Friday, July 22, 2016

The Alamo Was Once Used as a Grocery Warehouse?


   Many don't realize the Shrine of Texas Liberty was once used as a Grocery Warehouse.  French Merchant Honore Grenet bought part of the compound in 1877 and used it for his wholesale  grocery business.  Previously the US Army used the Alamo chapel as a warehouse. 

    A few photos of the Alamo chapel in it's less than glorious days. 








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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Yes, Dwight Eisenhower was the St. Mary's Football Coach

Dwight Eisenhower first played football as a youngster in Kansas. Though it was never his life's passion to be a football star, he was a lifelong fan of the game. The young Midwesterner soon became a football star at West Point. In 1912 Eisenhower was a running back on an army team that included Omar Bradley. He was nicknamed the "Kansas Cyclone," and a New York Times correspondent called him one of the most promising backs in the East. An injury during a game against Tufts ended Eisenhower's football career at the academy during his freshman year.

After graduation in 1915, the newly commissioned lieutenant received orders to report to Fort Sam Houston. During the fall of that year, Eisenhower was approached by Peacock Military Academy to coach its football team. The school offered him $150 for the season, a tidy sum considering a lieutenant's pay. At first he refused because he felt, as an army officer, he would have no time for football. The head of the academy was a friend of post commander General Frank Funston. Funston learned of the offer and asked Eisenhower to accept it, citing it would be good for the army. The new coach won recognition for his handling of the prep stars. A San Antonio Express correspondent wrote, "Those who have seen this officer operate with a football squad believe him to be one of the best coaches in Texas — bar none." The army officer delivered a winning season for the 1915 Peacock Military Academy football team.

Lt. Eisenhower in his Army Uniform, in the middle of the third row

The year 1916 brought about a new set of challenges. Eisenhower was now married, and Peacock had acquired a new coach. St. Louis College (now St. Mary's University) was now after Dwight to coach their team. The college team was dreadful. They had not won a game in five years and were coached by a group of priests. Not only did they not win, lopsided scores of 50-0 and 80-0 were common. The small squad tied its first game under Eisenhower, then went on to win its next five games. St. Louis lost its last game and finished the season with a record of 5-1-1. Present at every game was the coach's young wife, Mamie. Quarterback Jim Sweeney told the Express, "We thought more of him than we did of any other coach we ever had. We respected him from the time he showed up until he left, and we fought as much for Mamie and the Douds (her parents who also attended the games) as we did the school. He was very frank and honest and we learned more about honor and discipline from him than we did anywhere else."

Mamie was the only woman ever to receive a St. Louis or St. Mary's football letter. The fathers were so pleased with the season that they gave the coach and Mamie a victory dinner, and a long-lasting relationship between the school and the Eisenhowers developed. The president last visited the school in 1962 to talk to students and faculty. In 1987 David Eisenhower, the former president's grandson, visited the school and discussed his grandfather's connection to the university during the school's annual President's Dinner.

Lt. Eisenhower and Mamie on the steps of St. Mary's College

Eisenhower also spent some time helping out with the school's baseball team. Ernest Stecker, a civilian employee, recalled to the Express in 1956 how he incurred the wrath of his coach during a close game. St Louis was behind by one run with two men on, and the team's slugger was in the on-deck circle. Stecker received the signal from Eisenhower to bunt but decided to swing away. On the next pitch, Stecker slammed the ball for a triple, but instead of congratulations, all he received was a stern look. He had disobeyed orders.


“Coming to San Antonio for my birthday is like coming home. I guess there isn’t a city or town in the whole world that holds more happy memories for me.”
Dwight Eisenhower, while visiting San Antonio in 1952



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Monday, February 23, 2015

An Illuminating Message - A Sign From God



George Dawson is a docent at the San Antonio Missions National Park. He had heard a local legend concerning Mission Concepcion. It took ten years to verify, but it was true. Franciscan Monks from 270 years ago were sending us a message, but it only appears once a year.

