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.

“Loanership” program leads to Texas Centennial series of prints opening at King William Art

Started watching ebay for memorabilia from the Texas Centennial about two years ago when I fell in love with a silver bracelet. Alas, the bracelet flirted with numerous suitors; the dowry I pledged proved insubstantial.

I dallied with other Centennial items, but continued to be too conservative in my courtships.

Again, I was heartbroken when I failed to win a cow I wanted to incorporate in the design for the inside flaps of the dust jacket of Last Farm Standing on Buttermilk Hill.

But this winter, a sheet with the cow for which I yearned and 29 other cinderella stamps promoting the 1936 Centennial of Texas independence found the chink in my common-sense fence. This was a whole herd of stamps exuberantly proclaiming the magnificent majesty of the great state of Texas. They represented the incredible boosterism and spirit of an era I wanted to lasso.

As I only wanted high-resolution copies not ownership of the stamps, I decided to leave an extravagant bid of $200 on auctionstealer before heading out to dinner. After scanning in the stamps, I would just re-post and sell. Unfortunately, there was another crazy person out there. I won, but was pushed up way too close to my maximum bid. When I turned around to re-sell, the other crazy was much lonelier. My scan ending up costing me about $60.

This perky blue dog is part of Sarah Reveley’s collection of Texas Centennial memorabilia.

The lesson learned was that I needed a system of “loanership” for, not ownership of, Centennial memorabilia.

Fortunately, I found someone who had gotten a severe case of Centennial fever well in advance of the 175th anniversary inflationary outbreak of 2011. There was an official Centennial almost everything, and Sarah Reveley has posted images of many online. And, best of all, Sarah agreed to be my lending library, providing virtually all the items I needed for the first five of my 1936 Texas Centennial digital collages, which will be included in an exhibit of two dozen prints drawn from several series opening with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 2, in the King William Art Gallery at 1032 South Alamo.

The impact of the Texas Centennial proved enduring, both in contributing to the attributes that distinguish a Texan from those unfortunate enough to reside in the other 49 states and in leaving enduring physical landmarks behind.

Attitude and granite; attitude in granite.

According to The Handbook of Texas Online:

The Commission of Control worked with the Advisory Board of Texas Historians, the Work Projects Administration, and the Texas Highway Department to coordinate programs and to provide permanence to the centennial observance by the erection of permanent buildings, monuments, statues, and grave markers. Every county in the state received a marker indicating the date of its establishment and the source of its name. Permanent buildings that received financial assistance from the Commission of Control included the Hall of State at Dallas, the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum at Canyon, the Texas Memorial Museum at Austin, the Sam Houston Memorial Museum at Huntsville, the Corpus Christi Centennial Museum, the West Texas Museum at Lubbock, the Big Bend Historical Museum at Alpine, the Alamo Museum at San Antonio, the Gonzales Memorial Museum, the David Crockett Memorial Building at Crockett, the Memorial Auditorium and Stadium at Goliad, the Pioneers, Trail Drivers, and Rangers Memorial at San Antonio, and the San Jacinto Monument and Museum of History near Houston. Monuments commemorated special events; historic buildings and forts were restored; and statues were erected to more than twenty Texas heroes.

The multitude of physical markers from 75 years ago – some maintained, some in need of major repair and some missing – have been photographed by history buffs throughout the state and assembled by Sarah online.

While cities and towns of all sizes throughout Texas were planning official events sanctioned by the Texas Centennial Commission, seems as though San Antonio would have been a shoe-in in a three-way race with Houston and Dallas to host the central exposition. Those two cities were mere upstarts by comparison – undeveloped land gleaming in speculators’ eyes in 1836.

But 100 years later, the wealth of Dallas beat out the Alamo City. According to The Handbook of Texas Online:

Although it possessed the least historical background, the commission chose Dallas because it offered the largest cash commitment ($7,791,000), the existing State Fair of Texas facility with provisions for expansion, and unified urban leadership headed by bankers Robert L. Thornton, Fred F. Florence, and Nathan Adams.

The state and federal governments each kicked in an additional $3 million dollars at a time when the country was only beginning to emerge from the Depression. The Handbook notes that, encompassing 50 buildings, the central exposition cost $25 million. In today’s dollars, that translates into a whopping investment of approximately $417 million (don’t trust my fuzzy math) – a major fiesta by any standards.

