King William Home Tour: Historic houses whisper stories of early residents

This blog’s most recent post left you touring palaces in Genoa but now is flying you back to San Antonio for the King William Home Tour.

The King William Association has arranged for a peek inside six private homes, two museums and its own offices on Saturday, December 1, in the historic neighborhood just south of downtown. The residential streets were surveyed by the City of San Antonio in 1859, and the historic district’s namesake King William Street honored Kaiser Wilhelm I (1797-1888), King of Prussia and the first German Emperor.

This blog tour begins at the southern end of King William Street at house number 524, the Albert Moye House, because it is one of two places you can purchase a ticket, $25 per person, on the route. Mathilda Louise von Bartheld (1821-1896) and Albert Carl Moye (1820-1899) arrived at Indianola, Texas, with their two oldest sons in tow in 1845. The Moye family were part of a wave of immigrants attracted by the overblown promises of the German Emigration Company. By 1850, the saddler and his family had made their way to San Antonio. The Moyes built their symmetrical wood-sided house with Doric columns across the front porch in 1881, with Albert residing there until after Mathilda’s death.

The featured photo above is the riverside view of the Harnisch House, 523 King William. Prussian-born Carl Harnisch (1833-1920) entered into a partnership in San Antonio with a pair of immigrants who married in 1853, shortly after their arrival in Texas – Josephine Brentano (1823-1917) and Christian Baer (1824-1882). Harnisch and Baer elegantly displayed its cakes, pastries, and ice cream in glass cases and provided upscale full restaurant service in its palm-filled location at 109 West Commerce Street.

“Harnisch and Baer Restaurant,” Reflections on Texas Video Collection, KMOL-TV, UTSA Special Collections

The successful business partnership was cemented more closely by the marriage of Carl to the Baers’ Texas-born daughter, Louisa (1853-1917), in 1876. The yellow brick home with red accents the Harnish family built on three lots was designed by architect Albert Felix Beckmann (1855-1900). Although Beckmann was born in San Antonio, he studied architecture in Germany before returning to Texas in the early 1880s. Completed before 1892, the residence was listed with an address on Pershing Street at the time of Carl’s death. During World War I, the street name temporarily was changed from honoring the Kaiser to an American hero, General John Pershing (1860-1948).

The Victorian-style house was occupied by Harnisch descendants until 1963. More than a century after its construction, Debra and Steve Walker purchased and began to renovate it. Just prior to completion of the major undertaking, a fire swept through the structure. The Walkers persuaded the city not to proceed with condemnation of the heavily damaged house and managed to oversee a second, more massive renovation project transforming the burned-out shell into their home.

The next palatial structure on the tour, 401 King William, has a humble four-room limestone house at its core. Born in Texas while it still was a republic, hardware merchant Russell Cogswell Norton (1844-1928) and his wife Ellen Hayes Whiteley (1846-1899) had their home erected there in 1876. A Missouri-born stockman, Edwin Polk (1849-1918), purchased the home in 1881 and added a two-story brick wing and a porch.

But it would be cattleman Isaac (Ike) Thomas Pryor (1852-1937) who added the architectural flourishes enlarging the home in 1896 to accommodate his family and that of his second wife, a widow, Myra E. Stafford Early (1863-1943). The addition of the three-story tower and adjacent two-story porch reflect the immense success his Texas and Colorado Land and Cattle Company enjoyed leasing land and running cattle in Indian Territory.

Numerous owners lived there through the years as the neighborhood suffered ups ad downs, with perhaps one of the most colorful being Billy Keilman (1875-1925). Keilman owned the seedy Beauty Saloon, developed a hangover cure billed as “patent plugs for pifflicated people” and published The Blue Book, a 1911-1912 guide for visitors to San Antonio’s “sporting district.”

When Walter Nold Mathis (1919-2005) purchased the house in 1967, it had fallen upon hard times and was subdivided into a boarding house. Mathis restored it as his home, Villa Finale, and went on to restore numerous other houses in the neighborhood. Mathis bequeathed his home with furnishings and collections to the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a museum, and Villa Finale retains the interior furnishings and art exactly as he had them arranged during his lifetime.

Vergie Gibbs (1875-1912) and her new husband Dr. Alfred Clifton McDaniel (1866-1944) moved into a grand Victorian Richardsonian Romanesque brick home courtesy of her father in 1896. The next stop is 130 King William Street, the original, much altered, carriage house for the McDaniel House behind it on Madison. The doctor converted the former carriage house into a duplex in 1926.

Kaye and Charles Scheer harvested hardware, windows and banisters from Victorian-era tear-downs in an attempt to make the house measure up to others lining the street. The property was purchased by the San Antonio Art League and Museum in 1987. Founded in 1912, the Art League has more than 600 works in its collection. The current exhibition features paintings by Sylvia Benitez and Vikki Fields.

Thirsty? Time to take a cookie and wine break at the offices of the King William Association, 122 Madison Street, the second location where tour tickets can be purchased beginning at 10 a.m. During tour hours, the Stray Grape Urban Winery will be offering a wine-tasting.

Plus, by now you will want to know about every house you have walked past so you are ready to invest in the updated, expanded and now in color version of Mary V. Burkholder’s 1973 The King William Area: A History and Guide to the Houses. Resident Jessie N.M. Simpson updated and expanded Burkholder’s original narrative, and photographer Al Rendon added contemporary photographs of the neighborhood. The price of the guide, published by the King William Association, is discounted to $20 for ticket holders on tour day.

