San Antonio’s Contemporary Art Month (CAM) has been around for over 30 years now.  To me, architecture is a form of art, so in the spirit of CAM I decided to highlight a Contemporary Style house in King William.  According to Virginia McAlester in her book A Field Guide to American Houses, the “Contemporary Style” house “was the favorite for the architect-designed houses built during the period from about 1950 to 1970.” 

Read more: Contemporary Architecture

When Mary Burkholder’s book, The King William Area – A History & Guide to the Houses, was published in 1973, Eleanor Toxey was not at all happy with how her house at 218 Washington was depicted. In a conversation with Eleanor in 2002, she told me that when she asked Burkholder why a picture of her house was not included in the book, and the house barely mentioned, Mary replied, “Your house is too new. I’m only including houses that were built before 1920.”

That really hit a nerve with Eleanor. Burkholder states in her book that the Giesecke House was built “about 1920,” but Eleanor had a photograph of the house’s construction beginning in 1915. Eleanor never forgave Mary for not giving her house the respect that she thought it deserved with a photo and a more extensive history.

The original owners of this Craftsman Style house were

Read more: Gustav Giesecke House

107 King William—Wulff House 

131 King William—King William Neighborhood 

207 King William—Sartor House 

308 King William– Giles House 

335 King William—Groos House 

401 King William—Norton Polk Mathis house  aka Villia Finale Museum 

434 King William—Nix House 

509 King William—Steves Homestead and  Museum 

338 Madison—Berman House 

403 Madison—Chabot House 

155 Crofton—Brooks House 

Read more: KW Area TX Historical Markers Map

Do you recognize this intersection?  I didn’t until I saw the Tower Life Building in the background in one of the photos.  The Yates Laundry and Dry Cleaning establishment sat on what would become the old Univision property at the corner of S. St. Mary’s and Chavez Blvd. where today, the 350-unit Élan Riverwalk is being built.  The top photo was taken at the corner of S. St. Mary’s and Chavez looking north on S. St. Mary’s.  The second is looking west on Chavez Blvd.

Read more: The Max Mayor House

The King William Association’s new home at 122 Madison Street is a mid-century modernist gem that has been associated with some of the most important architects and architectural educators of that period. It is also associated with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Villa Finale, underwriters of the extensive renovations supervised by King William historic preservation architects Fisher Heck.

Read more: The Candle Factory

Just think of it! Three of San Antonio’s major candy factories were once located right here in our neighborhood, all within a few blocks of each other.

Duerler Candy Factory, 114 Camp Street at S. Flores

In 1849, John Jacob Duerler and his family emigrated from Switzerland. Their son Gustav attended local schools and apprenticed in the printing trade until the Civil War interrupted his career. After his Confederate service, he started a candy factory in the rear of his small house in La Villita. By 1926, his growing business allowed him to build a six story building on Camp Street to house his candy manufacturing and pecan shelling company. The business remained in the family until 1937 when the factory building was taken over by aerial mapping pioneers, Tobin Surveys, Inc.

Read more: Sweet, Sweet South Flores Street

Through the years, development has eaten away at the inventory of housing downtown and in the immediate surrounding areas.  Within the past 30 or so years, our own King William neighborhood lost five blocks of homes between S. St. Mary’s St. and the river for the expansion of the Brackenridge High School campus. Later, another four blocks were razed where the San Antonio Housing Authority now sits.  The site was originally to be the site of a post office complex that was ultimately changed to a north side location.

Read more: What We Have Lost

Picture yourself standing at the intersection of S. Main Avenue and Rische Streets looking east. What you see now is the west side of a C. H. Guenther & Sons warehouse building, but 30 years ago, the house now at 321 Stieren stood on this site. It was just one of a dozen houses that were removed from the east side of S. Main Avenue between Guenther St. and S. Alamo when the mill folks decided to expand their campus in the early 1980s. One other house was saved and moved across the street, sited on a vacant lot at S. Main and Sweet Street. It currently houses Green Acres Child Care Center. The other ten houses were demolished.

