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Sunday, August 18, 2019

The story of Kerrville's Arcadia Theater

The Arcadia Theater, 1920s, in the 700 block of Water Street, downtown Kerrville.
With the Arcadia Theater in the news recently, I thought it might be useful to share the old girl's history. Here's the story of the Arcadia from my files:
On the warm Tuesday evening of June 29, 1926, folks crowded into a newly built theater to watch the comedy film “Irene,” starring Colleen Moore. They were greeted with “cooled” air and a film about the life of a poor, beautiful Irish lass whose dire economic circumstances obscure her royal lineage. She worked as a shopkeeper’s assistant, selling dresses. A local grandee had obtained the job for her there as a model; the villainous shopkeeper had demoted her to lowly clerk. During a grand fashion show, the grandee notes the absence of his protégé, storms to the dimly lit store, costumes the girl and returns with her to triumph, and eventually love.
"Irene" poster on display
at our print shop.
The scenes of the fashion show were “registered in subdued tones of the Techni-color process, a new idea which has recently been discovered by those who invented the method of color photography.” This probably explains the choice of this movie, a First National release, as the film for the Arcadia's first evening: "Irene" was in color.
The town was very proud of their new theater. There was an older movie house, the Dixie, near the corner of Washington and Water streets, on the northern corner. The Dixie is remembered for its wooden bleachers, where patrons tucked their feet up to avoid the rats that ran along the floor eating popcorn and nibbling on shoelaces. The Arcadia, by contrast, was a movie palace.
Built at a cost of $90,000, the new theater featured high-tech (for 1926) projection equipment (a pair of Powers projectors), a ‘Gardner Velvet Gold Fibre Screen,’ a Hillgren-Lane pipe organ, and seating capacity for 1,000 -- approximately a quarter of the population of Kerrville at the time. (A theater built today, designed to hold a quarter of today's population, would seat 5,900 people!)
The building looked very different then: it featured a Spanish mission façade, and the 16x40 foot ‘arcade’ was accented with rough plaster and hand-hewn beams. In the ‘arcade’ was seven display cases.
Seating was also arranged differently than the seating many of us remember. In addition to the ‘orchestra’ and balcony seats, there were also eight loges with five chairs each. Smoking was allowed in the balcony seats only.
The Arcadia Theater, 1980s,
with old marquee.
The small stage (8 x 15 feet) was furnished with scenery from Volland Scenic Company of St. Louis, and included a “beautiful mountain and river scene, typical of the country surrounding Kerrville. It is a remarkable reproduction of nature, done in oil.” There was also an orchestra pit measuring 7 ½ x 25 feet; this was the home of the pipe organ.
The neon sign we see frantically flashing in the night sky is not the original sign for the theater. The first was about 15 feet high and extended six feet above the building, with 16” letters. The lighting flashed on and off at intervals, but was not neon; the coloring of the letters was done by placing ‘glass color hoods’ over the lamps, and red and green and amber were the predominate colors. There was a twinkling torch and a ‘flowing’ border driven by an electric motor.
The Bart Moore Construction Company built the building. Mr. Moore was also the president of the Kerrville Amusement Company, which owned the Arcadia and Dixie Theaters, and he would serve as the Arcadia’s first general manager.
Admission prices that first week of performances were 25 and 50 cents.
The Arcadia Theater showed movies until 1988; since then the building has been dark and empty. Several local groups have tried to restore the building and make it a public entertainment space, starting in the 1990s. I'm hoping the current group attempting to revive the Arcadia has great success and support.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who owns a copy of the movie "Irene," and has a poster advertising the movie on display in his family's print shop offices. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times August 17, 2019.

