Villa Finale Retreats to Forth Worth – Part 1

How many other work places take you on a retreat to visit places of interest?  Villa Finale’s staff has that unique opportunity. The past two years the staff visited Galveston but this year we went north to Fort Worth!  The trip began in the early morning hours of Tuesday, January 27th as the staff gathered – coffee cups in hand – on the grounds of Villa Finale ready to board our big white rental van (christened “the iceberg” during the trip) for the 4.5 hour drive north.  After a brief stop for breakfast goodies, our Fort Worth exploration began with a guided tour of the Japanese Garden.  Built in 1973 inside the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, the 7-acre site was once a gravel quarry and dumping place for manure produced by the military’s equine.  Years of manure droppings made it an ideal location for the growth of lush green plants.  Many of the plants were donated by businesses and individuals, not only from Fort Worth but throughout the United States.  The result is a lush paradise of fine greenery accessible by winding paths which whisk you away to another place.  The bridges, rolling hills and decks provide a tranquil place of reflection and serenity.  If you ever visit, make sure you feed the Koi – they are eager to make your acquaintance!

After a well-deserved night’s rest everyone was up and ready to go for another day of cultural expansion.  Wednesday morning’s first stop was Thistle Hill, a mansion built in 1904 now owned and operated by Historic Fort Worth, Inc. a local partner of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Historic Fort Worth was founded in 1969 to preserve the city’s identity through stewardship, education and leadership. The organization was gifted the property in 2005 but not before it was saved from demolition in 1974 by a group of concerned citizens who raised $240,000 to purchase the property.  That came during a time when many of the city’s oldest and most beautiful homes – located in a once opulent area called Quality Hill – were being razed for parking lots and modern businesses.  Citizens knew a part of the city’s rich history would be lost if some of the homes weren’t saved from the wrecking ball, and, indeed, Thistle Hill is a gorgeous treasure!

The home was built as a wedding gift by Albert Buckman Wharton – who owned Fort Worth’s first auto dealership – for his new bride, Electra, the beautiful daughter of one of the city’s wealthiest cattle barons.  As I listened to this I thought, wow, what a great wedding gift!  Some of us would get luck to get a crock pot!  And Albert spared no expense – he paid $46,000 (that’s well over $1 million dollars today) for the 11,000 square foot abode that, although grand in every way, is incredibly practical and comfortable.  I was most particularly impressed with the wall decor in what used to be the billiards room; the walls have several inspirational quotes and sayings. The Whartons didn’t live in the house very long before they sold it to Elizabeth and Winfield Scott in 1911.  The Scotts immediately began remodeling the home from its original Colonial design to a Georgian Revival style.  Unfortunately, Mr. Scott died a few months after the property was purchased and never lived in the house.  Mrs. Scott and her son Winfield, Jr. moved into the house in 1912 after all remodeling projects were completed.  Thistle Hill would be her home for the next twenty-six years during which time she hosted a variety of social events.

After Elizabeth’s death in 1936, Winfield, Jr. sold the home to the Girls Service League as a safe and positive place for young women to live while they completed their education.  However, as women became more independent and it was “acceptable” for young ladies to be out on their own, the need for Thistle Hill as a rooming house became irrelevant and the organization abandoned the building.  The house was left empty for a number of years until it was purchased in 1974.

Historic Fort Worth also owns the Ball-Eddleman-McFarland House only a few blocks away; this was our next stop.  Now the headquarters of Historic Fort Worth, the first floor can be rented out for small private events and weddings.  Although smaller than Thistle Hill, the Victorian charm of this home can be seen inside and out.  The Queen Anne style Victorian house was constructed in 1899, also in Quality Hill, by Sarah Ball, the widow of George Ball, a wealthy banker in Galveston.  Sarah, who paid roughly $38,000 to have the house built, chose this site not only because it sat atop a bluff above the Trinity River – thus providing great views – but also because it was right next door to her physician, Dr. Joseph Pollock.  Ball died in 1904, merely five years after the home was constructed, and that same year it was purchased by William H. Eddleman, a cattleman and founder of Western National Bank.  Eddleman and his wife had one daughter, Carrie, who was the light of their life.  When Carrie met and fell in love with Frank H. McFarland, the Eddlemans gave their blessing as long as McFarland didn’t take their daughter too far away after marriage.  So what did the couple do?  They moved in with Carrie’s parents: now there’s a gentleman for you!  The Eddlemans remodeled an upstairs bedroom as a suite for the young couple, and the four lived under the same roof until the death of Carrie’s parents.  Frank McFarland died in 1948 and Carrie lived in the home until her death in 1978 – that is a total of 75 years in one home!

