Saturday, February 27, 2016

McNay Art Museum (Marion Koogler McNay house)

The doors of Marion Koogler McNay's home still welcome visitors today just as they did when the home was completed in 1929.  Upon her death in 1950 she left her home, the 23 surrounding acres and her extensive art collection to be preserved as an art museum. Her goal was to make her museum "a place of beauty with the comforts and warmth of a home."
The entrance hall

The 24 room Spanish Colonial-Revival house was designed by San Antonio architects Atlee and Robert Ayers. Mrs. McNay closely supervised every detail of the design and construction. She designed and applied stencils, tiles and other decorative touches such as antique wrought-iron lamps and chandeliers.

The McNay Art Musuem opened in 1954 as the first museum of modern art in Texas; the attached Jane and Arthur Stieren Center for Exhibitions was opened in 2008.

Mrs. McNay paid equal attention to the planning of the gardens around the home.  A beautiful courtyard with Koi pond and outdoor fireplace offers a serene spot to stop for a few quiet minutes.

The McNay curates almost 20,000 pieces of art, including the core 700 pieces of Mrs. McNay's collection.  Viewers are delighted with Picasso, Monet, and Van Gough as well as works by modern artists.
Currently on exhibit is this rendering of an artist's studio.  Everything is made with cardboard, glue, and black paint.  No detail is overlooked.  Delightful!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Looks like it is saved!

Last post I shared the plight of a Victorian home in Dallas, Texas that was about to be demolished to make room for a Time Warner Cable hub and parking lot.  I was happy to read this week that Time Warner has agreed to move the structure to another nearby location.  Congratulations to preservationists and city leaders who rallied together to convince Time Warner to stop the demolition.  The Dallas Morning News City Blog has details as well as pictures of the inside of the delightful home read here

I'm hoping the story continues with the relocation and successful restoration of the home.  So far, so good!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Save This Building!

Headline:  Dallas to consider protecting historic Cedars home that Time Warner wants to raze 

Last summer I visited The Dallas Heritage Village while in Dallas for a dog show.  The Village is dog friendly and Bentley and I enjoyed our stroll on a hot July day.  I shared some of the buildings here.  I follow the Village on Facebook and was stunned this week when they showed a charming blue Victorian home in the Cedars neighborhood with a bulldozer parked in front of it.  Time Warner was about to tear it down to build a new downtown operations hub and parking lot. Fortunately, the Dallas Landmark Commission has taken action to halt the demolition, at least for now.

Today on Facebook there was a link to the Dallas Morning News' City Hall Blog with details of the history of this house, at least what has been quickly found.  As I understand it, if the Commission can prove the house has historic significance it will be spared.  The Village estimates it would cost a million dollars to move the house to their property, restore it  and maintain it. City Hall Blog Dallas Morning News

I don't have any pictures to share here, but click on over to the article and look at what a glorious house this had to have been.  I can only imagine what it looked like when new and hope it can be saved from the bulldozer.  (Personal note:  shame on Time Warner!)

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Bell County Courthouse

The Bell County Courthouse was presented to the Commissioners Court by the architect, J.N. Preston and  Son, on May 29, 1885.  The Court issued its Certificate of Completion and county business has been conducted within its walls ever since.  

Bell County was formed in 1850; the first courthouse on this site was a two-room log cabin built in 1851.  It was replaced in 1858 with another structure that in 1883 the Commissioners Court would  declare as an unsafe repository for official records. Through the issuance of bonds and the levy of a tax the Court was able to finance the new structure for a cost just under $65,000.

County Judge, W.M. Minyard was ordered to
"advertise in the Galveston News until the 31st day of December 1883 for plans and specifications for the erection of a new Courthouse in Belton.  He was ordered that the cost not exceed $65,000.00 and to be of dimensions sufficient to supply necessary Courtrooms, jury rooms, offices for all County Officers and one Justice of the Peace and ample room for all the records of the County; to be practically fire proof, and the walls of said Courthouse to be built of the best and hardest limestone found in and about Belton." Bell County TX 

A local builder,  Ben D. Lee, was awarded the contract and construction began in early 1884.

Designed in a Renaissance Revival style, the courthouse was considered to be a magnificent structure at the time of its completion.  However, progress and innovation took its toll on the building when the clock tower and most of the roof detail was removed in the 1950's.  In addition, the interior was dramatically altered and modernized. 
In August 1998 a complete restoration was authorized by the Commissioners.  Over a year later the interior renovations were complete and the clock tower, dome and statue were replace with replicas of the original design.  Today this beautiful building looks much like it did on its acceptance day!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Playland Park

From 1943 to 1980 the corner of North Alamo Street and Broadway was home to Playland Park, one of the first real amusement parks in San Antonio.  Today all that remains is a vacant lot surrounded by chain link fence and the remains of the original gate into the amusement park.  Soon the Alamo Community College District will begin construction of a new support operations facility on this property.

James E. Johnson had come to San Antonio in 1941 and opened a penny arcade followed by an amusement park in Brackenridge Park.  Due to George W. Brackenridge's stipulations about no park usage by for-profit businesses he was forced to relocate.  He re-opened in 1943 at this corner.  The first year of the park's existence was difficult; World War II was raging and shortages of everything, including spare parts for the rides, were commonplace. It seemed frivolous, but the park finished its first year with a successful profit. 
Following the war Mr. Johnson constructed a wooden roller coaster and named it "The Rocket".  It was full of thrills and chills!  Many San Antonio natives have fond memories of riding it during their early years.  When the park closed in 1980 an amusement park in Pennsylvania, Knoebels, purchased the Rocket.  It was disassembled with each piece carefully labeled and numbered.  It was reassembled at its new  home and re-named as The Phoenix.  It is still running today!
I visited the park once in the mid-1970's with a group of people.  They were gushing about the rides and the park, but I could only politely respond as I had visited Disneyland on many occasions and this little park just didn't measure up to me!  But to them it was the place to come for rides, mid-way games, and a little fun. It was a place that represented another era in entertainment and time over came it as preferences changed.
In addition to the  Rocket, the park offered rides for children and adults, a place to picnic, a fun house known as the Dipsy Doodle, a midway with games, miniature golf, and a small chapel that featured a religious movie.  There was more:  a shooting gallery, an archery range, a penny arcade, a fortune teller, and of course, refreshments were available. After the park closed and the Rocket removed, the buildings were allowed to deteriorate and were removed sometime in the last few years.

