Thursday, October 11, 2018

Bites of Brownsville History (Part 2 of 2)

(We continue with more tid-bits served up by our favorite RGV historian Rene Torres in part 2 of "Bites from Brownsville History")

The following information was taken from the Brownsville Herald Archives researched and compiled by Rene Torres.  

Did you know that:
·        In January 1913, Brownsville Herald invited local boys to participate in a paper subscription drive contest.   A subtitle read as follows: “A chance for every boy to go to Washington and see Woodrow Wilson Inaugurated ---The First Democratic President in 20 years.”  This followed with one major rule, that only WHITE boys should apply.  
·        One of the Valley’s singular armed services record for active participation on the battlefields of World War II is held by the Walter Blanchard family of Brownsville. The Blanchard’s lived at 744 Ringgold Street when all six sons joined the war effort— Fred, Basil, Frank, Robert, Lester and Walter.

·        In the 1945 Charros Days a new feature took the stage with a bang.   The bombing of “Tokyo” took place at the high school football field with a firework display prior to the bombing activities.  The Tokyo set went up in flames as miniature airplanes gilded over their target and unloaded a barrage of bombs.

·        The Brownsville Junior High football team of 1927 played a brilliant game from the upset, defeating Palestine in a thriller.  The victory gave the city team a state title as the stadium was filled with of the largest crowds ever assembled for a football game in Brownsville.  Herald headlines read: “Victors Annex Texas Title by 13-0.” (Future column)
·       An incident in Brownsville in 1929, according to some who lived near Washington Plaza—sparked the idea that the world was coming to an end.   While a congregation near to the park was deep in prayer, flashes of colored lights penetrated through the open windows.  This followed with a holler, “Repent ye, sinners; the world is coming to an end.   Well!  It just happened that they were testing the light-play of the Washington Park fountain, which was confused for a life ending event.   A lot of belief in magic clung to the Washington Park fountain over the years.  Curanderas and other little old ladies would go to the fountain at night and fill small bottles full of the magic water.  By the next day, they’d vent their disgust when they noticed the magic water had turned colorless. “Another one of those gringo tricks,” they’d mumble bitterly.
·        A new Brownsville youth center is born—the “El Aguila.”  It was 1945, when the club opened to Brownsville High School, Saint Joseph Academy and Junior College students.  The center was in the Masonic Temple, the lower floor and grounds being furnished free of charge.  The purpose of the El Aguila was to furnish a place for teen age boys and girls to “have fun.”  The club room consisted of a game and reading room, ping-pong room, soft drink bar and dance hall with juke box.  Outdoor diversion was furnished by miniature golf, badminton and horse-shoe pitching.  All made possible by the Junior Service League, in cooperation and financial support of Brownsville organizations, civic Clubs and individuals.  This was an era when we all got along.

·        Play Hour Arranged for “Under-privileged” youngsters in Brownsville made its debut in 1927.   Play was important then--- as it is now, but today, it’s not “in to be out.”  Regulated playground activities along with team sports was made possible by J.W. Irvine, athletic director of all Brownsville schools.  Every child in the city was invited to come out to the high stadium every Saturday morning from 9 until noon.  No child was left behind, as the director declared, “It matters not if you do not attend school.
·        In 1850, according to the census, it showed that there were 53 slaves owned by 20 families in Cameron County.  Most of the slaves were house servants of long-standing with the families.  By 1860, There were only six owners of slaves.  Total number of slaves seven, one of whom was a fugitive from a Louisiana owner.
·        Who’s Who-ers of Brownsville High of 1964:  Roy Zepeda, Eddie Vaughan, Donna McCabe, Laura Tobin, Judy Pate, John Marin, Kathryn Harrison, Jane Autz, Karen Brittain, Linda Davis, Scott Etchison and Rosie Garcia.
·        “The sound of the radio,” it was December of 1927 that the Valley’s newest radio station hit the airways—the tower was located on top of the El Jardin Hotel in Brownsville.  It was not five minutes into the Christmas program that a telegram from San Antonio was received saying that the station was coming clear and strong from there. A long string of calls from throughout the Valley following.   Just imagine hearing the voice of Santa Claus on the airways, yes, he was there—he came in with bang to the accomplishment of sleigh-bells and a stamping of a reindeer.
·        Riding the rails on a car—In 1937, the shuttle car automobile train which was operated by the Port Isabel and Rio Grande Railway Co. made daily trips between Brownsville and Port Isabel. The old piece of railroad equipment, serving as passenger and mail carrier, was a standard car, equipped with rigid steering and flanged railroad wheels.
·        Have a coke! In 1925, Thomas H. Sweeney, proprietor of the Coca Cola Plant invited the public to visit his new bottling plant.  The facility was located where it still stands today, at Washington and Tenth St.  The product at the time, was to be known as “Sweeney’s Soda Water,” and was placed in the market as such.  This writer remembers walking by the plant and listening to the sound of glass bottles moving through a conveyor.  The building with open doors and with plenty of windows invited you to see an hear the bottling process —a distinct sound you could hear from blocks away.  
1942 Coca Cola building E Washington and 10th St.
·        In 1930, Valley law enforcement were advised to be in the lookout for Detroit and Chicago gangsters in the area.  The mission of these bad men was to kidnap prominent valley men for ransom.  One of these proposed victims, was C.P. Barreda, one of the best-known business men in the RGV, and one the largest land-owners in this section.  The other target for ransom was Juan Cross of Matamoros, possessor of a larger fortune.
Barreda home E Washington and 6th (Google image)

