by Frank W. Jennings
Reading a newspaper from the 1920s reminds me of a time not many San Antonians clearly remember. It was closer to the 1899 than 2000, and San Antonio, still the largest city in the state, had a population of 214,700. Reading such a newspaper refreshes my perspective of today’s San Antonio.
The other day I began looking again at a thick special issue of the San Antonio Express that I’d put aside several years ago, after placing paper markers between some of its 132 pages. Published on August 21, 1928, its nine sections include news stories and features not only about San Antonio, but nearby towns, with special attention to South Texas and “the Valley.” It contains some national and international as well as city and Texas news of the day. Several aerial views reveal the growing city of 70 years ago. One full page is titled: Society -- San Antonio Express Women’s Page – Fashion.
Throughout the scores of pages are advertisements – both instructive and amusing. For example, the Golf Department of Joske’s Store for Men advertises golfing equipment and attire “for the beginner or the ‘par shooter.’” Tommy Armour golf clubs are priced at $1.95 for either woods or irons. Bobby Cruickshanks steel-shafted clubs sell for $4.95 for either kind. Society Brand golf balls are 50 cents, and golf bags, $2.00 to $5.85. Camel’s hair knickers are $10.00, but one can get wool knickers for $4.95 to $12.00 and linen for $2.95. Golf stockings are $1.00 to $7.50 and Paris golf supporters, 50 cents a pair.
Smaller advertisements appear throughout the paper. Buy Fly-Tox so you can “sleep all night, free from mosquitoes.” Just spray “in sleeping rooms, on screens and curtains…. Every bottle guaranteed.” And get “wonderful relief” from hay fever in 24 hours with SinuSeptic for the nose. Just trust the money-back guarantee.
Next to an ad for Travis Club Cigars is another saying: “WANTED. SIX MEN. Between the Ages of 45 and 60 Years to compete in Boxing Contest. Apply Manager’s Office. Majestic Theatre.”
And, of course, real estate ads like one for a 10-room house on the corner across from Lion’s Field on Broadway priced at $13,000, agitate today’s imagination.
Flipping through the pages, I just had to tarry for a moment to read this headline: “Lefthand Turns Authorized For 19 Street Intersections In Downtown Business Area.” The Commissioner of Fire and Police, Phil Wright, explained the situation on College and Crockett streets. Reasons for making College Street one-way for traffic going east and Crockett Street restricted to westbound traffic, he said, were because there “were more funerals from St. Mary’s Church on St. Mary’s Street than any other church in the city, and that practically every procession moved east along College Street after leaving the church, and the residents of East Crockett Street preferred traveling west on Crockettt Street as far as possible in coming down town.”
Elsewhere, I read that Captain Travis of the Peruvian Army Air Service was expected to arrive at Kelly Field to undergo a course of instruction in advanced flying. Also, Julius Myers, “the town cryer,” had “abandoned his picturesque big sombrero for the famous brown derby of [New York] Governor Al Smith’s presidential campaign” against President Herbert Hoover.
A news item datelined Corpus Christi, Texas. Aug 20, says: “Twenty-two steamers are due to dock at the port of Corpus Christi within the next 12 days, all of them coming for cotton cargoes.”
An article on big employers of San Antonio lists the G. A. Dueler Manufacturing Company, with “the biggest pecan-shelling plant in the world,” employing more than 1,000, while Finck Cigar Company, employed about 800.
A full page tells about San Antonio’s water under the main headline: “San Antonio Leads American Cities in Water Supply.” The article begins with these claims about “the largest city in America supplied exclusively with well water.” And it boasts: “Water Supply is Best in the World.” After this subheading comes “Geologists and Scientists Call Section Ideal as Center of Pure Water Area,” with the lead paragraph proclaiming: ”No city in the world could be more fortunately located with regard to ample and pure supply than San Antonio.”
An architect’s drawing shows the “future publishing house of the San Antonio Express & San Antonio Evening News” as designed by Herbert S. Green. But probably the issue’s most arrestingly beautiful commercial building is the Missouri, Kansas and Texas railroad station, which appears to be a Spanish colonial mission. It is pictured along with the two other stations of that time. It’s gone now, but remembered by many.
The newspaper served its readers with a regular column titled “Dr. McCoy’s Advice on Diet and Health.” It was provided by “McCoy’s Health Service.” This issue of the paper features “the cure for asthma.” It gives detailed directions for treatments and diets running for several weeks, including daily enemas throughout the period. It all began with a “water fast” for four or five days during which “no food of any kind should be used.”
Today, readers only have to see the two-page story about San Antonio’s Portland Cement Company, and nearby Cementville -- a virtually complete company town with its own little church which still remains -- to understand the origins of the four soaring smokestacks in today’s Alamo Quarry Market Shopping Center.