Snobs can snub Snoops mansion belongs to people

ROGER SIMON

March 08, 1991|By ROGER SIMON

Hilda Mae Snoops is making a list.

"Some things we can give away to museums," she told me. "And some to historic buildings. And some things we can sell."

Mrs. Snoops, Maryland's hostess and the governor's best friend, is planning to empty out much of the governor's mansion.

Some things will be given away and some things will be sold, the money going to the Governor's Mansion Foundation and not Mrs. Snoops.

And Mrs. Snoops seems intent on getting rid of the mansion's furnishings before she leaves her post so her enemies can't get rid of them after she leaves her post.

"We have beautiful things here, and I want them protected in a museum or a home or a private setting," she said. "I don't want them just auctioned off."

Mrs. Snoops has been hurt by criticism of how she has renovated the mansion. Some of the criticism is simply a matter of taste, and tastes do differ.

But some of the criticism is based on the belief that Mrs. Snoops does not deserve to express her tastes because she is much too common, hopelessly middle-class and, well, Baltimore.

Former Gov. Harry Hughes and his wife, Patricia, renovated the mansion in 1979. And nobody ever accused them of being from Baltimore.

Mrs. Hughes took six years to transform the mansion into a museum, and when it was done it was hailed by Architectural Digest.

The room that has most changed from the Hughes administration to the Schaefer administration is the Conservatory.

Under Hughes, according to one report, it had "deep brown lacquer walls, a sisal rug, modern floor lamps . . . [and] it was furnished mainly with austere white sofas and chairs."

Under Schaefer, the Conservatory is now a "sunny, open room, with an oriental rug . . . [and] all around the room are plants, including a basket full of the African violets Schaefer likes to grow."

And whenever I hear the blue-bloods moan over how Pat Hughes' mansion has been ruined by this creature, this Hilda Mae Snoops, this daughter of an electrician from Baltimore, I can't help thinking one thing:

Deep brown lacquer walls?

In case you don't know what lacquer is, think of very high-gloss paint. Now think of that in chocolate brown. And if that kind of makes you want to toss your cookies, you know why your home is not in Architectural Digest.

One other thing symbolizes the differences in the two mansion renovations:

According to a Department of General Services report of Aug. 11, 1988, some of the first money spent on the mansion by the Schaefer administration, some $295,000, went for "construction of a handicapped elevator" and "construction of a handicapped ramp."

Which raises the embarrassing question: How come the Hughes administration never made the mansion accessible to the disabled?

Which leads to the embarrassing answer: Squandering money on people in wheelchairs doesn't get you in Architectural Digest.

Also under the Hughes regime,children under 16 were not allowed to tour the mansion (children can be such a bother, which is why I recommend they be bound in Saran Wrap until they are voting age) and visitors were forbidden to use flash cameras, supposedly because that might hurt the oil paintings.

(Personally, I think flash cameras were banned so nobody could take a picture of the brown lacquer walls. You can imagine some guy coming back to Fort Worth and saying: "Darlin', take a look at these snapshots. Up there in Maryland, they got themselves a mansion with walls made out of Hershey bars!")

"They don't think you have any knowledge of Maryland," Mrs. Snoops said, when I asked her about her critics. "It is very difficult for them to keep putting themselves above everybody else."

I disagree. I think it is very easy for snobs to put themselves above everybody else. That is why they are snobs.

Take the subject of painted screens, a genuine Baltimore art form. After I toured the newly-renovated mansion in September 1988, I wrote a satirical column that quotedan imaginary Maryland society lady saying Mrs. Snoops would "paint the screens next. Mark my words. And then she'll spray the whole building with Formstone."

Well, the Formstone you can forget. But Mrs. Snoops did announce she is considering putting a painted screen on a patio door.

Naturally, the reaction was swift. Stiles T. Colwill, a former curator with the Maryland Historical Society, practically swallowed his snuff.

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

When I asked Mrs. Snoops about Colwill's comment, she was positively restrained. "I have never lived on Eastern Avenue," she said, "but I would not be ashamed of it."

And why should she be? Why should anybody be?

The governor's mansion does not belong to the thin-lipped guardians of high culture in this state. It belongs to the people. And Mrs. Snoops hopes people will let her know how they feel about it.

If it turns out they like the current mansion, fine. If it turns out they like the old mansion better, that is fine, too. Mrs. Snoops will be happy to pack up all the new stuff and give it away or sell it off.

Because she has discovered something:

In this life, you can't take it with you. But you don't necessarily have to leave it behind.

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