Hardin House

The Story of Hardin House

This is the story of Hardin House. It is one that has been recorded less on paper, but more in the hearts of the many who have continued the legacy of Stella Hardin.

In Austin, Texas, in the year 1937, between May and August, a strong-willed young woman by the name of Stella Davis Hardin put a down payment on a piece of property. 2207 Rio Grande was to be the home of her future all-girl's dormitory. She was fairly new to the boarding business, her only prior live-ins having been two University of Texas students: Jimmy Brackly, the student body President, and Harvey Plummen, a champion in the boxing ring. These young men had lived with the Hardin family at 2304 Trinity Street.

The property that Stella bought was well suited for a boarding house. Previously, the City Fire Commissioner, D. K. Newsum, owned the land, and it is believed that he built the now-existing structure. It was a beautiful two-story white house, complete with side and front porches and a big swing. There was an old carriage house out back that would later be converted to extra rooms.

The most common mode of transportation in Austin in the late 30s was the electric streetcar, the mainline of which ran down two tracks on Congress Avenue and up Lavaca to Guadalupe to 45th Street. Luckily for Stella, single tracks ran up Sixth Street to the dam as well as Rio Grande up to 29th Street. Easily accessible from her front door, a ride on the streetcar was only a nickel.

For many of the girls of this era, it was their first time away from home. Angora sweaters, below-the-knee length skirts, hose with a seam up the back and saddle oxfords with bobby socks was a typical outfit. After all, it was Stella's philosophy that none of the girls who came to board with her were anything more than just that --- girls. There were still a few lessons to be learned before the young women would become elegant ladies. It was her commitment to continue the parents' efforts.

Richard "Dick" Davis Hardin, Stella's younger of her two sons, remembers the first group of girls who arrived to board. "I was 12 years old when mother moved us to Rio Grande. She was very strict with her girls, but she loved every one of them. We were one big family."

Carl Hardin Jr., Dick's older brother, was graduating from law school at the time. He didn't live at the Rio Grande Street house, but he remembers some of the first girls who lived there, including Jean Silvers of Houston, Virginia Ritchie of Eagle Pass, Suzanne Riggs of Saint Louis, Missouri, and Martha Noble of Oakland, California.

2207 Rio Grande was affectionately referred to as Mrs. Hardin's and as Hardin University House. The name, however, that evolved over time for one of the most well respected boarding homes in Austin was Hardin House. Some say it was Stella's strict rules that kept her home full. "What parents wouldn't want their daughter to be groomed into a young lady by the steady hand of a fine Southern woman," said Mrs. Miriam Willard, a housemother. "After all, one of Stella's favorite sayings was 'This is my house with my rules; if you are to live here, you are to follow my rules."

The meals were always served in the dining room. There was a set time for meals and everyone was expected to be appropriately dressed for dinner. A family-style service at the table allowed everyone to dine at one time, with a blessing said before meals. A typical Sunday dinner at the house consisted of fried chicken, corn bread, broccoli with cheese sauce, black-eyed peas, mashed potatoes, cut-up salad and cherry pie with whipped cream. Stella's housekeeper and cook, Gertrude Steinberg, was another reason the girls loved Mrs. Hardin's. A favorite dessert she made was chocolate cake.

Gertie's Chocolate Cake
1/2 cup shortening 1 egg
1 cup sugar 6 tsp. cocoa
1 cup flour 1 cup milk
1 tsp. soda 1 tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp. salt 1/4 tsp. baking powder

Melt shortening with cocoa, add milk and let heat. Beat eggs, mix flour and sugar, add to egg and mix in with hot ingredients. Add 1 tsp. soda, and 1/4 tsp. baking powder. Add vanilla and salt. This is a thin batter. Cook in a greased shallow pan in a 350ºF oven.

"She also made apple dumplings with "Red Hots" sauce to die for," recalls Dick. "Believe me, there was never a shortage of food on that table. Gertrude baked fresh rolls and bread everyday and Brady, the green grocer, delivered fresh vegetables in the alley daily."

"If the meat wasn't tender enough, Stella wouldn't pay. Willie, the butcher down at Slaughter's Market, made sure that Mrs. Stella's delivery was above standard."

At The University of Texas, one of Austin's biggest businesses, registration for the 1937 fall semester began on September 17th. The estimated attendance on the first day of classes that year was over 10,000.