Did you know I have two books of Kerr County history available?  Both books are available at Wolfmueller's BooksHerring Printing Company, and online by clicking HERE.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

80 year old Kerr scrapbook comes back home

Schreiner Institute Kerrville Texas 1938
Pages from Loretta Stehling's 1938-39 Schreiner Institute scrapbook.
Click on any image to enlarge.
Several weeks ago a kind person in Oakland, California, contacted me via email, saying he’d purchased an old scrapbook from 1938-39, which contained photographs, news clippings, and football programs from Schreiner Institute.
Schreiner Institute Kerrville Texas 1938
Schreiner Institute parade grounds, 1938
He’d run across my name online, finding my website,, which is the home of my Kerr County history blog.  I’m always thankful when someone finds me this way, because it often means something relating to our community’s history will find its way home.
The scrapbook was kept by Loretta Stehling when she was in her early twenties. Ms. Stehling was a 1933 Tivy High School graduate, and obviously had an interest in football and Schreiner Institute. When she passed away in 1998, her obituary mentioned she’d worked at the college at some point; perhaps this scrapbook was kept during her time there.
I remember Ms. Stehling’s brother, Martin, and two of her nephews, Scott and James.  She was quite a musician, and served her church, Notre Dame Catholic Church, for many years as church organist.
Mary Jane Garrett, Schreiner Institute Kerrville Texas 1938
Mary Jane Garrett and cadets, 1938
The scrapbook is in good shape, considering its age, and the distance it traveled from home (almost 1,700 miles).  It contains four football programs for Schreiner, one or two from Tivy, lots of newspaper clippings, and several pages of Christmas cards Ms. Stehling received.
It also contains photographs of Schreiner students, both cadets there and “day students,” as the young women were called.  Schreiner started out as a military school for young men; women students were allowed but did not live on campus.
The quality of the student portraits makes me guess they were taken for the school’s yearbook or other publications.
Schreiner cadets running for rifles and sabers.
The second fellow from right, John Heard, is listed on
the Kerr County War Memorial, lost in WWII.
There are three photographs of the campus itself, taken in the school’s sixteenth year.  All show young men in uniform, and two include young women.
J. J. Delaney, who served as Schreiner’s first president, wrote a greeting to students in the campus newspaper in the fall of 1938, of which a clipping is included in the scrapbook.
“By now,” Delaney wrote, “the many details incident to the opening of school are past. Your courses have been given you, and the way is mapped out for you to the best interests of your individual plan, and I want to urge each of you to attack your studies with a determination to stick it out through the entire year and WIN. Just as you back your athletic teams to “Fight for Schreiner,” do some fighting on your own, for yourself, and when the end of the school year comes you will be proud, and those who are making the financial sacrifice to help you do something worthwhile in life will be proud that you made the greatest effort of your whole career in this, your 1938-39 school year at Schreiner.”
Scrapbooks like this one tell many stories.  Of course, the items included in its pages each tell a story, and the photographs tell a different kind of story.  The biggest story, of course, is of the person who collected the items and carefully arranged them on the pages, preserving them for her own enjoyment – and, in this case, for the rest of our community.
I’m especially thankful to the kind resident of Oakland, California, who sent the scrapbook back home.
Until next week, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who is thankful so many folks are very generous, sharing their Kerrville and Kerr County historical items with him. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times August 10, 2019.

If you enjoyed this column, you'll enjoy my two books, which are collections of my columns from 1994 to 2018.  Both books are available at Wolfmueller's BooksHerring Printing Company, and online by clicking HERE.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

In Living Color: the 1956 Kerr County Centennial Parade

Kerrville Jaycee's Rodeo float, Kerr County Centennial parade, April, 1956.
These color photographs were taken by Gene Stover,
and shared here by his daughter, Jeannie Berger.
Click on any image to enlarge.

