KWA Newsletter Articles

Walter Nold Mathis passed away on 30 December 2005 at the age of 86 years. He was born in San Antonio on 13 August 1919 to Arthur Mathis and Jessie Bell Mathis. He was the grandson of Thomas Henry Mathis, rancher and founder of Mathis, Texas and co-founder of Rockport, Texas. His maternal grandfather was Samuel C . Bell, former mayor of San Antonio.

Mathis was a direct descendant of Maria de Jesus Curbelo, a member of one of the original Canary Island families who founded San Fernando de Bexar in 1731 and of John W. Smith, who brought 32 volunteers to the Alamo from Gonzales, was the Alamo's last messenger, and San Antonio's first Mayor under the Republic of Texas. Mathis graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor's Degree in business administration. He was a member and officer of the Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity.

On the morning after Pearl Harbor, Mathis enlisted in the Army Air Corps. Following pilot training, he was given command of the 45th Squadron, 265th Division, 9th Air Force. The unit, called "First Pathfinders," provided front line B-26 aerial support for the Normandy invasion and later for General Patton and consisted of 196 men. Only 28 survived. Although eligible for discharge after completing 25 missions, Mathis completed 65 missions and remained on active duty until the war ended. Captain Mathis mustered out of the Army Air Corps on 29 December 1945, rewarded by three Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Air Medal, and a Presidential Citation.

….the house that is now the King William Manor [formerly the Columns B&B] on S. Alamo, until sometime in the late 1990’s was a used book store. The house next door, now nicely restored, had a concrete block addition on the front which housed an auto parts store. A fledgling theatre group eventually took over the space in the late 90’s calling themselves Jump Start Theatre. Now, of course, they are a well established and respected performance company located at Blue Star.

Alan Cash

.…Joan and I have lived in King William since 1976 and we’ve never felt threatened or bothered in the least by problems that seem to face many inner city neighborhoods. But then, we were not here in the bad old days when this was essentially a red light district and crime was more of a problem.

John Larcade and I did take a walk through the Madison Apts. in the late 1970’s and actually saw residents shooting up in the hallway and in one of the rooms where the door had been left open. We reported this to the police and learned shortly thereafter that the chief of police actually owned the apartments at that time.

Thanks to the vigilance and hard work of fellow residents and Walter Mathis’ leadership, the police agreed to patrol regularly. Soon thereafter, the ownership of the Madison Apts. changed hands and things began to get better.

Our biggest problem today is the spin-off from first Friday and the trash left over from the Fair. No big deal compared to what this neighborhood was like thirty-five years ago.

Gates Whiteley

….when China Latina on S. Alamo was Rosario’s or even earlier when it was a car repair shop. I took Maggie Egan to lunch there one day soon after Rosario’s opened and she laughed when she saw that our table was sitting right where the old car lift used to be. When it was a garage, she said it was a constant irritant to the neighbors because, with no off-street parking, they parked cars two deep out front making it impossible to walk on the sidewalk.

Bill Cogburn

.…when looking up at the second floor of an adjoining house was an adventure. Madeline Guyer saw a woman pour out the evening’s cooking grease and Margaret Larcade saw a man answer the call of nature.

Carolene Zehner

The year was 1909. It was a hot sultry morning in late May when three neighborhood teenage boys gathered in the backyard of 208 King William Street, the home of fifteen year-old Arthur Bergstrom. Besides Arthur, there was Walter Giesecke from 218 Washington Street and Willard Berman from 338 Madison Street. Bored and with the prospect of a long summer vacation from Bonham School #10, they began casting about for something to do. According to a written account by Arthur’s younger brother, Walter Bergstrom, it was Walter Giesecke who suggested the idea of forming a boy’s club. Willard Berman is said to have come up with the name for the club – The Merry Knights of King William.

With permission from Arthur’s parents, the upper floor of the Bergstrom’s carriage house would become the Merry Knight’s clubhouse. There was much to be done to make the space suitable for their purpose. The first order of business was to recruit additional members to form a work crew for the task ahead.

