Finally...

Monday, May 23, 2016

The mystery of street names

Joseph Sidney Wheless, from
his time in the Texas Legislature, around 1900
Many street names around town were named in honor of someone.  Sidney Baker, Francisco Lemos, and Earl Garrett streets were all named for young men from Kerr County who died in battle at the very end of World War I.
Other streets come to mind, too: Rodriguez Street was named for a church pastor; Schreiner Street, for the family which developed the land; Lewis Street, for a family who had a dairy farm there.
Tivy Street was named for the man who gave Kerrville the land for its first public school; Captain Joseph Tivy also lent his name to our high school, and to a hilltop where he, his wife, his sister, and his wife's cat are buried.
Most of those names, however, are quite obvious.  Other street names are less so.
When Ms. Carolyn and I moved to Kerrville from Austin, in early 1983, we bought a small house on Wheless Avenue.  I've often wondered about the name of that street.
I noticed there was a local photographer with a similar name, Wheelus, but the spelling was wrong.  I'll admit I didn't pursue it further until recently, several decades after we'd moved away from Wheless Avenue to another part of town.
It turns out Wheless Avenue was named in honor of Joseph Sidney Wheless by the developers of the Hillcrest Addition, where the street is located.
Wheless was a native of Mississippi, and a graduate of the University of Kentucky.  He got his law degree from the University of Mississippi.
He married Miss Bertha Fishback in a ceremony at the governor's mansion in Little Rock, Arkansas.  The bride's father happened to be the governor of Arkansas at the time.
The young couple made their first home in Galveston, Texas, where Wheless practiced law and engaged in politics.  He was elected to the Legislature from the district which included Galveston.
Then came the storm of 1900 which just about wiped Galveston from the map.  Wheless prudently moved his family inland, to Beaumont, where they stayed until around 1918.
In 1918 his health 'failed,' and he and his family moved to Kerrville, to a house on Earl Garrett Street.  That word about his health may indicate Wheless suffered from tuberculosis, like many who moved here during the early years of the last century, when it was thought the climate of Kerr County was helpful in treating that disease.
In Wheless's case, it may have helped: he lived another 20 years here.
During that time he practiced law, played golf at the "Kerrville Country Club," which is now the Scott Schreiner municipal golf course (though reconfigured from its original layout).
"One of his favorite pastimes," according to his front-page obituary in January, 1939, "was listening to the World Series baseball games over the radio and staying with his favorite team, no matter what the score."
According to the same article, he was "interested for several years in real estate development and when the Hillcrest Addition to the city was opened for expansion of the city limits, one of the streets was named in his honor."
He was active in civic affairs, too.  He was a member of the Rotary Club of Kerrville in the early days of its history here, a member of the chamber of commerce, and served as mayor of Kerrville in 1920-21, only two years after his arrival.
Joseph Sidney Wheless died in Kerrville at the age of 76 years, which is remarkable considering his trials with tuberculosis. He was obviously well-liked, and he served in each of the communities in which he lived, trying to make each a better place.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who enjoys small little mysteries, especially when he figures out how to solve them.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 21, 2016.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Kerrville's Rialto Theater

