A Roland Roessner Home Sets the Stage for Creativity and Community
Cruise Balcones Drive and the surrounding neighborhood and it doesn’t take an architectural historian to pick out the mid-century modern beauties holding their own amid all the new-home construction. What you can see driving past — large expanses of glass with cantilevered covered porches and natural elements of limestone and wood — are hallmarks of the style, making these homes feel somehow vintage, modern, and timeless all at once. But it’s the unseen elements that tell the story of how these structures came to be and the people who love them, the primary reason many of Roessner’s houses still survive and shine.
In 1959 Suzy Lindeman Snyder and her late husband, Jim Lindeman, contracted with architect Roland G. Roessner to build a home for their family on a cul-de-sac in the new Balcones Park neighborhood near Mount Bonnell. Roessner, like many of his contemporaries, was a World War II veteran and the art and architecture he’d seen in other parts of the world influenced his work. He had been recruited to teach at the University of Texas in 1948, when the architecture program was still part of the College of Engineering. Over the next 30 years at UT, he became one of the School of Architecture’s most notable professors, being one of the few to meld his academic career with a vibrant private practice, to the benefit of students and clients alike. Along the way, his work earned numerous professional awards as well as public recognition. In 1955, a Roessner-designed home on Balcones (one that is, sadly, no longer standing) was named Newsweek magazine’s House of the Year.
Almost 55 years after the house was built, when Laurie Humphreys purchased it, the same details the Lindemans loved about the home’s design spoke to Humphreys’ own aesthetic. A UT graduate of art history and an accomplished landscape architect with a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania, Humphreys says, “The first time I drove up and saw it — before I even got out of the car — I said, ‘This is it.’”
Roessner was particularly adept at connecting the inside of a house to its outside surroundings. The home’s layout and abundance of windows invite natural light in, while protecting the privacy of its occupants. The first steps inside reveal an unobstructed view to a porch running the length of the back of the house and a sloping yard below. Here, Humphreys’ horticultural talents come to life with a lush forest of potted plants on the porch and a tranquil, meadow-like feel to the backyard.
At the time the home was built, Roessner’s design was neither flashy nor trendy, but it was definitely forward-thinking. For Suzy and Jim Lindeman, a very creative pair, the house reflected their own progressive ideals. Over the course of five decades, the home not only served as the headquarters for a very busy family of five, but also played host to meetings for a number of civic organizations like Austin Community Nursery Schools and the Women’s Symphony League. Here, adults and children alike were treated to stimulating conversation as well as music, art, and games.
“I grew up always wanting to learn and do new things, and things that help people,” says Lindeman Snyder, now in her early nineties and a well-known presence at Westminster Manor. “At the time I studied early childhood education at Skidmore College, it was a very new field. Early in my teaching career I even got chided for letting the nursery school children play too much! Can you imagine? Of course,” she adds, “eventually everyone understood just how important play is to a child’s development.”
As Lindeman Snyder’s own children got older, nearly every inch of the home’s interior, including the first-level basement, as well as the driveway, front yard, backyard, and cul-de-sac, was put to use for all manner of gathering like Girl Scout meetings, puppet-making and puppet shows (on no less than a full-size stage built by Suzy and Jim), and annual Christmas caroling parties. International students and businesspeople visiting Austin were also regulars; Lindeman Snyder’s penchant for bringing people together was publicly recognized in 1963 by the Austin American-Statesman, when she was named Austin Hostess of the Year.
While every event hosted by the Lindemans (and later by Suzy and Bryan Snyder, whom Suzy married after Jim passed away) made people smile, one that Humphreys has carried on is the ice-cream social. According to Humphreys, it was practically inevitable that she revive the tradition, which some of the neighbors still remember.
“It’s one of the things my neighbors on the block told me about when I moved in,” says Humphreys, a Waco native who returned to Texas from Pennsylvania after more than 20 years away. “Like Suzy, I love the idea of making sure everybody knows each other — just taking time to visit outside for a while,” she says. “I think it’s so important.” Since moving into the house in 2014, Humphreys has hosted several ice-cream socials in her front yard, bringing in Amy’s Ice Creams trucks for an updated twist on the original.
As Lindeman Snyder tells it, the near-legendary ice-cream socials started when her son Jim had a paper route. “Since Jimmy was out delivering papers anyway, it seemed the easiest way to spread the word was to just have him deliver invitations to everyone on the paper route. Back then,” she adds, “everybody took the paper. So that’s how we did it, and anyone who wanted to come was always welcome. The parents came, the children came — just about everyone in the neighborhood or anyone who was walking nearby!”
Not surprisingly, it was an event held at the house that brought original and current owner together. Unbeknownst to Humphreys, one of the attendees at a board meeting she hosted in her home is a friend of Lindeman Snyder’s youngest daughter, Anne Wheat. Wheat tells the story of how all the pieces came together: “My friend, who happens to be an architectural historian, was telling me about a beautiful house he’d been to and how it was a wonderful example of mid-century modern architecture. As he described the details, tears came to my eyes when I realized he was talking about the house I grew up in.”
Since the connection was made, Lindeman Snyder and Humphreys have developed a friendship and discovered even further common bonds. Last month, Humphreys hosted a luncheon for Lindeman Snyder. Among the guests were Lindeman Snyder’s daughters and former Balcones Park neighbors, many of whom also live at Westminster Manor. “I love having Suzy come over and tell me stories about what the neighborhood was like when they first built this house,” Humphreys says. “I hope I have half the energy she does when I’m her age!”
Today, the neighborhood is one of Austin’s most beautiful, the mature trees that were young saplings when the Lindemans built their home now shading the winding streets and graceful lawns. As far as the ice-cream socials go, there’s no plan to stop anytime soon. Says Lindeman Snyder, “I really believe the world would be a better place if we had more ice-cream socials.” Laurie Humphreys couldn’t agree more.