Those new recruits were Ernst Schuchard who lived at 221 East Guenther and Percy Clarkson from 213 Washington Street. Next they brought on Albert and Werner Beckmann from 529 Madison (now 222 East Guenther), George Henyan, 202 Madison Street, Harry Ankerson, also from Madison Street, Henry Pancoast at 203 King William and Frederick Bollinger from 236 King William Street.

… in King William in the 1930’.s . My teenage years on Guenther Street were a happy time. The intersection of Guenther and Crofton was our playground. Traffic wasn’t a problem back then, so on a summer evening all the neighborhood kids, and there were lots of them, would congregate at the “Y” to play pop-the-whip on roller skates. The boys would play touch football. We were a rowdy, noisy bunch. No one had air conditioning in those days and with all the open windows, we must have been a real nuisance but I don’t remember anyone complaining.

Helen Geyer

… the early 1970’s when the property bounded by Main, Guenther, Sheridan and Flores was a vibrant neighborhood, many of them families of Italian decent. There was a Baptist Church at the corner of Nathan and Johnson Streets. The government decided that it would be a good location for the city’s main post office so the property was condemned and all the houses leveled. A few years later, the post office plan was abandoned and the property was offered to the school district as a location for their cafeteria warehouse and commissary. The surrounding neighborhood, bitterly opposed to such a use of the property, mobilized and, with the support of the King William Association, managed to reach a compromise for the Housing Authority facility and the nice park that we see today.

…..when this extremely tall, very skinny man used to sunbathe frequently in the front yard of a house in my block. He paid homage to the sun wearing a loin cloth and stood to catch the rays for long periods of time several days every week. Tour buses didn’t know whether to speed up or slow down!

Carolene Zehner

. . . .back in the 1940’s when the Handy Andy that used to be on St. Mary’s was brand new. They would set up tents in the parking lot and conduct cooking classes. My mother was really into that sort of thing. She came home one day proudly carrying her winning prize – a beautiful coconut cake

Evelyn Barker

....when they were building the walkways along the river in the late 1960’s after all the flood control work was finished. Our dad would tell us kids that one day we’d have a river walk all the way to Roosevelt Park. Of course, we couldn’t imagine that ever being possible, but he evidently knew what he was talking about. It looks like it’s finally going to happen.

Marco Botello

The King William Park, bounded by Washington, Turner and King William Streets, appears to have been purposely laid out as a park, but it wasn’t. The city actually bought this triangular piece of land in 1901 from Mrs. Phoebe Groesbeck for payment of delinquent taxes. Although the city designated it as a park shortly thereafter, it was years before landscaping and trees were planted.

The park’s gazebo began its life in the 1890’s near the Commander’s House on the grounds of the United States Arsenal (now H-E-B Headquarters) across the river from Upper Mill Park. In 1954, threatened by demolition, the gazebo was moved to its present location through the efforts of the King William Area Conservation Association, the predecessor of the King William Association. Most everyone was delighted with the new addition to the park; everyone that is, except the neighborhood boys who had been using the park for their baseball field.

Dedication of the gazebo was conducted by the Merry Knights of King William, a club started by neighborhood teenage boys in 1909, but over the years having evolved into a men’s club. One of the founding members, Willard Berman, donated, in the name of the Merry Knights, an impressive solid brass eagle weather vane to mount on top of the gazebo. Werner Beckmann, another Merry Knight, delivered a touching dedicatory oration.

Unfortunately, the brass weather vane disappeared after a short time. Mr. Berman graciously replaced it with a duplicate only to have the second one stolen. The gazebo went without a top decoration for years until some inventive neighbors came up with the clever idea of using a round copper toilet float attached to a rod.

Once installed and looked at from the ground, it appeared for all the world as if it had been especially designed for just such a purpose. It remained the gazebo’s crown until a major restoration in the late 1980’s when the weather vane you see today was installed.

The park is an oasis for many neighbors who like to stop, sit, contemplate, meet with other neighbors or just stroll around the perimeter, but it is also popular for weddings, concerts and parties. The park is also, literally, the center stage for our King William Fair when it takes a real beating from the crowds.

It has been suggested that some of the Fair proceeds be set aside to refurbish the park. Not only does the grass need attention but many of the trees are beginning to die from old age and disease. We may be somewhat behind the curve for timely replacement of the park’s trees, but we’re trying to catch up.