The mystery starts in the early 1700s, when Franciscan monks came to San Antonio and started 5 Missions along the river, Mission De Valero (better know today as the Alamo), Concepcion, San Jose, Espada and San Juan Capistrano. The Missions offered the indigenous people of South Texas protection from Indian attack and disease. It also offered a complex system of acequias that created irrigated farms that help to protect against drought and starvation. However the true ‘mission’ of these outpost were to convert the natives to catholicism and subjects of the Spanish crown.

Today, the four remaining missions are all active Catholic parishes with many of today’s members able to trace their ancestry back to the original parishioners.  Because of this, many believe that the Missions have always been intact and active.  This is a mistaken notion.

  The Mission period in South Texas actually ended in the early 1800s when they became secularized  during the 1824 Mexican Revolution. Shortly thereafter, the Governor of Texas ordered the Mission’s surrounding property to be sold. 

   Mission De Valero, better known as the Alamo, is a well documented example of what became of a former mission. Over the years it has been used as a fortress for revolutionaries, an army depot and a wholesale Grocery warehouse.  The others suffered similar fate and were left in a state of disrepair and decay. Slowly, different Catholic orders came to San Antonio and saw an opportunity to restore  these chapels. 
   Mission Espada was one of the first to return to active status with the arrival of French Priest Father Francis Bouchu in 1858.  He helped to rebuild and restore the decaying church. Later he helped to save Mission San Juan to the south.
   Benedictine monks from Pennsylvania arrived in San Antonio in 1859 and worked to restore San Jose in hopes of making it a mission. 
   The Brothers of St Mary who came to the city to establish St Mary’s Institute (and later St Mary’s College) were given farm land at Mission Concepcion to grow food for  their students, and for a time used the chapel as a barn.


Caption Reads "Mission San Jose - 134 Years Old" 
Possibly taken in 1854

   In the early 1900s, the local Catholic Diocese regained control of the four remaining missions, but  the church had little funds for preserving these decaying relics of the Spanish crown. Of all the missions, San Jose was in the worst state. The chapel and granary’s roofs had collapsed as had the tower. The ownership of San Jose’s surrounding grounds were also in dispute having passed through many hands over the years. The mission who have slowly become a modern day ruin if it were not for the preservation efforts of the San Antonio Conservation Society and the US Government’s Civil Works Administration in the 1920s and 1930s. 

   Of the 4 remaining missions, only the chapel of Mission Concepcion withstood the test of time. It is still in its original condition and stands as the oldest unrestored stone church in the U.S. The church’s  exterior was once painted with brightly colored geometric designs that attracted the indigenous people to the compound. Those have faded over the years, but many of the Mission’s original interior frescos are still intact. 

Today the 4 Mission are under the watchful eye of the National Park Service and are constantly observed and cared for.  But the many years of decay, neglect, multiple owners and restoration have take their toll. Particularly when you consider that one of the Missions most amazing secrets was almost lost forever if it were not for the tenacious efforts on a National Park docent named George Dawson. 

Dawson had heard a local legend from a retiring docent that light through various windows at Mission Concepcion illuminated certain parts of the church on various religious holidays.  It took ten years of research and observation for him to verify that the Franciscan monks who built the mission were sending us a message.  On August 15th, 2003, Mr. Dawson discovered that on the annual Feast of the Assumption, (held every year on that date to celebrate the Assumption of Mary into heaven) at 6:30pm, light from the two west facing windows would meet behind the alter to illuminate a painting of Mary. Simultaneously, a lens above the door created a beam of light that would center under the church’s dome.  The phenomenon is called Solar Illumination and was used to convey the presence of God to Native Americans, as the ‘Light” is a metaphor for Christ.

Through the years, Dawson discovered numerous illuminations, including three from the south window of Concepcion’s Dome that marked the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th and the winter solstice 2 weeks later. 

