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)

Monday, August 31, 2015

Inside the Old Blanco County Courthouse

In one of my first posts I visited the Old Blanco County Courthouse. In June (2015) while enjoying the Lavender Festival I went inside the restored building and made a few pictures.  These really don't do the building justice, but they will give you an idea of how the interior was restored. 

This photograph was one of many historical pictures on display. It probably dates to the early 1900's when the building was home to the Blanco National Bank.   Blanco County only used the building as a courthouse for four years before the county seat was moved to Johnson City; after that time the building was used for a variety of purposes.  It is perhaps remembered best for its use as a hospital where many of Blanco County's citizens were born.
                There are two identical staircases that lead to the second floor. 

An arched door on each side of the building leads into a cross pattern hallway.

The Blanco County Courthouse Preservation Society operates the Visitor Center on the first floor and there are tenant offices on the second floor at this time.  I stood on the landing for a moment and wondered about all the souls who travelled through the building at some point in its past.  I also gave a thankful thought to those who labored tirelessly for many years to save this remarkable building so that future generations will understand the history of this place!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Dallas Heritage Village

My last post featured the Dallas Heritage Village and its history.   Each building on the grounds was moved there from a location either in Dallas or North Texas. The visitors guide and information plaques by each one gave me a feel for that building's (or a similar building's) contribution to the history of the area.  Since there are 21 buildings featured on the property I can only feature a few here.  But do visit their web site to read about all of them and the service that the Village provides to the Dallas community.  Just to note, the Village is closed during August so they can do upkeep and other projects.

I had posted about the Renner School on Small Simple Things of Life, so click here to read about it.
I wrote about the Millermore house on the first post.  So, that covers two of the buildings.

As soon as I walked into the Village the depot caught my eye; I'm always drawn to depots and trains.
The first train rolled into Dallas in July 1872 and a year later the Texas & Pacific arrived in town.  Dallas became the first major railroad crossing in the southwest, linked to Kansas City, St. Louis and Chicago.  The population of Dallas soared and business boomed!

This depot was built in 1886 and served the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas (MKT or KATY) line. Each railroad used standardized colors and most buildings followed a similar plan with a gabled roof and hipped ends. The depot is painted in the MKT's colors.  Prior to its relocation it had been cut in half and one half was being used for hay storage. All aboard!
The Worth Hotel was built in Carrollton in 1904.  Hotels were vital to the railroads.  Often space was limited and guests not only had to share rooms they often had to share beds!
The Sullivan house was built a few blocks away from the Village in 1885.  Mr. Sullivan was a plumbing and gas fitting contractor and the house featured an indoor bath and gas fixtures. I found it interesting that the picture of the house in its original location showed it to be painted white. Isn't this color scheme much more pleasing?

The Gano house was built in the dog-trot style in 1846 near Grapevine.  This practical plan of joining two rooms with a breezeway offered cross-ventilation.  The dog-trot house was very common in Texas.  In 1852 two rooms were added to the back as well as the loft above making it very roomy.  The house was covered with hand planed siding for extra insulation.
Like most parks of this time City Park had a gazebo (bandstand) similar to this one. 
The Main Street features buildings that would have been typical of Dallas in the late 1800's.  A saloon, a bank, a general store, and a law office comprise this street.  The murky day and small camera kept me from capturing the Dallas skyline just behind the trees, but it was a vivid contrast.
The Blum House, built in 1901, is currently closed.  This poor lady needs another makeover and the Village is currently soliciting funds.  The DHV is a non-profit 503(c) organization and gladly accepts donations and other forms of support.  At this time they do not plan to add any other structures unless they come with their own endowment.  Upkeep is costly!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Dallas Heritage Village

In preparing for my recent trip to Dallas I had pulled up a list of dog friendly places.  Almost the first place that jumped off the list at me was the Dallas Heritage Village.  I knew it was perfect for Bentley and me when I began exploring their website and found that this was more than a modern day attraction. It is a living history village of buildings that have been relocated from all over North Texas and assembled here so they can share what life was like 100 years ago with us today.
In 1876 James J. Eakins gave the City of Dallas 10 acres of his land in lieu of paying taxes.  This property became the city's first park and was known simply as City Park.  In 1881 the city acquired 8 more acres from the Browder family; this tract included Browder Springs which had served the city as its first public water supply source.

