Finding Aid for Looney Family Photograph Albums, circa 1930-2011
Wilber Carroll Looney was born in Branchville, Texas, on November 4, 1891, to W.C. and Mary H. Looney. He had one younger brother, Ralph. He and his parents later moved to Milam, Texas, and he lived there until age 19. By age 20, he was attending the University of Texas at Austin, and was described in a 1912 yearbook, called The Cactus, as "an expert electrician – or will be some day if he ever comes out of that Rip Van Winkle attitude." He later moved to Kansas City, Missouri, and worked as an electrical engineer for Westinghouse Electric Corp. He served in the United States Navy until 1921. He then moved to Beaumont, Texas in the late 1920s, where he met Thyrza Head. They were wed in Dallas, on October 18, 1930.
Thyrza Head Looney (1898-1992), who was widely known and highly respected as an interior designer, was the daughter of Margaret and Charles E. Head and was one of five children. She was born in Bowie, Texas, on January 28, 1898. At an early age, she moved with her family to McAlister, Oklahoma, where she received her early education. Thyrza graduated from the University of Oklahoma and continued her formal education at Columbia University and The Fashion Academy of New York City. In her long and distinguished interior design career, she was recognized as a leader in her field, first starting out in Dallas, in 1920, as the head decorator for Halaby Galleries, and later associated with the decorating department of the Neiman Marcus Stores in Dallas. This company specialized in fine antiques and interior decoration and Thyrza decorated houses on Bel Clair, Beverly Drive and DeLoach, possibly even for the famous oil tycoon, DeGoya. She was a frequent traveler, using her trips to find unique artwork for clients and friends.
In 1930, Wilber C. Looney proposed to her at the Dallas Country Club, and they were married. Looney, a lifetime Westinghouse employee in management, moved with her to Beaumont that same year. In 1931, she opened her interior design studio in the city. She was soon called upon by the McFaddin-Ward House to design upholstery and draperies.
The Looneys had two children, William "Billy" Charles Looney (1932-2011) and Thyrza Lee Looney Tyrrell (1936-1998), who followed in her mother's footsteps and also became one of the area's leading interior designers. In the 1970s, she was briefly married to Harry Tyrrell, and kept this last name when they divorced. Billy was also briefly married and then divorced, and was an expert in stereo and hi-fi audio equipment, often operating the sound system at the Julie Rogers Theater.
Circa 1949, Thyrza purchased an old Victorian property that was set to be demolished, winning her bid with an extra 25 cents she tacked on, and began to renovate it. The Looneys moved the house two miles down Eleventh Street to where it now sits, at 2700 Toccoa Road. "Workmen jacked it up and they built the same house under it, added huge columns on two sides, and you had a 'Louisiana Plantation House' and a new address," Don Burkman wrote in a July 2006 letter donated to the Tyrrell Historical Library. "The street to the south was added and Thyrza got to choose its name. Toccoa comes from the name of the Looney's collie dog, whose name was Tock."
A newspaper article in the Beaumont Journal, in the late fall of 1948, noted the drastic remodeling that evolved from what once was an old Victorian cottage into a Louisiana plantation-style mansion, replete with interior decorating touches by Mrs. W.C. Looney herself. Built in 1881, the Looneys purchased the old Vaughn house property from the American Legion (which bought it in 1945) and converted it into the headquarters for Mrs. Looney's interior design business and living quarters for the family. Downstairs quarters included nine rooms and two halls. The upstairs quarters contained eight rooms, a screened porch and two baths. "Mrs. W.C. Looney said she later met a number of people who used to drive to the spot on Sunday afternoons and spend a few hours watching the raising of the cottage 10 feet off the ground, the construction of a solid brick house underneath and the placing of eight white columns across the front of the structure," the Journal reported. The home was the site for many social functions in the Looneys' heyday, up to and including Thyrza's 90th birthday party, in January 1988.
Among Thyrza Head Looney's major interior decorating projects in the area were: The Town Club, American National Bank (1963); Beaumont Savings & Loan (1965); Beaumont Country Club (1981); the Carol Tyrrell Kyle Green Room at the Julie Rogers Theater (1984); restoration designer, McFaddin-Ward Museum (1984-1985); and numerous homes in Beaumont, Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C. She held professional memberships in The American Society of Interior Designers and was also a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Symphony League of Beaumont, the First United Methodist Church of Beaumont, the Beaumont Country Club, the Beaumont Music Commission, the Art Museum of Southeast Texas, the Texas Gulf Coast Historical Society, and many other community and civic organizations. She was widely recognized by her peers, and received a number of awards for her work, including being named one of seven Outstanding Interior Designers in the Southwest by Interior Designers Magazine, in 1953. During her 62-year career, she was also listed in "Who's Who of American Women", 1958-1959; "Who's Who in Commerce and Industry", 1961; and "Who's Who of Interior Designers", 1988-1989.
Wilber C. Looney preceded Thyrza Head Looney in death, at age 86, in July 1978, at MD Anderson in Houston, after a long illness. Thyrza died at Hamilton Nursing Home, at age 94, in February 1992. Their children, Thyrza and Billy, died in 1998 and 2011, respectively. All of the Looney family is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Beaumont.
This collection contains photographs from W.C. and Thyrza Head Looneys' personal photograph albums. These pictures depict their family and friends in various locations, including on cruise vacations, on the shores of Lake Superior, in New York City, and at home in Beaumont. The collection also includes personal keepsakes, such as travel circulars from New York City restaurants and hotels, a French casino in Quebec, Canada, and an old postcard from Austria. The collection also contains newspaper clippings from The Beaumont Enterprise, including articles on the remodeling of the Looneys' historic home, Thyrza Looney's involvement with the Junior Red Cross, and obituaries for Wilber C. Looney and Thyrza Head Looney, and their two children.
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[Identification of item], Wilber C. and Thyrza Head Looney Collection, circa 1930-1992, AC-603, Tyrrell Historical Library, Beaumont, Texas.
The W.C. and Thyrza Head Looney Scrapbook was donated by Thomas J. Sibley in 2011. Note that the scrapbook had sustained water damage from Hurricane Rita in 2005. The photo album of Thyrza's ninetieth birthday party was donated by Judith Linsley and the McFaddin-Ward House in 2012 June.
Processed by Tyrrell Historical Library staff.
Finding aid revised and encoded by Tyrrell Historical Library staff, 2012 December.
Detailed Description of the Collection