The McFarland house is very beautiful and charming.  The exterior features turrets, gables, carved sandstone, marble and copper.  The interior is rich with colorful stained glass, splendid woodwork including coffered ceilings and parquet floors throughout and so much more!  I could go on and on about the features of this home, but it really is something you have to see for yourself.  It’s wonderful that the Junior League of Fort Worth purchased the home in 1979 thus saving it from eventual demolition before it was purchased by Historic Fort Worth.  Both Thistle Hill and the McFarland House are available for guided tours.

So much to tell about places we visited during our trip to Fort Worth!  I will be blogging about the rest of our trip over the next few days.  Villa Finale’s staff would like to thank our wonderful docents at the Japanese Garden, Mr. and Mrs. Winn; Diann at Thistle Hill, Jimmy at McFarland House, as well as Historic Forth Worth, for their generous hospitality!

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.

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with a Mexican Classic

HHCTX SEAL LogoIn honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Villa Finale will be collaborating with the Hispanic Heritage Center of Texas in an outdoor screening of the 1948 Mexican classic, Los Tres Huastecos (The Three Men from Huasteca), on Friday, September 12, 2014.  The movie was made during the golden age of Mexican cinema (1936 – 1969).  The films of this time were of high quality due to superior script-writing, directing, film production, originality and on-screen talent.  One of the most famous actors during this period was Pedro Infante, who plays the lead in Los Tres Huastecos.

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Pedro Infante (1917 – 1957)

Born in November 1918 in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico, Infante showed great natural talent for music.  He learned to play strings, wind and percussion instruments from his father – a musician – at a very early age and also had a rich singing voice to round out his talents.  His first wife convinced him to move to Mexico City where he could be discovered and in 1943 he made his first recording for Peerless Records; that same year he also had a small part in his first film.  Recognizing his natural acting ability and Infante’s incredible singing voice, it wasn’t long before he was one of the most sought-after performers in Mexico.  Because he came from humble origins, was charismatic and played the “everyday man” in his films, he quickly became a favorite with Mexican audiences.

 

In 1948, Pedro Infante was approached by Ismael Rodriguez, one of Mexico’s top filmakers and directors, to star in Los Tres Huastecos (The Three Men from Huasteca).  A comedic / musical drama co-written by Rodriguez, the film’s story involves triplets separated at birth after their mother dies during child birth.  treshuastecosEach of the boys is raised by their individual godfather in different areas of Mexico’s Huasteca region (located along the Gulf of Mexico) and grow up with their own personalities: one is a priest, the other a military man, and the last a rough gambler and bar owner.  The three brothers come together in the hunt for “El Coyote,” a thief and murderer who is terrorizing the region.  In addition to original huapango musical selections included in the soundtrack (huapango music highly influenced today’s Texas conjunto sound), the film features creative special effects (state-of-the-art for that time) as Infante plays all three of the brothers.

 

Blanca_Estela_Pavón

Blanca Estela Pavon (1926 – 1949)

Always up for a career challenge, Infante gladly accepted playing three different characters with their own unique personalities.  His brother, Angel, played Infante’s body double and stand-in for some of the scenes featuring more than one brother.  The film co-starred Blanca Estela Pavon – who played opposite Infante in many of his most memorable films and who was “Mexico’s sweetheart” – as the love interest of one of the brothers.  Comic Fernando Soto – aka Mantequilla (“butter”) – played the hapless sacristan (the keeper of the local church’s sacristy) and four-year-old new-comer, Maria Eugenia Llamas (aka “La Tucita,” diminutive for tuza meaning pocket gopher) played the gambler brother’s daughter.  Llamas steals scene after scene in the film as the little girl being raised as a tomboy with poor manners.  Her pets include a snake and tarantula which she handles very naturally.  Llamas later recalled that director Ismael Rodriguez treated the film shoot as a game so it was very easy for her to act and handle her on-screen pets.

