“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.

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!

Announcing “Where at Villa Finale is … ” a grounds scavenger hunt!

Lunch at Villa Finale

Folks enjoying lunch at Villa Finale.

It has been such a pleasure to see so many people enjoying Villa Finale’s grounds.  What started out as a First Friday invitation has been so well-received that Villa Finale’s grounds are now open daily 9:30am – 4:00pm Tuesday through Saturday!  Since we made our grounds accessible a few weeks ago, folks have been enjoying the grounds self-guided tour brochure, quiet strolls and even lunch on the property.

After seeing so many of our visitors “tagging” themselves on Facebook as being on our grounds, we came up with a fun idea: a scavenger hunt contest!  Beginning on March 1, 2013 and every first Friday after that, we will be posting a photograph on our Facebook page of an item on our grounds.  The first person to reply to the post with a photograph of Beautiful day at Villa Finalethat item’s location will win two free admissions to Villa Finale and a Villa Finale / National Trust water bottle (prizes may vary)!  Here are some contest details:

  • Scavenger hunt photographs will be uploaded to Villa Finale’s Facebook page between 10am and 11am every First Friday of the month (excluding holidays or maintenance closures).
  • Participants may not win more than two months in a row.
  • The winner will be publicly announced on Villa Finale’s Facebook page and given instructions on how to claim their prize.
  • Employees of Villa Finale and Villa Finale volunteers are not eligible.
  • Villa Finale kindly asks that all photographs be kept suitable for all audiences.

Spread the word and be on the look-out for the first “Where at Villa Finale is …” photograph next month!  You can find Villa Finale on Facebook and “like” us here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Villa-Finale/136484939748956?ref=hl

Happy hunting!

Villa Finale’s grounds: A serene getaway

Front gateOur South Texas weather has been perfect recently for enjoying the outdoors here in San Antonio; so if you happen to find yourself in the South Town area, why not stop by Villa Finale and enjoy our recently opened grounds for a stroll or nice picnic on the vast expanse of the lawn.

Having been renovated this past summer, we wanted the public to be able to come explore and enjoy the gardens of this historic site.  Villa Finale’s property backs into the River Walk so access is available straight from the River or street level.  Once you are here, you can take advantage of our Formal gardenhouse tours available daily.

Grounds are free and open to the public Tuesday, 12:00 – 4:00pm and Wednesday through Saturday 9:30 – 4:00.  A free downloadable self-guided brochure of our grounds is available by clicking the link below or at our website www.VillaFinale.org.

Grounds self-guided brochure

“Look South: A Culinary Adventure” recap

On Wednesday, October 6, 2012, Villa Finale hosted a special fundraising event called, Look South: A Culinary Adventure.  Click here to read more about the event as well as to view a special slide show.  Exxon Mobil provided additional sponsorship for the event.

You may also click on the video link below to view a special remembrance of Look South courtesy of our friends at The Pearl.  Thank you to all who made the evening one to remember!

Villa Finale lends a helping hand at the Texas Governor’s Mansion

The Texas Governor’s Mansion, during the years 1980 to 1982, underwent a major restoration funded by the Friends of the Governor’s Mansion. Walter Mathis was deeply involved with the Friends group and was asked to be on the restoration project committee. At the time, Mathis had already been residing in Villa Finale for thirteen years and was actively restoring other historic structures in the King William neighborhood.

The Mansion project was very special as Mathis got to choose, with the rest of the committee, exceptional American antique furnishings from the best antique dealers in the nation. He also had a hand in choosing drapery and floor coverings, decorative and fine art objects and very likely had a say in the landscape as well.

Mathis was definitely in his element – Texas, a historic house and antiques! And he didn’t have to buy a thing or find room for it in his already-full home!

A letter in the Villa Finale archives, dated March 31st 1983, invites Mathis to the San Antonio Conservation Society Annual Awards Dinner where the Governor’s Mansion received a Special Award for a “restoration that has brought to all Texans a renewal of pride in this symbol of our State’s unique heritage.”

Fast forward to June of this year, when the Governor’s Mansion was finally at the end of a major restoration and renovation, and when I was invited to assist Jane Kartokin, Administrator and Curator of the Friends of the Governor’s Mansion and a member of Villa Finale’s Advisory Council, to reassemble the rooms in this beautiful historic house. I, in turn, invited my colleague Karina Serna, to come and help too. Jane gladly accepted us both, as the job ahead was tremendous!

