Last month I described the major subdivisions of our neighborhood so now I’ll give a little background on each, starting with Highland Park and Highland Park West. This month I highlight the developer: Edgar H. Perry.
If ever there was a “Daddy Warbucks” figure in Austin’s history, it was Edgar H. Perry. From humble beginnings, he would go on to become a leader and a legend in Austin, known by many, if not most, as “Mr. Austin” or “Commodore Perry”.
Commodore Perry w/ wife, Lutie, and two grandchildren, late 1930’s
Edgar Howard Perry (the 4th of eight children for the Perry’s) was born in Caldwell, TX on January 4, 1876, to John William and Lucinda “Lou” Perry. He grew up working on his father’s cotton farm, earning as much as 35 cents a day working in the fields.
After graduating from the Rockdale High School, Edgar went to Baylor University in the early 1890’s. After two years at Baylor, Perry left and began working in the cotton industry with one of the most successful and best-known cotton firms in Texas: George H. McFadden and Brother.
Mr. Perry married Miss Lutie Pryor, of Dallas, in 1896. They moved all over Texas, and Edgar and Lutie would have one son, Edgar Perry, Jr. who was born in Flatonia in 1900.
They ultimately ended up in Austin in 1904 and, after 16 years with George H. McFadden and Brother, in 1910 Perry set up his own firm: E. H. Perry and Company, enjoying extraordinary success selling in Europe.
Perry later left the cotton business in order to focus his efforts on the city he loved and began making real estate investments here. He said, “I made my money in Europe and am going to spend it in Austin to make this city a nicer place to live.”
Mr. Perry was an active philanthropist in Austin, supporting numerous civic organizations and continually seeking to improve Austin. He donated substantial funds for the organization of the Austin Club, as well as raising money for the Red Cross, March of Dimes, and Community Chest.
It was this civic activity and commitment that led to his being named “Austin’s Most Worthy Citizen” for 1953. According to a January 8, 1953 newspaper article covering the event, “He was selected because of his unfaltering and abiding faith in Austin, including the translation of that faith into numerous investments in Austin, including the Commodore Perry Hotel Building, the Perry-Brooks office building…. He also developed Highland Park West and Highland Park, two residential additions in Northwest Austin.”
And a popular nickname became formalized: “Commodore”. Perry had been affectionately known among his friends, family and fellow Austin citizens as “Commodore Perry”, but in December 1948, his close friend and Governor of the State of Texas, Beauford H. Jester, officially designated and commissioned Perry as “Commodore of the Texas Navy”.
The Perry home is known today as the “Commodore Perry Estate” and functions as a hotel, event space and restaurant, located at Red River and 41st St, right across from the original Austin Country Club.