The Cedars, an elegant residential neighborhood comprised of the fashionable homes of business and mercantile leaders, grew up around the park during the 1880's and 1890's. There are still remnants of this neighborhood surrounding the park today.  This area's close proximity to the railroads made it the ideal place for the construction of factories; workforce housing for the factory workers also appeared in this area.  There was a zoo located here and weekly concerts were held in the bandstand. The park was truly an active part of the community. 

This home is an administrative office of the park.  There were several homes on this side street, each with identical steps leading up the small hill from the street.

I'm always intrigued by steps like these and wonder about the home that they led to once upon a time
After World War II residents began moving to the suburbs.  When Interstate 30 was completed The Cedars was cut off from downtown and fell into decline.  But a group of women looking for a place to relocate a plantation home that was scheduled to be wrecked offered new life to the park. Mary Aldredge and the Founders Garden Club had to store the disassembled house in a warehouse before convincing the city of Dallas to let them put it here in City Park in 1966.  When re-assembled Millermore opened in 1969 it would be the first of 21 buildings that would follow to the park. In 2005 the park was no longer referred to as Old City Park when it was re-named the Dallas Heritage Village.

Millermore was built between 1855 and 1862 by William Brown Miller on Bonnie View Road in Dallas. The house was built facing exactly north, using the North Star as a compass in construction. It was designed to catch the prevailing winds for cross ventilation.  Slave labor was one of the factors that enabled Mr. Miller to carry out his plan to build a grand house.

Stone was quarried from nearby and hauled to the house site where pieces for the foundation, chimney and hearths were cut.  Cedars on the property were cut and pulled to the site by oxen and then hewn into beams.  The construction took seven years due to Mrs. Miller's death in 1856 and the 8 weeks it took for a load of lumber milled in Jefferson, Texas to arrive in Dallas via a commercial freight wagon.

When completed the Greek Revival details evident in the house were only a symmetrical fa├žade, a small portico with slender columns and a wide hallway flanked by square rooms.  A cistern on the back porch was designed to catch rain water which was then used by the ladies to wash their hair and clothes since it was softer than the well water! The balcony and 2-story porch were added in 1912.

In future posts I will feature a few of the other buildings.  Please visit their website, Dallas Heritage Village. And, yes, they were dog friendly.  I couldn't take Bentley inside any of the buildings, but I still appreciated the fact that I could bring him in to enjoy the grounds.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Other projects of Henry T Phelps in Jourdanton, Texas

The last Doorway Into the Past post covered the Atascosa County Courthouse built in 1912 and designed in the Mission Revival style by Henry T Phelps.  He also designed two other structures for Jourdanton that are worthy of note.  Interestingly his firm, Phelps & Dewees & Simmons, designed many, many structures in San Antonio and the surrounding area.  Today that firm is still in business under the name of Garza/Bomberger and Associates and continues to produce remarkable designs.

The jail was completed in 1915 and used as such until 1982 when a new, modern detention facility was opened.  The first floor of the jail served as office space and living quarters for the Sheriff's family from 1919 until 1959.  The second floor had jail cells as well as a gallows room that, thankfully, was never used.  Additional cells were located on the third floor. 

The Texas Historical Commission marker notes that construction cost $20,000.  It describes the building as "having an eclectic blend of architectural elements" with crenelated towers and hood moldings on the windows.
An addition to the building was completed in 1974 with matching brick and similar elements.  Today the building is used as county offices.  The day I visited there was no one around the building and, honestly, it gave me the creeps!  I did not linger any longer than it took to make pictures.  It was a formidable structure and I cannot imagine how any Sherriff would want his family to live with prisoners on the upper floors!
Phelps also is credited with designing a high school gymnasium that was constructed with help from the WPA  It is no longer extant; I'm working to find the exact location of the gym and possibly a picture.  At some time the WPA marker and cornerstone of the gym was preserved in a brick enclosure in front of the Jourdanton ISD school complex.
Finding this was an unexpected thrill as I had no idea that it existed.  I was just trying to find the Texas Historical Commission marker and was overjoyed to find that some dear souls in the community had taken such care to preserve these important pieces of the old gym.