On the north property line of North Star Mall and just off the frontage road of Loop 410, they sent out a tacit howdy to each passerby. These five-ton enormities peered out toward passing vehicles containing tourists and San Antonio newcomers who stared at these marvels completely bewildered. At forty feet tall and thirty-five feet wide, they set the world record for the largest “cowboy-wearin’-shoes” (Huddleston 1B). Their eccentric design of black, brown, and white faux ostrich skin expressed their own sense of Texas pride beginning in 1980 (Simas 6). They are none other than the “The Giant Justins.” However, locals came to know them simply as “The Boots of North Star Mall.”
The artist, Austin native Bob “Daddy O” Wade created the Giant Justins for the 1979 Washington Project of the Arts, an arts organization in D.C. (Davila 1B). He created the boots out of donated material in a vacant lot three blocks from the White House. After the exhibit, the issue of what to do with them puzzled Wade and the founders of Project of the Arts, so the massive boots stayed put in the lot. Then Wade received a phone call from the Rouse Company, owners of North Star Mall, telling him they wanted to purchase the boots and send them to San Antonio. So for a fee of $20,000, workers dismantled the boots, loaded them on three flatbed semi-trailers, and then sent them off to Texas. The boots were re-assembled on January 16, 1980 at their permanent home (Davila 1B).
With the excitement of these four story high boots in the Alamo city, thousands felt it necessary to get their pictures with the boots... quite specifically, on the boots. Wade had constructed the boots of a foam-like substance that is similar to the material used on fiberglass bodies of automobiles, but in 1982, workers added a concrete covering to the boots after continued issues arose including persistent and deliberate vandalism to these recent additions to the city’s cultural landscape (Texas 4B). Along with the concrete covering, a coat of paint was applied that year. Later, in 2006, one of Wade’s ex-students from his time as an art professor at the University of North Texas, Stylle Read, took the job of giving the colossal boots fresh paint. As tedious and demanding as it was, Read began the process by administering a coat of white primer, followed by a sheet of caramel colored paint. The painting of the bottom portion of the boots cost an estimated $5,000 (Huddleston 1B).
The boots have provided a home to some astonishing guests. Radio disc jockeys from local country stations used the door located at the bottom of one of the boots to climb up an interior ladder to a platform at the top of the boot. From there, they broadcast their show during the weeks of the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo. In their rodeo clothes, they waved to passing freeway commuters and soon attracted crowds of cowboys and cowgirls in the mall parking lot next to the boots (Tedesco). At other times, vagrants found shelter in the boots for short periods (Davila 1B).
Roland De La Garza, an employee of North Star Mall, made the comment, “When they put these boots up, they didn’t think it’d be a big thing. But now it’s one of the biggest things in San Antonio” (Davila 1B). In the first three decades after their arrival in San Antonio they have appeared in television commercials, on the covers of books, postcards, billboards, and also on the Saks Fifth Avenue snow globe with other iconic symbols of San Antonio like the Alamo. The Christmas season had not truly begun for some San Antonians until North Star Mall lit the three thousand white lights shaped into stars on the prodigious footwear. These boots have really left a footprint on San Antonio.
Davila, Vianna. “North Star boots celebrate 30 years.” San Antonio Express News 22 Nov 2009: 1B
Guinn, Jeff. “Daddy-O is father to Texas public art genre.” San Antonio Express News 4 June 1998: 1F
Huddleston, Scott. “This is one tall paint job.” San Antonio Express News 18 Oct 2006: 1B
Simas, Beverly. “North Star Mall cowboy boots ready to shine for holidays.” San Antonio North Central News 14 Nov 1999: 6
Tedesco, John. “Daily Diversion-(video).” johntedesco.net. John Tedesco. 13 November 2009. WordPress. 4 Dec 2009
“Texas-Size Boots.” San Antonio Express News 12 Nov 1983: 4B
Tijerina, Edmund. “Construction May Force North Star boots to take a short hike.” San Antonio Express News 5 May 2002: 2B
Winingham, Ralph. “Texas-size boots getting new finish.” San Antonio Express News 28 Oct 1982: 3A