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. 



UPDATE:  I wanted to include some photos of KMAC clocks that readers have sent me.  If you have one and want to share, send a picture to Mark@TheTravisClub.com







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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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Thursday, May 15, 2014

You Know You're Old If You Can Remember When The Spurs Were Bad

 

Being a Spurs fan is the equivalent of winning the sports lottery. They've won 4 NBA titles. The last time the team didn't win 50 games was in 1999, and that was only because the season was shortened due to labor strife. That was however, the year the team won it's first NBA title.

  The last time the team was under .500  and didn't make the playoffs was 1997, but that was mainly due to David Robinson being out the entire season due to injury.  The years before that, the team reeled off 7 straight playoff appearances.

  The last time the team had been truly bad was 1989, the year before Robinson got out of the Navy and joined the Spurs. They were 21- 61and hadn't had a winning record in six consecutive years.

 If you can remember when the Spurs used to be bad, you can remember when . .  


The average house cost $120,000 (and you'd just about have that mortgage paid off)You had to lick a stamp that cost 25 cents.  




This was our president



This couple had their fist date



Harry Potter books hadn't even been written and the actor who portrayed him had just been born




You were cool if you had this really compact cellular phone . . . 


. . . and this awesome haircut (Who knew the Bat Shirt was so timeless?)


This is where you had to go after you took a photograph


This is what your music collection looked like



A place you visited to write term papers, because the internet hadn't been developed


You paid $5 to get one of these, which allowed you into old Hemisfair Arena (and may of had to sit behind a post)


and this skinny kid hadn't even won one NBA Title



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 Taylor Nichols is a young writer who pens obscure historical guidebooks about his hometown, San Antonio, Texas. His work receives little notice until he unearths a 100 year old mystery that the powerful had hoped would never be uncovered. 

   How far will the city's power brokers go to silence Taylor and his band of friends known as The Travis Club?  Intrigue and romance bring this mystery alive in a one of a kind city, San Antonio.