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.

All Fair in Love or War?: Unsaintly Acts Thwarting Wal-Mart

Ah, Wal-Mart, the store many love to hate.  But is all fair in the war against its multi-pronged invasion? 

Ann Zimmerman writes in The Wall Street Journal:

MUNDELEIN, Ill.—Robert Brownson long believed that his proposed development here, with its 200,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter, was being held hostage by nearby homeowners.

He had seen them protesting at city hall, and they had filed a lawsuit to stop the project.

What he didn’t know was that the locals were getting a lot of help.  A grocery chain with nine stores in the area had hired Saint Consulting Group to secretly run the antidevelopment campaign.  Saint is a specialist at fighting proposed Wal-Marts, and it uses tactics it describes as “black arts.”

Zimmerman quotes the head of Saint Consulting:

“… our goal is always to kill Wal-Mart.”

Wait before you start cheering.  Saint’s methodology seems that of a sinner gone astray.  Zimmerman writes:

For the typical anti-Wal-Mart assignment, a Saint manager will drop into town using an assumed name to create or take control of local opposition, according to former Saint employees.  They flood local politicians with calls, using multiple phones to make it appear that the calls are coming from different people, the former employees say.  They hire lawyers and traffic experts to help derail the project or stall it as long as possible….

Saint, founded and led by Michael Saint, is not fighting Wal-Mart because he aspires to be canonized by liberal community activists.  Saint is equally willing to manipulate grassroots efforts to represent big developers seeking to interject large projects in the midst of tranquil neighborhoods.  Emily Lambert writes in Forbes Magazine:

Small groups are getting smarter about keeping big projects at bay.  Thanks to Saint Consulting, corporations are wising up, too.

In an interview in AreaDevelopment Online, Saint, a co-author of NIMBY Wars, talks about using “land-use politics” to aid developers:

There is too much money at risk to not do everything in your power to get City Hall to say, “Yes.”  Managing a land-use political campaign is no job for amateurs; developers are often their own worst enemy because they are constitutionally unable to act in a disinterested and diplomatic manner when the project under attack is their “baby….”

You need to create a political campaign that convinces, identifies, and delivers supporters into the process.  We advise clients to get out there before opponents have formed into organized groups and talk to people who live closest to the project because they are most likely to form the nucleus of the group to stop it.  You need to find people who think the project is a good idea and get them to come and participate in the political process by calling City Hall, showing up at public hearings, putting up signs and posters, and appearing in videos.

Zimmerman reports Saint said:

If it’s legal to perform a service, we’ll do it.

But what of ethics?  Thomas Eppes, the current chair of the Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) Board of Ethics and Professional Standards, writes: 

Saint’s activities seem not to be illegal, but they clearly fall outside the bounds of the ethical practices to which public relations professionals subscribe, including the following PRSA Code of Ethics values…. and principles….

There is no record to suggest a Saint employee is or has been a PRSA member, and so it could be argued that our Society lacks jurisdiction to comment.  Moreover, P. Michael Saint, chairman and CEO of the organization, makes no claim to its being a public relations firm —that’s the good news part of this story.  Nonetheless, the company’s engagement of communications techniques makes the distinction irrelevant to observers who could reasonably view his firm’s practices as those of public relations practitioners.

For that reason, it is essential that we clearly and firmly declare our separation from this “dark side” of communications.  As ethical public relations practitioners, we encourage every reputable business and practitioner to join PRSA in categorically condemning and disavowing these strategies and those who practice them.

But what is the outcome of Saint’s battles agains Wal-Mart?  In Pennsylvania, Zimmerman reports

Saint documents from 2007 say it had lost one battle in Pennsylvania, defeated 13 projects and delayed the remaining ones from four months to four years.

One has trouble feeling empathy for a giant like Wal-Mart.  Wonder how much Wal-Mart expends on its public relations campaigns to forward its mammoth expansion plans.   And in nearby Helotes, a developer denied his Wal-Mart sued City Council and the Helotes Heritage Association.  Richard Alles, personally, and the Citizens Tree Coalition had a $24-million lawsuit slapped on them for their opposition to Wal-Mart plans on Vance Jackson.

If you are an individual engaged in David-versus-Goliath-type warfare, it would be difficult not to celebrate someone a bit closer to Goliath’s size entering the ring to defend you. 

Unfortunately, I cannot think of anyone like that ready to sink money into campaigning against illegal signage on Alamo Plaza

Sometimes it is so hard to keep that halo on straight.

Wal-Mart-Related Note Added on June 13:  The National Trust for Historic Preservation has been supporting efforts for citizens in Orange County, Virginia, who are opposing a Wal-Mart-centric development, to gain standing in court.  Good news was received at the end of April:

The Wilderness Battlefield battles Wal-Mart development. (Photo: National Park Service)

Today, the Orange County Circuit Court in Virginia ruled that a Wilderness Battlefield lawsuit will go to trial that was filed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Friends of Wilderness Battlefield and local residents.  The lawsuit challenges zoning approval for a proposed 240,000-square-foot Wal-Mart superstore and other developments on the Wilderness Battlefield and adjacent to Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park…. 

National Trust president Richard Moe hailed the decision. “While the National Trust will not serve as a plaintiff in this lawsuit, we are very pleased that local Orange County residents and Friends of Wilderness Battlefield will be able to challenge this Wal-Mart project that threatens an historic place they care about. Nothing is more central to our mission than defending the rights of citizens to have such a day in court,” said Moe. “170,000 men fought and 29,000 perished in the Battle of the Wilderness and no Wal-Mart, or other development of such intensity, should ever be placed on this hallowed ground.”