Kerrville's Rialto Theater, in the 600 block of Water Street.
"Virginia City" was released in March 1940, so the photo is from around that time.
In the parking lot between our print shop and Grape Juice there once stood a movie theater called the Rialto.
A few weeks ago a kind person gave me some photographs of Kerrville and Kerr County, and among them were three photographs of the Rialto Theater. I'd only ever seen three other photographs of the Rialto, so now I know of six different photos of the place.
The Rialto opened on February 11, 1938, and showed "Hollywood Hotel," starring Dick Powell and Frances Langford as its first feature.
A front-page story in the February 10, 1938 Kerrville Mountain Sun offered this schedule for the theater: "One-day runs will be shown on Saturdays, and the theatre will offer four bills each week, three of them on two-day schedules. The first of a regular series of Saturday night matinees is set for 11:30 pm Saturday."
I checked up on that late time -- 11:30 -- and it appears to be accurate.  I thought Kerrville, in the late 1930s, would be all buttoned up and asleep at that time, but I was wrong.
The Rialto was owned by Hall Industries, headed up by Henry W. Hall of Beeville, which also owned the Arcadia Theater a block away on Water Street, and the Rio Theater, one block farther. (The Rio Theater was originally named the Rialto, but when the new Rialto in the 600 block of Water Street opened, its name was changed to Rio. This Rialto/Rio theater was in the 800 block of Water Street. Another theater was there before the Rialto/Rio: The Dixie Theater.)
I believe Henry W. Hall is from the same family of Halls which own the Rio 10 Theater in Kerrville today.  (Yes, I noticed today's movie theater has the same name as one from the 1930s.)
There were a lot of movie theaters here in the late 1930s!
In fact, the businesses in the 600 block of Water Street took out an ad to celebrate the new Rialto Theater. "The Theatre District is Extended into the 600 Block on Water Street. The following firms Welcome the Modern, New Rialto Theater: F. F. Nyc (public accountant), Miesch Optical Co., Norge Appliance Co., Roland Insurance, Campbell's Lunch Room, the Modern Beauty Salon, Kerr County Motor Co., the Cone Car Co. (and service station), the Sunshine Laundry, and Peterson's Garage (and service station)."
I mention this because the 600 block was once filled with businesses. Now it's just us two, really: Grape Juice and Herring Printing.
Some remnants of the Rialto Theater still exist. Grape Juice's northwest wall (the wall closest to the print shop) is actually a wall of the theater. If you stand in the parking lot and look at the Grape Juice wall, you'll see several smooth places in the plaster: these are hints of the stairway to the movie theater balcony, and the risers of the theater's balcony.
Likewise, some remnants of the other businesses in our block also remain: our print shop offices are in the building that once housed the "Modern Beauty Salon," and a sign for "Campbell's Lunch Room," which was originally painted on an exterior wall, is now an interior wall in our building. I think the Voelkel's building might have been the Cone Car Co., or perhaps its service station.
The three photographs new to my collection have movie names on the Rialto marquee: "Edison the Man," "Virginia City," and "Northwest Passage." All three were released in 1940, and from the amount of promotional signage, apparently during the heyday of the Rialto.
The Rialto was empty for many years, though for a brief time in the late 1960s it was a sort of dance/ music venue called the Casket. My memories of the building are from this period, when it was empty. We neighborhood children found a way to get inside the place and explore; it was dark and spooky in there.
The Rialto Theater was eventually torn down in the 1970s by the Charles Schreiner Bank, and the land was used to construct a parking lot. In 1990, my family purchased the parking lot from what was left of the Charles Schreiner Bank after it failed.
I'm thankful to the kind person who shared these photographs with me (and with you, Gentle Reader).
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who is said to have once locked his sister in the empty Rialto Theater, or at least that's what she remembers. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 14, 2016.