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Maria Eugenia Llamas “La Tucita” (1944 – 2014)

The film was a hit and received several Ariel award nominations (the Mexican equivalent of the Academy Award) including best director, actor, child performer and original screenplay.  It remains one of Infante’s most memorable and best known films.

Sadly, only one year after the release of the film, Blanca Estela Pavon died in a plane crash near the Popocatépetl volcano.  Pavon was only 23 and at the height of her career.  It is said that Infante, who co-starred with Pavon in several films, was inconsolable at the news.  Only eight years later, Pedro Infante also perished in an aerial accident when a B-24 Liberator he was piloting crashed only five minutes after takeoff; he was only 39.  Pavon and Infante are buried in the same cemetary.  Maria Eugenia Llamas, who would be known by her Tres Huestecos character name of La Tucita for the rest of her career, died on August 31, 2014 at the age of 70.

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One of many Infante statues throughout Mexico.

For many who grew up watching Pedro Infante films thanks to the influence of our parents – myself included – this is one movie that is near and dear to our childhoods.  And for those who are not familiar with Pedro Infante or Mexican films of this era, Los Tres Huastecos is a great movie to get a feeling for the quality of the country’s cinema at this time.  (Note: Pedro Infante’s talent was not lost to people in the United States.  Walter Mathis has an album by Infante in his record collection.  Infante was in talks to make his cross-over debut in the United States prior to his death.)

Come join Villa Finale and the Hispanic Heritage Center of Texas for an outdoor screening of this Mexican classic on Friday, September 12th!  Admission is FREE.  Picnics, lawn chairs, blankets and pets on leash are welcome.  The HHCTX will be providing complimentary snacks.  Villa Finale will be having a raffle for free guided tour admissions to the museum.  Gates open at 6:00pm.

 

Leon Valley Ballet Folklorico

Leon Valley Ballet Folklorico

We are also happy to welcome the Leon Valley Ballet Folklorico who will be performing at 6:45pm prior to the film screening.  See you at the movies!

 

What:
Screening of the Mexican Classic Los Tres Huastecos (The Three Men from Huasteca) 1948 – running time: 2 hours
Presented with English subtitles, co-sponsored by Villa Finale and the Hispanic Heritage Center of Texas

When: Friday, September 12, 2014

Times:
Gates open at 6:00pm
Leon Valley Ballet Folklorico performance at 6:45pm
Film begins at approximately 7:35pm

Admission:
FREE

For more information, please call Villa Finale Visitor Services at (210) 223-9800.  Click here to learn more about the Hispanic Heritage Center of Texas.

Napoleon, Josephine and Maria Walewska: A Triangle for the Ages

Napoleon Bonaparte (public domain image)

Napoleon Bonaparte (public domain image)

The woman most associated with Napoleon Bonaparte is Josephine, whose real name was Marie Josephe Rose Tascher de la Pagerie.  Apparently, Napoleon did not like the name “Rose,” which is what Josephine’s family and friends called her, telling the attractive widow: “I don’t like your name; from now on I will call you Josephine.” (1) The pair met in 1795 when Napoleon was just beginning to make a name for himself in the French military and was seen as one of its greatest up-and-coming officers.

There are several stories as to how and where the two met, but it is most likely it happened at a social event.  At the time, Josephine – who was a well-known figure in French society – was the mistress of Paul Barras, Napoleon’s mentor and “de facto” governor of France.  Realizing that she was not getting any younger (Josephine was 32 in 1795) and with Barras’ attention being directed toward another woman, Josephine knew she was facing the possibility of losing financial support for herself and her two children, Eugene and Hortense.  Ever the smart and captivating woman, she set her eyes on the unrefined Napoleon, who, young and inexperienced, immediately fell for her advances.  Josephine could see that the young officer was destined for greatness.  The pair was married in March 1796 with Napoleon receiving a promotion to commander-in-chief of the army of Italy as a wedding present from Paul Barras. (2)

Josephine Bonaparte (public domain image)

Josephine Bonaparte (public domain image)

Three days after the wedding, Napoleon left for Nice leaving his beloved bride behind.  His love letters to Josephine at this time are quite passionate and reveal how love-sick he was without her.  However, Josephine, who unlike her new husband married as a matter of convenience, was back in Paris enjoying the companionship different lovers, most notably a lieutenant named Hippolyte Charles.  The news of Josephine’s indiscretions were eventually revealed to Napoleon who had remained completely devoted to his wife refusing to take on a mistress, like many of his officers had done.  After finally taking on a mistress while in Egypt, he resolved to divorce Josephine but when he returned to France in 1799, she again used her charms to reconcile with her husband.  Josephine, an infamous spender, had gone into deep debt while Napoleon had been away and she realized it behooved her to stay married.