San Antonio's Mission Concepcion - The Oldest Unrestored Stone Church in the U.S.
Notice the Windows above the Door, placed there to create the light effects 






George Dawson standing before the effects of Solar Illumination on the Feast of the Assumption
Photo by Carol Baass Sowa | Today's Catholic

   A few years later, a similar illumination was noticed at Mission Espada, when beams of light lit the statue of St Francis of Assisi, (the Franciscan’s founder) on October 4th, the Feast of St Francis. On March 9th, on the Feast of a female St Francis, the illumination effect returns to Espada.

Ruben Mendoza, an archaeologist who first documented Solar Illuminations in a California mission in the year 2000,  says the Franciscans built these chapels as “ecclesiastical computers,” and used sunlight to make calculations such as the date of Easter. It was also an effective tool in the conversion of Native Americans to Christianity.  Dawson says that the sun was extremely important to indigenous peoples, “It was part of their world view. It was part of their religion. It was part of their lifestyle.”

   The recent discovery of Solar Illuminations is yet another way for us to appreciate these relics of the Spanish Crown. Today as part of both the National Parks System and the local Catholic Diocese,  all 4 missions are involved in ongoing restorations. That, along with living farms, functioning acequias, active congregations and the Mission Reach section of the San Antonio Riverwalk, the Missions have created a lasting appreciation for the oldest part of San Antonio. 
   In 2015, the rest of the world discovered the sites, as they were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The UNESCO designation was the first in Texas and only the 22nd in the US. 


  
  

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Dionicio Rodriguez - San Antonio’s Most Accessible Artist (aka The Story Behind Alamo Heights Bus Stop)

   

Thousands of San Antonians have caught the bus on Broadway near the Alamo Heights Central Market grocery store and have sat in a peculiar bus stop that appears to be made of petrified wood. But few know the story behind the unique piece of ‘faux bois’ artwork, and the man who made it. The city's most accessible work of art was built at the corner of Broadway and Patterson in 1931, by Dionicio Rodriguez. The bus shelter was donated to the city of Alamo Heights by the Alamo Cement company and has only been moved once, a few feet when the street was paved.
   Many are fooled when looking at the bus stop, believing that the shelter is made of petrified wood. Actually it's made of cement, Rodriguez's chosen medium. The artist, who was born in Mexico City in 1891, learned the unusual art form from a Spanish national who showed him a unique chemical process to make cement look like petrified wood. One of Rodriguez's earliest patrons was Dr. Aureliano Urrutia, who introduced him to Charles Baumberger Sr., founder of Alamo Cement.

A Piece formally at the old Cementville Headquarters.
   Baumberger commissioned several pieces, including the Alamo Heights shelter, a fish pond at the cement plant, and a unique fence also at the Alamo Cement plant headquarters. The old cement plant office has been redeveloped into a restaurant, where patrons can now enjoy the work that had been hidden for years.


   Two examples of his work can also be found in Brackenridge Park.
A Dionicio Rodriguez Bridge in Brackenridge Park 

    Two examples of his work can also be found in Brackenridge Park.  A bridge near the park's headquarters and an old entrance to the Sunken Gardens were both his creations. The gate to Sunken Gardens reads "Chinese Tea Gardens" rather than Japanese Sunken Gardens. That's because the entryway was made during World War II when anti-Japanese sentiment was high, and the name of the gardens was changed.

The Chinese Tea Garden gate at Brackenridge Park


 Other examples of his work can be found at private residences throughout the city, as well as in Memphis, Little Rock, Washington, New York City, Chattanooga, Cuba, and Mexico.
   Rodriguez was very secretive about the chemical process that transformed the appearance of the cement. Once he started, he used simple tools such as a fork, knife, and spoon to shape his creations. Rodriguez also preferred to use local cement in his work because it contained no sand or mortar.