Playland Park is just a memory.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Alamo Stadium part 2

In Alamo Stadium, part one I discussed the many plans and proposals that eventually led to the final approval for a municipal sports facility in San Antonio, Texas.  The funding was provided by the WPA ($370,000) and from revenue bonds issued by San Antonio ISD ($107,000).  The stadium was designed by Phelps, Dewees, and Simmons.  Henry T Phelps designed many prominent buildings and homes in this area (Atascosa County Courthouse and other projects ) were featured previously on this blog. 

During renovation


The nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places states that the stadium's design is consistent with the Art Deco period. The linear entrance canopy of the west (main) entrance and curved pillars are examples of the Art Deco influence.  This entrance is situated at the highest point of the old rock quarry and gives a breath taking view of San Antonio's skyline to the south.  A wide concrete promenade leads up to the entrance from Stadium Drive.

The east entrance, often referred to as the visitor side, is not as impressive as the west entrance. I didn't photograph this, but as you approach the east entrance there is a set of rather steep concrete steps to the left.  If you venture up the steps you arrive at the south entrance where there is also a nice view of downtown as well as an overlook into Highway 281! This entrance has a lower height as it follows the topography of the old quarry along its perimeter.

The crown jewel to me are the four tile murals above the main entrance that depict scenes of sporting events in San Antonio. Henry Wedemeyer, assisted by Leonora Feiler, designed the murals.  Ethel Harris served as the supervisor of the local WPA Arts & Crafts Division and coordinated 60 WPA workers from her Mexican Arts & Crafts studio to create these stunning panels.  Each mural contains 192 tiles and measures five feet high by 13 feet wide; each tile is 6 inches square and 3/4 inch thick. The murals were removed during the renovation and restored before being re-installed.

Ethel Harris' signature maguey craftsman's mark (modified for the WPA) appears in the lower right corner tile of this picture

The City of San Antonio also applied for WPA funding to improve the streets in the surrounding neighborhood of the stadium. Streets were widened and repaved and simultaneously were developed into a new system of more convenient routes to the new Stadium. This was done in anticipation of the vehicles that would be coming on game days to the facility and appeasing the surrounding neighborhoods.

You have to look close to see this marker - it is embedded in the curb in front of this building on North St. Mary's Street.

The marker is partially obscured by subsequent layers of asphalt. It gives a date of 1938-1940.

The opening night game was a double header:  Jefferson vs Corpus Christi followed by Reagan-Houston.  You certainly would not see this today, but the San Antonio Brewing Association (Pearl Beer) was one of local businesses who sponsored advertisements in the paper supporting the new stadium prior to its opening!  And, not surprisingly, traffic that night was a mess taking over an hour for it to clear.  Have you ever been to a football game and didn't have to wait in a lengthy queue of traffic to get out of the stadium?

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Alamo Stadium part 1

May 2013
Alamo Stadium is a well known school sports venue in San Antonio, Texas.  Many local people have fond memories of playing football or participating in high school sports activities here.  When it underwent a $35 million dollar renovation thousands of people crowded into the stadium to participate in its rededication ceremony in August 2014.
April 2013 during renovation
The stadium was built in an abandoned rock quarry to the west of Brackenridge Park and the Sunken Garden Theater.  Present day U.S. Highway 281 runs to the east of the stadium property.  As early as 1921 the concept of a municipal sports facility for the city of San Antonio had been discussed and the old rock quarry was the first proposed site.  In the ensuing years many proposals for funding and different locations would be introduced, but each in turn would fail.  Finally in July 1938 an application was submitted to the Works Progress Administration asking for funding $202,000 of the estimated $347,980 cost to build a stadium in the rock quarry.  The local funding would come through the issuance of revenue bonds by San Antonio ISD.

There would be obstacles to this to proposal including getting approval from the legislature to issue the bonds and satisfying a neighborhood group that the stadium had plenty of parking and convenient access that would not disturb their neighborhood.  In April and May of 1939 both issues were resolved and groundbreaking took place in August. Construction would take just a little over a year and was completed with little drama compared to the previous years!

Per the nomination to the National Register of Historic Places: Work began immediately to prepare the site for construction of the 22,700 seat stadium. The final estimated cost had risen to $477,000, and WPA had increased its grant from $202,000 to $370,000. Designed by the architectural firm of Phelps, Dewees and Simmons in collaboration with W.P. Simpson and Company, consulting engineers, the stadium was a product of its natural limestone setting. Built directly into the old quarry, the structure was finished in limestone and surround by a perimeter limestone wall. Tiered seating varied in height depending on the contours of the site. A forty-foot limestone bluff on the west face of the old quarry formed the base of the main seating area where bleachers were forty-one tiers high. On the east there were twenty-two tiers and on the south, sixteen tiers. Visitors entering through the main, west entrance therefore descended to their seats, while those coming in on the east side entered at playing field level and climbed to their seats.

The stadium's elevation gives visitors a stunning view of the San Antonio skyline.(To be continued)