If who we are is defined, at least in part, by where we live and who we call neighbors, three new books about San Antonio and Texas offer a window into the people of some unique places near and far in our city and state.
With book signings scheduled here Friday, Dec. 1, and Saturday, Dec. 2, interested readers can meet the authors in informal settings to learn more about their new works. Books that explore local and regional history – always of interest – should enjoy even greater audiences as San Antonio moves into 2018, its Tricentennial year.
The King William Area: A History and Guide to the Houses by Mary V. Burkholder and Jessie N.M. Simpson. Photography by Al Rendon. (San Antonio: King William Association, 2017)
Signing: Rendon Photography, 733 S. Alamo St., 6-8 p.m.
This edition serves as an unofficial update to Burkholder’s The King William Area: A History and Guide to the Houses (San Antonio: King William Association, 1973), the classic work on the King William Historic District that served as the heart of the prosperous German immigrant community in the mid and late 19th century.
Burkholder, a King William resident and preservationist, died 20 years ago. She lived in what was known as the Fry House at 226 Madison St., a charming one-story Victorian home, and was a seminal figure in the district’s revival in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. She is listed as a co-author because “40 percent of the book’s content was Mary’s work,” Simpson said.
Simpson, a preservationist and the author of the new edition exploring the district’s 22 blocks and 79 historic residences, has lived in and renovated various King William homes since 1975. She currently resides in one of the district’s most celebrated homes, the Joske House at 241 King William St., named for the German immigrant family that founded and operated Joske’s department store that anchored the corner of Commerce Street and Alamo Plaza for a century from 1988-1987.
Rendon is a San Antonio native and the city’s best known photographic chronicler of Latino culture, history, and people. His images of San Antonio’s Spanish-colonial Missions are widely collected, and his work has been exhibited by the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. and the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago.
First Friday – that’s today, Dec. 1 – is the ideal opportunity to take an evening stroll through King William, the first neighborhood in Texas to win historic designation. After the signing, slip away from the crowds along South Alamo Street to spend some time on the quieter King William and Madison streets, among others, that serve as showcases for the elegant 19th-century homes and mansions set on large parcels lovingly landscaped along and near the San Antonio River.
The King William Association’s new work traces the history of each home, its original owners, subsequent residents over the decades, and in most cases, the people who live there now. The finest homes in King William today carry seven-figure price tags. Simpson reminds us that many of the homes were built for $1,000-3,000 – real money back then.
San Antonio’s Historic Market Square by Edna Campos Gravenhorst. (Arcadia Publishing, 2017)
Signing: Rendon Photography, 733 S. Alamo St., 6-8 p.m.
Gravenhorst is a South Texas native, writer, and tourism ambassador in San Antonio. Her book biography describes her as a “storyteller of working class Americans.” First Friday shoppers stopping at Rendon Gallery to purchase the new King William book also can meet Gravenhorst and buy a signed a copy of her work.
San Antonio’s earliest markets were located along San Pedro Creek and the city’s two main plazas, Plaza de Armas and Plaza de las Islas, originally named to honor the Canary Islands, where San Antonio’s first settlers arrived here from and now called Main Plaza. By the early 19th century, the Alamo Plaza had become the center of market activity until the advent of the Civil War.
By the time King William was thriving at the end of the 19th century, however, market activity had shifted back to where the city’s first residents dwelled. The new Municipal Market was established in 1899 in what is now Market Square, home to El Mercado, Mi Tierra, numerous shops, restaurants and bars, and the Centro de Artes building.
The establishment of the Zona Cultural and the San Pedro Creek Improvement Project promise to breathe new life into the western downtown blocks where so much of the city’s early history unfolded. Market Square has always been a major visitor magnet, but the coming improvements should bring more locals back to a place that once defined local in San Antonio.
Hometown Texas. Photography by Peter Brown. Stories by Joe Holley. (Maverick Books, Trinity University Press, San Antonio, 2017)
Book signings: The Twig Book Shop, 306 Pearl Pkwy., Friday, 5:30-6:30 p.m. and at the La Cantera Barnes & Noble, Saturday, 3-4 p.m.
Peter Brown is a noted Texas photographer of landscapes and small towns whose work has been collected by leading museums from New York to Texas to California. He teaches photography at the Glasscock School of Continuing Studies at Rice University in Houston.
Joe Holley is a staff writer for the Washington Post whose long career as a journalist includes frequent articles in Texas Monthly, and stints at the San Antonio Express-News and the Houston Chronicle. As the former editor of the widely circulated Texas Co-Op Power magazine, Holley knows small-town Texas.
Both Brown and Holley will be on hand for the two book signings. Their collaborative work has yielded what likely will be the season’s most successful coffee table book, a handsome and heavy hardback with striking small-town images by Brown and superb story telling of Texas everyman and everywoman by Holley. Many see Texas as an urban state now, but as anyone who has covered the Texas Legislature in session knows, rural Texas – the places of agriculture, ranching, and small-town life – is alive and well. Brown and Holley see Texas as five different states defined by geography, each with its own distinctive sense of place, feel, and story.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the author in the text as Peter Holley. It is Joe Holley.