Even though the couple seemingly worked things out, Napoleon’s initial passion for his wife was gone.  This is quite ironic as Josephine’s love for the man blossomed and grew.  This set the stage for a number of mistresses Napoleon would have over his career.  Being a man of growing power and eventually Emperor of France, he had no problems getting any woman he wanted.  At the height of his power in 1807, Napoleon met the Countess Maria Walewska in Warsaw, Poland.  The beautiful 20-year-old Maria quickly caught the wandering eye of Emperor Bonaparte who was quick to ask for a private meeting with the young noble woman.  Maria was married to 71-year-old Count Anastase Walewski who, allegedly, encouraged his young bride to do whatever it took to ingratiate herself to Napoleon with the goal of helping Poland become in independent state.

Marie Walewska (public domain image)

Maria Walewska (public domain image)

And so it was that Maria Walewska, much to Josephine’s chagrin, became not only Napoleon’s friend and confidant, but mistress.  In fact, she joined him for several weeks in Paris and then Vienna.  In May 1810, Alexandre Florian Joseph Walewski was born to Maria.  The baby was allegedly the illegitimate son of Napoleon, although Alexandre claimed in later years that his father was Count Walewski who had legally recognized him as his son.  Be that as it may, the birth of Maria’s son was seen as further proof that Josephine, and not Napoleon, was physically incapable of bearing a child.  This would eventually lead to the couple divorcing in 1809 so he could marry the young and fertile Marie-Louise of Austria who would give birth to a son in 1811, Napoleon François Joseph Charles.

Maria claimed her relationship with Napoleon was born solely out of patriotic duty.  Despite this, Maria’s devotion and love for Napoleon – however it began – was clear to all; Maria even visited Napoleon when he was in exile in Elba.  Although Poland did not reach the large independent state it hoped, it did reach independence as the smaller, but free, Grand Duchy of Warsaw, thanks to Emperor Bonaparte.

Alexandre Walewski (public domain image)

Alexandre Walewski (public domain image)

The final outcome of this triangle is very interesting and history-making.  Although it was proven, through the birth of Maria’s son, that Napoleon was not infertile thus making the case for his divorce from Josephine and the birth of a legitimate heir, Napoleon lost his most arduous supporter and “good luck charm” in Josephine.  Napoleon’s Grand Armee suffered extraordinary losses in Russia in 1812 and never fully recovered until he was finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.  The once great Emperor of France died in exile on the British island of St. Helena in 1821.  But what of his son, Napoleon II, the King of Rome, as he was called?

After his father abdicated in 1814, Marie-Louise escaped with the boy to Austria and was given the title Duke of Reichstadt by his maternal grandfather.  Marie-Louise remarried Austrian General Count von Neipperg in 1821, only a few months after Bonaparte’s death.  Apparently, Marie-Louise had two illegitimate children by Count von Neipperg prior to their marriage, a fact that the young Napoleon François saw as a weakness in his mother allegedly saying, “If Josephine had been my mother, my father would not have been buried at Saint Helena, and I should not be at Vienna.  My mother is kind but weak; she was not the wife my father deserved.” (3)  Clearly, Josephine’s reputation as a strong woman preceded her, not being lost even in the eyes of the boy who was the reason for her divorce.  The young Napoleon II would die at age 21 of tuberculosis.

Napoleon II (public domain image)

Napoleon II (public domain image)

As far as Maria Walewska, she divorced Count Walewski and married a Count d’Ornano in 1816.  She died shortly after giving birth to a son in 1817.  Maria’s legacy is two-fold: first, her success in convincing Napoleon of Poland’s need to be independent.  Second, her giving birth of Napoleon’s illegitimate son, Alexandre.  It is through Alexandre that Napoleon Bonaparte’s direct lineage continues … ironically, it’s through several descendants of a child he had out-of-wedlock with an actress, Rachel Felix and whom he later adopted.

