Photos found recall scenes from San Antonio’s past



I was rummaging through boxes at my mom’s house and found some old photos and wondered if you could help me identify the locations.

First of all, I wonder if it could be the lobby of the Menger hotel. There is nothing written on the back. The second is old billboards at an intersection which I think may be somewhere in downtown San Antonio. Interesting that the far right, halfway cut billboard is for the San Antonio Coffee Co. My grandfather owned and ran this business for many years. Last but not least, a very old photo that wrote on the back “San Antonio 1864”. I have no idea for this one!

If you can help me, I would really appreciate it.

– Chris Cooley

The oldest photo was identified as a view from the northwest corner of the main plaza by Tom Shelton, the University of Texas photo curator at the San Antonio Libraries Special Collections. The date on your copy of the photo is one of several attributed to the photo but is probably not far off.

The photographer is Henry Doerr (covered here December 9, 2017), who worked in San Antonio from 1865 to at least 1885. Although the photo in the collection is undated, UTSA catalog information estimates it. to 1868.

It can also be viewed on the University of North Texas Libraries Portal on Texas History at, where it is described as “Looking west along Commerce Street.” Carl Elmendorf’s hardware store faces the camera. The two-story Plaza House Hotel is on the far right. A horse drawn carriage waits outside the Old Stand Bar Room. In the background, a group of men gather around a corner lamppost.

The date of creation is listed as unknown, with a note that the Plaza Hotel was built in 1845 and the Elmendorf gable roof was added in the 1860s.

This photo of the dusty streetscape of old San Antonio was in the collection of Ernst Wilhelm Raba (1874-1951), who acquired some of the San Antonio street scenes that he did not take himself when other photographers have gone bankrupt. The San Antonio Express purchased his collection of glass plate negatives after his death and donated them in 1980 to the Conservation Society of San Antonio. On the back of the company print, it is dated 1872.

The importance of the hardware store business is detailed in “A Guide to the Historical Markers of Bexar County,” published by the Bexar County Historical Commission, regarding a landmark for the Elmendorf House at 509 Burleson St.

Citing a National Register of Historic Places nomination for this property, the brochure notes that German Emil Elmendorf “established the first wholesale and retail hardware business in town… In 1865 his sons Henry and Emil became partners. in the company, which was located in buildings on Main and Alamo squares.

The newly reformed company announced in an advertisement in the Express on October 4, 1865, that Elmendorf & Co. in Main Plaza “opened their stock of imported goods” to include English and American cutlery, nails of all. sizes, tools, agricultural implements, paints, oils and petroleum. Successful Elmendorf constructed a three-story building in 1890 on Military Plaza.

Shelton says the Municipal Plaza (formerly Frost Bank) building – or part of it, given the subsequent expansion of Commerce Street – is now on the site of this photo.

Retail stores introduced street-facing storefronts in the late 19th century, and interior displays like the ones shown here arrived a bit later. By the decorative elements, Tom Shelton, curator of photos in the special collections of the libraries of the University of Texas at San Antonio, dates the building in this photo to the late 19th or early 20th century.

Chris Cooley

By estimate based on visual evidence, the photo of the interior shop windows and that of the billboards are from the same period.

Retail stores introduced street-facing storefronts in the late 19th century, and interior storefronts like these appeared a bit later. Locally, they were connector elements such as the Palace Theater arcade (covered February 20, 2011) or the tunnel between the Smith-Young Tower (now the Tower Life Building) and the first Plaza Hotel (later the Granada Homes). ).

By the decorative elements, Shelton dates the building in this photo to the late 19th or early 20th century. The location of the light fixtures suggests a long, narrow space, unlike the Menger’s original open, high-ceiling southern lobby, although the ‘motor hotel’ addition that opened in 1950 has screens. A north wing of the 1880s hotel was demolished in 1949 to make way for new construction, so it’s possible this photo was taken there.

The best clue to its date is in the second display case to the right, announcing “Trophies and medals for all occasions”. Besides sports trophies with characters playing baseball, golf and tennis, there is a larger one on display like the Tom H. Etheridge Jr Cup.

According to the San Antonio Light of June 9, 1926, this award was presented by Etheridge, a prominent local real estate agent and ardent civic advocate, at the West Texas Chamber of Commerce convention June 21-23, 1926. to Amarillo, “in a unique contest for the high school student who gives the best five-minute speech on” Why my hometown is the best “(as shown on the sign next to the mug on the screen) . The convention was designed as a competition between the Amarillo and San Antonio delegations to host next year’s convention. This is the only mention I could find of the Etheridge Cup, so this photo has probably taken in or after 1926.

The last is the photo of the billboards – primarily for groceries (Quaker Oats, Heinz Rice Flakes, Brer Rabbit Molasses, and San Antonio Coffee Co. (makers of several premium brands, “roasted daily in San Antonio “including a fancy peaberry café), plus an ad for a $ 595 Chevrolet.

Shelton spotted the Scottish Rite Cathedral at 308 Avenue E in the background, compared it to an aerial photo of the area from 1927 and determined that it had been taken from Burnet Street and depicted the southwest corners from Elm and Sixth streets.

Heinz Rice Flakes, “The Plant Effect Cereal,” were sold from the 1920s to the 1930s when they sponsored a “Tarzan” radio show. Versions of the advertisement for Brer Rabbit Light Molasses, made from unsulphured pure sugarcane juice, appeared in the Ladies Home Journal and the Saturday Evening Post throughout the 1920s.

But the most precise date comes from the plethora of flyers plastered on the wall of the bakery.

An outdoor advertising group in Elm and Sixth Street includes flyers advertising a 1929

A group of outdoor advertisements on Elm and Sixth streets include flyers advertising a 1929 “health message” from a traveling doctor / author.

Chris cooley

Entitled “Health Message,” it was the same phrase used in advertisements for a free lecture series by Marie Winchell Walker, MD (1875-1950), variously described in her advertisement as “Army Contract Surgeon American in the War (World War I) ”, a food scientist, metaphysician, psychoanalyst, psychologist and author (Self-Help Books).

Walker worked on a circuit throughout the 1920s and early 1930s, stopping in Chicago; Kansas City, Missouri; Oakland, California; Syracuse, New York; and Washington DC, as well as several times in El Paso and San Antonio to promote his books.

According to an advertisement in the Light, on January 17, 1926, Walker offered a free “character analysis” to volunteers attending his lecture on “Psychology and Health” in the Menger Hotel ballroom that evening. . The newspaper also reported, on January 30, 1927, that she was to give a “lecture on hygiene” on February 3, 1927, in the auditorium of the Chamber of Commerce.

San Antonio didn’t see her after that, but the other Texas city she visited did. As quoted in the El Paso Post of January 27, 1931, Walker told his audience at the Ornsdorff Hotel that “no better recipe for success can be given than that of Mussolini.”

The site of the billboard is now the rear portion of the parking lot at Grace Lutheran Church, 504 Avenue E.

Anyone with more information about any of these photos can contact this column. All responses will be forwarded and can be used in a future column.

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