Monday, May 9, 2016

First H-E-B: the case of the missing balcony, solved

The oft-published photo of the original store
Whenever the origin story of the H-E-B Grocery Company is in the news, a photo of the first store building is often published. Most of the time it's made clear the photo of the building was taken much later than the period when Florence Butt operated a grocery store in that building. Judging from the automobiles in the photo, it was taken in the 1930s. I'm pretty sure the store moved from that structure around 20 years earlier.
That photo shows a balcony on the second floor, a balcony which would have been useful to the Butt family when they lived there, above the store. They'd moved to Kerrville because Florence Butt's husband, Charles, suffered from tuberculosis. In those days, plenty of rest and fresh air was prescribed for TB patients; the balcony would have afforded opportunities for both.
An old logo for H-E-B
As I was working on my part of the ceremony dedicating H-E-B's first historical marker, I ran across an old logo which pictured the original store building. I noticed the drawing lacked the second story balcony.
Which, I wondered, was a correct depiction of the original store?
The answer, it turns out, came from George Leland Richeson, Jr., whose father was the first employee of Florence Butt's grocery store, and who was often a business partner with Howard Butt, Florence's son. I correspond with Mr. Richeson Jr. by email, and he sent along a scan of a photo which solves the mystery.
As a collector of Kerrville and Kerr County historical photographs, I'm thankful for generous people like Mr. Richeson who share photographs with me (and with you, Gentle Reader).
I'm also thankful for snow. And floods. And parades. And picnics.
Here's why: Taking photographs in the early part of the last century was hard work and expensive, and more so in Kerrville, which was isolated from photographic supplies. However, if it snowed, or flooded, or there was a good parade or picnic, those early photographers often got out their Kodaks and snapped a photo. Many of those photos have found their way to my collection, or to the collections of others.
You see, the photos Mr. Richeson Jr. shared with me are of a snowball fight, probably around 1915 or 1916. His father is in many of the photographs, as well as Florence Butt's three sons, Charles, Eugene, and Howard. They are engaged in a snowball war in the front yard of the house where the Butts lived, a house which faced Main Street, looking northeast. (The house itself has been moved and preserved, and is now part of the H-E-B Partner Lodge in the Turtle Creek area of Kerr County. It originally stood in the middle of the 800 block of Main Street, about in line with the back door of today's Wolfmueller's Books.)
While the subject of the photo is the snowball fight, there just happens to be a building in the background, across Main Street. That building is a two-story frame structure. It lacks a 2nd story balcony. It is the building which housed Florence Butt's first grocery store.
So the logo is correct. The balcony pictured in most of the photographs of the old building I've seen must have been added later, after the grocery store had moved to a different building, and after the Butt family had moved across the street.
A snowball fight, Kerrville, around 1916.
Note the building behind telephone pole in center of photo.
Also, I'm pretty sure the photographer was Florence Butt herself. (Everyone else is in the photo.) So the best photo of the original H-E-B store building that I've seen may have been taken when Florence Butt took snapshots of her family playing in the snow.
Annotated aerial view of Kerrville, around 1935.
Perhaps this will help readers place the sites mentioned in this story.
Click photo to enlarge.
I like the thought of that: a photo snapped of young men playing in the snow. You can almost hear their laughter. That the photo included the building where Florence Butt started a grocery company was purely incidental.
Thanks Mr. Richeson, for sharing the photo with all of us.
Until next week, all the best.


Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who remembers a few Kerrville snows. But there have only been a few in the last half-century. And yes, we took photos of each. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 7, 2016.

Monday, May 2, 2016

First H-E-B: The case of the missing balcony

First site of the grocery company which became H-E-B.
This photo was taken much later, after the grocery company had moved elsewhere in Kerrville.
With its recent historical marker dedication, H-E-B has gotten well-deserved recognition for its long service to our community, and to so many communities across Texas, Mexico, and our entire region.
The company got its start in Kerrville in 1905, in the 800 block of Main Street, about where the Hill Country Cafe is today, and a Texas historical marker about H-E-B was dedicated last Tuesday.
While preparing for my part of that ceremony, I spent a lot of time going through my files on the company, and also my files on Florence Butt and her family.
That's when I noticed something.
Whenever the history of the company is in the news, there is often a photograph of the original store building which accompanies the article. One photo has automobiles in front of the store, and another one has the front of the store clear, but an automobile parked next door.
Those photos are both from the 1930s, judging from the automobiles in the photographs, meaning the photographs show the building long after the first H-E-B had moved to another location. In one photo, the front window bears the name "Kerrville Electric Co," painted by hand. In the other photo, a workman on a ladder is working on that same window. Perhaps he's the sign painter.
I think most people publishing this photo have been clear as they describe the image; it's of the building which housed the grocery company which would later become H-E-B, but it's a photograph taken much later than the period when the store was there.
That fact, however, is not what I noticed.
H-E-B trademark, used more than
a decade ago.  Note awning.
A decade or more ago the H. E. Butt Grocery Company used a logo which had an image of the first store, along with the words "A Texas Tradition since 1905."
Here's the thing: a prominent feature of the building in the photographs is a second story balcony facing Main Street. I imagined this balcony was useful when the Butt family lived above the store, especially to Florence Butt's husband, Charles, who suffered from tuberculosis.
In those days, it was thought plenty of fresh air would help cure tuberculosis. I doubt it did much good, but it probably didn't hurt. Perhaps it provided hope.
There are many Kerrville families who can trace their arrival in Kerrville back to a family member who was stricken with tuberculosis. Sometimes the patient got better, and lived many years. Often they did not. Some families stayed in the area after their loved one had departed, and others moved back to wherever they came from.
The Butt family stayed after Charles Butt passed away; his son (also named Charles) also died from the disease a few years later.
Looking at the old company logo, showing the building and the slogan, there is no balcony facing Main Street. There is an awning in the drawing, covering the sidewalk in front of the store, but there is no balcony. Above the awning are two windows, evenly spaced along the front wall of the second story, and each window has a set of shutters.
The photograph of the building shows the balcony, with the two windows and a door allowing access to the balcony; the logo has no balcony, but only an awning attached to the first story.
Which is correct? The photo or the logo?
I'll let you know next week. Until then, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who pays too much attention to trivial details. This column appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 30, 2016.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Local politics can be rough