additional newsclips and pics arranged by Brownsville Station

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Bites of Brownsville History (Part 1 of 2)

The following information was taken from the Brownsville Herald Achieves researched and compiled by Rene Torres.  
Brownsville Herald building on E Elizabeth and 13th St [?
Did you know that?:

·        Brownsville Junior College was established in 1926 and that athletics was part of the curriculum.  Establishing a football team in its first year of existence.  The team was defeated once, and then beat its victors later in the season.  A future rivalry soon emerged against the Edinburg Jr. College, established in 1927.

·        In 1953, Paul Harvey, nationally known commentator was the principal speaker at the commencement exercises at the Brownsville High School graduating class of this year.  “And now, you know the rest of the story.”

·        J.G. Fernandez came out of Mexico with a great idea.  The thought was to put the lowly tortilla on an assembly line.  He had seen the idea in the Mexican Capital, where profits in the industry were abetted by the labor-saving machines.  By 1929, those machines were in Brownsville and San Benito.
·      In 1949, the Charro Drive-in opened its doors—the 125,000 project was closely supervised by D.W.  Young, Sr., and D.W. Young Jr., proprietors.  Young entered the movie business in Mercedes in 1914 at the Queen Theater.  After three years there, he moved to Brownsville and bought the Dreamland Theater.  By 1945, the theater was remolded and named Mexico Theater and in 1946—the Youngs’ built the Iris theater.  The Young family came to Matamoros in 1840 from Edinburgh Scotland.  John J. Young was instrumental in the founding of Brownsville which was to be his future home.  
[   [Ezell-Underwood were a Texas theater chain that hired local established theater businessmen to partner with them.  Young was also instrumental in building Fiesta Drive In in Southmost which later became El Ruenes Drive-in Theater]

Dreamland Theater

Teatro Mexico
·        All the excitement of Broadway’s famous Times Square was transported to Brownsville.  The opening of the Majestic Theater on August 17, 1949—turned flag decorated Elizabeth Street into a fiesta like playground. The opening film…a baseball story, “The Monty Stratton Story.”

·        In January 1913, Brownsville Herald invited local boys to participate in a paper subscription drive contest.   A subtitle read as follows: “A chance for every boy to go to Washington and see Woodrow Wilson Inaugurated ---The First Democratic President in 20 years.”  This followed with one major rule, that only WHITE boys should apply.  
·        In 1938, a Brownsville great Dane brought home the bacon.  “Texas Ranger,” a great Dane owned by Dean Porter, competed in San Antonio and Galveston, and took three places.  He returned home covered with glory, winning the novice, limit and reserve classes.  Ranger had a successful state tour—taking four best of winners, highest prize award in such exhibitions.
·        Sams Memorial Stadium opened its gates for first time during the 1954 high school football season.  Brownsville’s High School football team made its debut in a brand-new stadium –with a new coach at the helm, Lloyd Parker.  The Eagles also played in a new district, moving up into 6-AAAA competition.
·        A law school in Cameron County—by 1932 all necessary state requirements were met and the private school became a reality. “The Rio Grande Valley School of Law,” a night law school offered a complete law course leading to the degree of Bachelor of Laws.  The Brownsville branch was in the Cameron County Court House and Harlingen’s school, was in the Harlingen High School Building.

·        From the birth of this city—blowing dust was a constant problem.  To the rescue came the Anti-Dust ladies of this city.  In August 1911, they met at the Elks club in a response to the anti-dust meeting.  Not only did the meeting decide to take prompt and vigorous steps to abate the dust nuisance, but the preliminary steps were taken toward organizing a Brownsville Civic League. 

