On June 7, 1943, the 77 year old patriarch of an amazing Corpus Christi family passed away in his palatial home on Ocean Drive.
You know the home...the huge white one on Ocean Drive's "S" curve....the one we called "the castle" as kids...the one that Mike McKinnon bought in 1979.
On that night in 1943, Vartan Manasseh (V. M.) Donigan's life ended in the home that he called "Alta Vista Place" which he built in 1933 on the very site of the once majestic Alta Vista Hotel (the hotel was built in 1892, but burned to the ground in 1927).
The house was designed by famed CC architect, Morris Levy, who drew up the plans based on Donigan’s description of his childhood home in Turkey.
Vartan Donigan was born in Geyve, Turkey (actually the Ottomon Empire at the time) in 1867, one of five children of Khatchadour and Mary Donigian (the extra "i" was later dropped), a wealthy silkworm merchant.
The Donigians were Armenians, who were routinely persecuted by the Turks, and their village was becoming an increasingly dangerous place for Armenians to live. So, in 1882, the Donigian family immigrated to the United States.
Using part of the $10,000 in gold that Khatchadour had brought to America, he bought a farm and settled in Fort Bend County near Houston. However, the following year, his wife, Mary, died.
Khatchadour sold the farm and moved his family to Pattison in Waller County in 1886. In nearby Brookshire, he owned and operated a cotton gin with his sons.
There was a large Armenian population in and around Pattison, and in 1890, twenty-three year old V. M. married Anna Horope Garibedian, also an Armenian immigrant from his hometown in Turkey.
When his father died in 1900, V. M. came to Corpus Christi where he invested in properties in and around town....and in 1907 constructed the city's first modern hotel…the “State Hotel” on the corner of Mesquite and Starr.
V. M. leased the hotel and moved back to Waller County to help his brothers run the cotton gin. He and his wife, Anna, moved to Corpus Christi permanently in 1912 to manage the hotel and his other investments.
By now, the couple had 5 children: sons Parnot, Mesog, and Zareh and daughters Lucille and Nectarine. The entire family lived at their State Hotel until V. M. constructed his Alta Vista Place....said to be a replica of the family home back in Turkey.
It was one of the first homes built on Ocean Drive and is probably the most recognizable home in the city to this day.
In addition to the State Hotel, V. M. Donigan also owned the building directly behind the hotel at Lower Broadway and Starr. That building, directly across the street from the old Federal Courthouse (now the Law Offices of Thomas J. Henry), still stands.
Another V. M. Donigan building that is still standing is at 1312 Agnes. Known as the V. M. Donigan Block, the building was constructed in 1941. I got quite upset several years ago when the owners painted over the Donigan name on the front of the building, probably unaware of the status of that name.
V. M. Donigan's wife, Anna, passed away on January 17, 1946 in Spohn Hospital at age 72.
As for the Donigan children:
Parnot and Mesog went to work as manager and assistant manager of the State Hotel after graduating from college... Parnot from Rice and Mesog from UT-Austin.
After their father's death, they continued running the hotel and numerous other Donigan properties in the city.
Mesog apparently never married, living in the Ocean Drive house with his sister, Lucille, and her family until his death in 1979.
V. M. Donigan's daughter, Lucille, would marry a man named Welch, and they would have a daughter named Anna Spohn Welch. Lucille died on January 14, 1979.
With she and her brother, Mesog, both gone, Alta Vista Place was sold to Mike McKinnon that same year.
The Donigan's youngest son, Zareh, lived much of his early life in Brookshire, where he became the manager of the Brookshire Mercantile Company. A 1940 census record indicates that he only had an 8th grade education.
Zareth married Margie Nell Moody in 1927.
Later in life, he and Margie moved to Houston, where he was a stove salesman for Tappen Range Co. Feel no sorrow for Zareh....despite his occupation, he and his wife lived in the River Oaks section of Houston. He died in Houston on January 23, 1969.
V. M. Donigan's son, Parnot, was not just a longtime Corpus Christi businessman and property owner. His lifelong passion was bowling, and he is considered "the father of bowling" in C.C.
He rolled his first game at a quaint, eight lane "bowling parlor" in front of the Nueces Hotel as a teenager in 1913. He was hooked.
In 1928, he was the primary organizer of the Corpus Christi Bowling Association and would later become a two term President of the State Bowling Association.
In the late 1920's he owned the Elks Club Bowling Lanes in the old Town Club building and from 1932 to 1941 a six lane alley in what would later become the Amusu Theater on Mesquite.
In 1941, he took out a lease on a building at Six Points to create what became Six Points Bowling Center. (He sold the lanes in 1946.)
Parnot was a superb bowler, going to the state tournament for over 30 straight years!
He was elected to the State Bowling Association Hall of Fame in 1977.
Parnot and his wife lived at 453 Del Mar.
Mrs. Parnot V. Donigan (Bertha) was President of the Art Foundation, and was a member of the Memorial Medical Center Auxiliary.
Parnot and Bertha had two children: Walter, born March 17, 1930 but died the following day, and Marilyn Ruth who was born in 1932 and died in 1981. Mrs. Donigan died in 1979.
Parnot lived to the age of 95, dying on November 25, 1992. He, his wife, and both children are buried together at Seaside.
V. M. Donigan's daughter, Nectarine, married Charles Virgil Walker, a city policeman.
They would have a daughter named Anna Bernice in 1925 and a son, Charles Vartan in 1927.
In 1956, Nectarine and her husband, Charles, would take over the State Hotel and would build a house at 326 Meldo Park. After the hotel was condemned by the city in 1965, Charles suffered a stroke. He died in Lynhaven Nursing Home on May 13, 1968. Nectarine would live until September 5, 1989, dying at the age of 95.
Robert Parks is a special contributor to KRIS 6 News. Parks was a history teacher at Carroll High School for 19 years and is now retired. His knowledge of Corpus Christi history makes him a unique expert in the subject.