The Steves Homestead

The Steves Homestead

by Celia Hayes

Well, strictly speaking, the Steves Homestead isn’t what you’d really think of on hearing it called a homestead. It’s more of a splendidly ornate, Second Empire French mansion, with a slightly in-curved mansard roof topped with a spiky crown of iron lace. It’s one of the jewels of the historic King William district … which was San Antonio’s very first luxury suburban neighborhood. The tallest and most identifiable building in King William is the very industrial Pioneer Flour Mills – which in turn had been founded by one the mid-19th century mercantile kings of San Antonio, C.H. Guenther. Guenther was one of those German immigrants who established so much of San Antonio’s industry and business – and Edward Steves, the original builder of the homestead was another. He founded and ran a profitable lumber business, as well as being extremely active in the social affairs of the German community. Whatever there was in the way of arts, cultural affairs and community betterment in San Antonio in the mid-19th century was usually the doing of the prosperous Germans. The extended Steves family had originally settled in Comfort, but when Texas began to recover from the Civil War, Edward Steves moved to San Antonio with his wife, Joanna. When the railroads reached San Antonio in the mid-1870s, the town expanded almost geometrically.

Oddly enough, although the house looks huge from the street – it is actually rather manageable on the inside; the main floor is a block of four rooms and a stair hall down the middle, with a little conservatory built out on one side, and a range housing the kitchen and servant’s quarters out at the back. The rooms are comfortable and airy, with high ceilings and tall windows shaded by mature trees; just so rooms had to be in the days before air conditioning. Many of the furnishings were bought new for the house by Joanna Steves; she kept only a very ornate hall tree made in New Braunfels from the previous house. Some of the art and furnishings came from Europe – one of the most spectacular is a circular table in the formal parlor with a micro-mosaic inlaid top featuring views of Ancient Rome which look like incredibly detailed paintings. The various roundels have large magnifying glasses laid out on them so that visitors can look and marvel at what was made with mosaic tiles hardly the size of the head of a pin.

Mr. Steves had a home office – with a separate entrance at the side of the house, and in back of the formal parlor. On the other side of the hallway was the informal parlor, with the dining room in back of that. The kitchen was around a short dog-leg corridor – to baffle the heat of the stove and the smells of food preparation – and everything is furnished with bits and pieces, just as it would have been … or if not as it would have been, as close as it is possible to get. At least a hundred years separate the Steves mansion from the Spanish Governors’ Palace – and the difference between them is most noted in the kitchen; a huge iron stove served the Steves’ cook, while the old Spanish establishment made do with something that looks rather more like a wood-fired pizza oven.

Out in the back, and on the riverbank behind the house is another curiosity – an indoor swimming pool. This is supposed to have been the first ever in San Antonio; Joanna Steves went swimming in it every day on the dot of 2 PM. This recalled to me the observation of urban garden planner and writer Frederick Law Ohmstead, who had visited San Antonio in 1855 – and noted that all the very best houses had gardens which ran down to the river, and the residents spent many happy hours in the hot summertime bathing and swimming in the cool water. Well, that was the only way they had to beat the summer heat then, wasn’t it? The Steves homestead, and the neighboring streets in King William and Southtown are well worth a visit.

Texas Sales Tax Holiday

Texas Tax Free Weekend

Sales Tax Holiday
Aug. 9 – 11, 2013

The recent passage of Senate Bill 485 (83rd Regular Legislative Session, 2013) changes the dates of the this year’s annual Sales Tax Holiday to Aug. 9-11, a week earlier than previously scheduled. The change in law became effective immediately. As in previous years, the law exempts most clothing, footwear, school supplies and backpacks priced under $100 from sales and use taxes, which could save shoppers about $8 on every $100 they spend.

Subject to the criteria explained below, all sales of qualifying items made during the holiday period qualify for the exemption, including items sold online, or by telephone or mail. Lay-away plans can be used again this year to take advantage of the sales tax holiday.

The dates for the sales tax holiday are set by the Legislature.

The “Fine Print” – important information you should know about this tax-saving event

Clothing and Footwear

Backpacks

School Supplies

Layaways and Rainchecks

Prohibited Advertising

Reporting Requirements for Sellers

Downtown San Antonio Spanish Governors Palace

The Spanish Governor’s Palace

by Celia Hayes

The single-story adobe ramble on the corner of Military Plaza (or that which is left, with Town Hall plunked down in the middle of it) is the oldest existing domestic structure in San Antonio, It dates from the 1700s; that period when Texas was a far-flung outpost of Spain, and the entire town was a huddle of similar houses around the margins of Military and Main Plazas. So – the Spanish part of the description is justified. It definitely wasn’t a palace by any stretch of the imagination. But it was a vast improvement, living-situation-wise over a windowless, dirt-floored jacale-hut made by planting upright timbers in a trench and plastering them inside and out with mud, so on that basis it certainly looked enough like a palace to warrant a touch of exaggeration. Finally, it was a governor’s residence only by extending the term to gossamer-thinness; it was originally built as the residence and place of business for whomever was captain of the local garrison.