And major fiestas need music; The Handbook reports the Centennial commissioned and promoted all kinds of it:

The various genres of Texas Centennial music include popular and art songs, film music, operas, and a Mass…. Texas Centennial songs can be divided according to such types as praise songs, cowboy songs, advertisement songs, bluebonnet songs, and love songs.

Mitch Miller’s 1955 recording ruined “Yellow Rose of Texas” for me as a child; maybe even left it as irreparably damaged goods as an adult. But what other song could better symbolize the Centennial? The first known handwritten copy of the lyrics surfaced shortly after the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836, with words altered to suit the what was regarded as politically correct (generally incorrect by today’s standards) times through the years.

1936 Texas Centennial No 1, “Yellow Rose of Texas,” 7.5 X 9.75 inch image, edition limited to 25, view online at http://postcardssanantonio.com

The Centennial version of “Yellow Rose” was penned by David Wendel Guion, a native of Ballinger who had studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Vienna. According to The Handbook of Texas, Guion composed and performed western-themed songs, preserved traditional folk tunes, hosted a radio show focusing on the west and composed a collection of waltzes used in the film Grand Hotel (Only a pale memory, the trailer makes me want to watch it.). Among his most famous arrangements are “Turkey in the Straw” and “Home on the Range,” a favorite of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to whom he dedicated his version of “Yellow Rose.”

Following my earlier incorporation of  “San Antonio Song” into a collage, I combined the image of the sheet music of “Yellow Rose” with a Centennial envelope and an official Centennial medallion featuring General Sam Houston astride Saracen. The medal seemed appropriate because, were the myths surrounding the role of “Yellow Rose” at San Jacinto true, the general would have been eternally grateful to her for distracting General Santa Anna with her womanly ways just prior to the battle. This tinge of naughtiness in the legend led me to add the envelope postmarked La Grange, home of the Chicken Ranch.

A guide in Sarah’s collection that attracted my attention was written by Miss Elise Hendrick promoting the purchase of a multitude of Centennial products by ladies for hosting a picture-perfect Centennial bridge party. While slim on its artistic appearance, it provided me with the long-awaited excuse to use some well-worn playing cards from an earlier decade begging to escape from my overflowing files.

Loved reading the accompanying recipes for hospitably entertaining a polite gathering of ladies. A jelly-roll style sandwich featured a layer of cream cheese, a layer of red plum jelly and another layer of cream cheese, this one tinted with blue food coloring, sliced into pinwheels. Then there was a recommendation for absolutely plain “gelatine” frozen in Texas star “moulds.” Even the “cocktail” recipe fizzled: equal part orange and grapefruit juices, dash of lemon juice, slice of orange, sprig of mint, a red cherry and a green cherry. Missing a major ingredient. Obviously, not my kind of party. Hell, I forgot; I don’t even play bridge.

Rather tame. And sweet, much like the lyrics of the Official Centennial “Blue Bonnet Girl” by Glenn Spencer, recorded by Roy Rogers and the Sons of Pioneers:

Down in Texas there’s a blossom blooming in the moonlight. She nods a greeting like a sweet blue bonnet bathed in starlight. She’s my angel come from above….

These words stand naive in contrast with Billy Rose’s lyrics, “The Night is Young:”

So proper and polite upon this lovely night, we sit here making foolish conversation, instead of making bright; let’s be ourselves tonight and take advantage of the situation….

1936 Texas Centennial No 4, “WHOO-pee! The Night is Young,” 7.5 X 9.75 inch image, edition limited to 25, view online at http://postcardsfromsanantonio.com

The difference? The stretch of highway between Dallas and Fort Worth.

Fort Worth publisher Amon Carter saw no need to let the Centennial centerpiece being staged in neighboring Dallas outshine Cowtown. Fort Worth would just mount its own event capturing the spirit of the west – the Texas Frontier Centennial – with no eyes of official Centennial Commission members censuring its components.

According The Handbook of Texas:

The spectacle covered 162 acres and cost $5 million. The Old West lived again in Frontier Village, in which Sunset Trail was lined with livery stables, general stores, an old church, and other buildings typical of the 1870s to 1890s. A railroad train with wood-burning locomotive and wooden coaches demonstrated transportation of the same period…. The most publicized part of the celebration was Casa Mañana, “the House of Tomorrow,” in which seats and tables to accommodate 3,500 spectators faced a revolving stage on which Billy Rose presented his musical show.