In October of 1937, after much time and dedication, The University of Texas campus was blessed by the magnificent presence of the clock tower, which chimed each day at noon. The Longhorns were well on their way to establishing the reputation of excellence and the tower served as a reminder to everyone.

As cooler weather swept into the area, three coal burning fireplaces kept Hardin House toasty and warm. Piano concerts held in the parlor were popular because of cold outdoor temperatures and no TV. During warmer weather there was no air conditioning so many girls would go to Barton Springs to cool off. The dances held at the Gregory Gymnasium, located on The University of Texas campus, brought the carefully coifed girls out into the night air. Among those featured were Admiral Richard Byrd, Marian Anderson as well as the Austin Symphony, which played as the girls danced the night away, that is, until their curfew, which had been imposed by U.T. At that point in history, students could only live in housing approved by U.T.

Hogg Auditorium was built and dedicated in 1938 by Mrs. Ima Hogg. The first orchestral performance was held in December of that year. Musical guests such as pianists Ernest Hoffman and Jose Iturbi caused quite a stir in the lives of all Austinites including the Hardin House girls. Hogg Auditorium became the "cultural center of Austin," recalls Mrs. Crockett English.

The U.S. involvement in World War II, beginning with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, sent a surge of tension through the heart of Longhorn country. The University of Texas went into full-time war supporting practices including four terms per year, many rallies and philanthropy projects to collect money and necessities for the soldiers. Most of the courses offered in 1942 emphasized war-related issues. College boys and some U.T. staff went off to war.

Fashion during the war was definitely not a priority, as there was an effort to send all available rations to the soldiers. Most of the girls kept to the basics. Nylons were scarce and many of the girls would draw a line up the back of their bare legs with a marker. Blue jeans made their debut as "appropriate dress".

Dick Hardin joined the Marines in 1942. He served his country in the South Pacific until his discharge in December of 1945. Upon his return to the United States, Dick was sent to Princeton as an officer candidate. On January 26, 1945, he married his sweetheart, Coleen Grant, who he had met at U.T.

Coleen Grant Hardin grew up in Longview, Texas. Transferring to U.T. as a junior in 1941, she tried to stay at Mrs. Hardin's but no room was available at that time. She was very active in the Drama Department and Curtain Club. In 1943, she received a scholarship to The Pasadena Playhouse in Pasadena, California, after Dick left for the South Pacific. Upon his return to the United States, Coleen and Dick were married in New York City in 1945.

The newlyweds returned to Austin soon after the war ended. Carl Jr. was practicing law and helped Stella with the finances of the dormitory as well. Back around 1943, she had bought the property at 2205 Rio Grande from Mrs. Bloomquist; it had been a men's boarding house called "Bloomquist Swedes." The two had the house bricked in preparing the property for new boarders. During this time, the original house took the name Red House and the new property, Red Annex. In time, the Annex began to fill along with Red House.

In May of 1950, Rick Hardin was born. As the 50s rolled around, the air of Austin was light once again. Soldiers were coming home from the war to reenter classes and reunite with loved ones. The girls dressed in poodle skirts, starched white blouses with stiff beehive hairdos. Elvis Presley, James Dean and Ricky Nelson were the American heartthrobs. The local hangouts, such as "Dirty" Martins, Sandy's, and the Night Hawk, already popular in the 40s, were filled to the brim with smiles and good times, and bebop was the craze. Then, in 1952, KTBC first broadcast a University of Texas Longhorn football game. It was Thanksgiving Day when they played the A&M Aggies, one of their biggest rivals.

In the late 50s, the Hardins began construction of the White House addition to Hardin House. It was located at 2206, the location now referred to as Main House, next to Green House, which was acquired in 1963. Last to be added were the Apartments and Grant House. Additional space was needed to board the increasing numbers of sophomores and juniors that wanted to stay with the Hardins.

In the summer of 1969, on August 15th, Maurice "Pete" Simmons was hired as a part time bookkeeper. "The Hardins took me in and became part of everything that I went through. We were a big happy family," recalls Mrs. Simmons. "The girls were the icing on the cake."

In June of 1969, another wonderful woman, Jennie Pendergrass, came into the Hardin House family, along with Mrs. Mays. These women were the favorite housemothers of the girls. Mrs. Pendergrass was affectionately called Mrs. "Penn", and writes, " I truly enjoy all of my many fond memories of Hardin House." Mrs. Mays stayed with Hardin House for sixteen years, remembering it this way: "We had such fine girls, very few problems. I learned to love all the girls. A good many stayed for two years and then moved to their sororities. They would frequently come back for advice, a meal, or just for a visit."

