Her generosity lives on: Myra Stafford Pryor

myra pryorAmong the many people who owned 401 King William aka Villa Finale were Colonel Ike Pryor and his wife, Myra. The couple purchased the home in 1896 from E. B. Chandler and Thomas H. Franklin who bought the property after it went up for auction in December 1895 following the foreclosure on Edwin Polk. What was interesting about the transaction from Chandler and Franklin to the Polks is that the deed states Myra paid $2,500 in cash upfront “out of her separate money given her by her mother.” This bit always intrigued me and it didn’t make complete sense until I looked further into the life of Ike Pryor.

At the time they purchased the home, Colonel Ike’s career as a cattle merchant was in transition. He and his brother were left penniless after the severe winter of 1886 – 1887 decimated their herd. After losing his livestock, he borrowed $70,000 on his good name to invest in the Texas and Colorado Land and Cattle Company and settled in San Antonio. While he continued to be a respected businessman, there was very little wriggle room financially as far as it came to major purchases, and this is why it makes sense having Myra’s name as the source for the home’s downpayment as clearly stated on the deed. My fascination with Myra Pryor didn’t end with the purchase of the property.

One day while taking a jog along the River Walk, I noticed her name on a plaque by the AT&T Lock and Dam, under Brooklyn Avenue: this is when I knew there was more to her story. Ike Pryor married Myra in 1893 after his first wife, Sarah, passed away. Myra was born in Columbus, Ohio to a well-to-do family. Myra had married once before but was left widowed after the passing of her first husband, George Early, in 1888. She lived with her second husband, Ike, in King William (at what is now Villa Finale) until 1901 when they purchased 100,000 acres in Zavala County, a property they called “77 Ranch.” After the lifting of the blockade of Cuba following the Spanish-American War, Ike made a fortune by shipping cattle on speculation to Havana for “spot sale” (cash for goods delivered on the spot). In 1908, they founded the town of La Pryor, roughly 20 miles south of Uvalde. Ike died in 1937 leaving his fortune primarily to Myra. Myra died in 1943 leaving Frost National Bank as the trustee of her estate valued at $750,000 (over $10 million today) for the purposes of “a trust created for charitable purposes in perpetuity.” It was Myra’s last will that all net income remaining with the Trustee should be used solely for charitable purposes at the Trustee’s discretion.

This last provision and others in Myra’s will and testament were challenged by some of her family members in court. While they won a case in District Court that invalidated the creation of a trust, the Court of Civil Appeals in San Antonio in 1945 reversed that decision upholding her last wish to create the Myra Stafford Pryor Charitable Trust. Today, this Trust has over $25 million in assets and annually gives over $1 million to charities and non-profit organizations. Among the many wonderful initiatives funded by Myra’s generosity are full time tutors and mentors for San Antonio’s underpriviledged youths, funding for trainers for Guide Dogs of Texas, and new state-of-the-art technology for the Mays Business School at Texas A&M. Her legacy in San Antonio lives on!

Happy New Year! Villa Finale announces upcoming programs for 2015

Although the first month of the new year is nearly ending, it’s never too late to wish you all a happy 2015!  Since this is the our first blog post of the year, I would like to take some time to tell everyone a little bit about our programs in February, beginning with our signature Music for Your Eyes tour on Thursday, February 5th!

IMG_5081Now in its fourth year, this specialized tour has been one of our most popular programs.  Not only do guests have an opportunity to see the home in the evening (the tour begins at 6:30pm), they are hosted by two of our paid staff who engage the audience about music, art, humorous anecdotes and so much more.  The staff provides demonstrations of the music machines in the house – not performed during our regular guided tours – ending the tour with a sit-down performance by our 1921 Bechstein-Welte reproducing piano located in the home’s Napoleon Parlors.  If you haven’t taken this tour, it is definitely a must!  (The program is repeated several times throughout the year.)

drawing 2Our first family oriented program will be on Saturday, February 7th, Drawing on Experience: For the Love of Art.  The Drawing on Experience program began in England as a way for educators in museums, galleries, science centers and teachers to provide a framework for using drawing as a medium for learning from collections and exhibitions — Villa Finale’s curator, Meg Nowack, brought a version of the program here to Villa Finale to share with children and their parents.  The children and parents will get a brief tour of the home after which they will select an object to draw together inside the house!  This is a great bonding experience for kids and parents or even grandparents!