A cemetery outside Washington D.C. That featured a number of Dionisio Rodriguez pieces including this bridge.



   Rodriguez died in San Antonio in 1955, leaving behind numerous pieces of art made from his mysterious process.  One of his protégées, his great nephew Carlos Cortez continues his faux bois artwork, include the grotto on the Museum Reach extension of the Riverwalk.





The Pool of Hebron at Memphis Memorial Park 

The Memorial Park Crystal Shine Grotto in Memphis, Tennessee
A Lakewood Park Shelter in North Little Rock, Arkansas

A Conch Shell Gate in Port Arthur




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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Giant Iguanas, Record Setting Boots and Six Dancing Frogs - The Art of Bob 'Daddy-O' Wade

 

Bob "Daddy-O" Wade said it all started for him with one gigantic iguana.  If you go by the entrance of the Fort Worth Zoo, you'll see the current resting place of the Iguana. But it more infamously sat atop the Lone Star Cafe in New York City during the 70s and 80s. (aka  The Unofficial Texas Embassy)

The Lone Star Cafe, the Unofficial Texas Embassy - The Most Famous Iguana Perch

   Before it's New Your City days, the Iguana lived near Niagara Falls. The lizard was created for display one summer in the 70s for Art Park, a music and art venue near Niagara Falls. After the summer, Wade had to find a new home for the Iguana. Through friends, he contacted the Lone Star Cafe who purchased the Iguana for their roof.

   Some New York neighbors felt the Iguana was an eyesore, an oversized code busting advertisement. A court battle designated the Iguana as art, but nonetheless, the owners of the Lone Star Cafe lowers the sculpture below the roofs parapet, so it wouldn't be seen from the street, thus quelling neighborhood dissent.

   In 1983, Mayor Ed Koch lef an effort to have the Iguana redisplayed (after tiring of wrongly directed complaints that he banned the lizard)  The rededication of the Iguana was attended by Ed Koch and Texas Governor Mark White, (who just happened to be in New York City on state business that week).

The Iguana being lowered by helicopter at the Fort Worth Zoo

   When the Lone Star Cafe closed in 1989, the iguana went though series of hands, including an east coast horse ranch and a pier in Tribeca. It was finally purchased by patrons in Fort Worth, where it sat in a barn for 11 years. Eventually it found a home atop the Fort Worth Zoo, where it was delivered by helicopter.  (check out the trailer for an upcoming documentary on the Iguana)

   
                   


   The notoriety of the giant Iguana begat the World's Largest Cowboy Boots, perhaps San Antonio's most iconic site, following the Alamo and the Riverwalk.


The boots were created in 1979 for the Washington Project for the Arts. The large scale work of public art was constructed and displayed just a few blocks from the White House for over a year on 12th and Avenue G. After the exhibit was over, the Rouse Corporation offered to buy the boots to place outside North Star Mall.

The Boots being constructed for the first time in downtown Washington DC

Bob "Daddy-O" Wade across the street from his boots

   The transportation of the giant boots was an adventure in itself. The boots got stuck in an overpass before leaving the Washington DC. The trucks transporting the oversized footwear had to take back roads all the way to Texas to avoid police, using CB radios to alert the drivers to possible trouble.
   
The boots being reassembled in San Antonio
   In the early days at the mall, KTSA radio became the talk of the town when they built a broadcast booth atop the boot.  For a short time, a homeless man had made a home inside the boot. Today the World’s Largest Pair of Boots has become one of San Antonio’s most recognizable sites. 

   The Iguana begat the Boots, the Boots begat the Frogs.  The six frogs were originally located in Dallas on lower Greenville Ave atop a club called Tango were Bob Wade's next iconic commission. The club was opened by Shannon Wynne, the son of Angus Wynne, the developer of Six Flags.

   The club was originally to be named Six Frogs over Tango. Like the Iguana, Dallas neighbors complained about the frogs. Eventually, the frogs were removed and took a circular tour of Texas. For a while they rested above a gas station south of Dallas called Carl's Corner.