As Maria Pfeiffer described in her July 2007 newsletter article, the Parks Department will be planting two red oaks and one Monterey oak tree this fall. You may also have read Maria’s article with photo in the August 2007 newsletter showing Bartlett Tree Experts planting a nice size Monterey Oak at the west corner of the park at Washington and Turner to commemorate Bartlett’s one hundredth anniversary. Maria will continue to work with the Parks Department on a long range plan to replace additional trees.

There is a great deal of interest in the neighborhood to further enhance the park with major landscaping – shrubs, flowers, benches, water fountain(s), improved trash containers, etc. It has also been suggested that a monument with plaque giving a brief history of our neighborhood be installed at the northeast corner of the park at King William and Washington; that location being essentially the gateway to our neighborhood, particularly for walking tourists. All that is needed are a few dedicated souls to plan and implement the park renewal program. If this idea sparks your interest, call the King William office and volunteer to be a part of the team. This park could be King William’s crown jewel. Bill Cogburn

Thirty years ago when our neighborhood was a bit rough around the edges. Soon after Joan and I bought our house in 1976, we attended our first KWA meeting at the old pool house behind the Steves Homestead. At this meeting, Egon Tausch, who lived on Madison just down the street from us, reported his encounter with a second story burglar. Egon was asleep in his upstairs front bedroom when he was awakened by someone coming through the window. He slept with a revolver at his bedside so he raised his pistol and warned the intruder that if he didn’t leave the way he came in, he’d be shot. The man continued to advance so Egon shot him and the force of the charge propelled the intruder out the window by which he had entered. Egon ran to the window and saw a prone figure lying on the ground so he called the police and they carted the fellow away. The burglar later died from his wounds. No charges were filed.

Immediately upon recounting his story, Egon was accosted by an anti-gun crowd; many of whom were in attendance that evening. There were loud, vocal demands that guns be banned from King William. Finally, Walter Mathis, who was chairing the meeting, was able to restore order. Then he proceeded to tell his own amazing story.

Walter said he was upstairs at his home on King William Street one evening when he heard someone at a downstairs window. As he came out of his upstairs sitting room onto the stair landing, he saw the intruder attempting to make his way through the window. Walter quickly got his revolver and shouted his intent to fire. The man continued to advance, so Walter shot him. He then rushed to the upstairs front porch and, seeing the man attempting to flee, shot him again. After a lengthy interview with the police, the investigating officer allowed that Walter “probably should not have shot the fellow a second time since he was running away”. But again, no charges were filed.

As you can imagine, the room became very quiet. Walter then asked if there was further discussion and there was none. The meeting continued without further interruption.

Gates Whiteley

Before the King William Association bought the cottage on S. Alamo in 1991, we rented a small apartment in the Schug’s house at 222 King William Street for our office. The apartment’s living room was the main part of the office and the bedroom was the board room. In between the two rooms was the bathroom which you had to pass through to get from one room to the other. When there were several people in the office, it was always a bit comical with folks on both sides trying to figure out when the bathroom was in use. There was also a small kitchen which doubled as storage space. This crowded space also served as our fair headquarters.

Alan Cash

Jean Alexander-Williams was the part-time office manager for the King William Association through the 1980’s until Maggie Konkle took over the job about 1990. Jean handled the entire operation by herself during those years without benefit of a computer. She was a frugal soul. To save money on postage, she sometimes delivered the newsletter to the neighbors on her bicycle.

Bill Cogburn

If one plant could be called the Christmas Flower it would be the poinsettia. They are great for home decoration and make perfect gifts to be enjoyed for years to come.

Which brings me to a story of one plant in particular. In the garden along the drive at my newly restored home on Mission Street was a double red poinsettia. The house had been vacant for more than 10 years and the winter had apparently been too mild to freeze the plant back. In the spring of 2003 when I was getting ready to paint the house the plant was over 10 feet tall and had grown out over the drive. With great reluctance I found I had to cut it down in order to paint.

It was only afterwards that my next door neighbor told me the poinsettia had been given to his brother-inlaw and new bride who happened to be living with them at the time - 36 years ago! They didn't have enough of a garden to plant the gift, so their next door neighbor kindly offered to let them plant it along his drive where they could see it.

