The last two months have been quite an exciting time for me personally and professionally: that is how long I have been a member of the Villa Finale staff and resident of Texas. I was born and raised in southern California, so if anyone had told me last January I would find myself living in San Antonio just three months later, I would have dismissed it completely! But when the opportunity to work for the National Trust for Historic Preservation on a wonderful project like Villa Finale arose, how could I pass it up?
As Manager of Public Programs, my job at Villa Finale is to lead the planning of the site’s interpretation, from site tours to the training of future docents, as well as to create programs that fit with our mission statement and, in direct cooperation with the Collections Manager, plan and set up exhibits in our future Visitor Center. None of this can be accomplished without in-depth research into the history of the state, the King William neighborhood, and the home and life of Walter Mathis.
Fortunately for us, Mr. Mathis kept great documentation of his own life and that of his family. He had three very informative and engaging scrapbooks made before his death that include a number of documents, articles, and photographs. Some of the photographs are amazing views taken from aircraft during his World War II service in the Army Air Forces. These books have all been an invaluable source of information! But perhaps our greatest source will be first-hand accounts from the people that knew with Mr. Mathis in the form of oral histories.
For that purpose, we’ve begun serious planning of an oral history program. The first step, started before I joined the staff, has been accumulating a list of Mr. Mathis’s family, friends, and business colleagues. Long-time residents of King William are also of vital interest as we aim to document life in this great historic community. Second, because our aim is to create a top-notch program, I will be travelling to San Francisco tomorrow to attend an oral history workshop where I will receive training in all aspects of the subject, from interviewing techniques to recommended types of equipment. While I’m not a stranger to using oral histories for research, I recognize that conducting them involves more than merely placing a recording device in front of someone and asking a barrage of questions! I’m very much looking forward to getting back to San Antonio and applying these new skills to our work here at Villa Finale.
Because research is such an immense part of my responsibilities, I’ve had my own “crash course” in Texas history since my arrival. As my research continues, so has my appreciation for the great King William neighborhood and its dedicated groups of live-in preservationists. I can’t think of a better way for a history-lover to become acclimated to new surroundings.
As I mentioned in opening, it truly has been an exciting two months … and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store.
Photograph found in one of Walter Mathis’s scrapbooks.