Legend, lore, myth and mirth all have taken up residence at the intersection of Fourth Street and Slide Road for the better part of seven decades.
They have conspired to construct a place unlike any other in Lubbock — an estate known as Tara West, which represents another interesting intersection: Old South nobility and South Plains innovation.
“The house was built in 1941,” said Mark Griffin, whose Rip Griffin Cos. headquarters have called Tara West home for some 25 years. “John King built the home, and he had an interesting background. The legend is he was a professional baseball player who once played with Babe Ruth. That’s the legend, anyway.”
Griffin said King also was an oilman who lived in East Texas.
“His wife apparently had an asthmatic condition such that her doctor encouraged them to find a more arid climate,” he said. “They moved to Lubbock, and she was a huge fan of the movie ‘Gone With the Wind.’ ”
Eager to please his wife, King went about the task of building a home worthy of the estate depicted in the 1939 film, a sweeping tale of a Southern belle named Scarlett O’Hara.
“John was resourceful enough to apparently dispatch an architect to Atlanta,” Griffin said, “to take pictures and come back with a rendition of the Tara mansion as far as the exterior was concerned.”
The Kings lived in the home until 1948, when it was sold to the W.E. Armstrong family, Griffin said.
“They had a moving and storage business here in Lubbock,” Griffin said of the Armstrongs. “When Mr. Armstrong passed away, they owned all of this land out here that is now known as the Whisperwood development.”
The Armstrongs had the home until 1978.
Seeing the potential of Whisperwood, Griffin said three men — his father, Rip Griffin, Morris Turner and Dr. Paul Johnson — formed a partnership to purchase the property and began developing the area in the early 1980s.
Griffin said the home was transformed into a restaurant, which lasted several years. In the mid-1980s, Griffin said the estate was converted into the corporate offices for the Griffin Companies, a role it has played since.
The two-story home was given a historic designation by the city’s Planning and Zoning Committee in 1980, recognizing the role it has played in Lubbock’s history. The designation also protected the home, which has been expanded and remodeled several times.
Griffin said the home now is approximately 9,500 square feet, including a basement that originally was billed as “Underground Atlanta,” the bar area when the home served as a restaurant.
“The home has kind of targeted the growth of our company,” Griffin said. “When we headquartered here, it seemed to be a springboard for our company to kind of take off, if you will. This building has a lot of special memories. When you stay in a place for 25 years, and it’s the office you come to every day, it’s hard not to have very pleasant memories and recollections that will stay with us forever.”
Tara West’s future is about to change, though. According to a recent A-J article, city officials are looking at whether the home can be moved to the Depot Entertainment District, where it would serve as the city’s visitor center.
“I can’t speak to what the city’s plans are,” Griffin said. “We are under contract with the city of Lubbock, and the city will be the owners of this building. We are set to close in September, and the city will own this property.”
|The grand staircase and chandelier add grandeur to the Tara West building at Fourth Street and Slide Road.
City officials are trying to solve several needs at once. Traffic plans call for Slide Road to connect north with Loop 289.
“Slide Road is coming straight through our building to begin the process for connecting Slide beyond north of the loop,” Griffin said. “I know the (Texas) Department of Transportation and the city have looked at a number of traffic engineering concepts, and this was the most reasonable, logical alternative, rather than going around the house with that much traffic.
“Things change in a community, and progress moves things. If we can achieve the dual purpose of providing access north of the loop and yet preserve the integrity and presence of this home, then I think we’ve served both purposes very well.
City officials have explored moving the landmark home so it could be preserved and showcased as a visitor center.
“They’ve had people out here to examine the possibility of moving the front portion and preserving the house,” Griffin said. “That is their call; I can’t speak to that. I know they have investigated that possibility.”
Regardless, the estate holds special significance for Griffin and his family.
“It certainly is a landmark in this community,” he said. “Amazingly, it’s had so many uses; I think that is its real significance. It’s been a home. It’s been a restaurant. It’s been an office building. It’s had the flexibility and the suitability to serve a number of different functions. I think that’s interesting.
“It is a place that people who have never been to Lubbock can go by and will always remember it as a fond memory of Lubbock if they had an opportunity to see it.”
As for Griffin, he has his own fond memories.
“Last fall, we took wedding pictures of my daughter, Emily, on the porch at sundown, and the light was captured perfectly,” he said. “It was almost as if Scarlett herself were walking back into that mansion. I will carry that memory with me as long as I live.”
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