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.

Postcard from Rome, Italy: Palatine perch facilitates time travel

If zip codes were used in ancient Rome, Palatine Hill is the one you wanted during those B.C. years. The twins purportedly were born there, and Romulus settled right there in the neighborhood after disposing of his brother Remus.

The legendary she-wolf-nursed founders of Rome gave the city its birthdate a while back. Rome celebrated turning 2,771 on April 21, 2018 – kind of a humbling experience after experiencing events heralding San Antonio’s Tricentennial this year.

Anyway, Cicero (106-43 B.C.) resided there, as did the first emperor of the Roman Empire, Augustus (27 B.C.-14 A.D.). While Augustus’ abode was relatively humble, subsequent emperors erected more elaborate quarters.

The great fire of year 64 left fiddling Nero (37-68 A.D.) some major cleared real estate on the hill available for construction of his new palace, Domus Aurea, or the Golden House, so named because many of its walls were covered with gold leaf. Recent archaeological digs have revealed remnants of the emperor’s over-the-top revolving dining room.

That’s obviously an oversimplified, superficial glimpse of the history of Palatine Hill. But we were really in search of a way to sense some of Rome’s ancient past above the hoards swarming into the Coliseum below. The crowds thin out, and much of the spacious hilltop turns into almost a pastoral setting for contemplating the vestiges of ancient civilization.

Now let us, by a flight of the imagination, suppose that Rome is not a human habitation but a psychical entity with a similarly long and copious past – an entity, that is to say, in which nothing that has once come into existence will have passed away and all the earlier phases of development continue to exist alongside the later one. This would mean that in Rome the palaces of the Caesars and the Septizonium of Septimus Severus would still be rising to their old height on the Palatine….

Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud, 1930

Analogies often distract me, and the above one does as well. Sorry, Dr. Freud, but you left me on the hilltop without traveling down your desired psychical paths.

Derailed, I flew off to pondering that Palatine Hill is indeed a place where phases of development from 2,000 years ago still exist in the midst of a city creeping toward 3,000,000 people. A peaceful place where your imagination easily can time-travel deep into multiple layers of the city’s past and then fast-forward to view today’s Rome spreading out all around you.

Postcard from Budapest, Hungary: When monuments stand as salt in the wounds

Photograph from “The Cold War Builds in the 1950s”

While Nikita Khrushchev declared it was time for the de-Stalinization of Russia in what became known as his “secret speech” to Congress in 1956, the revolt against Soviet control in Hungary in October of the same year probably was not what he had in mind.

On October 23, with great exuberance and much difficulty due to its substantial size, defiant students and workers managed to topple their most hated symbol of Soviet domination – a statue of Josef Stalin. Only his boots remained standing.

Independence was short-lived. Less than a month.

As the western powers stood by, Russian tanks plowed into Budapest, brutally crushing the rebellion. Thousands lost their lives, and hundreds of thousands fled the country.

Hungary did not reemerge as a republic until more than three decades later, on October 23, 1989. The last remaining Soviet tanks and troops rolled out of Hungary on June 19, 1991.

Hungarians found themselves with major monuments espousing communist ideals in their midst. Rather than toppling them; Hungary elected to remove them to a more remote location outside of downtown Budapest.

A design competition was held, with the concept of architect Akos Eleod winning. Forty-two statues from the Soviet era, like a hall of fame for Communist heroes, are now displayed in the dignified setting of Memento Park.

The monument museum is regarded as an educational tool for generations with no memories of pre-democratic Hungary.

Memento Park is about dictatorship. And at the same time, because it can be talked about, described and built up, this Park is about democracy. After all, only democracy can provide an opportunity to think freely about dictatorship.

Akos Eleod, architect of Memento Park

A replica of the fallen Stalin’s boots stands near the entrance of the park. Old black-and-white secret police training videos run continuously in one building.

A parked Trabant serves as a reminder of the lack of purchase choices and the scarcity of items during the Soviet rule. Hungarians able to save enough cash were offered one vehicle in one color, gray. The 26-horsepower Trabant, manufactured in East Germany, required half of its price as down payment with a delivery time of six to eight years. (So, how would a space-cadet such as myself ever find one’s gray Trabant among a street lined with parked gray Trabants?)

The move-all-the-statues-to-a-park solution in Budapest seems appropriate to ponder in light of issues in two different countries.

First, Poland:

Last month Poland updated its “de-communisation” legislation, banning “totalitarian” symbols, which would include Soviet propaganda monuments.

Now Russian foreign ministry officials have warned of “asymmetric measures” if Poland removes Soviet war monuments. Russia could refuse visas for Polish officials or downgrade trade relations….

The Red Army’s defeat of Nazi German forces on Polish soil in 1944-1945 remains a thorny issue in Russian-Polish relations. Many Poles viewed the Red Army as an occupation force, not as liberators, as the 1939 Nazi-Soviet pact had carved up Poland between two dictatorships….

The (Russian foreign) ministry accused Poland of “Russophobia” and of “striving to belittle the USSR’s role as liberator.”

“Russia Warns Poland Not To Touch WW2 Memorials,” BBC News, July 31, 2017

And now in the United States with the issue of monuments to Confederate heroes. To many Americans these statues stand as symbols of an ongoing effort to whitewash over the painful period of slavery in this country. Recent clashes over monuments in Charlottesville resulted in tragedy.

In San Antonio, we are confronted with frightening images of heavily armed vigilantes, calling themselves the This is Texas Freedom Force, in our public parks and plazas to theoretically guard their leaders speaking against removal of a Confederate monument in Travis Park.

Senator Ted Cruz weighed in yesterday:

But I think that’s a decision each community needs to make as to how to appropriately acknowledge that history, how to commemorate that history, how to recognize that history.

Daily Post, Texas Monthly, August 18, 2017

How can the community freely debate when one side is threatening the other with arms?

Statuary issues also are surfacing in Austin, with several Confederate monuments, or as some refer to them as “monuments to states’ rights,” standing on Capitol grounds.

“The goal is to learn from history, all of our history, including events and times that many would like to forget,” said Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a member of the State Preservation Board, whose duty is to preserve and maintain the Capitol complex. “Our goal should be to have a meaningful dialogue for future generations so those moments in our history are not repeated.”

“Confederate Icons Have Backing at State Capitol,” Allie Morris, San Antonio Express-News, August 18, 2017

The teaching moment is undermined by the prominent plaque bearing the words of “The Children of the Confederacy Creed:”

We therefore pledge ourselves… to study and teach the truths of history (one of the most important of which is that the war between the states was not a rebellion nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery)….

And, of course, Confederate Heroes Day remains an official state holiday in Texas, conveniently falling within less than a week as Martin Luther King Day.

August 19, 2017, Update: And Prague. “Empty pedestals can offer the same lessons,” Kevin Levin, The Atlantic, August 19, 2017