This extravaganza seems purposefully planned to pit proper Dallas against rowdy Fort Worth. According to Clay Coppedge writing on Texas Escapes:

“Go Elsewhere For Education, Come to Fort Worth For Entertainment” read the billboards, thousands of them, spread over several states. Aside from the slogan, the billboards showed scantily clad young women cavorting about in a Western setting. Among the people so intrigued by the billboards to change a road trip itinerary was Ernest Hemingway, who decided to go to Memphis from Idaho via Fort Worth after seeing the billboards.

And there was Sally Rand. Sally had gained notoriety during 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, where the chorus line dancer debuted her legendary Fan and Bubble Dances, artfully and carefully choreographed to give the impression of total nudity. According to the Virtual Museum of San Francisco:

This was the fair that made Sally Rand famous. She had been a nightclub cigarette girl and dancer, and joined a chorus line at the fair. She was arrested for an “obscene” performance, and was catapulted to fame. It is said her act, in Chicago, grossed $6,000 per week during the depths of the Depression.

Coppedge explained how Fort Worth’s door swung wide open to welcome Sally:

The idea of bringing Sally Rand to Fort Worth began with Billy Rose denouncing her during an impromptu press conference announcing his involvement in Casa Mañana. Rose promised that his show would have “neither nudity or smut” and added, “we don’t need any fans or bubble dances at the Texas Frontier Celebration.”

Later, Carter asked Rose what he was talking about and Rose told him about Sally Rand’s fan dance and bubble dance, which she had performed at the World’s Fair. Carter asked if the show drew a lot of people and Rose assured him that it did. That’s when Amon Carter decided that Texas needed Sally Rand to help celebrate its heritage….

So Sally Rand’s NDude Ranch set up camp for the duration of the Centennial. And the next year as well.

In 1936, George Lester was ten years old, and he shared his remembrance of life on that ranch on Texas Escapes:

My dad and my adult brother decided see the Billy Rose production called Sally Rand’s Nude Ranch…. My brother Sam was only a year older than me, so our dad gave us money for the rides while they went to see the show.

We chose to start with the Ferris wheel. On our first ascent we discovered something the producers of the event had overlooked. From high above we could look down onto the roofless show below and see all the scantily clad ladies. We kept riding until we ran out of money. I don’t think we ever told our dad why we liked the Ferris wheel so much.

Were the sensibilities of the elite of Fort Worth offended by the randy Sally? According to Coppedge:

The city of Fort Worth declared November 6, 1936 as “Sally Rand Day” where she was lauded for her “graciousness and consummate artistry” and officially thanked for bringing “culture and progress to the city.”

1936 Texas Centennial No 4, “Wonderful World of Wild Women,” 5 X 5.75 inch image, edition limited to 25, view online at http://postcardssanantonio.com

I apologize. All of this scintillating sensationalism is a shameful tease.

No Centennial collector of Sally Rand postcards has stepped forward to participate in my new “loanership” program, and, at least temporarily, I’m still keeping my hands in my pockets, away from auctionstealer and ebay.

But the 175th anniversary isn’t over yet.

The exhibit continues during office hours of the King William Association through Wednesday, July 27.

And, not to let Mitch Miller be the last taste of “Yellow Rose” in your mouth, here is Elvis’ version from Viva Las Vegas:

Okay. Only marginally better.

But, “The Night is Still Young.”

Update on June 3, 2011:

Every beer you drink helps make this historic district look better….

…And not because you are turning into a pifflicated person. Poles are down.

In addition to providing scholarships and supplemental assistance for area schools, the year-round volunteer labor provided by a multitude of volunteers working to stage the King William Fair, which takes place on Saturday, April 16, benefits projects improving the public spaces in the neighborhood, such as the park at Constance and Painted Lady (Crofton) Streets.  

Since this past year’s fair, the King William Association has worked to re-landscape King William Park. While those improvements are obvious, you might not notice the major sidebar project.

What is missing from the picture? The awkward, cumbersome overhead utilities previously framing any view of the historic park.

While the original installation of utility poles in the neighborhood represented a welcome technological advancement – a status symbol testifying to the affluence of the neighborhood – a century-or-so of jerryrigged add-ons marred the view.

The project to convert the overhead utilities to underground has been complex, traversing the terms of three or four presidents and committee chairs and finally involving a funding partnership, forged with the support of Councilwoman Mary Alice Cisneros’ office, of the Community Infrastructure and Economic Development Fund of CPS, the City’s Economic and Tourism Department and the King William Association.

To appreciate what is missing, compare today’s views to the “befores.” Don’t think these photos need labeling for you to judge which looks better – 2010 or 2011?

Hope to see you on April 16, and Viva la Fiesta!