The Wortham House, nestled on 1.82 acres of majestic live oak-lined property at 1505 South Boulevard in the Broadacres subdivision of Houston, serves as the home of the University of Houston System chancellor.
It is named for the family which previously owned it: Gus and Lyndall Wortham. In 1980, the home was donated to the UH System by the Wortham Foundation. The chancellor’s residence comprises the second floor of the home. The first floor, adorned with various donated artwork and antiques, and the third floor are used to host public events and gatherings throughout the year.
Construction of the house was completed in 1927, the same year that the University of Houston was founded. Frank Sterling, who amassed his wealth in the fledgling oil industry, built the home for his wife and family in the brand new Broadacres neighborhood. It cost $200,000 to build, which at that time was an enormous amount of money and which made it the most expensive home in the area.
Shortly after the Sterlings moved into their massive Italian Renaissance-styled residence, a fire broke out in the attic area, inflicting damage to the second and third floors. A renovation effort ensued, during which the Sterlings decided to convert the third-floor attic space into a ballroom.
In 1938, Frank Sterling died. A decade later, the family decided to donate their beloved home to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. The museum held the home for only a few short years before deciding to put it on the market. Gus and Lyndall Wortham purchased it in 1950 and completely renovated it, changing the look of the building from the Mediterranean style to what has been described as English Regency by some, and Southern Colonial or Neo Palladian by others. The Worthams wanted a more grand style, so they added the regency columns in the front.
Foyer with original tile
The Worthams were set to move into the home the early part of 1951, but in January, a gas explosion and subsequent fire inflicted widespread damage to the house. The home was almost completely rebuilt. One of the few items that remained from the original structure was the Italian tile in the foyer and solarium areas of the home.
Gus Wortham passed away on Sept. 1, 1976, just 33 days shy of the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary. Mrs. Wortham continued to live in the home for several more years until she died on July 12, 1980. The Wortham Foundation decided to gift the home to the University of Houston System.
According to a Nov. 3, 1980, press release issued by the University of Houston System, Mrs. Wortham had frequently expressed a desire to give her home to the UH System so it could be used as the residence for presidents of the institution. The Wortham Foundation was acting upon her wish when it donated the property, which at the time was valued at $1.2 million.
The Worthams had a long-term love and support for the university that dated back to 1955, when Mrs. Wortham began eight years of service on the board of governors, which was then followed by 15 years as a UH regent after the university was admitted to the state system of higher education in 1963. In 1975, the Worthams donated $1 million to the university, which was used to build the Lyndall Finley Wortham Theatre, which opened on the main campus in 1977.
Several other renovation projects have been undertaken, including one in 1990 to restore the home’s interior to its original Mediterranean style. When the home was turned over to the UH System, an architectural, engineering and landscape survey was undertaken and found numerous maintenance issues, as well as serious problems with the mechanical system. Extensive repairs and renovations were undertaken prior to then UH System President Dr. Charles Bishop and his wife moving in.
Wortham House parlor
Inside the various public spaces of the Wortham House are numerous paintings and collectibles given over the years by generous donors. Two of the paintings that hang on the walls, however, remain from when the Worthams resided there. On a wall of the parlor room is a portrait of Mrs. Wortham, while her husband’s portrait hangs in the library. When the home was donated to the UH System, one of the conditions was that both paintings remain where they are.