·        Descendant of “Sitting Bull,” spends last days in Brownsville charity home.  It was at this located at Madison and Sixth Streets that Princess Wildflower Kihuee, granddaughter of the chief, was treated by the Sister of the Holy Ghost.  In 1947, the Princess told her story to Gene Barton, Herald staff writer.

·        Night football was a feature of 1935 season.  Football soared to a new high through the medium of night football plants which opened this field of entertainment to thousands who could not attend afternoon games. At least eight high school teams will play under the floodlights and more plants may be added before the season get into full swing.  All the three “A” teams, Brownsville, Harlingen and Edinburg—will play under the lights, as well  at McAllen, Weslaco, San Benito, Raymondville, Mission and possibly others.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

1951 - Mrs. Margaret P. Tipton is a winner!

Rene Torres

On February 5, 1951, the “All Valley Morning Express,” which at the time, was published as part of the San Antonio Express, ran a story about a contest winner.

The $1,000 “Match the Twins contest,” was awarded to, Mrs. Margaret P. Tipton, wife of M.J. Tipton of Brownsville.   In the rush of the leaving city during this period—her entry barely made the deadline.

Mrs. Tipton explained that having children of her own, helped in the process. “I figured I could match them up pretty well by their noses, mouths and other features. Her method worked, but it wasn’t easy.

Every time she had the countless photos spread out on the floor —her toy rat terrier would walk on them and mix them up again.   But, maybe she didn’t take under consideration that the terrier knew something she didn’t.

Mrs. Tipton said that she had quit her job, “just to do some of these things, like entering contest.”  Winning this contest, was a milestone, “the biggest I had ever won.” 

She had previously been crowned as the “Mattress Queen,” in a guessing contest at Edelstein’s Furniture Store—winning prize, a mattress.

Demonstrating her diversity, and not allowing her momentum to slow down, she immediately entered in a cooking contest in another newspaper. 

Her three daughters shown in the photo, Mary Margaret, Joanna and Agnes, wasted no time in suggesting how they would spend the winning cash.

Agnes had her thoughts on a new sweater, Mary Margaret said she would buy a new record attachment for her radio and Joanna, was speechless.   As for father Tipton, Mrs. Tipton added, “I guess he can pay the tax on the $1,000 prize money.

 Mrs. Tipton was well known in the city for her community and humanitarian service—winning life-long friends through service. 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

1977 - House of E Adams and 13th St

Joe Von Hatten takes us back to take a look at a house that was removed as downtown made the transition to expanding itself as a business district with a few photos.  We added a couple to help tell story with photos what we cant tell with words since we have limited info about the corner but what you can see in photos. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

1948 Colorized Photo Has a Story to Tell

Here's a li'l taste of a colorized photo which will include some details about the time and place and incidents that precipitated the event which is playing out in this scene.  The "Friedman Motors" sign is on the 1880's built Vivier Opera House which was once the entertainment venue for Brownsville's upper echelon which by this time had been reduced to a garage but was also used to stage amateur boxing and wrestling matches.  That Sinclair service station would later be replaced with more modern Sinclair gas station by the 1950s.  Both buildings on the corner of E Levee St and 10th are now gone.  

Be sure to check our sister page which includes colorized photos which might be of interest to the vintage photo enthusiast.

1938 Tom Sawyer brings smiles to “Depression” era kids

Capitol Theater invites city’s poorest children to the movies

By Rene Torres

According to economist, “The Stock Market crash of 1929 was the beginning and/or a symptom of the Great Depression.”  The “Depression”, which lasted for about ten years, caused mass poverty as many people lost their jobs and had no choice but to live in shanty towns.  It was said then,” That those that were rich in the roaring twenties were reduced to selling apples and pencils on street corners.”

Families lost all their possessions, were divided and forced to go on Public Relief.  The era created more hoboes and drifters than ever before.

Word spread throughout the country that the Rio Grande Valley was prosperous; with a mild climate and that you could eat as many grapefruits as your stomach could hold.  It was a combination of these reasons that a flood of bums, hoboes and drifters made their way to the Valley. 

“They came in record numbers—more than this region had seen before,” said local peace officers.  A newspaper report read “The highways of the Valley are literally lined with human driftwood, hobbling along the side of the road, or footing it along the railroad tracks.”