At Villa Finale’s upcoming La Fête Napoléon, a gala celebrating the Napoleonic era, costumed actors portraying Napoleon, Josephine and Maria Walewska will be in attendance greeting and interacting with guests.  Now that you know how this triangle affected the course of history, what would you ask?

La Fête Napoléon, a gala celebrating the Napoleonic era: Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 7:00pm.  Admissions begin at $200 per person.  Proceeds support Villa Finale’s ongoing community efforts.  Call (210) 223-9800 for admissions or further information.

End Notes:
1. Proctor Patterson Jones, Napoleon: An Intimate Account of the Years of Supremacy (San Francisco, California: Proctor James Publishing Company, 1992), xxxiii.
2. Ibid.
3. Felix Markham,
Napoleon: A Startling New Interpretation of His Life and Legend Based on Recently Discovered Documents (New York, New York: Signet, 1966), 249.

Sources:
Jones, Proctor Patterson.  Napoleon: An Intimate Account of the Years of Supremacy.  San Francisco: Proctor Jones Publishing Company, 1992.

Markham, David J.  Napoleon for Dummies.  Hoboken: Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2005.

Markham, Felix.  Napoleon: A Startling New Interpretation of His Life and Legend Based on Recently Discovered Documents.  New York: Signet, 1963.

Second annual staff retreat: Galveston, Texas

On the Tall Ship Elissa

On the Tall Ship Elissa

Those of us who work at Villa Finale are fortunate to have leadership that encourages staff enrichment and development. For the second straight year, we loaded a mini van and all headed to Galveston to visit historic sites, places of interest and meet with other in the fields of museum and preservation.

As in 2013, our accommodations were once again at the Michel B. Menard House.  Built in 1838, the house is now the oldest surviving house in the city and is operated by the Galveston Historical Foundation.  After carefully picking out our rooms for our stay, we headed out to the Texas Seaport Museum to tour the Tall Ship Elissa.  Built

Boat tour of Galveston Bay

Boat tour of Galveston Bay

in Scotland in 1877, the barque is one of the oldest sailing ships in the world.  The ship is kept in tip-top shape by caring volunteers, many of whom have an opportunity to sail on the Elissa as a reward for number of hours served.  Many thanks to Rachel for the wonderful tour!  After our visit on the Elissa, the staff received its own private boat tour of Galveston Bay by the very entertaining Captain Wes and his one-woman crew.  The staff was enthralled by the amount of dolphins we saw frolicking throughout!  A highlight of the day was an Italian dinner with colleagues from the Galveston Historical Foundation.  Sharing stories about historic preservation over fine food and a glass of wine was a fitting way to end day one.

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At Shangri La

Day two began early the next day.  The staff, still tired from the boat ride and all the excitement of our arrival, stuffed itself in the van for a ferry ride that was the beginning of our trip to Orange, Texas and Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center.  The Center, a program of the Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation, is sprawled out over 200 acres; the Botanical Gardens contain over 300 plant species, many of which are in meticulously maintained green houses.  For me, the Pond of the Blue Moon and the Children’s Garden were the most fascinating.  After lunch at Shangri La, the staff received a tour of the 1894 W.H. Stark House, also in Orange.  The three-story house is furnished with original family pieces and is definitely something to see if you’re ever in Orange.

McFaddin-Ward House

McFaddin-Ward House

Our historic homes tour did not end there.  Our next stop was Beaumont and the McFaddin-Ward House.  The house, built in 1905, was the home of W.P.H. and Ida Caldwell McFaddin and family who made their fortune from the cattle and oil business.  The entire house is lavishly decorated but I think the staff would agree that our favorite place in the house was in the third floor, where the McFaddin boys lived.  It was quite the “man cave!”  For those of us who have made our careers in the museum field, the curatorial storage was an incredible thing to see – everything is carefully stored with proper materials and using best practices.  I was like a kid in a candy store!  Thank you so much to the McFaddin-Ward staff for sharing the space

Bishop's Palace

Bishop’s Palace

with us!  After yet another long day, the staff enjoyed down-time back in Galveston with a delicious dinner at the Saltwater Grill: you can’t go to Galveston and not have sea food!