Read more: A House Odyssey

The mid-1970s, I was an idealistic college student who revered history, antiques and the quiet magnificence of historic homes. Since my childhood, my family had often driven through the King William neighborhood to admire its stately mansions and pay tribute to the gingerbread-laced Victorian homes and cozy Craftsman bungalows that populated the landscape of a bygone era. Though many houses were in various states of disrepair, they all stood proud - undaunted by 20th century progress. These homes fascinated me and instilled in me an appreciation for their timeless beauty.

Read more: Journey to King William – A Time Traveler's Memoir

The San Antonio and Aransas Pass railroad built a large wooden depot in 1884 at the intersection of S. Alamo and S. Flores, current site of the Salvation Army Store. On May 30, 1898, the depot was the scene of the departure of Teddy Roosevelt and his Roughriders as they headed for Cuba. In 1925, it was bought by the Southern Pacific and service to the old wooden depot ended. The SA&AP depot was demolished in 1939.

Read more: Bygone Neighborhood Railroad Depots

Longtime King William neighbors may remember the elderly lady who lived in the derelict two-story house at 203 Madison until the 1970s. A bit of research reveals that she was Anita McLean, granddaughter of Johann William Schuwirth, the original owner and builder of the house. As you can see from the before and after photos, one should never doubt that these old historic houses can be restored.

Read more: The Johann William Schuwirth House

In 1984, the southern portion of the King William area was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and named the S. Alamo Street – S. Saint Mary’s Street National Register Historic District. Part of the nomination process was a historic structure survey, which consisted of photographing buildings and houses, identifying architectural styles and determining if they were “contributing” to the historic district.

Read more: Historic Building Inventory Begun

If you have been to the San Antonio Botanical Garden, you entered through a large stone building.  That is the Sullivan Carriage House that originally stood on Broadway just a few blocks north of Houston St.  It was dismantled stone by stone and rebuilt at the Garden to prevent its loss to development.  

King William also has its own stone barn that was originally built elsewhere.  At the rear of the San Antonio Conservation Society, at 107 King William St., is the Stuemke Barn built by August C. Stuemke downtown at the corner of Houston and N. Flores Sts. about 155 years ago.  It had been part of the first San Antonio lumberyard, which Mr. Stuemke owned.  In 1982 it also was rescued and moved stone by stone and rebuilt.  At the time it was one of the last early industrial buildings left downtown.  

Moving the barn was a joint project of the Conservation Society and Frost Bank.  The bank financed the dismantling and reconstruction of the barn that is now used as a meeting space and for other functions.  The pictures show the barn as it was on Houston St. in 1982 and now at its new home.

Many thanks to the SACS for the use of its files providing the details for this article and for saving another part of San Antonio history, which it does so well.

- Alan Cash

St. Benedict’s Lofts on South Alamo Street has brought 66 new homes and five new businesses, including the Liberty Bar and Restaurant, to the King William neighborhood. Six single-family garden homes facing Madison Street will complete the project. This redevelopment has ended 17 years of decline of the buildings that once housed St. Benedict’s Hospital and Nursing Home, as well as the St. Scholastica Convent. (Historical note: Saints Benedict and Scholastica were twins born in 480 AD in Italy. Benedict created his order of religious men, and then his sister formed an order for women based on Benedict’s rules.)

Read more: St. Benedict’s: Then and Now

Madison Street neighbor Linda Winchester recently posed an interesting question about a bit of King William history. She was told by an old friend of her father’s that he remembered living in the 100 block of Madison Street as a child. He also remembered that his mother walked him across the street to a French private girls’ school, which he was allowed to attend until he was six years old.

The man’s childhood home no longer exists, but Maria Pfeiffer identified the school as Bonn-Avon School at 117 Madison. She says that the school was named after the birthplaces of Beethoven and Shakespeare.

Read more: The McDaniel House and the Bonn-Avon School

In 1967, the King William Association was founded and chartered as a non-profit organization to preserve the first historic district in Texas and to promote the unique cultural heritage of San Antonio. To further that mission, the neighborhood hosted its first Spring Fair and Tour of Homes the very next year, in 1968. The joint Fair and Tour of Homes continued as a part of Fiesta until about 1988, when due to the complexities of the combined events, the Home Tour was moved to early December and billed as the Holiday Home Tour.