The Frogs atop the Chuy's in Nashville
   Today, 3 are in Nashville atop a Chuy's restaurant and 3 are back on Greenville Ave atop the Taco Cabana which sits at the same address as Tango. 

The Frogs at Taco Cabana





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Saturday, October 11, 2014

San Antonio's Cotton Bowl Team


Next time you're bellied up to the bar at The Esquire,  challenge the crowd to this simple question. The odds are in your favor that someone will owe you a cold one.

Q. Name the only team from San Antonio to appear in the Cotton Bowl.
A. The Randolph Field Ramblers


   Never heard of them? Few people remember them. The year was 1943, and World War II was in full swing. Many military posts had athletic teams filled with professional athletes and ex-college greats. Randolph Field was no exception. The Ramblers were stocked with many players who had already used up their college eligibility.


   The team was led by former Tulsa All-American quarterback Glenn Dobbs (who also played for the professional Chicago Cardinals before the war). One of Dobbs' favorite receivers was player-coach Major Raymond Morse, who had played college ball for Oregon nine years earlier and also had some pro experience. Martin Ruby played on the line for Randolph. Two years earlier, he was rated the best lineman in the Southwest Conference while playing for A&M. The team was coached by Lt. Frank Tritico and had University of Texas baseball great and former coach Bibb A. Falk (as in U.T.'s Disch-Falk Field) as their trainer.
   The team was picked to face Texas in the 1944 Cotton Bowl. Both teams had one loss and both teams were relatively close to Dallas. Travel was restricted during the war. The Longhorns, coached by legend Dana X. Bible, were an 8-5 favorite in the contest. Texas had a faster team and deeper reserves. A sellout crowd was expected for the game, and the contest was being broadcast by Mutual overseas for American armed forces.

Leslie "Tex" Aulds scoring the only touchdown for Randolph

   Thirty-two thousand tickets were purchased for the game but only 15,000 people showed up due to a downpour. The game was bogged down by a muddy field. Despite the horrible conditions, Randolph's quarterback Dobbs had a great day, but he only managed to reach paydirt once. The game ended in a 7-7 tie, the first tie in Cotton Bowl history.

   Both teams received championship watches.  Texas coach Bible let the Randolph players take the championship trophy home.
   

In 2007, the fitness center at Randolph was dedicated to the Ramblers. Walt Parker, the last surviving member of the team was their for the dedication.



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Sunday, October 5, 2014

In Search Of: The KMAC Clock


   I've always been fascinated with the green neon KMAC clocks that used to be very prominent in San Antonio. With each passing year it gets harder and harder to find any. In fact, today, I only know of one that still is on display. In the Nix Hospital Parking Garage, (Downtown, above Dick's Last Resort on the Riverwalk) there is still one that you can see from the street.





   KMAC was a radio station that existed in San Antonio until the early 1980s (the station was at 630 kHz).  According to the late Joe Anthony, formerly of KMAC radio and the self-professed "godfather of rock and roll," the clocks were part of a radio promotion from 1956 to 1958. The green neon clocks were given as a bonus to businesses which bought thirty-two one-minute commercials for 250 dollars.

   Most establishments that had the clocks reported that they have never owned a timepiece that kept better time. Many owners received offers for their clocks that exceed their original investment, few ever parted with them.

   I searched the internet for a picture of a KMAC Clock and I only could find two, including thisfrom this photo of the old Hot Wells Motel. If anybody knows of any other KMAC clocks still on display or perhaps for sale, please leave us a comment. 