That captain of the garrison was the highest authority-figure around, year in and year out … and long after Mexico won independence from Spain, and Texas won independence from Mexico, the sturdy adobe building survived, as the home of the family of the last garrison captain. When it was no longer a residence – as the area around became a lively commercial district – the rooms housed various enterprises; a pawn shop, a grocery store, a couple of saloons and a haberdashers. Little by little, similar colonial-era structures crumbled, or were demolished and replaced by newer and bigger shops and houses. The nearby Veramendi mansion on Soledad, from the same era and general plan, but built of stone, also followed the same arc. Once the home of the aristocratic family whose daughter married James Bowie, it descending from a grand residence to a variety of shabby businesses before being demolished in the first decade of the 20th century in order to facilitate the widening of Soledad Street.

The Governor’s Palace was luckier – in that it didn’t stand in the way of any plans to widen streets, and that the conservation bug had settled in, well and truly. The city bought the place entire, and commissioned architect Harvey Partridge Smith to restore it to what it would have been like in its glory days. Smith used his knowledge of other similar buildings across the length and breadth of the Hispanic settlements in the Southwest, and so arrived at a romantic approximation rather than a strict interpretation. But it is a charming building even so, with thick walls and tall ceilings (as a sort of heat sink), long narrow windows opening into a Spanish-style courtyard and garden. In the old days, the garden and outbuildings would have reached to San Pedro Creek. The floors are of tile, which would have been cool to walk on, and there are numerous niches cut into the walls and set with shelves for various ornamental items. Before the invention of air conditioning, this kind of building would have been about as comfortable as you could get, in the heat of a Texas summer. The Spanish Governor’s Palace is open to the public various hours on every day but Monday, and is well worth a visit to gain an idea of how the upper elite would have lived in early San Antonio.

 

Beanz-Garden Update

Beanz! A Garden Update

for all your San Antonio Home Buying needs!

by Celia Hayes

I have to say that the occasional rain shower over the last week or so has been very, very, very welcome, and so have the cool fronts. Anything which delays the full frontal blast of wicked summer heat by a week or so is a good thing in my book. But it has been a good month in the garden; what a difference a mere four or five weeks have made.

This year, I bit the bullet – the only plant starts that I bought were tomatoes. They went into a pair of Earth Boxes, and six home-made hanging planters. So far, lots of big green tomatoes, but nothing edible yet. For just about all the other plants this year, I began with packets of seeds from Lowe’s; three or four kinds of beans, sugar peas, three kinds of squash, and five seed potatoes from Rainbow Gardens. The bell, jalapeno and cayenne pepper plants are left over from previous years, as are the eggplants. I had never really thought of them all as perennials, but they all came back very nicely from winter.

The pepper plants are thriving, and the eggplants all have fresh new foliage and are hung with star-shaped purple blossoms which herald fat little eggplants, or so I hope. The okra plants began from seeds from last years’ okra plants. I didn’t know that you have to pick the okra pods as soon as they are about four or five inches long; any bigger than that, and they are totally inedible. So, I had a boat-load of okra seeds. Until now I had never had much luck growing vegetables from seeds. Very likely, I was doing it all wrong in trying to cultivate the terrible, horrible, awful clay soil that my yard is made of. Even digging in sand and compost didn’t help much. Last year we used Scott’s Moisture Control Potting mix in the pots and Earth Boxes, and things generally did very well. This year we filled the two raised beds with it, planted squash and potatoes in one, and beans in the other, crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.

The squash have begun putting out blossoms; it looks like the little green patty-pan squash are going first, with the yellow squash and the zucchini lagging slightly behind. The beans – the Kentucky Wonder variety began going up the string net which I had run from the edge of the raised bed to the top of the fence as if there had been some green bean drill instructor screaming at them to climb. As of this week they are covered in little white and purple flowers. These things are supposed to bear copious quantities of beans – and harvesting them regularly encourages even more. I still have packets of other varieties of beans, and hope to start another couple of small raised beds. It seems that I have inadvertently hit on the right place in my garden to grow pole beans; partly shaded for much of the day, but growing up against a south-facing fence.

I also had a packet of lettuce seeds, and another of mixed salad greens, which just this week had enough leaves to harvest and use in salads. Oh, the taste of fresh greens is indescribably good. When the squash plants are exhausted, and I dig up the potatoes in the fall, I am planning to put up a plastic tent over the large raised bed and sow more salad greens and lettuce inside. I’d like to be able to eat out of my own garden for the rest of this year, and even have enough excess to freeze.

