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.

1 comment:

  1. My first guess is that both are correct. By the time the photograph was taken, as many as 35 years had passed since the store's founding. It's possible the awning was removed at some point and the balcony added, along with the doorway. On the other hand, it's possible the only thing that was altered was the logo. Can't say I blame 'em if that's the case.


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