DSC3043copy2webcopy5Finally, we get in a “loving mood” on Friday, February 13th with “Isn’t It Romantic?” at Villa Finale featuring the vocal talents of Ken Slavin.  The intimate concert of popular love songs made famous by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Cole Porter, to name a few, will take place inside Villa Finale’s Napoleon Parlors.  Mr. Slavin will be accompanied on our 1921 Bechstein-Welte by pianist, Barry Brick.  Guests on this special evening will enjoy appropriate refreshments – we can’t forget the champagne –  prior to the concert and at intermission.  Treat your sweetheart, family member, best friend or treat yourself — many of us are just romantic at heart!  For more information about Ken Slavin, click here.

There is much more to come at Villa Finale, including our popular programs for French Cultures Month in March.  More information about the programs mentioned above is located at the end of this post.  Thank you for your support, and stay tuned for more exciting programs and events in 2015!  (Please call Villa Finale Visitor Services for more information or for admissions at 210-223-9800.  Admissions must be paid in advance.  No refunds or exchanges.  Space is limited for these programs.)

Music for Your Eyes tour – 2/5/15 (6:30pm – 7:30pm)
$20.00 general admission; $15.00 members / students

Drawing on Experience: For the Love of Art – 2/7/15 (10:00am – 11:30am)
$5.00 for one child & parent, $2.50 each additional child, general admission
$4.00 for one child & parent, $2.00 each additional child, members

“Isn’t It Romantic?” at Villa Finale featuring the vocal talents of Ken Slavin – 2/13/15 (6:30pm – 8:00pm; gate opens at 6:00pm)
$27.50 general admission
$25.00 members / students

You can always visit our wesbite www.VillaFinale.org for more information.

“Wild” Billy Keilman returns home

If you follow us on Facebook, check our website or receive our e-blasts then you know about our October 12th event, Billy Keilman’s Speakeasy: A celebration of Villa Finale’s bootleg history!  But just who is Billy Keilman and how does he tie into Villa Finale?

Some time ago, I wrote a five-part blog called The Perils of 401 King William which detailed Villa Finale’s past owners.  Part five touched upon Billy Keilman who owned the house briefly from 1924 – 1925.  Of all the “personalities” who resided in the house, Billy definitely is worthy of his own themed event, even though he didn’t own the home for very long.

billy keilman

From “Action Magazine.” Nov. 1980

William H. Keilman was born on July 9, 1875 the son of pious German immigrants, Rudolph and Eliza Keilman.  As a youth, he was feisty and impulsive – so much so that at a very young age, he ran off to Cuba to join Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.  Upon returning to San Antonio, he joined the police force.  Standing at well over 6-feet and 225 pounds, Officer Keilman was an imposing figure who gained the respect of many petty criminals throughout the city.  However, his new-found fame as one of the city’s toughest cops was not enough for Billy who yearned to be a businessman.  Around 1910, after allegedly moving in with a red-head girl from “the district,” Billy quit the police force and forged his father’s name on a $5,000 check (over $121,000 today) to buy “The Beauty Saloon” bar and a 15-room house of prostitution – known as a “crib” – located on the corner Matamoros and South Concho Street, in the heart of what was then San Antonio’s red light area.