The neighborhood’s very first home tour however, was 59 years ago, sponsored by the King William Area Conservation Association.

Read more: First Home Tour Billed as “Tour of Old World Charm”

A tale of the supernatural in the neighborhood

In August of 2008, not long after moving in to the two-story Victorian wood frame house at 123 Cedar Street, the new Proprietress, her two young sons, and their Governess, who was older and more sensitive than the rest of them, returned from a long weekend in the country and noticed something amiss. The Governess climbed the staircase to the first landing and protested loudly and repeatedly.

“What’s got her so stirred up?” the elder boy asked.

Read more: Observance of Hallows, Saints, and Souls in Lavender

I want to remind readers of the history of The Engelke/Reifel House, so here’s a portion of Mary Burkholder’s book Down the Acequia Madre. She takes the history through the 1960s, and I’ll pick it up from there.

Mrs. Sophie F. Engelke built this home in 1892. After living there for six years, she sold the house to Adolph W. Hartung, Sr. This was his family home until he sold it in 1907 to C. Michaud. Dolores Wilhelmi bought the property in 1912; in 1922 it was sold to Thomas and Mary Spellessy, who lived there for three years. Thomas and Minnie Vann bought the house from them in 1926.

Read more: The Engelke/Reifel House

When the l886 frame church at the address of Produce Row and San Saba Streets was torn down, the materials were immediately put to use in the construction of a new parsonage next door. The church was originally known as the Mexican Methodist Episcopal Church and the streets originally called Presidio and West Streets. This parsonage, built in l921 entirely of salvaged materials from this Victorian era frame church, sat beside the newly built brick structure and was renamed La Trinidad Templo Methodista Mexicano. Wood timbers, framing, the wood flooring, wainscoting and other materials from the old church were main features of the new parsonage. The parsonage remained at this location until l950 when it was moved to 334 King William Street when the church expanded their facilities again. La Trinidad pastors and their families occupied this parsonage at this location until l975, having purchased the property from O. Wolf who had acquired it from the Groos family a few years earlier.

Here is an account by Sheila Nicholls Winget of the moving of the house to King William in l950. “As a child, I lived at 338 Madison (now the lovely home of Gates and Joan Whiteley). When I was quite young, I overheard the 'grownups' talking about a house that would be moved to the corner of Sheridan and King William streets, exactly one block away. Wow! How could this be? How could a house move? In this pre-television, pre-internet era of Dale Evans and Roy Rogers westerns, I was thrilled!

"The next day, upon awaking early, I started my vigil, sitting on the edge of Sheridan Street, which was unpaved and un-curbed at that time. Waiting and waiting, I fantasized with serious contemplation the wonder of a moving house. It finally happened! Yes….here it came….the white house rolled down Sheridan. It was an all day procedure. Not wanting to miss a single moving inch, I would not be budged by my Mother’s call to lunch. Instead, I ate my sandwich on the side of the street, convinced I was witness to a remarkable event. What fun!!

"What I didn’t not know is that many years later, I would return to the neighborhood and live within view of this wonderful and beautiful home, now owned by Erin and Olin Strauss. This memory… still exciting and vivid… creates one of those internal and eternal smiles we all associate with happy and interesting childhood recollections.”

The pastor of La Trinidad, Rev. Espino, and his wife lived here until l960. The house was modernized and the wainscoting was covered with sheetrock and the floors with linoleum tile. A concrete porch was added and a stone wall built around the perimeter of the property with stones from the Chabot House, where Mrs. Adams had some piled in the yard.

The house continued to serve as a parsonage until l975. Walter Mathis purchased the property and erected the iron fence over the stone wall. Then he took an ornate fireplace mantle from the Chabot house and built a fireplace for the house. He added the gazebo-like porch, the detail over the window of the porch and the shutters, board and batten siding, and a metal roof with an ornate detail ornament over the peak of the porch. The floor of the porch was covered with D’Hanis brick and the l880 embellishments were added.

