'Rebuffed' Snoops plans to empty mansion to regain 'seedy' look

March 01, 1991|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Hilda Mae Snoops started spring cleaning a little early yesterday with a plan to empty the Governor's Mansion of most of its furnishings so her critics can enjoy a return to the residence's "seedy" pre-William Donald Schaefer appearance.

She said she might even unload the $168,000, 12-foot outdoor fountain installed on the property less than a year ago.

"I've been rebuffed continually by the press and by delegates and senators who want a little cheap publicity," Mrs. Snoops explained. "I was very proud of Maryland until we ran into this situation."

The announcement, dropped matter-of-factly on startled members of the state board that supervises the historic building's public rooms, added yet another chapter to one of the most curious imbroglios of the Schaefer administration.

Mrs. Snoops, Governor Schaefer's longtime companion, said she had already been talking to people about carting away the rugs, curtains, chandeliers and other mansion furnishings.

She said she had even received an offer for the fountain with its cast bronze heron, terrapins and other Maryland wildlife installed last year on the mansion grounds. She declined to identify the source.

Once the foundation's furniture is taken away, Mrs. Snoops said, it will be replaced by the "old, shabby and dull" items left from the era of Mr. Schaefer's predecessor, Gov. Harry R. Hughes. "We saved everything."

Many of the carpets and other furnishings left behind by former Governor Hughes "are a disgrace. You can't get the dog urine out of them."

Mrs. Snoops also accused Mr. Schaefer's predecessor of auctioning mansion antiques for a fraction of their worth and raised the issue of where the $9,000 in proceeds might have gone.

"I don't want to start a rhubarb, but I can prove everything with pictures," said Mrs. Snoops, who said she had photos of an auction house truck backed up to the mansion.

Mr. Hughes, who is vacationing in the Caribbean, denied the allegations and called Mrs. Snoops' announcement "bizarre" and "insane."

"There was some stuff sold that had been surplus, but the money was turned in to the state, and there is a record of this," Mr. Hughes said in a telephone interview. "It's just another one of their insecure comments. It really is insane."

Mrs. Snoops, a 66-year-old retired nurse with the official title of state hostess, has served as the unofficial -- and insiders say strong-willed -- head-of-state within the confines of the mansion's iron fence since Mr. Schaefer came to Annapolis in 1987.

Three years ago, Mrs. Snoops oversaw an extensive renovation and redecoration of the 51-room mansion, including the seven public rooms that had been redone only three years earlier by Mr. Hughes' wife, Patricia.

Mrs. Hughes' decorations, which won critical praise, were rejected by Mrs. Snoops as too stiff and museum-like. Instead, Mrs. Snoops said she preferred a "warmer" and more friendly approach, which the reviewers subsequently panned as off-white, "safe" and "boring."

The state has paid about $1 million toward mansion improvements since Mr. Schaefer took office with a private, non-profit group, the Governor's Mansion Foundation, providing at least $500,000 more, primarily for furnishings and decorations that were lent to the state.

Much to the continued ire of Mr. Schaefer, the cost of the renovation, the public sniping between Schaefer supporters and Mrs. Hughes' backers over matters of taste in interior decoration, and questions about the propriety of Mrs. Snoops' role have provided his detractors with a lot of ammunition.

Aides said Mrs. Snoops' latest announcements might have been prompted in part by a recent skirmish between her and legislative auditors, who complained she barred their access to the mansion. In addition, there has been a resurgence of mansion-related criticism as the legislature faces often painful budget cuts to overcome the state's deficit.

Mrs. Snoops said the decision to remove the furnishings was not hers but rather the opinion of the Governor's Mansion Foundation board of directors. The foundation has decided to solicit offers from museums, private collectors and other interested parties who would like to display the antiques, she said.

However, board spokesman Zelig Robinson said yesterday that no such decision had been made or had even been discussed. He said Mrs. Snoops might have been reciting from the board's charter, which gives the foundation authority to transfer the items lent to the mansion.

Nevertheless, Mrs. Snoops said she had discussed the decision to remove the furnishings with Governor Schaefer. A spokesman for the governor offered no comment from Mr. Schaefer yesterday.

Reaction among legislators was swift but subdued. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, suggested that Mrs. Snoops had erred and "upon careful reflection, she will reconsider."

"None of us are immune from making mistakes," Mr. Miller said.

One new item that may soon be added to the mansion was unveiled yesterday. Taking a cue from an East Baltimore tradition, Mrs. Snoops showed members of the mansion trust the painted screens that may soon adorn a first-floor patio door facing the Senate Office Building. The screens, which depict the nearby hemlock trees and the brick and bluestone patio, did not entirely please Mrs. Snoops, however, because the artist had painted the patio blocks in fanciful colors.

The paintings also may add a final insult and injury to the architects of the Hughes-era renovation.

"I'm a tremendous fan of the folk genre of painted screens, and they are a marvelous art form for Baltimore, but they couldn't be more incorrect for a Georgian revival mansion," said Stiles T. Colwill, a former curator with the Maryland Historical Society.

"If Hilda Mae wants to live in a row house on Eastern Avenue, she should go back to Eastern Avenue and stop living in the governor's mansion," he said.

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