The issue of prostitution in San Antonio had been settled in 1899 when Mayor Bryan Callaghan successfully convinced the city council that “sin had to be regulated to be profitable.”  An ordinance was passed restricting such businesses to a 10-block downtown area: the “district” roughly encompassed Durango Street to the south (now Chavez), Frio Street to the west, South Santa Rosa to the east and Buena Vista Street to the north.  These “businesses” were under police enforcement, required an annual licensing fee of $500.00 per house and were subject to health inspections.  Fines for non-compliance were strictly enforced.

keilmans-blue-book“The Beauty Saloon” and its adjoining brothel were a hit as the entire San Antonio police force became instant patrons.  Musician friends of Billy’s provided the entertainment while being paid with beer, much of which was donated by the Pearl Brewery after Keilmam personally promised them he would be their largest customer once the business was up and running.  In addition to income from The Beauty Saloon and his “crib,” Billy also published The Blue Book: For Visitors, Tourists and Those Seeking a Good Time While in San Antonio, Texas.  The 28-page nondescript booklet, available for only 25-cents, provided “safe” saloons for out-of-towners to visit as well as gambling houses, cock-fighting pits, and listed and categorized the best bordellos in town with an A, B or C rating.  Ratings were based on cleanliness, service, and honesty.  Madam Hattie Baxter’s place, for example, was given an “A” in the Blue Book.  Not only did Madam Baxter store her client’s belongings in a secured safe, all items – including untouched wallets – were promptly returned at the end of a “visit” and all patrons received a receipt.

blue book inside

Blue Book interior

By the early 1920s, Billy and his wife, Minnie – a local madam –  had sold the Beauty Saloon and focused most of their resources on the Horn Palace Bar and Cafe which was purchased around 1912.  Reportedly, the business was first located in the south-west part of town near Kelly Field and later moved to 312 East Houston.  The Horn Palace, as it was most commonly known, was meant to be a direct competitor to Albert Friedrich’s Buckhorn Saloon which had opened in 1881.  The Buckhorn promised patrons a shot of whiskey or a beer in exchange for deer antlers.  The Horn Palace, however, boasted a larger collection than the Buckhorn’s of antlers, horns and trophies including “Old Tex,” a world-record holding longhorn steer which had been stuffed and mounted.  By this time, Billy was one of the richest and most influential men in San Antonio; while he had a lot of “friends,” he also made many enemies.

In 1921, a man named Yancy Yeager entered the Horn Palace and keilman blue book adtried to murder Billy by shooting him five times – including once in the head!  Despite a fractured skull – skillfully repaired when a local surgeon implanted a silver plate in Billy’s head – the rough and tough Keilman survived the attack.  During his attacker’s trial, the defence tried to discredit Billy by presenting The Blue Book as evidence of Keilman’s “shadyness.”  Billy denied under oath that he was the author of the scandalous Blue Book, despite the fact that his nameless likeness appeared on the back cover with the caption, “For Information of the Red Light District Ask Me.  MEET ME AT THE BEAUTY SALOON.”  The incident led to the closing of the Horn Palace which was deemed “unsafe” to the community following the attack.  The Buckhorn’s Albert Friedrich purchased the Horn Palace’s collection and this, along with “Old Tex,” can still be seen today at its location on Houston and South Flores Streets.

401 1924 saleThe closing of the Horn Palace had very little effect on Billy’s wealth, however.  In 1924, Billy and Minnie Keilman took part of their wealth to purchase the opulent home at 401 King William Street (then “407” and now Villa Finale).  The Keilmans more than likely purchased the home from Dr. G. E. Gwynn who had bought it in July, 1922.  Prohibition had been enacted in 1919 with the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment and thus the “dry movement” spread across the nation, but that did not deter many Americans from getting a drink including the business-minded Keilmans.