For four intensive days I transferred myself to Austin where I did everything from dusting and silver polishing to placing furniture and objects in (for example) Sam Houston’s bedroom! Also drank a lot of coffee and folded a lot of packing paper. It was such a rewarding experience working with Jane, Karina (in a setting that was NOT Villa Finale!), the Governor and First Lady’s staff and others who volunteered their time to help. We even had a visit from First Lady Anita Perry, who graciously acknowledged our hard work.

It was most fun seeing the presence of Walter Mathis throughout the house. Many objects that are in Villa Finale’s collection are repeated in the collection owned by the Friends group and displayed in the mansion. When I look at photographs taken after the 1980s restoration, I noted the choices made by Mathis and the committee had not changed at all.

Thoughtful and classic decoration lasts for decades! I encourage everyone to have a tour of this stunning house, now as fresh and lovely as ever! And then, of course, tour Villa Finale!

Thomas H. Mathis: Businessman and pioneer (part two)

Mary Jane Nold Mathis, ca. 1880

The firm of Thomas and John Mathis, known as J. M. and T. H. Mathis, greatly helped the improvement of the Aransas Bay pass between St. Joseph Island and Mustang Island by contributing $5,500 to a project that included widening and deepening.  This also gave access to the deeper water of the Gulf of Mexico from the bay.  Among their many other public improvement projects were the building of bridges, county roads, buildings, and the construction of the Orleans Hotel, to name a few.  In 1880, after over a decade of doing business together, the brothers went their separate ways.

However, Thomas Mathis continued doing business on his own in Rockport.  In addition to his ranching operation – he owned 24,000 acres of land along the Nueces River – his financial contributions led to the Western Union Telegraph company setting up business in Rockport, the construction of the first telephone line in that part of Texas, and the building of the first cold storage meat refrigerating plant in the state.  His success was due in part to his keen sense for business as well as his congenial personality which ingratiated him to the citizens of Rockport.

Thomas H. Mathis’s grave in Rockport.

Although involved in many business affairs, Thomas always remained active in his family’s life.  His first wife, Cora Linda, had died of typhoid just a few months after their marriage.  In 1875, he married Mary Jane Nold of Ketucky, a music teacher who had arrived in Rockport to join her parents in 1874.  The couple had eight children whom, despite being financially secure, were taught the value of hard work by their parents.  One of the Mathis children’s most detested tasks was pulling the weeds from the yard of the family home.  According to family records, the Mathis boys would avoid the work by making numerous trips to have a drink of water.  Father soon caught on to their plan, however, and had a water bucket placed close to their chore area to stop the lollygagging.

Mary Jane Mathis was just as involved in the community as her husband.  She was the organist at Rockport’s Presbyterian Church for 35 years until a broken wrist prompted her retirement.  For 25 years, Mary Jane was also president of a ladies organization called the King’s Daughters – her Rockport chapter did much of the charity work in Aransas County.

Thomas Mathis died on March 19, 1899.  Mary Jane continued to live in the family home in Rockport for the next 25 years after her husband’s passing.  For the last 16 years of her life, she lived in Corpus Christi – a portion of this with her daughter, May Mathis Green and her second husband, Harry Watson.  Mary Jane Nold Mathis died on February 26, 1943 and was buried in the family plot at Rockport next to her husband.

Thomas H. Mathis: Businessman and pioneer

The following is part one of a series of blog posts on the history of the Mathis family.

Thomas H. Mathis

Thomas Mathis, great-grandfather of Walter Nold Mathis, was born in Stewart County, Tennessee on July 14, 1834 to an agricultural family. At 20 years of age, he moved to Southern Arkansas to attend a school overseen by his cousin, Dr. Josiah Thompson Mathis. A couple of years later, Thomas organized his own school in Warren, Arkansas before attending Bethel College in Mishakawa, Indiana.

