The grand entry to the home opens onto 18th century parquet de Versailles flooring, installed by the Harringtons in 1953 and sourced from a French castle. To the left, a door opens into the Drawing Room. To the right is the Library. The ribbons along the handrails were commissioned by Sybil Harrington and produced by New York City designer Helen Cole. The large Christmas tree on the landing serves as a focal point for guests, and was also decorated by Cole.
Holidays at the Harrington House
It’s like you step back in time,” Phyllis Rice says on the ground floor of the Harrington House at 1600 S. Polk St., just blocks from downtown Amarillo. The house was built in 1914 by pioneering Amarillo cattlemen the Landergins, before being purchased in 1940 by Don and Sybil Harrington. In 1977, the home was listed in the National Register of Historic Places and Sybil, an influential philanthropist, made sure it would outlast its occupants, endowing it for future use as a historic home.
Because of that funding, the Harrington House remains open for tours throughout the year. On display are many furnishings and decorative items original to the home and others selected over the years by the Harringtons.
At Christmas, the home is decorated with holiday-themed decor, most of which Sybil commissioned during the 1950s and 1960s. “The fun thing about it at Christmastime is it’s not decorated like if you go to the mall or some of the retail stores in Amarillo,” says Rice, the general manager of the home. “The decorations are very simple compared to the twinkle lights nowadays, but it takes you back to history, back to a different time. When you hear that 100-year-old case clock chiming, you can actually feel like you’re back when the house was alive with
voices and parties.”
The Harrington House is open for free tours every Tuesday to Thursday until Dec. 14, but Rice graciously gave Brick & Elm the opportunity to photograph the home and its holiday decor for our readers.
Rice and her fellow Harrington House board members refer to this small room near the back of the house as the “Red Room.” It originally served as an office, and the silk material that lines some of the backs of the pillows matches the silk of the Paquin gown in the Music Room. Sybil was instrumental in designing this room. “We don’t know what it looked like when it belonged to the Landergins,” Rice says.
The striking Queen Anne walnut bureau dates back to 1710. It is exceedingly rare and has 21 concealed compartments. “We don’t open it any more because it’s so fragile,” Rice says.
Like most of the rest of the rooms in the home, the walls are decorated with fabric rather than wallpaper. “When it’s very humid, it has a ripple to it. We don’t touch [the walls] when it’s humid because it makes the fabric pull away from the wall,” Rice says.
The Christmas decor in the library is simple, allowing the room’s oak paneling and leaded glass to do much of the visual work. “It’s just the garland, clothes and trees on the mantle, but it’s charming,” says Rice. The clothing on display is a black silk faille suit designed by Hattie Carnegie, which Sybil wears in the commissioned portrait above the fireplace. It was painted in 1950 by Arthur Elliot. The bookcases contain Sybil’s diverse collection of books, from dictionaries and encyclopedias to works of fiction and high school yearbooks belonging to her daughter, Sally Harrington Goldwater. Several years ago, a Harrington House board member cataloged all the titles in the bookcases. “It’s amazing the variance of books,” Rice says.
The petite Sybil Harrington was known for her fashion, and the Harrington House rotates her clothing seasonally, including dresses made by Bill Glass, Givenchy, Chanel and other fashion houses. The red gown shown in the music room—which was on display last year but won’t be this year—comes from the legendary House of Paquin in Paris, designed by Jeanne Paquin. “She had an eye for design and a lot of classic style,” Rice says of Sybil. “But she also bought off the rack, too.”
Sybil was a musician and played the Baldwin grand piano shown here, which is still tuned regularly. Displayed on the piano’s mahogany veneer are personal holiday greeting cards from friends of Don and Sybil Harrington, including cards from Bing Crosby, Adele Astaire (sister of Fred Astaire), and Ronald and Nancy Reagan. “She got a lot of cards from the Reagans,” Rice says of Sybil, who was friends with Nancy.
The photo of Don and Sybil on the piano, along with one of their dogs, was taken at their home in Phoenix.
Set for a formal dinner for six, the dining room table includes the Harringtons’ fine Edgerton china, crystal stemware, and monogrammed sterling silver, along with elegant asparagus tongs. The Italian place card holders and place cards—with settings for “St. Nicholas” and “Mr. and Mrs. Kris Kringle”—were handwritten by Sybil herself.
“They’re so cute and charming,” Rice says.
Inspired by the Della Robbia-style fruit decor that became popular in Renaissance Italy, the dining room’s sculpted ceramic decorations were commissioned, again, from Helen Cole. Above the fireplace is a 1947 oil painting of Sally Harrington, the couple’s only child, by Arthur Elliot.
Sybil bleached the oak paneling of this room upon moving into the house. “All the paneling was darker and she lightened it,” Rice says. It matches the table and sideboard, which are both original to the house. The door opens into the butler’s pantry.
About the House
Built across four lots, the Neoclassical home was completed and occupied in 1914. By 1929, all immediate
members of the Landergin family had passed away.
Sybil Harrington is said to have admired the home as a child and was committed to preserving it. After she
and Don bought it in 1940, they redecorated but made no structural changes.
“There’s really nothing like it between Denver and Dallas,” Rice says.
• The house was designed by the architecture firm Shepard, Farrar and Wiser of Kansas City.
• It has more than 15,000 square feet of floor space.
• It has four levels and 20 rooms total.
• It has 8 bathrooms and 7 fireplaces.
• The boiler still works.
• The Amarillo Area Foundation manages the endowment that maintains the home, the carriage house,
and the grounds.
About Don & Sybil Harrington
Few Amarillo residents have had a more enduring local legacy than the Harringtons.
Donald D. Harrington arrived in Amarillo in 1926 at the height of the oil and gas boom. An independent oil man, he built one of the state’s most successful petroleum operations. In the process he met Sybil, an Amarillo native and the granddaughter of local pioneer J.E. Hughes. Don and Sybil married in 1935.
They used their fortune to establish the private Don and Sybil Harrington Foundation in 1951. Sybil made the foundation public in 1988, turning over its control to the Amarillo Area Foundation. In the decades since, the couple’s philanthropy has worked to improve quality of life throughout Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle, helping create and/or fund the Boy Scouts’ Camp Don Harrington in 1945 as well as the foundations for Amarillo’s medical center, the Harrington Cancer Center, the Don Harrington Discovery Center, the Don D. Harrington Petroleum Wing of Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, the Harrington String Quartet and
many other scholarships, endowments, research centers and projects.
Outside the Panhandle, institutions from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City to the Phoenix Art Museum continue to benefit from the Harringtons’ generosity.
Don Harrington passed away in 1974. Sybil died in 1998.