract in far south Fort Worth, a well kept secret except to those who sojourned here years ago
The springs, for which the estate was named, don’t drip any more. The extravagant,
we-hour soirees and laughter that made Dripping Springs one of Tarrant County’s most enviable
private venues are but memories for a privileged, remaining few.
“When we started the nursery, we never knew what was across the road,” said Sue Weston,
34, who grew up in Canyon. “Then a man came in the store and said there were these beautiful
gardens right over here. He said there was a boat over the creek. Then the old-timers would come
in and talk about it. One old man said, “You know, that place right over there used to be the show
place of Tarrant County."
Reclaiming Dripping Springs will be an immense project that begins with maintaining the
grounds, which are covered with plants – Shumard red oaks, honeysuckle, mimosas, white
ashes, pecans, jujubes, redbud, Mexican plum, soapberry and wooly-bucket bumelia.
Some plants are uncommon to the area. The Westons found a Jerusalem thorn, or retama,
near the barn. They discovered hummingbirds gravitating to some odd, orange, tubular flowers
near the front gate. The shrub, Anisacanthus Wrightii, is considered rare in these parts.
Besides landscaping and related maintenance, the Westons must repair rockwork and elaborate
sprinkler and outdoor lighting systems installed by the Bandys; the pumps that ran the sprinkler
system; buildings including several greenhouses in which the Bandy’s grew their own seedlings;
an assortment of chicken houses and horse barns.
The house, built by the Bandys as a cozy, one-bedroom English-style cottage, now has three
bedrooms, 3,800 square feet, elaborate formal dinning areas, and a hot tub off the master bath.
An exterior that once was simple and white is now dark board-and-batten.
The barn, which has a wood-brick floor on the ground level, already has had its foundation reinforced. Weston plans to use the barn for an office.
“Once we discovered this place, we started talking about buying it,” Sue Weston said, smiling. “Part if it looks like it’s out of The Great Gatsby. The part on the creek reminded me of the River Walk in San Antonio.”
“Don’t you think this place would make a great movie set?” Randy Weston said.
It should be noted that the Westons – despite being childless – are not alone on the Bandy estate.
The place is infested with pampered cats with names like Butter Patch, Pumpkin, Samone, Buster, Buddy, Tom and Rusty. Perhaps a dozen felines in all, not to mention a scroungy, red chow-mix dog, wait to descend on visitors and stick like beggar’s lice.
The ship, after 48 years, is still the focal point, not to mention the estate’s oddest study in incongruity. Never mind that the ground it is anchored in hasn’t been covered with seawater for eons. Never mind that its bow is marred by a large fissure. It, like the ghost of the Bandys, is moored here forever.
Leon Bandy, who reportedly sketched it after reading magazines, had the magnificent, land-locked ocean liner built from fieldstone that was hauled in by nearby farmers. It lurks above the creek, accessible via a long swinging bridge. It is 125 feet long with two masts, each with a crow’s next, and an intact terrazzo dance floor whereupon guests once gambled the night away.
Its knotty pine-lined cabin, above which were a bar and a bandstand, was gutted by a 1972 lighting fire. The jagged fracture in the bow, Randy Weston said, is more unsightly than anything. It should be easily repaired.
Already, the Westons have cleared “the island,” which is not a true island but a rock-walled peninsula at a bend in the creek. In days of yore, picnic tables were trotted out to the island for dinner. After the meal, stage plays or Big Band sounds emanated from the combination stage/eating area, the back part of which contains a redbrick wishing well and a rock barbecue pit.
The pool steps leading down into Chambers Creek, where guests took nocturnal dips, are intact. Empty wine bottles still are racked on a hill above in the wine house. The wood bricks in the barn look almost as though they were laid last year.
Becky Vitek Shields was in middle school when her family moved to Dripping Springs in September 1969. Her parents were the third owners of the property.
“It was wonderful living here as a kid,” she said. “Mr. Bandy had raised pheasants and quail. I remember the peacocks, which were still here when we moved here. He had regular blue ones and he had some white ones.”
“You could ride a horse, swim, you could party on the boat. The rose garden, which we call the formal garden, was a place for weddings. I was 16, a sophomore in high school, when the boat (cabin) burned.”
“I had the last party before it burned,” Shields said. “I just had some friends over, we put a radio out on the boat and we danced up a storm. It was a hit.”
Col. Richard S. Vitek, Shields’ father, said he bought the place from a family named Hadley, then plunged into remodeling the house to accommodate six people.
In the years that followed, the work on the house took precedence over maintenance of the vast
landscaped acreage where the Bandys had spent hours a day.
“It became a load,” Vitek said. “After a while, it sort of buried us. We put so much work on the house
that we weren’t able to stay up with the rest of the property."
The deal with the Westons was sealed in March 1988.
Sue Weston smiled again when asked if perhaps 10 acres and about 20 buildings and other structures
are too much for two people to handle.
“Randy and I have had people tell us we’re crazy to take it on, but we’re both from the Panhandle, both from farming families,” she said. “I’m from Canyon; Randy’s from Spearman. People who haven’t lived in the Panhandle don’t understand. We know what we’re doing, I think.”
She said she and her husband have “been rolling the dice a long time now, but when you grew up where we did, that’s part of it…We don’t have any children yet, but we’d like to have a kid…
“Right now, it’s just us and we’ve got plenty to do.” Sue Weston said. “Our business is only 5 years old. I do tax returns on the side. We’re pretty adaptable.
“Actually, neither one of us is trained for the nursery business. I’m a CPA and my husband sets up computers, at least that’s what we’re trained to do. We both went to Texas Tech and moved out here in 1979. We worked in Dallas for several years. We got our fill of that.”
Said Randy Weston, “We want to restore the place within reason. We’d like to put in some buffalo grass or another native grass that doesn’t require a lot of mowing. In our business, we specialize in Xeriscape, which is landscaping with native plants or imported plants that do well in Texas without much water.
Give me five years and we’ll have this place where we want it,” he said, looking up as if to get a reaction. “Maybe sooner.”
This will be an experience, but this is our life now, “Sue Weston said, stroking an orange cat named Pumpkin. “We’re in it for the long haul.”