Six days a week at Villa Montez on Old Henderson Highway in Tyler people enjoy eating Latin cuisine in a restaurant with a view.
For most, it’s just an eatery in a neat location, but for a few, including Ras and Virginia Pool, it’s a place with a history — where family once lived, children were raised and couples were married.
The restaurant that was once a residence dates to 1935 when it was constructed.
Ras Pool’s mother and father — Malisa and Ras Sr. — had become wealthy when oil was found on land in both sides of their family.
Malisa always had wanted to build on a hill, so when she had the money she talked to a man named Judge Perry, who owned the land at the corner of Old Henderson Highway and East Fifth Street.
Perry agreed to the sale on one condition — they could never get rid of a certain giant rock on the property. Ras, 87, describes it as a large rock shaped like Texas that forms a hollow space on one side. Perry told them he used to trap rabbits in that space and that kept him from going hungry sometimes.
The family agreed to keep the rock, which is still there today, so the land, about 25 acres, was sold to them. Otis Eaton, a builder from Old London, was the man who constructed the house. He took instructions from Malisa Pool who had a strong creative vision and sense of style.
At a cost of $37,000, the Pools built the house on the hill and moved in it the spring of 1936. Ras was 10. His brother Weldon was about 7.
With three floors and five bedrooms, the house was considerably larger than some of the others the family had lived in. One bedroom was on the ground floor, three bedrooms were upstairs and one was in the basement.
What is today a long hallway with windows near the entrance was originally an open porch where Malisa kept her flowers.
“They had azaleas … everywhere and beautiful azaleas,” Ras’ wife, Virginia Pool, 86, said.
A family friend in the furniture business likely served as a source for many of the items that filled the house, Virginia Pool said. There were ornate tables and mirrors, decorative vases, figurines and the like.
Although Malisa loved the home and enjoyed having friends over, neither Ras, nor his brother or father, who died in 1946, really liked it.
“It’s too big for me and my daddy,” he said.
They often escaped to the family farm in Red River County to enjoy the country and a simpler style of living.
The family had multiple cars and people were curious about their wealth, Ras said.
“Everybody wanted to know how much money we had and all that,” he said adding that they didn’t have as much as people thought.
Ras lived there until he was 17. He then moved to Houston and shortly after was drafted into the U.S. Army to serve in World War II. He served in the Army infantry in Germany and France and was honorably discharged in 1946.
Upon returning to Tyler, he met Virginia, who was from the Killeen area, and the two married six months later in front of the Pool’s fireplace on March 10, 1947.
For about 50 years, they lived in a smaller house on the same property as the mansion until they moved in the mid-1990s. But during that time they watched the history of the big house unfold even after it left their family’s possession.
In 1961, Malisa Pool had a heart attack. The doctor told her to sell the house because she didn’t need to be going up the stairs. So she did, though she wasn’t happy about it.
“She always talked about how she was mad because we sold it,” Ras said. She died in 1983.
The new occupants were Dr. Slye and his family, which included three children. After them came Carl Johnson and his family, which included two children. Johnson added a swimming pool to the property and brought deer to live in the yard.
In 1993, Giuseppe Cassini and his wife, Laura, bought the house and turned it into a restaurant and club called Mansion on the Hill. For more than a decade, they operated the restaurant.
In 2007, brothers Carlos and Mundo Villapudua opened Villa Montez.
Carlos said the house presented a stunning visual from the street and the history adds to its intrigue because many people can tell it was once a residence and ask questions about it.
Today the ground floor is used for dining and a bar. Upstairs, there are private rooms for dining and a terrace. The basement is used as a wine cellar, Carlos said.
The Pools said they are glad the building is still in use. Although Ras sold the property he owned at the site, Virginia Pool and the couple’s daughters often go to eat at Villa Montez and the couple had their 65th wedding anniversary there last year, because they were married in the house.
Ras said he doesn’t feel an attachment to the house but is glad to see it in use because his mother loved it so much. However, he said, it’s still too big for him.