National Museum of the Pacific War

Admiral Chester W. Nimitz

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who at the height of the Pacific war commanded more than two million men and women, 5,000 ships and 20,000 planes, was of humble and landlocked beginnings. Nimitz was born February 24, 1885 to an already widowed mother, and was raised in the small German community of Fredericksburg, Texas. Nimitz and his mother lived and worked at Grandfather Nimitz’s steamboat-shaped hotel, a famous frontier hostelry, until he was six. Chester Nimitz had a close relationship with his grandfather and often called him “the most important man” in his life. His mother married her deceased husband’s younger brother in 1891, and the family moved to Kerrville, Texas, where they managed the St. Charles Hotel.
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Texas has 254 counties and each county has a seat of government and a county courthouse.  Many counties have historical courthouses that date back to the 1880s.  In fact, Texas has one of the most remarkable collections of Victorian buildings in the U.S.  Only a few years they were considered endangered landmarks, and some were even demolished to make way for modern buildings.  Over the last ten to fifteen years, many Texas counties have restored their historic courthouses.  One interesting example is Wharton County.

In 1889, Wharton, a small farming community an hour’s drive south of Houston, hired Houston architect Eugene T. Heiner to design a brand new county courthouse.   It was built in a classic Victorian design and overlooked the Wharton countryside and the Colorado River.   The design was a combination of two popular Victorian styles — the Second Empire style and the Italianate style.  It was a three-story masonry building with limestone trimmings that was surrounded with a mansard roof and a central clock tower.

But by the 1930s Wharton County officials considered the courthouse to be old-fashioned and they wanted a larger, more modern-looking courthouse.  So they removed the large clock tower, the mansard roofs and the brick façade, and redesigned the building in the more fashionable art deco look.  Wings were added to the building which totally changed the original design.   The brick and limestone walls were covered in stucco to represent  the very clean lines of simplicity associated with art deco.

Sadly, the once-beautiful Wharton County Courthouse had been left unrecognizable from its original design. Famous playwright Horton Foote, who grew up in Wharton, was very upset the courthouse had been changed and he referred to it as the Sulphur Block because it was painted yellow.

In the late 1990s there was talk of demolishing the old building and erecting a brand new courthouse.  But local preservationists quickly organized and looked for a way to save the historic structure.   They considered the courthouse to be the heart and soul of Wharton County.

Architect David Bucek commented, “When we found out that there was a Victorian building under the art deco building we began to think what would happen if we restored the courthouse to its original look.  We thought restoring it would help the county because it would change the perception of Wharton.  People would identify with the courthouse in their county.”

Restoring the 1889 Wharton County Courthouse became an emotionally charged issue among county residents.  While the preservationists wanted to save the building, other residents thought it should be demolished and replaced with a new modern- looking structure.  Many people thought it couldn’t be done – removing the art deco exterior and restoring the Victorian design.

Finally the preservationists won the argument, and after four years of planning and fundraising, the tedious task of restoring the historic Wharton County Courthouse began.  The courthouse would be fully restored to its Victorian grandeur.

In order to give the courthouse its original Victorian look, the wings that had been added to the building in the 1930s would have been to be completely removed as well as the art deco stucco facade.  Restoring the building also meant the roof would have to be rebuilt and a new clock tower put on top.

One of the greatest challenges of the restoration was that no blueprints could be found and the building had been altered with drastic changes from the original look.

After the 1930s additions to the building were demolished, the stucco on the exterior walls was removed and replaced with brick and masonry.  The interior of the courthouse was also gutted to be completely renovated and updated.  Gradually, the look of the building began to change and county residents took notice of the restoration.

Finally in August of 2005, Wharton residents gathered on the courthouse square to watch as the massive clock tower was lifted to the top of the building.  Rebuilding the clock tower on the courthouse has created an enormous sense of pride with Wharton residents and has given a new look to the downtown.

The new clock tower is an exact replica of the original, except it was fabricated in Kentucky and trucked down to Wharton.  The courthouse bell had been saved by the First Baptist Church where it stayed until it was returned to the county.

Wharton resident Jeffrey Blair said, “It’s like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon because it was covered up.  No one had any concept of what it was like.”

Today, the restoration of the historic 1889 Wharton County Courthouse is complete and Wharton residents are thrilled with the way the building now looks.  The restored courthouse seems to speak to the people of Wharton and reminds them of their county’s heritage.

These county courthouses, large and small, are symbols of Texas history and represent the vision and dreams of the people who built this state.  So when traveling by car across Texas, why not venture off the interstate to visit one of these beautifully restored county courthouse?    Spend some time on the courthouse square and reflect on life in Texas in a different era.