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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Sad Tale of the Texas Theatre



The Texas Theatre in all it's glory

The Texas Theatre today, all that left

   Just a few blocks west of the Majestic Theatre on Houston seat sits the odd confluence of a modern skyscraper and the a former grand movie palace.  The pairing was a compromise the resulted from a battle between preservationist and progress in the 1980s

   The Texas Theatre, designed by the Bollner Brothers, opened on December 18, 1926. (Remember, the first talking picture did not arrive until 1927.) One of the most important events in the history of the palace was the premiere of the film Wings, which was the first movie to win an Academy Award (see Wings — the Movie). The Texas was decorated in a wild West-rococo style and featured a plaster canopy that assisted the acoustics. The canopy, a Bollner Brothers trademark, was connected to the walls of a Spanish patio. At the center of the patio was a lone star, which stood not for Texas, but was the symbol of the Publix Theatre chain.

The Stage at the Texas

   The Texas also featured three balconies, the top being segregated seating. A third box office and a special concession stand were also provided for black patrons. The theatre also had a pipe organ, but it was removed from the theatre sometime around World War II. Like many other theatres of the era, its walls were adorned by murals. The Texas's walls featured the work of artist Jose Arpa.
   The Texas seated over 2,700, and throughout its existence, it hosted a variety of entertainers from Bing Crosby and W C. Fields to a number of rock bands. It was one of only two Bollner Brothers fantasy-type theatres left in existence, and conservationists felt the auditorium was worth fighting for.
   
The Lobby of the Texas Theatre

Unfortunately, the Dallas developers felt differently. Republic Bank wanted to tear down the theatre to build a block-long office plaza. Conservationists wanted the theatre to be incorporated into the design and even offered their own plans. The out-of-town bank said a huge auditorium did not fit into its vision.

   The bank offered a compromise by hiring the architectural firm of Ford, Powell, and Associates who would incorporate the facade of the old theatre into the new building. The San Antonio Conservation Society offered its own solution. First, it offered $12 million to purchase the theatre. When the offer was refused, the society hired its own architect to draw up a new set of plans. The society commissioned noted preservationist Michael Graves, who designed a skyscraper that not only saved the theatre, but incorporated some of the Texas features into the new building. Once again, the Conservation Society's offer was turned down.


   After a series of court battles and protests, the Texas Theatre finally was torn down. The facade was saved, but many felt the final solution was a poor compromise that served neither party's interests. The loss of the movie house has been intensified now that the other downtown theaters have been renovated.






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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Discovered - The Lost 12th Hole: San Antonio's Golfer Oasis

   The 19th hole is usually the traditional stopping place for golfers.  After a full day of play, linksters will  retire to the 19th hole for a few cool ones and perhaps a snack or two. Ask any old timer about the 12th hole at Brackenridge Golf Course and he will tell you about the best burgers and the coldest beer this side of Augusta.
   For many years, just beyond the 12th green at brace was a small privately owned snack bar called the 12th Hole that sold whatever a golfer required, as long as it could be cooked on a grill or kept in a cooler. It was the perfect way to beat the heat. Often a golfing party would play 12 holes, then stop and refresh themselves before finishing the final six holes.
   When 281 / McAllister Freeway was built, it cut severely into the Brackenridge Golf Course. Consequently, the course had to be reshaped, making it much smaller than the original version. The 12th Hole was the biggest casualty. The old green was on the other side of the new freeway, leaving it and the restaurant completely cut off from the course.

The abandoned green, on the other side of 281, separated from the rest of the course
                           
   The 12th Hole tried to make it on it's own for a few years, but it was difficult to reach. It passed through different owners and finally closed in 1985.
   A few weeks ago, I tried to find the old green and burger stand. I went south on St Mary's from 281 and turned left at Terry's Court. The green still exists, but is only recognizable by the raised unkept mound. The burger stand and former deck that sat so calmly under a giant pecan tree also remain, but sadly in a state of disrepair, behind years of over growth.

The original 12 Hole Burger Stand, now hidden behind years of  neglect, the flat plywood covers the pick up window

The remnants of the once crowded deck

The giant pecan tree, unkept but still towering over the now hidden 12th Hole


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