What do parades, floods, and snowfalls have in common, at least in Kerr County?
Photographs. Beautiful, historic photographs, the kind I like to collect.
When any one of those events takes place it's almost certain someone will be there with a camera to record what they saw. This has been true in our community for as long as cameras have been readily available here. Nowadays the photographers will likely be taking photographs with their cell phone, but the earliest parade photographs I have in my collection were taken along Water Street in 1896, and was probably taken using a camera using glass negatives.
Parade photographs interest me not only for their subjects -- the people and floats in the parades -- but also for the backgrounds behind the subjects. The 1896 images of the Saengerfest parade, for example, show views of downtown Kerrville for which there is no other source.
It's likely one of the most photographed events in the history of downtown Kerrville was the 1956 Kerr County Centennial parade. Over a three-day period, on April 26-28, 1956, our community celebrated its 100th birthday in style, with a rodeo, parade, pageant, and dances. There were beard-growing contests, merchant window display contests, and dozens of other activities.
I have a good set of photographs of the 1956 parade, or at least I thought I did, until Jeannie Berger shared some photographs her father, Gene Stover, took of the parade.
According to Ms. Berger, "These were taken in the 400 block of Main in 1956 by my dad. The white building across the street was an office building, where my mother worked as a bookkeeper for an oil operator, E. A. Graham; the address was 402 Main. To the right was the Kerrville Air Reserve Center. In the left of some of the photos, there is a utility pole, and to the right of the pole you can just make out the sign for Fred’s Bakery. I remember the yummy éclairs and cream puffs most of all."
What was special about Mr. Stover's photographs?
They are in color!
All of the other photographs I have of the 1956 parade were black and white images. While these black and white photographs are wonderful and sharp, Mr. Stover's color photographs tell so much more of the story.
Consider a float being pulled by the Rose Shop delivery van. In black and white, it's a lovely image showing a young woman on a float surrounded by hundreds of flowers. In the color photograph, the flowers are shown as soft pink, and the young woman is holding a bouquet of red roses. The black and white photograph is impressive, but the color photograph shows how much work and expense was lavished on the float.
The float from Schreiner's is another example. In the black and white photo, we see a fellow fooling around with the crowd, showing a little leg (or, rather, the long underwear beneath his pants leg). Mr. Stover's color photograph shows a colorful float, and a very detailed covered wagon and ox team. The hours of work that went into producing that float are more evident in the color photograph.
The float for the Kerrville Jaycee Rodeo features three young women on a float decorated with Saguaro cacti, and a giant horseshoe. The black and white photograph only shows one young woman; the color shows three -- and adds the bright gold color of the horseshoe and the bright colors of the ladies' costumes.
So much effort went into these floats -- most were self-driving, with a vehicle enclosed beneath the decorated float.
The Kerr County Centennial float, in the color photograph, shows the care taken with the participants' costumes. The black and white photo shows some great details, but the color photograph really completes the story.
Lastly, take a look at the Ranchman's Wool & Mohair float, featuring "Miss Wool." In the black and white photograph, you can see an elaborate float and a young woman waving to the crowd. The color photograph shows how elaborate -- and colorful! -- that float really was.
I'm thankful to Jeannie Berger for her kindness in sharing these photographs with me, and for sharing them with all of us.
Until next week, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who collects Kerrville and Kerr County historical photographs. If you have an old photograph you'd let him copy, he'd be very happy to scan it and give the original back to you.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times August 3, 2019.

If you enjoyed this column, you'll enjoy my two books, which are collections of my columns from 1994 to 2018.  Both books are available at Wolfmueller's BooksHerring Printing Company, and online by clicking HERE.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Fuzzy turns 100 years old