We both thought that 36-year-old poinsettia was gone for good. But it is back and beautiful! It has about 100 bracks that are just starting to turn red in this cooler weather and should be in full bloom by the middle of the month.

If you get a poinsettia over the holidays it can be kept indoors until spring. Keep it in a bright window with moist but not wet soil. And if you have an unusual story about something in your garden that you would like to share with other NL readers, let us know…

Alan Cash

I want to start by pointing out that winter in San Antonio is something that most Americans would like to flee to, not from. Having said that, we in San Antonio will feel the sting of much higher natural gas prices after cold winds finally arrive this far south. And for those of us in drafty old houses, the sting will be even greater. If you haven't done it after all these years, it's STILL not too late to take action to keep out the wind and keep in the heat. In my house, the windows are easily the worst culprit when it comes to heating (and cooling) inefficiency. They are big, single pane, and totally out of compliance with modern building codes. They sit so loosely in their channels that they shake and bang and rattle in any wind and allow frightening amounts air to pass in and out. Still, nearly all of them are original, and I think they are gorgeous. I wouldn't trade them for Pella double-glazed low-E windows if someone offered them to me for free (and nobody has). So an ongoing (Laura says never ending) project of mine is to add bronze V-type weatherstrip to the window sash channels. This old-fashioned V-type strip creates a far tighter fit. It cuts the draft dramatically and eliminates the rattle completely. You can nail the strips in place with little copper tacks or you might find a version that comes with double sided tape.

It is that time of year when the flowers begin to bloom, the leaves spring forth and the webworms begin to get hungry.

Webworms are a serious problem in King William. Last year I tried a tree medicine which I bought at Home Depot. The solution stated that if you poured the contents on the base of the pecan trees, the tree would absorb the solution and the webworms would leave the tree. The solution cost about $18.00 per bottle and it didn't work. My neighbor hired a company to spray her pecan trees and they charged her a fortune and she still has the dreaded worms.

Due to overwhelming demand (at least two people have asked me), I want to write about stripping, staining and varnishing the wood trim in our house on Adams St. Like much of the restoration project, this aspect of it had no budget and no timeline. And I had no idea what I was getting into. Laura claims we never even had a discussion about stripping the white-painted wood rather than just repainting it. I find that hard to believe, but there is a small chance that in the rush of construction I forgot to mention to her that Scott, my brother-in-law-contractor, had scraped a spot of white paint off of some window trim and in one of those "eureka!" moments we realized there was varnish under the layers of paint, which pointed to the only possible course of action that made any sense--strip all of the wood in the house and restore it to something like its original look. As luck would have it, there was a lot of original woodwork just waiting to be stripped and restored. All of the windows, doors, and baseboards; the window and door casing and jambs…. Laura, I was sure, would love it when we were finished.

My wife and I are still married. That's my greatest achievement as we pass the two and a half year mark as owners of our house at 310 Adams Street (featured on the December Home Tour). For both Laura and me, purchasing a shell of a house was a leap into the unknown. We both saw the potential in the long neglected 2- story house, and with enthusiasm that only the love-struck and naïve possess, we paid too much to the seller in 2002 and started what I assured her would be a 6-month project.

Before my wife and I bought our house on Adams Street, we sat down with our brother-in-law and contractor- to-be, Scott Day, to discuss a barebones budget. (Please see last month's column in which I discussed the futility of good budgeting during a renovation project). One of the items that Scott thought we should include in our budget was labor and material for fireblocking. Laura asked for an explanation, and Scott gave her one, and I nodded knowingly, not admitting that my mental image of fireblocking was rather fuzzy. When he added that our house needed fireblocking because the walls were almost certainly balloon-frame construction, I said, "Of course," and began to get nervous. I'd never heard of balloon-frame construction, but it sounded neither solid nor fire resistant. Laura was enthusiastic about every single fire prevention measure that Scott could think of, so we agreed that we needed to include fireblocking in our renovation plan. And to my surprise, I soon became obsessed with effective fireblocking.