Brownsville today, is not absent of baggers, but what the city experienced then was a stranger at every corner.  They were at street intersections appealing for money, waiting for rides and at the backdoor of many homes looking for food.  In the Valley, the most vulnerable to the ills of the period were kids.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer comes to the rescue…

During the decade, Brownsville and the rest of the Valley was deeply touched by the hard times of the period.  This city, according to Mark Fanning, Capitol Theater manager, saw the rise of more poor kids than ever before.  Fanning wanted to do something to bring some instant smiles to those that could not afford to go to the movies.

Speaking then, Fanning said, “I’d hate for a child in Brownsville to miss seeing this classic of child life, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  This is why I am giving tickets to poor children.”

The idea was to bring some joy to the less fortunate by inviting them to the movie theater.  Perhaps a movie would redeem some life into the poor sentiments of the period.  .

Tom Sawyer, the novel, was written by Mark Twain in 1876 which eventually made its way into film.  The movie has been filmed and animated many times since its inception and the first was a silent version in 1907.

The classic movie came to Brownsville in Technicolor in 1938—ten years after the Capitol Theater had opened its doors on February 14, 1928.
On that day there were many in the audience that could identify with the adventures and escapades of the lead character.

 The movie reminded all of us of the importance of imagination and having fun, especially whether you lived along the Mississippi or the Rio Grande River.

An afternoon at the movies was a rich experience for all. And perhaps for a couple of hours, the pains and wounds of the “Depression” were less than before.

John C. Fanning at one time was the manager of both the Queen and Capitol Theaters.  He was very prominent in local civic affairs and in the advancement of a “Better Brownsville.”  His deeds went beyond talk. 

Throughout the years, the Capitol Theater was a source of inspiration to the citizens of this community.  It was a venue where people from all walks of life gathered to witness a premier, a stage performance by local talent and/or a Hollywood movie star. 

But more importantly, it played a major role during WW II in “Brownsville’s Scrap Iron Drive.”  The ticket to the movies was a piece of scrap iron— hundreds of kids lined Levee Street to do their part on the home front.

Monday, September 10, 2018

1978 - Historic Preservationists Did Their Darndest

Bronsbil Estacion takes a look at the past to rediscover an era when revitalization and preservation of historic structures was in peril and the destructive nature of incompetent city officials or poorly managed city buildings entities allowed the debilitation and destruction of many of this city's historically significant structures.

As many of our locals know, our crusading friend at Rrun RRun, Juan Montoya used to write for the Brownsville Herald.  Here's story he did back in 1978.  

November 13, 1927 - E Adams and 13th St
It looked a lot worse before.  At least the owner painted and boarded it up but this is a clear example of how building facades were ruined to give them a modern plain square look.

1927 Padre Island Hwy near Four Corners (Boca Chica Blvd and International Blvd.)

J.J. Young building on E Elizabeth and 13th St.
Today it is another typical downtown eyesore that was once a dignified building
1984 1024
Mr Lackner risked political future by trying to light a fire under the asses of city officials to finally get on the right track but didnt make a dent due to the historical cronyism and corruption and apathy that is still prevalent in Brownsville, Texas.  We're glad to report that Mr Lackner fared well in spite of Brownsville's retarded pace for historical preservation and when we last heard, was set to retire this fall of 2018.    Historically speaking, it actually only takes a few to accomplish what the majority or reality owners downtown are unwilling to do.  Many new businesses have appeared around the Market Square area.
Back then our city officials also deemed the Missouri Pacific Railroad an eyesore.  People today can still lament the loss of this structure because we have historic photos to prove it once existed.  
The historical community will always recall Ruby Wooldridge for her efforts to save our historical resources and her collaboration with preservationists to survey historic sites.  Much of her published work continues to serve historians and preservationists today.  Her best known work is the Brownsville, A Pictorial History book she co-authored with Bob Vezzetti.
In 1989 the owner wanted to tear this building down and put a new one.  This is the old Yturria bank building near E Elizabeth and 13th Sts.  If you ever had a historic tour downtown,  Dr Tony Knopp likes to begin tours by pointing out that the history of downtown buildings can be viewed from the second floor and up.  

c1912 Fernandez-Kowalski home on E Elizabeth and 13th St.  Many of these photos were gathered on a whim.  What is set here is a pictorial look at this home on E Elizabeth.  Many homes on the westside have been saved by restorers recently

1972 Fernandez-Kowalski home on E Elizabeth and 13th as it stood since being partially damaged by the 1967 hurricane.  The previous owner could not afford to fix it so decades passed before new owners brought it back to life.
2003 Brownsville Herald regarding preservation of Fernandez-Kowalski house on E Elizabeth and 3rd Sts.

2018 4 July parade photo

Additional research material below provided by Jose Cazares