(The Wharton County Courthouse is featured in the PBS television documentary, “The Golden Age of Texas Courthouses,” produced by Sunset Productions in association with Texas Foundation for the Arts.)


New Braunfels Square

Growing up as a child in Houston, my family would spend summer vacations in New Braunfels, one of the old German communities nestled on the edge of the Texas Hill Country north of San Antonio. Blessed with artesian springs and the cool waters of the Comal and Guadalupe Rivers, the town became a tourist destination in the early 20th century and advertised itself as “The Beauty Spot of Texas.”

My parents began going to New Braunfels around WWII and they first stayed at Camp Giesecke, an old tourist camp situated on the horseshoe bend of the Comal River.  The camp had small cabins that were more like screened-in porches built on stilts with no air conditioning.  The ice man would deliver a block of ice to each cabin in the morning and place it in the ice box.

Camp Warnecke, across the street, was another of those old-time river camps; its main attraction was the Warnecke Rapids on the Comal.

So my parents introduced us to New Braunfels on our family vacations and we thought it was the most wonderful place in the world, and for kids, it probably was. We looked forward to that trip all year. I can remember leaving Houston early in the morning (to avoid the heat) and heading west on U.S. 90, with great anticipation of stopping in Schulenburg for breakfast at Bob Adamcik’s Café or Frank’s Restaurant.

In the 1960s, when I have the most memories of New Braunfels, our family stayed at the Stockade Cedar Lodges on the tiny Comal River. It was a great place for kids because of the large swimming pool. The weather was always hot, but the broiling sun didn’t matter to us because we were in the pool or the river all day.

The Stockade featured air cooled cabins using a water cooler contraption that sat in one of the windows and kept the rooms cool and comfortable. Each cabin had a kitchenette but no telephone or television. But who needed TV, computers or video games?

The grounds of Camp Landa, a more modern resort facility, adjoined the Stockade and sometimes our group of kids would go there to try out their swimming pool.

My mother would prepare a light breakfast and lunch in our cabin because there weren’t many restaurants in those days, and certainly no fast food chains. But I do recall going to eat dinner at Krause’s, which featured German food, and Ol’ Bossy, an iconic ice cream store run by the Ol’ Bossy Dairy and Creamery.

Ol' Bossy Dairy

Ol’ Bossy, which was downtown, had an old-fashioned soda fountain and grill, and it seems to me they made the best hamburgers, malted milks and ice cream I’ve ever tasted. It was a true New Braunfels landmark and very popular with tourists and local residents. The juke box would be blaring out the latest tunes from Jan and Dean, Jimmy Clanton, Connie Francis, the Chiffons, the Beach Boys, and of course, the Beatles.

Downtown New Braunfels was compact and orderly, but very active. The castle-like Comal County Courthouse overlooked the picturesque town square with its band shell, statues and shade trees.

Landa Park was the big attraction for picnics and swimming in the spring-fed pool; the water was icy cold. Some evenings the family would ride up River Road to see the Guadalupe River.

Many times other families we knew from Houston would be at the camp, and one of the parents would pack us into the station wagon and take us to spend the day at Aquarena Springs in nearby San Marcos. Sometimes the kids would go to see a movie—most likely a Walt Disney film– at the classic, neon-lit Brauntex movie theater (downtown by the passenger train station) or play miniature golf at the park.

New Braunfels was loaded with character, charm and small-town appeal.

Unfortunately, that New Braunfels has disappeared forever. Today, the town seems way overcrowded … a minitropolis booming with tourism, commercial growth and traffic.  It is disturbing to see double-length buses bumper-to-bumper hauling sun-burned tourists clinging to their inner tubes from spot to spot along the overburdened Comal River. It is even more distressing to hear news reports of drunken college students tubing the rapids and thoughtlessly discarding their trash and beer bottles on the once-pristine river bank or in residents’ yards.

copyright James Bailey

Comal County Courthouse

The courthouse still stands tall and majestic, but New Braunfels is practically a suburb of San Antonio and a busy eight-lane interstate freeway cuts through the town connecting San Antonio and Austin. The usual franchise restaurants cluster at the freeway exits.

Ol’ Bossy is no longer in business—probably too old-fashioned for modern tastes. The Stockade Cedar Lodges and Camp Landa are long gone and the property is now a part of Schlitterbahn, a huge water park.  Camp Warnecke’s buildings are still there, but they are also part of the water park.