Francis "Fuzzy" Swayze, in 2011, standing in front of his high school class photos,
Tivy class of 1938.  You can see him on the 2nd row, 4th from left.
Click on any image to enlarge.
I don't remember a time when I didn't know Francis "Fuzzy" Swayze.
We first met, most likely, in the mid-1960s, when I was a child and went with my father to his weekly Kiwanis Club meetings, back when the club met at the Blue Bonnet Hotel, on the corner of Water and Earl Garrett Streets. Fuzzy was Kiwanian, having served the club as a board member and president, as well as in countless other roles.
Swayze and John M. Mosty, taking the oath of
office for Kerrville City Council, 1968
He was also active in our community, serving as mayor of Kerrville from 1968-69. During his time on the city council, the city adopted its first long-range plan, and also accepted the Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library as a gift from the H. E. Butt family.
His time on the city council was not without stress. Shortly after Swayze was selected mayor, one of the city council members resigned, having accepted a new job in a different city. Most councils quickly appoint a person to fill the unexpired term of the now-vacant seat, but for several reasons, the remaining four city council members could not agree on a replacement.
The Kerrville City Council, 1968, before
Marvin Hunter (2nd from right) resigned
On almost every issue the council was divided in 2-2 tie votes. Nothing was getting done, and this drama lasted for weeks. Finally a fifth member of the city council was appointed, and finally the council could proceed with the city's business.
While I'm sure this period of time when nothing was getting done frustrated Mayor Swayze, but in all the years I've known him, I never once heard him talk about those difficulties.
Robert Holdsworth, Nell and Francis Swayze,
Mary and Howard Butt, at the first anniversary
of the opening of the
Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library, 1968
What most people will remember about Fuzzy Swayze is his skill with a camera. He was a photographer, and had his studio at the corner of Main and Earl Garrett streets, in the old Guthrie Building. Generations of Kerrville folks remember having their portraits made there. He was a good photographer.
He also took many of the photographs of children attending summer camps in the area. He not only took the individual photos, but also had a large panoramic camera to take photographs of the entire group of campers in one shot.
He once told me there were many years a camper would stand on one side of the group, and, after his portion of the panoramic photo was taken, and while the camera slowly panned across the assembled campers, would run behind the bleachers, hoping to appear twice in the same photograph. He chuckled and told me it often worked.
In my collection of Kerrville and Kerr County photographs, many of the best photos were taken by Fuzzy Swayze. He took photographs of many community events, from Tivy students stuffed into a telephone booth to daredevil acts at the local water ski show.
More than once Fuzzy offered a gentle correction to an item I published in this column, and 100% of the time, his memory of events and places here was correct.
Teens in phonebooth,
taken by Swayze
Water ski show,
taken by Swayze
Fuzzy graduated from Tivy High School in 1938, along with Forrest Salter, Franklin Meeker, Seaborn Eastland, Ammie Rose Hollar, Harry Schwethelm and many other folks who I remember. Many of his classmates served in the military during World War II, and at least two are listed on the Kerr County War Memorial.
His late wife, Nell, was the dietician for the Kerrville Independent School District for many years, and she was also quite a golfer.
This last week, Francis "Fuzzy" Swayze turned 100 years old. He lives in San Antonio in an elder care facility, and has celebrated this milestone all week.
I have so many fond memories of time spent with Fuzzy -- and I know you'll join me in wishing him a very happy birthday.
Until next week, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who collects historic photographs of Kerrville and Kerr County. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times July 27, 2019.

If you enjoyed this column, you'll enjoy my two books, which are collections of my columns from 1994 to 2018.  Both books are available at Wolfmueller's BooksHerring Printing Company, and online by clicking HERE.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

A federal investment in downtown Kerrville

US Post Office Kerrville Texas under construction 1936
U. S. Post Office under construction in downtown Kerrville, 1936,
at the corner of Earl Garrett and Main Streets.
Photos from the collection of Lanza Teague.
Click on any image to enlarge.
US Post Office Kerrville Texas under construction 1936
US Post Office Kerrville Texas under construction 1936
US Post Office Kerrville Texas under construction 1936US Post Office Kerrville Texas under construction 1936US Post Office Kerrville Texas under construction 1936US Post Office Kerrville Texas under construction 1936US Post Office Kerrville Texas under construction 1936