If you follow local politics, you'll notice we're in the entertaining part of the Kerrville city election, that period when unusual things happen.
The election for two Kerrville city council positions and the Kerrville mayor takes place May 7, and early voting begins April 25. The campaigns are now in their final stretch.
My favorite section of the newspaper, the letters to the editor, is apparently being used strategically by several of the campaigns, and there have been some interesting news stories, as well.
One news item, about one candidate's yard signs not meeting the letter of the law, is pretty clever. Allegedly, the letters of one word on the signs are about 3/16" too short; 3/16" is about the height of 3 stacked pennies. I pity the poor printer who prepared the proof on that project. Mistakes like that are surprisingly easy to make. (It wasn't me, at least this time.)
I think over the next few weeks we'll continue to see such stories, and find some entertainment in the letters written to the editor. Soon enough, thankfully, the municipal election will be over, and hopefully the candidates who win will be able to work together and make Kerrville a better place. Frankly, I just hope people vote. And I hope your candidates win.
If you think this current election shows a tough side of politics, consider an event from 100 years ago right here in Kerrville.
Reading the March 18, 1916 issue of the Kerrville Mountain Sun I noticed a story on the front page: "Entire School Board Resigns."
The members of the outgoing Kerrville school board include some names you might recognize: J. E. Grinstead, who was a former mayor and publisher of the newspaper; D. H. Comparette, who organized and ran the Kerrville Telephone Company; Ally Beitel, a prominent builder. The rest of the board were Frederic Nyc, A. A. Roberts, R. S. Newman, and W. G. Peterson.
All seemed to be going smoothly for that board of education. The board president, Grinstead, had never had to cast a deciding vote, and "no complaint against any teacher or other person employed in said schools was ever brought to [the notice of the board]."
That is, until March 10, 1916, when a petition was presented to the board, signed by 98 members of the public.
"This petition was a request that J. G. Chapman be not reelected superintendent of Kerrville Public Schools," according to the news story published in Grinstead's newspaper. "This petition was not considered because said J. G. Chapman had stated to the board some time prior to that date that he would not accept the position if elected."
Although that petition is lost to the sands of time, it appears the petitioners were concerned with the superintendent's lack of credentials in the state of Texas. He apparently had teaching certification in another state, but not here.
A span of 6 days separates the presentation of the petition to the resignation of the entire school board. The outgoing board had been threatened with legal action, which would be withdrawn provided they all resigned.
During those six days a lot of gossip was traded in Kerrville, and little of it kind. The outgoing board was suspected of all sorts of wrongdoing, though a careful examination of the accounts demonstrated the books of the school district were in order.
On Thursday morning, March 16, a new school board "took charge of the schools." The new board was made up of T. C. Johnston, A.W. Henke, W. A. Fawcett, J. E. Palmer, J. H. Ward, E. Galbraith, and R. B. Everette. Johnston was elected board president.
In less than one week the entire school board was ousted and replaced. Now that's some rough politics.
Some of those board members forced to resign never fully recovered. Grinstead eventually sold his newspaper, though he continued to publish magazines about the hill country and also wrote a number of pulp westerns.
And what of the Tivy Class of 1916? Among the graduates that year were Rosita Holdsworth (Hollar), who became a teacher, despite the chaos of her senior year, and Louis Comparette, who was probably the son of one of the ousted board members.  Tivy graduated 18 students that year.
As we endure the municipal election, just remember: it could be a lot worse.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who, years ago, placed his name on several municipal ballots. Please vote in the upcoming elections -- I don't care which candidate you support, but I encourage you to vote. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 23, 2016.

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