According to the October 17, 1909, Sunday Edition of the San Antonio Light, a San Antonio landmark was razed just the week before in order to widen South Alamo Street. The old home of Gustav and Augusta Haenel, which had been on the City's condemned list for fourteen years, finally came down.

In 1849, sixteen year-old Gustav and his brother Julius, left their home in Prussia arriving in Texas at Indianola. Traveling inland, they stopped off briefly in San Antonio and New Braunfels, and then traveled to Louisville, Kentucky but after a year, they returned to South Texas where they would remain.

Some neighbors have deeper roots in King William than others. Former KWA board member Henry Botello and his siblings were born and grew up here. Henry's parents, Marco and Josefina Botello, were married in 1950 at San Fernando Cathedral. Shortly thereafter, they moved to 916 S. Main, where Marco's mother had lived since 1941. Six children were born to Marco and Josefina while they lived there: Josie, Adel, Sylvia, Marco Jr., Marie, and Henry. After six children, the Botellos had outgrown their house, so in 1962, Marco built a larger home for his family just around the corner at 210 W. Johnson St.

Rainwater is much better for your garden than City chlorinated water. But have you priced the fancy rain barrels for sale at the garden centers? You can make your own easily and cheaply by fitting out one of the plastic barrels left over from our Spring Fair.

Using a saber saw, cut out a six inch diameter hole in the top of the barrel. Then use a 1/2" drill bit to make a hole in the side of the barrel, approximately six inches from the bottom. Twist a 1/2" plastic hose bib with a rubber garden hose washer into the hole. Then reach inside and twist a threaded 1/2" PVC collar onto the hose bib.

To set up your new rain barrel, choose a convenient downspout location. Place the rain barrel on top of two cinder blocks. Set up the barrel and configure the downspout to pour into the barrel. Place screen material over the opening to prevent leaves from clogging up the hose bib. And be sure to drop in mosquito doughnuts often since rain barrels are the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Several 50 gallon barrels are located on the back patio of the KW office just waiting to be converted. Take a look at the prototype on the back patio -- it's easy! And your plants will thank you......Bill Cogburn

Meerscheidt SistersIn last month’s newsletter, Belinda Molina wrote about the Axel Meerscheidt house that once stood next door to her house on E. Guenther. Sadly, the Meerscheidt house burned in the 1950’s. Belinda has communicated with Neale Rabensburg, a descendent of the Meerscheidt family, who has generously shared excerpts from the memoir of Erna Meerscheidt. Erna, daughter of Axel and Olga Meerscheidt, grew up in the house.


By Erna Meerscheidt Weeks Bouillon

“........but after my grandfather’s death [Dr. O. Remer of New Braunfels], grandmother [Franciska Schleier] moved to San Antonio where several of her children had settled. My father [Axel Meerscheidt] had a darling little house built for my grandmother across the street from this large home in the Meerscheidt Addition [515 E. Guenther, later changed to 101 Crofton]. Our home was really a mansion, built in red brick with white rock, around curved windows, and the curved entrance door. It had a marble foyer and beautiful, stained glass windows. The mansion has now been turned into a chapel by the Catholics. It was of French architecture, located in an exclusive residential district named after my father, the Meerscheidt Addition.

It has been a busy and intermittently wet spring for all of us, but the rain is the herald of good news.

Thanks to the army of dedicated volunteers, and the forbearance of everyone in the Fair zone, the King William 2012 Fair appears to have been a smashing success. There will be more to report when final accounting is completed, but I can say that the Fair topped last year’s proceeds, so all the effort truly was rewarded. The Fair staff made me an ID badge on a lanyard (making me feel like a belled cat) but the label allowed me to receive a lot of first-hand feedback from visitors. I was surprised by how many out-of-towners there were, including an entire family from Houston who’d piled into the car on a whim and come to try the Fair. I ran into an attorney from Bermuda who tells me she came last year and now will make a visit to King William an annual event on Fair day. Even the parade seemed to be moving more smoothly, partly due to its reduced bulk, and partly, no doubt, to the lack of interference from speeding fire engines. The only one in the parade this time was an antique, the one we expected. Not that there was anything wrong with the arrival of the SAFD last year - as usual they were doing their competent and careful best to minimize damage.