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Sunday, January 8, 2023

The story beneath a small parking lot on Water Street

The 600 Block of Water Street, possibly early 1930s.
Parsons Hall circled.
Click on any image to enlarge.

Sometimes even an empty parking lot has a story.

The parking lot next to our family’s print shop, between the print shop and Grape Juice, has a long story, though you couldn’t tell from looking at it.

I’m old enough to remember the Rialto Theater which once stood where the parking lot is today. That movie theater opened on February 10, 1938 – and the first movie shown there was “Hollywood Hotel,” starring Dick Powell and Frances Langford. Admission was 10, 20, or 25 cents, based, I guess on the seats you chose.

The Rialto Theater
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 pm -- 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 Theater was built by B . C. Parsons, at a cost of $40,000, and was leased to Hall Industries, headed up by Henry W. Hall of Beeville. Hall Industries also owned the Arcadia Theater a block away on Water Street, and the Rio Theater, one block farther. 

The new Rialto Theater featured many innovations: "hearing aids" for the hearing impaired, including a device using the "bone conductor principle" for the totally deaf. A "spacious lounge" above the lobby was available, "where patrons may rest or smoke."

The old theater was torn down in 1974, by the Charles Schreiner Bank, and the lot was turned into a parking lot.

Dr. George R. Parsons
But there’s an even older story that took place on the same parking lot.

A two-story frame building once stood there, which was called Parsons Hall, after the Parsons family.

Years ago, my friends Jon and Sandy Wolfmueller gave me an interesting book called "Kerrville, Texas: a social and economic history," which was written by Frank R. Gilliland of Center Point. It was Mr. Gilliland's master's thesis, and it was written in 1951.

In the manuscript, Mr. Gilliland talks about the Parsons building.

“In 1880 a daily stage service from Kerrville to Boerne was inaugurated by Dr. George Robins Parsons...he operated this line until completion of the railroad in 1887. At the same time, he operated a Comfort to Fredericksburg stagecoach, which continued in operation several years after the Kerrville to Boerne line was discontinued. The stage left Kerrville each morning at four o'clock, changed horses in Comfort, and transferred its passengers to the connecting line in Boerne. Travelers reached San Antonio after dark. A stage left San Antonio at about the same time in the morning, and passengers reached Kerrville at night. The round trip fare from Kerrville to San Antonio was twenty dollars. Dr. Parsons had four Concord stagecoaches of the two-horse size on the two lines. [Those stagecoaches were painted bright yellow.] The stagecoach office was in Parsons' Hall, a two-story building which stood on the location of the present Rialto Theater, the second story of which served as town hall for many years."

Parsons Hall
While I’m not sure Kerrville’s town hall was in the old Parsons building, I did find an article from the July 29, 1937 issue of the Kerrville Mountain Sun, written as the old building was being torn down.

The article quotes Bert C. Parsons about the history of the building, who said the building was built in 1882 by his mother, the wife of Dr. George Parsons.

The frame building’s second story, Parsons recalled, was originally used as a skating rink, and later as a hall for dances and theatricals. The lower floor was for a number of years the location of the town’s railway express office. 

Receipt, Parsons' Livery
“The lower floor was occupied by the Kerrville Mountain Sun for a decade or more under the ownership of Col. J. E. Grinstead,” in the early 1900s.

“When the building was completed, the first occupant of the ground floor was the owner of a livery stable,” and the home of Dr. Parson’s stagecoach line.

There’s also a spiritual side to the parking lot site: The first Catholic mass was read there in 1889, and in its early days, the congregation met in Parson's Hall.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who enjoys studying our community’s history. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times January 7, 2023.

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