After wining, step across the street to 202 Madison. A married couple from Iowa, Pauline Witting (1864-1949) and attorney Isaac Bradford Henyan (1856-1922), agreed to pay Ed. Steves and Sons $3,500 to build the brick home designed by architect Beverly Welford Spillman (1885-1977). With its raised porch and upper door to nowhere, eclectic architectural details lend the property an unusual Swiss chalet appearance. Several subsequent owners of the now-renovated home repeat stories that it served as a house of ill repute during the 1940s.

George Alexander Chabot (1864-1941) was born in San Luis, Potosi, Mexico, while his English-born father was employed with the British foreign service. In 1885, he purchased lots across the street from his parents, Mary Taft Vanderlip (1842-1929) and George Stooks Chabot (1821-1902).

It is unclear when George Alexander Chabot built upon the property at 402 Madison, but he and his wife, Lucile Stapp (1875-1962), moved in after their 1893 marriage. The crockery merchant, according to the 1900 census, and his wife relocated to California before 1910, where he was employed as an accountant with the Southern Pacific Railroad. The career move led the couple to rent out their Victorian Queen Anne style home, distinguished by its hexagonal porch.

The final tour stop is a contemporary townhome, modern infill located on a lot formerly occupied by a wing of the defunct St. Benedict’s Hospital. The single-family residence was designed by architect Jim Poteet and then modified to fit the clients’ needs by Darryl Ohlenbusch.

Phew. Maybe you will be lucky enough to snag some more wine at the King William office before 5. Or maybe plan to adjourn to one of Southtown’s numerous watering holes within walking distance.

Street art entices venturing under the overpass

Quincy and St. Mary’s Street under I-35. Not a destination that ever crossed our minds for a walk from King William. That is until this weekend.

More than a dozen San Antonio artists,* organized by the private artist-driven San Antonio Street Art Initiative, tackled the unsightly interstate underpinnings and redefined the homely parking lot leased by the Wyndham Super 8 Hotel into an admission-free outdoor museum.

Composed of leaders of the city’s vibrant street arts scene, SASAI’s mission is to introduce and educate the local community about street and mural art and make our city a destination for street art lovers….

We seek to build and strengthen a street art community here that extends across all areas, activities and people. Street art makes neighborhoods vibrant. Street art extends the arts community outside the walls of museums, brings people to see new places to live and play, provides fresh perspectives for the young and old.

We are focusing initially on developing a visit friendly area in the city featuring a concentrated number of murals that will draw daily foot traffic, cyclists and visitors looking for an alternative beyond traditional tourist routes and attractions.

San Antonio Street Art Initiative

This is an amazingly ambitious and highly successful project.

So looking forward to seeing more.

Financial support for continued artistic efforts is welcomed on the website.

*Identifying who designed each mural was somewhat of an internet scavenger hunt for me…. Corrections are not just welcomed but encouraged.

Chin’s enormous prickly pear umbrella offers shelter along the Mission Reach

WHEREAS, A native of the American Southwest and the Sonoran Desert region of Mexico, the prickly pear cactus provided nourishment to the earliest inhabitants of those regions, and both the sweet, fleshy fruit and the broad, flat stems were incorporated into tasty dishes; and

WHEREAS, Tunas, the prickly pear fruit, and nopales, which are made from the stem, have since become staples of the Mexican diet, and their growing popularity in Lone Star cuisine can be attributed to Texans’ appreciation for unusual and distinctive foods; and….

WHEREAS, This adaptable plant can survive under many different environmental conditions, and thus can be found from the hill country of Central Texas to the windswept plateaus and arid mountains of West Texas; because it thrives in a harsh climate that few plants can bear, the prickly pear cactus is often grown as forage for cattle and has had a tremendous positive impact on the vital Texas cattle industry; and

WHEREAS, Rugged, versatile, and uniquely beautiful, the prickly pear cactus has made numerous contributions to the landscape, cuisine, and character of the Lone Star State, and thus it is singularly qualified to represent the indomitable and proud Texas spirit as an official state symbol; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the 74th Legislature of the State of Texas hereby designate the prickly pear cactus as the official state plant of Texas.

1995 Texas House Concurrent Resolution

Viewed from the east side of the San Antonio River, the graceful arch indeed appears a portal to pathways on the other side. But Mel Chin‘s “CoCobijos” changes appearance as you approach and circle it.

Commissioned by the San Antonio River Foundation to link the Mission Reach of the river to nearby Mission San Jose, the massive steel sculpture represents the pads of two arching prickly pears joined together.

The prickly pear theme arose from two of Houston-born Chin’s first impressions of the area. Interviewed by Jack Morgan for “Texas Standard” on Texas Public Radio, Chin explained:

One: “I was looking at the roofs of the mission and I found that there was a whole planting of them, a bunch of them that have been growing there since the 1930s.”

Two: “After visiting the site… I noticed how hot I was.”

And since: “There’s nothing stronger than the state plant of Texas, I believe.”

Now: “There’s two of them coming together to create a shelter from the sun and a habitat for live cactus growing above.”

According to the San Antonio River Foundation website, Chin reflected about the resiliency of prickly pear and how the plant historically has nurtured people and animals. The lacey steel picado patterns echo the internal structure of nopal pads.

About the same time “CoCobijos” was unveiled in this semi-rural setting, according to Glasstire, Chin was taking over Times Square and several other spots in New York City with multimedia works portraying frightening potential results if global warming is allowed to continue into the future uncontrolled.

The New York installations are gone, but you need only head south from downtown along the San Antonio River to view Chin’s masterful piece of public art now a permanent part of San Antonio’s landscape.