It was a time of peace and love, lava lamps, suede vests, bell-bottoms and the Beach Boys. In December of 1969, Life Magazine declared The University of Texas Number One in the nation after the 15-14 victory over Arkansas. It was the same year that UT beat Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl.

The Vulcan Gas Company opened its doors bringing to Austin the nickname of the "World's Music Capital." Other hangouts included The Pier, The Hole in the Wall, LAI (Lake Austin Inn) and Deep Eddy. Bands like Shiva's Headband, Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators, and The Kinks were popular.

The Hardin family undertook another endeavor, Hardin North, a high-rise residential building with University of Texas students in mind. This facility housed visitors for the dedication of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library on May 22, 1971. The property operated as University Towers until 2019.

Miriam Willard met Stella Hardin in the early 70s and began to serve in the Hardin House dining room as a hostess. In 1972, Stella hired Miriam as a full-time housemother at Hardin House. Her special talent for spreading love and affection among the residents made Mrs. Willard a favorite. She stayed at Hardin House until 1979, thereafter enjoying the memories of the girls she "raised" at Hardin House.

"There is a time and a place for everything. Mrs. Stella knew the best for both. As long as the parents trusted Stella, she had a commitment to turn their precious daughters into elegant, socially acceptable ladies," said Mrs. Willard.

Mrs. Simmons retired in August of 1975. It was in the same year that Dick bought brother Carl's half of the business. When Stella Hardin retired, Coleen Hardin took over the position of Hardin House Director. Coleen chose to look at Hardin House as an elegant fortress, a place out of time.

"I was suddenly in charge of the whole parade. At the time, I didn't feel that I was prepared for the responsibilities necessary for the position of House Director. I felt the weight of the obligation to carry on what Stella had started over forty years earlier. Dick and I were the next generation of the Hardin tradition. It was a growing experience for me and I truly enjoyed my time at Hardin House. I coaxed Pete Simmons to rejoin me to help once again with the office responsibilities associated with running a dormitory and business," said Coleen Hardin.

In the 70s, much like the end of the 60s, there was still protest in the air. While somewhat insulated at Hardin House, no college student was unaffected by the changes sweeping through all of America. Times were turbulent throughout the country, and at U.T. as many as 10,000 students marched on the Capital in protest of the Vietnam War. Activism was prevalent on all campuses. Baseball games at UT, however, were still a favorite pastime. The football upper stadium deck was yet to be added.

On the music scene, the Armadillo World Headquarters on Barton Springs Road opened shortly after the Vulcan Gas Company on Congress Avenue closed. It continued the traditions of music that The University of Texas students and Austinites had come to expect. The Steve Miller Band, Grand Funk Railroad, and Led Zeppelin were among the sounds of the 70s. Chia pets, troll dolls, tie-dye and psychedelic black-light posters were found in most rooms in Hardin House.

Coleen retired as House Director in the spring of 1980. In doing so, she didn't completely leave Hardin House behind. Her sense of tradition can still be felt throughout the dormitory, and we remain grateful for her years of shaping Hardin House. 

On the fashion front, with the 80s came the preppy look. Izod clothing, madras plaid walking shorts, Tretons and banana clips were all necessities for the fashion conscious. The music was as distinctive as the styles. Madonna made her debut, and Boy George and the Culture Club, WHAM!, and Duran Duran were heard in the halls of Hardin House.

The city of Austin saw many changes including the revitalization of Sixth Street with clubs like Esther's Follies and Steamboat Springs. Environmental issues like the fight to save Barton Springs became vital to the well-being of the community.

On September 7, 1983, Stella Davis Hardin passed away at age 93 with her family and long time cook and companion Gertrude by her side. The housemothers, housekeepers, and cooks all came to say goodbye at her funeral.

Mrs. Willard said, "I think everyone who works at Hardin House makes a promise to continue the tradition of Hardin House. It is the underlying strength that keeps it alive, even as the time of protective boarding houses has passed. Stella's spirit still lives in the houses and in the girls."

Two months later, Paulette Diina, a small French woman, was hired for the Red House housemother's position. Her motherly attitude towards life was the inspiration behind this soothing vegetable soup.

"Paulette's Cure-All Soup"
1 med. carrot 2 small zucchini
1 small leek 6 cups of water
handful of string beans 2 yellow squash
1 small celery 2 bouillon cubes

Dice vegetables, add water and dissolved bouillon cubes. Cook at slow boil for about 30 minutes. Add rice and one tomato for a more hearty soup. This recipe is meant to balance the body chemistry during illness or most digestive upsets. It works!