He sold the house to Nile B. and Mary Jo Norton in l976. Their contributions were mostly to the interior. Some of the l886 wainscoting was exposed. They also added rooms to the rear of the house.

In November of 2003, Erin and Olin Strauss bought the house. Senior District Judge Olin and Erin Strauss moved here from Jourdanton, Texas, where Olin was the Judge for the 81st District Court serving Atascosa, Wilson, Karnes, Frio and LaSalle Counties.

Earlier that month, while driving through the KW District on the way to take Olin back to the Bexar County Courthouse after lunch, they noticed a "for sale" sign in the front yard of 334 King William that hadn't been there that morning. Excitedly, they called the realtor, saw the house that evening after work, and bought it the next day. They learned that the sign had only been up twenty minutes when they first saw it. It was meant to be! After a little renovation, they moved in on April 16, 2004.

The Strausses exposed the original pine floors, painted the wainscoting, landscaped the yards and put in gardens and built cabinets in the kitchen. In 2007, Jim Smith, the color specialist, interviewed the Strausses and created a sort of portrait of the new owners with “their” colors, painting the house in the refreshing limes, lemons, and creams as we see it today. The house has been “Smithed.”

The yards around the house were landscaped with a serpentine D’Hanis brick walk. Erin and Olin Strauss entertain their large family on the porch and in the gardens surrounding the house. Many refer to the house as the house without curtains. I think of it as the house where once again folks live on the front porch. It was a good move.

Henry Rayburn

A modern Brackenridge High School sits on the edge of the King William neighborhood at the corner of S. St. Mary’s and Eagleland Streets. However, many present residents may not have seen the imposing structure built in 1916 as the George W. Brackenridge High School, which was designed by the wellknown American architect Alfred Giles. Its first class graduated in 1918. The accompanying drawing shows a 1917 rendering of the new campus looking from S. St. Mary’s Street. The accompanying photo is a 1960 view of the school’s main entrance. At some point, the decision was made to demolish the building and construct a new air conditioned school.

Read more: Brackenridge High School

The Albert Carl Moye House 524 King William Street Albert Carl Moye was born in Kassel, Germany, on September 19, 1820. He married twenty-year-old Mathilde Wilhamina von Bartheld on October 31, 1841. Four years later, with their twoyear- old son, Otto, and infant daughter Wilhamina, the Moyes, along with 214 other German immigrants, set sail for Galveston, Texas, aboard the three-mast barque Neptune. They, along with many other Germans, had been lured to Texas by promises made in the terms of the Fisher-Miller Grant. Prospective settlers were to receive 320 acres (for a married man) plus transportation across the ocean and to their acreage; a house, furnishings, utensils and farming equipment; access to churches, hospitals, roads and general provisions for their welfare.

Unfortunately, the Moyes landed in Galveston in November 1845, just as the war between the United States and Mexico was heating up. This meant that all means of transportation were needed by the Army, leaving the Moye’s group and thousands of other German immigrants stranded on the Texas Gulf Coast. Many perished due to exposure to the elements and disease; some made the long overland trip on foot or by wagon to San Antonio, New Braunfels and Fredericksburg. The Moyes were detained for six months in Indianola, the port nearest the Fisher-Miller Grant lands. By the time they finally reached San Antonio, The Republic of Texas to which they were immigrating had joined the Union and the many promises that had attracted them to the Republic had vanished.

Read more: The Albert Carl Moye House

One of the most fascinating stories on King William Street surrounds the Alfred Giles house at 308 King William. Alfred Giles designed and built the house. His granddaughter, Amy Dreiss Scott, appeared in the driveway in 2001 and told Margaret Leeds, the current owner, that she was born in the house eighty years to the date and that her niece had driven her down from Comfort to drive by and see the old place. She said that her grandfather was Alfred Giles and that she grew up in the house.

She was born in the front bedroom just after the 1921 flood. Alfred Giles told her stories about the flood when she was older. He told her that the wooden front steps had floated down the street along with numerous pianos and front porches from other houses. King William Street became an actual river. When he went searching for the steps, he encountered two ladies who thought the steps belonged to them. He entered the evidence that he had supervised the building of the steps and that he could show them the saw cuts in the board, which he did. The ladies were convinced and let him have the steps.

