A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from February 11, 2007
Swankienda (swanky + hacienda)

"Swankienda” (portmanteau of the words “swanky” and “hacienda") was coined by Houston Chronicle “Big City Beat” columnist Maxine Mesinger (1925-2001), probably 1965 or soon afterwards. Mesinger’s social column covered Houston’s rich and famous.


Maxine Mesinger Papers, 1965-2001
Historical Note
Maxine Mesinger (1925-2001), author of the social column, “Big City Beat” for the Houston Chronicle from 1964 to 2000. Born in Houston in 1925 to Ella and Julian “Drake” David, Mesinger graduated from San Jacinto High School and attended Texas Women’s University, Indiana University, and University of Houston. She married Emil Mesinger in 1944; they have two children, Julianne and Jay.

After a short career in Houston television, Mesinger was hired as a columnist for the Houston Chronicle in 1964. Known for her lively writing style (she coined terms such as “swankienda” and “playcation") and candid access to Houston society, Mesinger’s columns intersected with her own life in her famed friendships with notables such as Frank Sinatra, Barbara Walters, Carol Channing, Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli and Shirley MacLaine. Known as “Miss Moonlight”, she covered local events as well as happenings on the national scale. Her columns trace Houston’s economic and political growth through the lens of an at times outrageous society life. Her Houston Chronicle obituary summarized this by stating “Mesinger watched Houston grow from a dusty cowtown to a sophisticated international city.”

MS News
Long-time, well-known society columnist dies
Updated: Friday, Jan. 19, 2001 at 20:27 CST
By Clifford Pugh
Houston Chronicle

HOUSTON—Houston Chronicle columnist Maxine Mesinger, who wrote about big names for half of the 20th century and became a celebrity in her own right, died Friday after a long illness.

For more than four decades, Mesinger covered the lifestyles of Houston’s rich and famous as well as the world’s notables in her Big City Beat column. She was 75. 
(...)
Early on in her career, she dubbed herself “Miss Moonlight” because of her evening hours on the social circuit. The moniker stuck, but most people knew her by one name: Maxine.

Such Maxine-isms as: “She snoops to conquer,” “Miss Moonlight’s memos,” “The soft thud of name dropping” and “Have tongue will tattle” were staples of her popular column. She also coined such unique catch phrases as “swankienda” and “playcation” that Houston’s “smart set” adopted as their own.

Baylor College of Medicine - Dept. of Neurology
MS Center: Maxine Mesinger
Maxine Mesinger, a Houston Chronicle columnist, died January 19, 2001 from complications of MS. From 1964 right up through her last days, slowing down only slightly when she wrote from her wheelchair, she covered the lifestyles of the rich and famous in Houston and around the world. 

“Swankienda”
She coined such unique phrases as “swankienda” and “playcation.” She was the first to report details of the first heart transplant performed by Dr. Denton Cooley and regularly came up with other scoops. Among her close friends, she included celebrities such as Barbara Walters, Carol Channing, Liza Minnelli and Shirley MacLaine.

Named in Her Honor
A clinic named in her honor is a part of the Baylor College of Medicine Multiple Sclerosis Center. Fundraising for the new Maxine Mesinger Multiple Sclerosis Clinic was launched exactly a year after her death.

“Very Happy and Proud”
Emil Mesinger, her widower, said, “Maxine would be very happy and proud to know the clinic is being named for her because it will help people with the disease. It also means a lot to me because even though it’s too late to help her, it will help MS patients in the future”.

Telling the World
In one of her 1996 columns, Maxine Mesinger announced that she had MS. At first, even after she publicly announced that she had MS, she was low-key about it. Then the MS Society got her involved. From that point on, any time she spoke in public she mentioned MS.

Her Legacy Continues
She soon began lending her name to a series of “Dinner of Champions” fund-raising events that raised almost $2 million for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. In the spring following her death, participants in the MS 150 Bike Tour from Houston to Austin paid tribute to her by wearing ribbons inscribed “In Memory of Maxine Mesinger”.

Double-Tongued Word Wrester
swankienda n. a mansion or large house. Related: jitterbug, listicle, Texodus, dále shine, urban 99, condop, English, United States, Texas, Architecture
Editorial Note: This term appears to be special to the Houston, Texas, area, but has also spread elsewhere. Etymological Note: swanky + Sp. hacienda. Journalist Maxine Mesinger is often credited with the coinage.
Citations: 1968 John Ayres Port Arthur News (Texas) (July 9) “Supper Tagle Talk” p. 4: High court judges were a dime a dozen at the sumptuous cocktail-buffet tossed by the law partners Marian Rosen (ex of P.A.) and Clyde Woody at the Rosen’s swankienda in Houston during the Texas bar convention last week. 1985 Maxine Mesinger Houston Chronicle (Mar. 10) “Big City Beat” p. 5: The Malibu swankienda was still under construction when Tommy lost his battle with cancer more than two years ago, so he never got to enjoy it.

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Sunday, February 11, 2007 • Permalink