Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Roaring 20s in Downtown Kerrville

J. C. Penney store, downtown Kerrville, 1928
J. C. Penney store, downtown Kerrville, 1928
Click on any image to enlarge
In the years just before the Great Depression, downtown Kerrville saw many changes, especially on Water Street in the downtown area. It must have been a busy time for builders, because many memorable buildings were constructed in the 1920s.
And then the stock market crashed.
Blue Bonnet Hotel, Kerrville
The largest building constructed during those busy years before 1929 was the Blue Bonnet Hotel, which opened in 1927. Originally five stories tall, it was enlarged to eight stories within just a few years, growing from 80 to 140 rooms. The old hotel stood at the corner of southern corner of Water and Earl Garrett streets. It was torn down in the early 1970s.
Kerr County built a new courthouse in 1926, and that structure remains on the courthouse square, though it now has an annex which was built in the late 1970s. There is a persistent rumor the 1926 courthouse was built because of a fire, though that's not true. It is true the commissioners court voted in 1925 to build a new courthouse for "the safety and permanency of the records of the county," which would include "fireproof vaults." The old courthouse was offered to the public, and materials from the old building found their way to many local sites, including the stone fence along Highway 27 in front of Schreiner University. The commissioners let the voters decide, and 953 votes were cast; the new courthouse won by 227 votes. Construction finished in 1927.
4th Kerr County Courthouse
4th Kerr County Courthouse
J. C. Penney's built a new store on Water Street in the late 1920s, and the store was still located there when I was a boy in the 1960s. This was the store where we purchased our back to school clothes, and I have fond memories of the store and the folks who worked there. There was a mezzanine in the back of the store; the shoe department was beneath the mezzanine. I vaguely remember children's clothes being sold on the mezzanine. Orders and cash were delivered to the office via a system of carriers and cables, and change was returned by the same system. When the store moved to its current location across the river in the mall, the fixtures were sold, and my parents bought some of the items: We still use the sturdy tables that once displayed merchandise at Penney's at our print shop as work tables. They still show their original paint color, a dark beige straight from the 1920s.  This building was torn down during one of the many expansions of the hospital, sometime around 1980.
Kerrville's  Arcadia Theater, late 1920s
The Arcadia Theater, late 1920s
The Arcadia Theater opened to great fanfare on June 29, 1926, and the first movie shown there was "Irene." I have an old movie poster frame from the original Arcadia on display in our office, along with a poster for "Irene." The Arcadia was built to seat 1,000 people, which was approximately a quarter of the population of Kerrville at the time. I've always thought that was very ambitious. While the structure looks very different today, there are plans to use the theater in the future, plans I really hope come to pass.
Poster for Irene
The Arcadia looked very different then: it featured a Spanish mission fa├žade, and the 16x40 foot 'arcade' was accented with rough plaster and hand-hewn beams. In the 'arcade' were seven display cases. Seating was different from what most of us remember from our youth. In addition to the 'orchestra' and balcony seats, there were also eight 'loges' with five chairs each. Smoking was allowed in the balcony only.
Not only did the theater have a movie screen, it also had a small stage and an orchestra pit with a pipe organ.
Pampell's got a nice facelift during the late 1920s: it began as a frame building with wooden siding; later the siding was covered in stucco. And then, a year or so before the Great Crash, it gained a nice brick veneer with other architectural elements.  Several of the smaller office spaces in the 700 block of Water Street were also constructed in the 1920s.
Cascade Pool, downtown Kerrville
Cascade Pool, downtown Kerrville
Another well-beloved spot which appeared in 1929 was the Cascade Pool, which was at the river bluff at the end of Earl Garrett Street (which then extended to the river). This pool closed in 1959, but generations of swimmers have fond memories of the place. It was part of the Kerrville Amusement Company, which also owned and operated the Arcadia Theater. Sadly, it was a segregated pool, so it wasn't available to everyone.
The 1920s brought many new buildings to downtown Kerrville, and several of those remain, having survived not only the Great Depression, but also 90+ years of change.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr is a Kerrville native who wishes his grandmother Mabel Daffern a very happy birthday this Sunday. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times August 19, 2017.

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