Thomas H. Mathis

Lured by the prospect of the livestock industry, Thomas moved to Southwest Texas in January, 1859. Together with another cousin, John M. Mathis, he made a moderate profit through the sale of livestock and was well on his way to growing his business until the outbreak of the Civil War. Forced to close his cattle business due to a blockade of Gulf ports imposed by the Union Army, Thomas turned his attention to tobacco. During the Civil War, tobacco was plentiful for men serving on both sides – however, it was very difficult for civilians to obtain and maintain their habit. Thomas was successful in dodging the blockade and importing tobacco from Tennessee and Kentucky thus meeting Texans’ demand for the product. In the fall of 1862, Thomas left his business to join the Confederate Army, serving until the end of the War, after which he returned to the tobacco industry.

In February, 1867, Thomas and John Mathis relocated to Aransas Bay – by joining forces with other local businessmen, the town of Rockport was founded. In their new town, Thomas and John created the firm of J. M. and T. H. Mathis, built a wharf, and chartered a steamboat. This steamboat, the Prince Albert, was the first to enter Aransas Bay for commercial purposes. Only a couple of years later, the Prince Albert was lost at sea – this did not deter the men, however. In August, 1869, the Mathis’s firm convinced the Morgan Lines, the first steamship company in Texas, to run ships out of Rockport. The Morgan Lines had sailed their inaugural vessel, Columbia, in 1837 and had survived the commandeering of their steamships by both armies during the Civil War.

Not only did the Mathis’s firm persuade the Morgan Lines to run ships out of Rockport, they also became agents for the company. This would be a partnership that would take both Thomas and John’s business to bigger and better places for their families and Aransas Bay.

Villa Finale’s landscape restoration begins!

The landscape restoration project here at Villa Finale is well underway and big changes are already evident throughout the site. At the moment, we are finishing the initial demolition and pre-work phase getting ready for the new plant material and hardscapes to be installed. Let me tell you, it is very exciting to see the work in progress and visualize the difference this renovation project will have on Villa Finale! Just the relatively simple task of removing crowded trees and shrubs along both the north and south edges of our landscape has provided a new opportunity to visualize what the restored landscape will reveal.

The irrigation work will start soon adding the much needed sprinkler system to the landscape, especially since we are already in stage two water restrictions here in San Antonio once again. Water conservation and eliminating water waste is very important to us so we added as much drip irrigation to the new system as possible. This will help us manage our water use and get the water directly to the soil where it is most beneficial to the newly installed plant material. In keeping with our organic landscape practices, we are amending all the planting beds with compost to add nutrients and organic life to our soil; this will greatly aid in the health of the plants and in the soil’s ability to retain water.

The landscape renovation project has been in the works for some time now and we’re all happy to see it fulfilling its anticipated promise! Be sure to stop by Villa Finale to see the work and share in our excitement!

Villa Finale Paintings on loan to San Antonio Museum of Art!

"Casa Ranchera"

The San Antonio Museum of Art has asked to borrow two Theodore Gentilz paintings from the Villa Finale Collection for a show entitled Theodore Gentilz: Mission Life of San Antonio and Northern Mexico which opens on March 2nd and closes May 20th 2012The show is part of an exhibition series called San Antonio Collects, truly a great fit for Walter Mathis and his Villa Finale.  The paintings Man and Pueblo Home, a charming watercolor and Casa Ranchera, oil on canvas, are two great examples of Gentilz’s illustrative style.



"Mexican Man with a Cane Walking Before Pueblo Houses"

Theodore Gentilz, (1819-1906) was an established young painter when he set sail for Texas in 1843, leaving his home in Paris, France, forever.  He was invited to come to Castroville by fellow Frenchman Henri Castro, the founder of that town, but settled in San Antonio where he opened a studio in 1847.  He left as his legacy a rich pictorial account of the people of San Antonio, its environs, and Mexico.  He also worked as a surveyor, creating detailed, illustrated maps of areas surrounding San Antonio and most of northern Mexico.  Many of his paintings of Mexico, like the two on loan, were painted during surveying trips.  All of Villa Finale’s Gentilz collection, eight in total, hangs in the Mathis Sitting Room.

Theodore Gentilz: Mission Life of San Antonio and Northern Mexico, runs from March 2nd through May 20th, 2012.  For more information about the San Antonio Museum of Art’s exhibit, please click here.  You may also contact SAMA directly at (210) 978-8100.  The San Antonio Museum of art is located at 200 West Jones Ave., San Antonio, TX 78215.