On our last day in Galveston, the staff made its way to the Bishop’s Palace.  This was a stop during last year’s trip, however, some of us were unable to travel so I am happy it was added to the agenda once again.  The Bishop’s Palace is an absolute must-see if you’re ever in Galveston!  Designed and built in 1892 by architect Nicholas Clayton for railroad magnate Walter Gresham, the unfurnished house is nearly 21,000 square

Inside the magnificent Bishop's Palace

Inside the magnificent Bishop’s Palace

feet on an incredibly small lot but, wow!  What an amazing structure!  From its intricate wood details to its beautiful windows, the Bishop’s Palace does not need any furnishings in order to shine.

Next stop after the grandeur of the Bishop’s Palace was The Menil Collection in Houston.  This was an opportunity for each staff member to wander on their own to enjoy their preferred forms of art.  The stop at the Menil was fitting before our visit to Rienzi – the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.  Rienzi is actually a house museum for European decorative arts located in Houston’s historic River Oaks neighborhood.  The home itself was built in 1952 for philanthropists Carol Sterling Masterson and

Sunset in Galveston

Sunset in Galveston

Harris Masterson III who, among their many endeavors, were avid collectors, much like Walter Mathis who owned

Villa Finale.  Unlike Villa Finale, however, Rienzi continues to add to the collection for the purpose of displaying items that are the best examples of its European theme.  It is always a treat to visit unique sites like Rienzi.

Needless to say, the staff was tuckered out after our three days of nonstop visits!  We arrived back in San Antonio safe and sound, just ahead of a rare freeze.  I guess it was very fitting as we “cooled down” from a very busy and exciting trip.

Villa Finale: Museum & Gardens, full of Christmas cheer!

2013 has been Villa Finale’s most successful year of programs and events to date.  To close the year, we have a series of programs to celebrate the holiday season perfect for every member of the family.  To begin, the house is now decorated inside, and out, for Christmas.  Walter Mathis enjoyed decking out his home for the holidays and we are fortunate enough to have nearly all of his original Christmas decorations.  To read a past blog post by curator, Meg Nowack about the Mathis decorations, click here.

The holiday programming begins this week with the first of our two scheduled dates for the holiday version of our popular Music for Your Eyes tour (both dates of the Music for Your Eyes – Holiday are sold out).  Like our year-round version of the special evening tour, Music for Your Eyes – Holiday focuses on demonstrations and fun historic information on the music machines in Villa Finale’s collections but with a fun holiday twist.  At the end of the tour, guests enjoy a fifteen-minute concert of traditional Chirstmas classics provided by Villa Finale’s 1921 Bechstein-Welte reproducing piano, located in the grand Napoleon Parlors.  (The first date for the regular version of the tour is scheduled for February 6, 2014.  Click here for details.)

ImageOn Thursday, December 12th, we will be hosting the second annual outdoor holiday concert, The Sounds of Christmas at Villa Finale featuring the San Antonio Brass for 2013.  The San Antonio Brass will be playing upbeat favorites as well as classics from Villa Finale’s front porch.  Admission to the concert ($25.00 non-members, $20.00 members) includes light holiday refreshments.  Gate opens at 6:00pm and the concert will begin at 6:30pm.  The setting for the concert provides a holiday experience like no other!

To “wrap up” the holiday offerings, Villa Finale will be introducing its new series Silver Screen ImageClassics in the Garden with a FREE outdoor screening of the Frank Capra classic, It’s a Wonderful Life on Thursday, December 19th at 6:00pm.  Bring warm blankets, chairs, and pets on leash … we did say something for EVERY member of the family!  Villa Finale will have complimentary hot beverages and holiday treats available for purchase.  The screening begins at 6:00pm, but if you arrive early, you can secure a place next to one of our heaters.  Also, in the spirit of the film, we invite you to bring non-perishable food items as a collection for the San Antonio Food Bank.  Or, you may bring a new, unwrapped toy as a donation for the St. PJ’s Children’s Home.  (To see a wish list of items for St. PJ’s, click here.)  There will be a follow-up blog post about the Silver Screen Classics in the Garden series in the near future, so be on the look out!

For more information about these or future programs, or to make a reservation for the 2013 The Sounds of Christmas at Villa Finale featuring San Antonio Brass, call Visitor Services at (210) 223-9800.  Thank you for a wonderful year, San Antonio!

 

 

 

“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