Billy and Minnie wasted very little time in making use of their new home’s 6,500 square feet.  Under the leadership of Minnie, the Keilmans operated a brothel in the home and bootlegged liquor from the basement.  Their new venture was known locally as the “Marathon Club.”  Just as it seemed Billy had more lives than a cat, fate finally caught up to him.

keilman death cert 1925

Keilman’s death certificate, 1925

In November 1925, Billy went on a hunting trip with a couple of friends.  It is unclear how an argument began or what the matter of discussion was but it eventually led to a fist fight between Billy and one of his companions.  While it seems that it had been broken up several times, Billy’s luck finally ran out as he was struck in the head with a blunt object and reportedly died instantly marking the end of one of San Antonio’s most infamous characters (in an earlier blog post, we had reported that Billy had died from a gun shot).  The house at 401 King William was inherited by Billy’s son, Rudy, who then gave it to his step-mother, Minnie, who in turn continued operating the Marathon Club after her husband’s death.  In 1967, Minnie’s grandson, James Campbell, who ran a boarding home at the location, sold the house to Walter Mathis and the rest, as they say, is history!

Billy Keilman’s Speakeasy: A celebration of Villa Finale’s bootleg history on October 12th sponsored by Alamo Beer, will be a fun remembrance of the home’s most colorful owner and San Antonio’s rough and tumble past.  During the event, people will partake of local beer, learn about home-brewing from San Antonio Cerveceros (Billy would be proud!), dance to jazz music, receive a souvenir mug, and enjoy finger food catered by Liberty Bar to compliment “suds.”  We also encourage everyone to get in the spirit and dress up in their 1920s best!  Prizes will be awarded to the most original costumes including one for the best Billy Keilman look-alike.  As a highlight for the first time, Villa Finale will be opening the basement for the public to view … the event would not be complete without this important room!

For more information about the Blue Book and its various issues, check out the Postcards from San Antonio website.  If you are as fascinated with Billy Keilman as Villa Finale’s staff is, you can take an iTour of the Alamo and old San Antonio hosted by the “ghost” of Billy Keilman.  If you click on the link, note that its authors point out that Villa Finale “does not mention Bill.”  Not only are we mentioning ol’ Bill, he will now have his own event … MEET US AT THE SPEAKEASY!

Billy Keilman’s Speakeasy: A celebration of Villa Finale’s bootleg history!  Saturday, October 12, 2013 from 5:30pm – 7:30pm on the grounds of Billy Keilman’s former home at 401 King William Street (now Villa Finale: Museum & Gardens).  Members: $35.00, Non-members $40.00.  Event for 21 and over only.  Call Villa Finale Visitor Services at (210) 223-9800 for reservations or more information.  Major credit cards and personal checks accepted.

The following sources were used as references for this article:
Bowser, David.  West of the Creek: Murder, Mayhem and Vice in Old San Antonio.  San Antonio: Maverick Publishing Company, 2003.
Bricktop, Jenny.  “The Buckhorn Saloon & Museum: San Antonio, Texas.”  The Butcher’s Floorhttp://butchersfloor.blogspot.com/2006/06/buckhorn-saloon-museum-san-antonio.html
Eckhardt, C.F.  “San Antonio’s Blue Book.”  Texas Escapeshttp://www.texasescapes.com/CFEckhardt/San-Antonios-Blue-Book.htm
Kindrick, Sam.  “Profile of a Red Light District King.”  Action Magazine.  November, 1980: 7 – 9, 30.  Print.
Morgan, Lael.  “The San Antonio Blue Book: Proof of a Secret Era.”  The Compass Rose: Special Collections, the University of Texas at Arlington.  Fall 2007: 1 – 3.  Print.
Rogers, Alan W.  “The National Texas Longhorn Museum: The Horn Palace and the Buckhorn.”  The National Texas Longhorn Museumhttp://www.longhornmuseum.com/BuckhornHornPalace.htm

A “saintly” mystery solved

san antonio prior to lampIf you have visited Villa Finale, you most-likely remember seeing the very unique “saint lamp” in the home’s Library.  The piece was not “born” a lamp; in fact, it is a Walter Mathis originale.  As he was known to do with several items in his collection, Mathis altered the item from church relic to a clever piece of home-decor by having a custom-made pedestal wired for use as a lamp.  The statue, which is the centerpiece of this “enlightened” piece, fits perfectly at the base and in fact, itself was not altered in any way, thereby maintaining its integrity other than the addition of a crucifix and timepiece by Mathis.