Read more: The Twelve Mathis Houses: Margaret Leeds’ House

There has been a military presence in San Antonio from the very beginning. In 1718, when Spanish padres came to start a mission, they were accompanied by soldiers who built barracks and established a military post. San Antonio’s geographic location has made it a strategic spot for military installations ever since.

In 1858, the U. S. Army chose San Antonio as the location for a permanent arsenal. It would be a facility large enough for the army to store arms and munitions to supply all the frontier forts and outposts in Western Texas. Up until that time, the army’s ordinance department had used rented buildings, principally the Alamo complex to conduct its arsenal operations.

Read more: The United States Arsenal - Then and Now-

There are twelve houses in King William which are here today because of the foresight and thoughtfulness as well as understanding of architectural history which Walter Mathis demonstrated. These twelve houses helped to spur the restoration of many more houses in King William and across the city of San Antonio.

I have been working since April on a series of sketches of these twelve houses which Mr. Mathis rescued. They will be completed by the opening date for the Villa Finale Visitor Center and will be exhibited at my home. Over the next twelve months, I will attempt to write a short narrative or give some historical information for each of the twelve houses, beginning with the Chabot House.

The Chabot House is one of the richest in detail and has been on my drawing board for several months. Curtis Johnson and Leland Stone provided me with a letter from Walter Mathis to the Texas Historical Commission for the marker application. In Mr. Mathis’ application for a marker, he made these comments about the house. I have condensed his comments for the newsletter. “I have been unable to locate any records indicating the architect and contractor.

Read more: The Twelve Mathis Houses: The Chabot House

In 1908, trustees for the Methodist Episcopal Church- South signed a contract to pay Joseph and Julia Courand $3,000 for the two lots at the corner of S. Alamo and Wickes. The Courands, who owned Courand Grain Co., lived next to those two lots in their impressive mansion at the corner of Adams and S. Alamo. By 1912, the newly formed congregation had accumulated enough money to build a new church building. In 1913, the church was dedicated and given the name, Alamo Methodist Church. Beverely Spillman designed the building, a fine example of mission style architecture popular in South Texas at that time.

For over fifty years, the little church played an important role in the spiritual life of King William residents but by the late 1960’s the membership had declined to the point that the church could no longer be sustained and the congregation finally disbanded. After sitting vacant for several years suffering abuse from vandals and vagrants, the church building was purchased in 1976 by Bill and Marcia Larsen who transformed it into a restaurant and theatre. In 2005, the building went through yet another extensive renovation by the new owner and King William neighbor, Paul Alan Boskind.

Read more: Alamo Methodist Church

I bought the Stieren House at 503 East Guenther Street four years ago.  Upon moving in, I read Mary V. Burkholder’s book, Down the Acequia Madre, and I learned many historical facts about the house.  It was built in 1891 by Carl Stieren, who lived here with his wife Hedwig. Carl was a lumberman and entered into business with the Meerscheidt brothers, Axel and Paul, who owned a large area spanning 33 acres, south and east of South Alamo Street. Together they sold lots and built houses in the area, developing the Meerscheidt River Subdivision where my house stands today.  

As a newcomer to the King William Historic District, I became enthralled by the history of our neighborhood and was floored when I received an intriguing letter in the mail. The letter began, “I am a relative of Axel (Alexander) Meerscheidt.”

The letter was from Neale Rabensburg of La Grange, Texas, and it contained an old photograph (above, left) of what he thought might be my house. The picture was taken in the 1890’s and was published in The Story of My Life, an autobiography by Erna Meerscheidt, Axel’s daughter.

Read more: The Meerscheidt Homestead: Gone and Almost Forgotten

For the last two years, a group of firefighters who call themselves “The Water Street Irregulars” have been busy restoring old firefighting equipment and preserving the history of firefighting in San Antonio. The former fire station has been serving as a workshop for the San Antonio Fire Museum which is scheduled to open in the near future at the old Fire Station No. 1 at 801 East Houston Street near the Alamo.

Read more: Old Fire Station No. 7