And that’s my week in the garden – what about yours?

Suburban Garden

The Many-Splendored Suburban Garden

by Celia Hayes

Given a nice big lot, spectacular situation, mature trees, an architect-designed mansion, and massive infusions of money, it’s practically a no-brainer that there will be a beautiful garden, or even a merely adequate or maybe just a functional one adorning it all. What is really a challenge for a hard-core gardener is to create a lovely garden on a tiny lot, in a fairly ordinary suburb of small and relatively plain houses … and on a budget. Sounds impossible, but it has been done by at least three homeowners in my very own neighborhood of Spring Creek Forrest. One of the very loveliest gardens, alas, has since declined since the original owner sold the house. At it’s best it looked like the pictures of a classical English cottage garden in one of the glossy home-and-garden magazines. Admittedly it was high-maintenance, with stone and gravel pathways, a patch of lawn and flower borders to die for; that first owner had no social life at all, outside of work. She spent all her time on the garden, and it showed.

But the second spectacular garden that I know of has been established on an even tinier lot – and the best of it isn’t even visible from the street. You’d never know, just by looking – although the fact that the front lawn and the single well-manicured flower bed in it would likely give a clue. The house is one of those very like mine; a narrow rectangular cottage built close to the property line on one side, with the garage at the front. There is a gate into the long and skinny side yard, which leads to the front door – which isn’t actually at the front, being that it is in the middle of the long side. A lot of the smaller houses in Spring Creek Forest were built like that, which means that at worst, the windows along that side offer a splendid view of the long blank wall of your next-door neighbor’s house, at a distance of about fifteen feet or so.

Not this house, though – a number of small ornamental trees planted by the original owner masked that unenticing prospect. The original owner also had a screened back porch installed at the back of the house – which was one of the main reasons that Bess and James bought the place as their retirement home about two years ago. They loved the screened porch, and the tiny yard that it overlooked. The house had one more advantage; some very tall trees in neighboring yards provide shade in the afternoon; a good thing, especially at the height of summer. And because of the slight grade present, none of the neighboring houses windows overlook that patch of pocket paradise.

One of the first things that Bess and James did was to tear out a wooden deck and gazebo along the side, and replace it with a walkway of flagstones set into decomposed granite gravel. There are several benches and chairs along that skinny side garden; it feels larger than it really is. The screened porch looks out on the back yard, and another paved area, shaded with a fig tree. Bess has many flowering plants in pots lining the walkway. They do have hopes of a small patch of healthy lawn – but near-constant shade makes it iffy. And almost the best part is that nothing planted in it is particularly exotic or high-maintenance; in fact, Beth laughs, because just about all of it came from Lowe’s.

Spurs Dunk Heat 113 to 77-Why is James Cryin

Why is James Cryin?

Cuz He Just Got Dunked On

Spurs Rout Heat 113 – 77 in Game 3 of NBA Finals, take series lead. The Miami Heat kept saying it didn’t matter, that LeBron James affects the game in different ways. They were wrong James was struggling again to impose his will. The odds of the Spurs winning the fifth title they so desire turned in their favor yet again.

 

Froggy Fresh – Dunked On lyrics

Out on the court for a game of two on two,
Me and Mike vs. James and his boy, Big Blue.
We headed off to Kevin’s house right after school
‘Cause he got that new Lifetime basketball hoop.
We game ready, we came ready to play
We came ready to win and bring the trophy home that day
Big Blue said – you ain’t bringing home that W
“How you gon score when I’m standing here in front of you?”
I grab the ball and I passed it in to Mike
Mike caught the pass, faked left and went right
He broke through the line and he threw it off the glass
I couldn’t believe my eyes, he was running so fast
Caught the pass in midair then he threw that boy down
Nobody could believe it, James fell over on the ground
He started cryin, put his hands on his head
And Big Blue looked at me and Mike and he said…

[Hook]
Why is James cryin? Cuz he just got dunked on
I ain’t even lyin – yo, he just got dunked on
Yep yep, he was standin in the way
So I jumped up in the air and I dunked it on his face

Why is James cryin? Cuz he just got dunked on
I ain’t even lyin – yo, he just got dunked on
Yep yep, he was standin in the way
So I jumped up in the air and I dunked it on his face

[Verse]
James was mad, I could see it in his eyes
James never gets dunked on and James don’t ever cry
He stood up, beat his fist on his chest
Looked at me and Mike and ran his thumb across his neck
He grabbed the ball, squared up to the hoop
Took a hard right step and then he slipped in dog poop
Me and Mike started laughing and he deserved it too
For the rest of the day we called him Captain Poopy Shoe
Then the ball bounced right over to me
Big Blue was so big I could barely even see
I took the ball and I threw it in the air
Although I couldn’t see a thing I had a feelin’ Mike was there
He grabbed the ball and did an alley-hoop dunk
Right on top of James, he made him look like a punk
Then James’ girlfriend walked by
She stopped right there and looked me square in the eye
She said