The federal government made an investment in downtown Kerrville in 1936, an investment the citizens of Kerrville had requested for decades. Franklin Roosevelt was president; the country was still in the Great Depression. On the evening of July 4th, with great fanfare, Kerrville's new post office was dedicated, the first post office here built by Uncle Sam.
The building still stands at the corner of Main and Earl Garrett Streets, though it's no longer a federal building. Today the building serves as the home of the Kerr Arts & Cultural Center.
Years ago my friend Lanza Teague shared photographs with me of the construction of the post office, and I'm thankful for her generosity.
The post office building was a really big deal for our community. It was the first federally-funded post office building in Kerrville, built at a cost of $65,000. Prior to the construction of the downtown post office, post offices here were tenants in commercial buildings; in the earliest days of our community, post offices were run from the homes of the postmaster. Kerrville's post office has been all over town.
The very first post office ran out of the home of the very first postmaster here, Hance M. Burney. Burney's home was opposite Sidney Baker Street from today's City Hall, about where the pedestrian bridge crosses over the street.
Burney is said to have had a cornfield behind his house, which he cultivated between deliveries of mail to his home. Being postmaster was strictly a part-time job, so he had plenty of time to tend his corn crop.
Christian Dietert was the next postmaster, but according to most accounts it was his wife, Rosalie, who ran the post office. Christian was busy as a millwright, building a mill on the banks of the Guadalupe River, near where One Schreiner Center stands today, in the 800 block of Water Street. The Dieterts' home was on Spring Street, which is across Water Street from the front doors of Notre Dame Catholic Church.
For a while the post office was in the Masonic Building on Earl Garrett Street. Its last location before moving into the 1936 building was in the 700 block of Water Street, in a building which was torn down in the 1980s. That building held a row of businesses; the post office was between a drug store and the printing offices of the Kerrville Mountain Sun, and was probably a great place to pick up town gossip.
Gober Gibson was postmaster here when the 1936 post office was constructed, and I remember him. He was a member of the Kerrville Kiwanis Club with my father.
The festivities of July 4, 1936 began at 10:00 am with a street parade along Clay, Water, Washington and Main Streets. Such a route would never be allowed today -- think of the traffic jam it would cause!
At 11:00 am the state of Texas dedicated the Charles Schreiner Bridge with a speech from the Hon. Coke Stevenson, speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. Stevenson would later serve as governor. His grandson currently represents the district including Kerrville in the Texas Legislature.
The Charles Schreiner Bridge was Kerrville's first high-water crossing of the Guadalupe, with steel arches towering over the pavement below. Most people just call it the Sidney Baker Street bridge today, but it was named for Captain Schreiner because of his many donations to roads and road building in Kerr County.
At noon there was a barbecue at the state park, which is now the Kerrville-Schreiner municipal park; at 1:15 was the beginning of the "Crider's Rodeo" at the state park.
Then at 8:00 pm, after a much-needed siesta, I'm sure, was the dedication of the newly-built "Federal Building," with a speech by Congressman Charles L. South of Coleman. At 9:00 pm, Earl Garrett Street was roped off for a street dance; at 9:30 pm a "Ballroom Dance" was held at the Blue Bonnet Hotel, at the end of the block, where Water and Earl Garrett Streets intersect.
For those who didn't care to hear the speeches that evening, there was a Girls' softball game at Westland Field, where the Manhattan Marigolds from Kerrville hosted San Antonio's Barbera Sports, which began at 8 pm.
What a busy day that must have been.
The new post office opened for business 83 years ago, on July 20, 1936.
Many of us were concerned when the current post office was built across the river. What would happen to our downtown area? What would happen to the old post office?
Thankfully, through the efforts of many donors and volunteers, a wonderful use for the old building was found. The Kerr Arts & Cultural Center adds so much to our community, and brightens Kerrville's downtown.
Until next week, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who loves old photographs of Kerrville and Kerr County. Please share what you have with him; he'll scan your photographs and give the originals back to you. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times July 20, 2019.

If you enjoyed this column, you'll enjoy my two books, which are collections of my columns from 1994 to 2018.  Both books are available at Wolfmueller's BooksHerring Printing Company, and online by clicking HERE.



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