The “saint lamp” was an item Mathis acquired early on in his collecting endeavors.  In fact, there is an interior photograph (left) of the statue – before its conversion – proudly displayed in his home in Monte Vista, circa 1950s, years before his purchase of Villa Finale in King William.  The home, located at 705 East Mulberry, was razed for the Highway 281 project.

st anthony river walkIn all the years Mathis owned the lamp, he was quick to identify the statue as being that of Saint Anthony of Padua, something that would make perfect sense since San Antonio, Mathis’ hometown, is named after the saint.  (A Spanish expedition arrived here on June 13, 1691, St. Anthony’s feast day.)  However, there has been some question about who the likeness is truly representing, especially since opening the house to tours.  As some have pointed out, St. Anthony is normally depicted holding an open book on which sits the Christ-child, a reference to a vision had by Anthony.  (See photo at left: statue of St. Anthony along the River Walk.)  The statue on the lamp contains none of the symbolism normally associated with St. Anthony.  So who could the figure truly be?  A few people, even some of Villa Finale’s volunteers, have suggested it may be St. Francis Xavier.

St. Francis Xavier (1506 – 1552) was attending the University of Paris where he met Ignatius Loyola.  The pair, along with others, took monastic vows and were the first Jesuits after being ordained in Venice in 1537.  Due to his missionary work throughout Asia, where he converted over 2,000 people, St. Francis Xavier is known as the “Apostle of the Indies.”  Despite his work throughout the continent, he never accomplished his life-long dream of reaching China.  He took ill and died on the island of Shangchuan, less than nine miles from mainland China while waiting for the ship that would take him to his destination.

IMG_2997So how is Francis Xavier depicted in art?  Normally as a young, bearded Jesuit (humble) holding a torch and flame, cross and / or lily.  Other than the beard and Jesuit robe, the statue on the lamp has none of the other symbols, either but the hands, despite missing several digits, show clear indications of having something resting in them at one time (left).  Additionally, Dr. Marion Oettinger, Curator of Latin American Art at the San Antonio Museum of Art, identified the saint in question as being Francis Xavier on a recent visit to Villa Finale.

Although Walter Mathis was a great admirer of religious art as well as an avid collector of it, he cannot be faulted for mis-identifying Francis Xavier as St. Anthony of Padua.  With over 8,000 saints, blesseds and venerables recognized by the Catholic Church, many of us would have made the exact same assumption.

Cited: Jones, Alison.  Saints.  New York: W & R Chambers Ltd., 1992

Steves Homestead and Villa Finale: Partners in tours

Steves Homestead

Steves Homestead

Steves Homestead House Museum and Villa Finale: Museum & Gardens, have recently teamed up to offer a special combo ticket for visitors wishing to see both historic sites in one day.  For the price of $12.00, folks visiting the King William District can now see both homes during self-guided tours.  The sites are located only one short block from one another.

Combo tickets are valid only on the day of purchase and only for self-guided tours.  Both sites still offer guided tours; Villa Finale offers guided tours on Tuesdays at 1:00pm and 2:30pm, and Wednesday through Saturday at 10:00am and 2:30pm.  Combo tickets to tour Villa Finale are only offered during the site’s self-guided tour times which are Wednesday through Saturday, 11:15am – 2:00pm.  (Villa Finale’s self-guided tours are first floor only.)

Villa Finale

Villa Finale

For information on Steves Homestead tour days and times, visit http://www.saconservation.org or call (210) 225-5924.  For questions regarding Villa Finale’s tour times, please call (210) 223-9800 or visit http://www.VillaFinale.org.

We hope to see all of you in the King William National Historic District in the not too distant future — happy touring!