[Hook]
Why is James cryin? Cuz he just got dunked on
I ain’t even lyin – yo, he just got dunked on
Yep yep, he was standin in the way
So I jumped up in the air and I dunked it on his face

Why is James cryin? Cuz he just got dunked on
I ain’t even lyin – yo, he just got dunked on
Yep yep, he was standin in the way
So I jumped up in the air and I dunked it on his face

[Verse]
For the rest of the game, the lead went back and forth
It was all tied up when I checked the scoreboard
There was only 10 seconds left on the clock
James went in for a layup but his shot got blocked
Why? And then juped out Big Blue
With the spin move, I was headin straight for the hoop
I looked at Mike, put my hand up in the air
James was standin in the way but you know I didn’t care
Mike threw a perfect pass and I jumped so high
I was way up in the sky, dog it felt like I could fly~
I grabbed the ball and I threw it down hard
Right on top of James, I felt like a superstar
That’s how me and Mike won the basketball game
We beat Big Blue and Big Bad James
‘Cause me and Mike are the number one team
And we heard James cry and we heard his mom scream
She said…

[Hook]
Why is James cryin? Cuz he just got dunked on
I ain’t even lyin – yo, he just got dunked on
Yep yep, he was standin in the way
So I jumped up in the air and I dunked it on his face

Why is James cryin? Cuz he just got dunked on
I ain’t even lyin – yo, he just got dunked on
Yep yep, he was standin in the way
So I jumped up in the air and I dunked it on his face

[Outro]
Yea, you come up in here – you’re gonna get dunked on
Python and Kim,
Penny and Shaq,
Pippen and Jordan
Boy, me and Mike are bad

Hey!

Published on Jun 4, 2013 by Froggy Fresh

Texas Transportation Museum

The Steel Rails of Yore

by Celia Hayes

I have to admit that I have been driving past the Texas Transportation Museum ever since I moved to this city (ulp) nearly twenty years ago and discovered that Wetmore Road was an especially speedy means of getting from my home in the north-east quadrant to the area around the airport. I was just not sufficiently motivated to stop in and check it out – which since it is only open on Friday and weekends, and I was usually driving past during the week … well, I had no particular reason to visit until this weekend. I am currently scribbling the first draft of another historical novel set in Texas, this one in 1876-78, and with a large portion of it set in San Antonio. Those years were significant, for a couple of different reasons.

The United States celebrated the Centennial in 1876 – a whole hundred years as a nation, which at times had seemed like being a pretty close-run thing. The long and brutal Indian wars with the Comanche, the Kiowa, and the Apache had been briskly wrapped up, making large tracts of western land safe for settlement, the Civil War was eleven years in the past, although it would not be forgotten – and most importantly for San Antonio; it was finally connected to a railroad – the last large city of any size, east or west, to do so.

This led to a local boom in business and in transport, much of which is documented on the Transportation Museum website. In the bare space of those years, a bustling new neighborhood grew up around San Antonio’s first rail terminal, somewhat to the north of then-downtown. It was known as the Levee, for the way in which the tracks had to be laid on a strip of artificially built-up ground – just about where IH-35 cuts through Milam and Sherman Streets. The original terminal building is so long-gone that only a couple of pictures exist of it, as it was. But the railroad depot was also the impetus for a mule-drawn streetcar system, and very soon those streetcar lines formed a network … and the sleepy adobe-built frontier village was subsumed.

There are two birds-eye city maps of San Antonio, the first from the early 1870s, in which San Antonio is mostly green space and wide tan avenues surrounding a thicker cluster of buildings around Commerce, the twin plazas and Soledad, all tangled about with the blue-green ribbon of the river. In the second, from the 1880s, the railroad has arrived; the network of streets, all tightly packed with businesses and houses has spread and spread again, reaching nearly to the parade ground and the Quadrangle at Fort Sam. And it was the railroad arriving, which made all that difference.

The Transportation Museum documents much of that on their website – almost more thoroughly than in their current displays. The museum is entirely run by unpaid volunteers, and I would guess on a shoe-string budget. There are some neat old rail cars on display in the open air – gosh, that was the way to travel, back in the day, in a Pullman car, with nice little beds that pulled out, or down for the night, and with a restroom-lounge where one could change…There is also a large barn with more historical cars and carriages on display, as well as a huge model railway set-up. It’s all very much a work in progress, and candidly not a threat to the California Railway Museum in Sacramento … but then, California has other problems of its’ own. Still, it’s a great place for an hour or so, especially for kids, who would never have seen rail travel, save for in the movies.