"I loved everyone I came into contact with at Hardin House. It was a challenging situation for me because I was helping to nurture these beautiful young women. I was there for those who needed me," remembers Mrs. Diina. "There were funny stories, like the young man dressed up as an Easter bunny with a bonnet. He would have gotten away with coming into the house if it hadn't been for his hairy legs. I remember the happy, smiling faces of my girls preparing for dates and giggling in the halls. Those are great memories."

The styles of the 90s were very casual. If one daytime outfit is remembered, it would be wind shorts, T-shirts and a baseball cap with a ponytail through the back. Hiking boots, tennis shoes and Birkenstocks were the footwear of choice. For a night on the town, there was a fashion time warp. You would see the 40s, 50s penny loafers, the "Grace Kelly look", 60s love beads, 70s hippie, grungy and 80s preppy looks all meshed together.

The places to go in Austin were the Back 40, The Cloak Room and Liberty Lunch. There were also the frat parties. Country music made a comeback, with such favorites as Garth Brooks. INXS and U2 were very popular with the Hardin House girls as well. Tiffany Hunt of Dallas, a former Hardin House resident in 1990, recalled the music as changing and eclectic. "We all had different tastes and it made for an interesting mix. There was 70's music, rap, and then there were 10,000 Maniacs. There is such a music scene in Austin, it's hard to pin down a specific sound to classify our generation."

While clearly traditional in character, d├ęcor, and management, Hardin House is constantly upgrading and modernizing its facilities. Hardin remains a staple in West Campus as new buildings spring up all around. Our goal is to tackle capital projects each year that will improve the property and while maintaining the tradition of Hardin House. It has been said by many a Hardin girl "It's not Hardin House - it's Hardin Home!"

Kathryn Parke, Administrative Director, working with the Hardin family since 1979, arrived with Stella's grandson, Rick Hardin, in 1992 at Hardin House. Although both were veterans of twenty years in real estate management, Hardin House was a new challenge. The efforts of Ms. Parke and her talented staff are evident today in the attention to service, quality of meals, and maintenance of facility. This attention to details has resulted in our appeal to residents who continue to be part of our tradition of excellence, and one of the most unique features of the Hardin House experience. Kathryn notes, "The key to our continued success is the family-like environment that we offer the residents as well as the staff. Our employees share our philosophy of team effort and dedication. That commitment is reflected in the quality of service and care that we offer our girls. Most parents who have had the opportunity to meet Tracy Mussey, our Food Service Director, her kitchen managers Mary Ramos and Dan Clarkson, and their talented kitchen staff, have enjoyed a meal as our guests, wishing they could book a stay here instead of a hotel when visiting Austin.  We accommodated them by opening The Quarters at Hardin House in 2002, available to the public for overnight stays mid-May through early-July.  I am constantly receiving accolades, as well, from both residents and parents regarding Heidi Martindale, our Director of Residents.  Her warm, calm, steady and professional manner is one of the first memories many take with them from Hardin House.”

A mother of 3 herself, Mrs. Martindale's goal is to create a home where she would place her own girls. According to Ms. Martindale, "Our objective is to create a warm, welcoming home for our girls as they transition from home to college life. We want our girls to be known and set up for success in their college career. Our residents, our girls, are truly the best part of Hardin House and it is our heartbeat to love them well during their time with us!"  Hardin House is much more than a dorm. It is family and our many staff members from the front desk to housekeeping and maintenance ensure that all of our girls are well cared for and known throughout their time here. 

Hardin House continues its traditional philosophy started by Stella Hardin in 1937 of caring service, home-cooked meals and a family-like environment for its residents.  Mr. Hardin stated, prior to retiring from the dormitory business in July 2003:  “Hardin House’s trademark is a reputation of performance.  This is why people want to be a part of the privileged and talented group of residents who appreciate and enjoy the fruits of that philosophy.  There is always a renewal and timelessness with each new school year and all of the fresh new faces.  For all of us there is a special joy that comes with seeing former residents returning with their daughters, granddaughters, and even great-granddaughters.  With applications on file today for 19 years into the future, I think our secret is out.”
The superb staff at Hardin House, with decades of experience, continues its tradition under the auspices of San Miguel Management, L.P., headed by Mark Ezell, Director of Operations.