Provided by Joe Herring Jr.
Downtown Kerrville is enjoying a revitalization program, courtesy of several forward-thinking families, a restaurant entrepreneur, and the City of Kerrville. A lot of money is being invested, many plans are being made, and the future of the area looks bright.
In studying the history of Kerrville’s downtown, the only constant I find is the constant of change. Downtown Kerrville has changed almost continuously since the streets were first platted.
The first lot sold in the newly-platted city of Kerrville was lot No. 99, sold to Daniel Arnold, who listed his occupation as “bear hunter.” He bought the lot from Joshua D. Brown, the founder of Kerrville, in 1856. I’m not certain Arnold ever lived on his purchased lot; history records Arnold lived in a shack on the “public square,” next to his corn field. The “public square” is now home to the Kerr County Courthouse.
Mr. Arnold’s lot was part of Block 8, the block bounded today by Water, Main, Sidney Baker and Earl Garrett streets, the same block that’s been so much in the Kerrville news lately.
With the Cailloux Foundation busy at work renovating the old Schreiner Company building, with the City of Kerrville drawing up plans for a new Kerrville City Hall on that same block, with Schreiner University accepting the Charles Schreiner home and museum, and with the Kerr Arts and Cultural Center flourishing in Kerrville’s old post office, Old Block No. 8 will once again change Kerrville.
Across Water Street “Hagi” Hagiholam, owner of a chain of Mexican food restaurants, is renovating the Arcadia Theater. And just down Water Street the Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library is being redone, largely with donations from Charles Butt of the H. E. Butt Grocery Company in San Antonio.
Old Block 8, though, might be the key to the revitalization efforts.
On that block Captain Charles Schreiner established a small mercantile store on Christmas Eve 1869. His enterprise thrived and expanded into banking, ranching, real estate, marketing wool and mohair to the world, and, eventually, philanthropy. Block 8 remained the center of his vast operations, with both the store and his home located side by side there. At one time most of the buildings on that block were his — from the fine St. Charles Hotel on the corner of Water and Sidney Baker streets, to his grand department store on the corner of Water and Earl Garrett streets. He had a wool warehouse in the middle of the block (opposite today’s Arcadia Theater), which even boasted a spur of the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad, a railroad he was instrumental in bringing to Kerrville from San Antonio.
His home still stands, on Earl Garrett Street, though the greenhouses and gardens he once owned next to the home are gone, replaced by the post office built there in the 1930s. Recently a section of rail track was found in the block, a rusting testament to the commerce once bustling there.
Kerrville’s Cailloux Foundation, purchased the old Schreiner Company store building and has undertaken an extensive renovation program of the building. A bar is planned for the basement; retail spaces are being built; a restaurant space is available; and offices are planned upstairs. I’ve wandered through the construction and I can attest the project is being built to the highest standard. A newly-installed elevator will open both the basement and upper story for lease. The work is scheduled to be completed by early autumn, 2011.
Schreiner University recently accepted the old Schreiner home as a gift and plans to use the structure as both a museum and an event space. The two story rock building has many charming features and will remain a jewel in the downtown area. The thing I like about the old building is how quiet it is inside. With its thick stone walls the noises of the twenty-first century seem to fade away. The home is elegant in a “frontier” way — as comfortable a house as possible when it was built.
The City of Kerrville, through the generosity of a gift of land from the Cailloux Foundation, is planning to build a new city hall in the same block, Block 8. I’ve seen plans for the structure, a multi-story rock building that should consolidate many of the city’s scattered offices around town. In addition, the area around the new city hall will be level and designed to support events such as “market days” and festivals. One idea close to my heart in the new design of the city hall area is a history pavilion which will tell the story of the block and the community which grew up around it.
The anchor for the block is the Kerr Arts and Cultural Center, housed in a Depression-era post office building. This center has been hosting art shows and exhibitions since March, 2000. A wide variety of events have been held there: fine photography, woodworking, water color, carving, and other art exhibitions, as well as dinners and galas. This center, led by artists and craftspeople, has dynamically changed the downtown area for the better.
The Arcadia Theater, built in the late 1920s, has seen many changes, too. Built at a time when the movies were still silent, and undergoing renovation and change several times, a group of investors, led by “Hagi” Hagiholam are converting it into a meeting and event space. Plans include leveling the floor and adding new decoration to the interior, as well as the installation of a kitchen and other amenities. Given the successes of Mr. Hagiholam’s other endeavors, I expect this one will succeed as well, and will draw visitors and home folk to the downtown area.
And just down Water Street the Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library is undergoing a much-needed renovation. When it was built in 1967 the library was not only state of the art, but a place of beauty and clever design as well. Libraries have changed a lot since 1967, with digital technologies being the most recent change. A committee of community leaders met and tried to imagine what a 21st century library could be; they were committed to building for the community’s future needs while staying true to the original core mission of the facility. Led by experts from across the state, and aided by local professionals, the planned renovations at the library will not only bring it up to date, but allow it to be ready for the future of libraries, whatever that may be. The property is being transformed into a campus. What had been a rag-tag collection of buildings is being united into a modern library, complete with a playground for small children. Studies show children who love libraries tend to love learning; the playground will serve as icing on the library’s cake, making the facility even more appealing to youngsters and their families.
Given these investments in Kerrville’s downtown area, I expect the value of the available buildings to increase, especially when the success of these projects becomes more apparent as they come closer to completion. These planned changes are a far cry from the day Daniel Arnold, a bear hunter, bought a lot from the founder of Kerrville, Joshua Brown. Yet only 155 years separates that transaction from the projects currently underway.
It’s a good time to be in Kerrville, and an even better time to be right in the middle of it all in downtown Kerrville.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native whose blog, www.joeherring.com, tells the history of Kerrville with rare historic photographs.