As late as the 1980s, the little caliche block cottage at 201 Cedar Street was still being referred to by neighbors as “the chicken coop.” Johnny Von Dohlen, however, saw a diamond in the rough.
Roz and I were good friends with the Von Dohlens in Houston where Johnny was an agent for HUD for many years. In the 1980s, his job took him to San Antonio. Rather than move the family to San Antonio, they decided to move back to their ancestral home in Goliad while Johnny spent his work weeks in San Antonio. It wasn’t long before he fell in love with King William’s architecture and small town atmosphere. He rented a small apartment behind 516 King William Street from Dorothy Schuchard. He referred to this tiny space as his “walk-in-back-out” house.
In the evenings, Johnny enjoyed exploring the neighborhood on foot and kept returning to the vacant, derelict cottage on the corner of Cedar and Pereida. The tiny two-room cottage, one of the oldest structures in the neighborhood, is thought to have been built by Ernst Wehrhahn for his farm workers in the early 1860s.
After a bit of research, Johnny found the owner of the cottage to be Edmund James who lived on his family’s Cedar Creek Ranch west of San Antonio near Barksdale. When Johnny asked if James was interested in selling the property, he was told that it was not for sale. Refusing to take no for an answer, Johnny proposed a plan whereby he would manage the restoration and then live in the finished cottage, paying modest rent with the option of buying the house. James agreed to these terms and they shook on it.
After months of work under Johnny’s supervision, restoration of the little cottage was completed. For the next several years, it served as Johnny’s home away from home – his casita, as he called it. Roz and I, still living in Houston at the time, often stayed in Johnny’s cottage on weekends when he was home with his family in Goliad. That was in the late 1980s and our first introduction to King William.
Tragically, 44 year-old Edmund James was shot to death on his ranch by teenagers on a robbery spree in 1992. Besides being a rancher, James was a member of the board of directors for the Pioneer Flour Mill and a great-grandson of C. H. Guenther, the Mill founder.
With the death of James, the handshake deal between the two men was never consummated. Shortly thereafter, Johnny Von Dohlen retired from HUD and lived out his life at his family home in Goliad. I think of Johnny every time I pass by the pretty little cottage and continue to thank my dear friend for his part in saving one of our neighborhood’s precious houses.
- Bill Cogburn