“Thank you” Villa Finale Volunteers!

Author Elizabeth Berg wrote, “There is incredible value in being of service to others.”  Here at Villa Finale, we highly value the service of our dedicated volunteer staff.  Our volunteer program began back in mid 2008 with only three on the roster and since then we have had a number of wonderful folks join our ranks.  From staffing events, guiding tours, providing security for our collections, polishing silver, conducting research and even modeling for program photos, our volunteers can do it all!

I began in the museum field as a volunteer and I understand how valuable one’s free time is which is why I, and the rest of our paid staff, are so grateful to those folks who show up to help week in and week out.  This being Volunteer Appreciation Week, we would like to say to all of Villa Finale’s volunteers, THANK YOU … we appreciate you!Image


Times they are a changin’ at Villa Finale

IMG_1026This October, 2013 will mark the third anniversary of Villa Finale opening its doors to the public.  As a new site, we are still looking at better ways we can serve the general public and the community.  We began opening the grounds at the beginning of the year and this has turned out to be very well-received as the site is now more inviting.  Also, during the last couple of years, we discovered that many people wanted to see Villa Finale but had either very little time or were confused about the location of the Visitor Center to buy admissions (the Visitor Center is located four blocks from Villa Finale).  In order to be accessible to more people, we are proud to announce the following changes to Villa Finale’s operations effective April 2, 2013.

Tours
Villa Finale will now be offering self-guided tours (first floor only) Wednesday – Saturday from 11:00am – 2:00pm.  Our popular guided tours will continue to be offered on Tuesday at 1:00pm and 2:30pm, and Wednesday – Saturday at 10:00am and 2:30pm.

Admission prices
Guided tour admissions will remain the same: $10.00 general, $7.50 for seniors, students and military.  Self-guided tours (first floor only) will be $7.50 general admission and $5.00 for seniors, students and military.  There will also be an option to upgrade from a self-guided tour to a full guided tour of the entire house.  Members of Villa Finale and / or the National Trust will continue to receive free tour admission.

Carriage House, ca. 2008. Parking available on King William and Sheridan Streets.

Carriage House, ca. 2008. Parking available on King William and Sheridan Streets.

Admissions and Museum Shop
The sale of admissions will be MOVED from its current location at the Visitor Center (122 Madison) to the Carriage House located on the grounds of Villa Finale at 401 King William Street (we will no longer be selling tour admissions at the Visitor Center).  Some of our most popular merchandise will also be sold from the Carriage House with some merchandise still available for sale at the Visitor Center.  (The Museum Shop is currently having a 40% off moving sale so don’t miss it!)

Business Hours
The following are the business hours for all areas of Villa Finale: grounds, Carriage House (admissions and Museum Shop) and the Visitor Center at 122 Madison.

  • Grounds: Tuesday, 12:00pm – 4:00pm; Wednesday – Saturday, 9:30am – 4:00pm
  • Carriage House (admissions and Museum Shop): Tuesday, 12:00pm – 4:00pm, Wednesday – Saturday, 9:30am – 4:00pm
  • Visitor Center (at 122 Madison): Tuesday, 12:00pm – 4:00pm; Wednesday – Friday, 9:30am – 4:00pm.  The Visitor Center will be CLOSED on Saturdays.

Please note: all areas of Villa Finale are subject to closures for maintenance or special events on select dates and major holidays.

Parking for Villa Finale
Guests are welcome to park along King William Street or Sheridan Avenue.  The site can be accessed during regular business hours from the front gate on King William or the driveway gate off of Sheridan.

And of course, we are always looking for volunteers, especially with the addition of self-guided tours.  There is minimal training involved (click here for volunteering information).

This is an exciting time of positive change at Villa Finale!  Make sure you stop by and visit if you haven’t already.  And for those of you who work downtown don’t forget, we welcome you to enjoy your brown bag lunch on the grounds of Villa Finale.

Thank you, San Antonio for your continued support!