I suppose growth is good for the New Braunfels economy but sad for those of us who have nostalgic memories of this special place.  Let’s hope the current residents appreciate and protect the town’s unique heritage.

New Braunfels, thanks for the memories!

NOTE: New Braunfels was founded in 1845 as one of the original German settlements in Texas. Thousands of German immigrants arrived at Galveston and moved over land to the area, and by 1850 it was the fourth largest town in Texas and the seat of Comal County. Agriculture and the mills were the main industries, but today it is a popular tourist destination. The Comal County Courthouse, built in 1898 in the classic Romanesque Revival style, has been enlarged over the years but maintains the same front and overall architectural style. The historic Brauntex Theater is now a performing arts center.

New Braunfels and the Comal County Courthouse were featured in the PBS television documentary, “The Golden Age of Texas Courthouses,” produced by Sunset Productions in association with Texas Foundation for the Arts.

James Bailey is a Houston-based writer and director of documentaries focusing on Texas history and Texana. He is a member of the Harris County Historical Commission, the Rice Historical Society, the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance, and Texas Foundation for the Arts. He is a native of Houston and a graduate of Baylor University.

Perry puts Texas Historical Commission on chopping block

AUSTIN, Texas — Proposed cuts in funding for state-supported arts and historical commissions could be disastrous for the groups, their supporters contend.
Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday proposed eliminating state funding for the Texas Historical Commission and the Texas Commission on the Arts as a way to help deal with the state’s projected $15 billion shortfall in the next two-year budget period.
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One of the most colorful events in Houston history was the grand opening of the famous Shamrock Hotel in 1949 on St. Patrick’s Day.

The hotel was built on fifteen landscaped acres at the intersection of Main Street and Holcombe Boulevard by Houston oilman Glenn McCarthy, a wildcatter who personified in many ways what some people still think of Texans to this day.

Approximately 50,000 people attended the grand opening, reputed to have been the wildest party in the city’s history.  The rich and famous of Texas society all wanted to be there, and so did everyone else. Life Magazine called it “…the most dazzling exhibition of evening dresses and big names ever seen in Texas.”

Movie star Dorothy Lamour broadcast her national radio show from the hotel during the party.  McCarthy wore dark glasses to hide a black eye reported to have been received in a fist fight at the train station when he went to meet the Hollywood celebrities arriving for the party.

Shamrock Hotel Emerald Room

One Houston resident recalled, “I still remember the Shamrock. It was fabulous in every way, perhaps overdone to some degree. The Emerald Room was the big ballroom, all decorated in emerald green as a tribute to McCarthy’s Irish ancestry. And there were many exciting events that took place there.”

Hotel guests and Houstonians flocked to the fancy retail shops and various restaurants, including the Cork Club, a nightclub that featured big-name entertainment.

The 18-story Shamrock had more than 1,100 guest rooms and poolside bungalows called lanais.

Houston's Shamrock Hotel - 50 meter pool

Its swimming pool was a 50-meter, Olympic-sized pool with three-meter and ten-meter diving platforms. It was big enough to accommodate a boat pulling water skiers when shows were held for the guests.

“The Shamrock was just a very glamorous place to be in Houston. It was unique; it was a place to be seen,” another Houstonian stated.

The hotel became so popular with the city’s social set that it was affectionately referred to as the “Houston Riviera.”  Everything in the hotel was a little extreme, but that was typical of Glenn McCarthy, who was known to be Edna Ferber’s prototype for Jett Rink in “Giant,” her novel that was later made into the classic movie.

In the mid 1950s Conrad Hilton acquired the property and renamed it the Shamrock Hilton.  Trader Vic’s, the popular restaurant opened at the hotel and caught the attention of Houstonians with its unusual Polynesian décor and food.

Some said the hotel was too big to be profitable and others thought it was too far from Houston’s central business district. It began to lose favor when newer, more modern hotels were built.  The once-glamorous Shamrock Hotel, which had become a symbol of Houston, fell on hard times in the 1980s. It was demolished in 1987 and replaced with a parking lot.

The story of the Shamrock Hotel is featured in the television documentary “In Search of Houston’s History,” produced by Sunset Productions in association with the Friends of the Texas room and the Houston Public Library.


The importance of the USS Texas cannot be underestimated. It is the only remaining battleship in the world that served in World War I, and the only remaining ship of any type that served in both world wars, and in both the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters.

During the early part of the 20th century, major naval powers built hundreds of dreadnought battleships. Today there exists only one, the Texas. The ship is both a National Historic Landmark and a National Engineering Landmark, due to her unique engines.

The people of the greater Houston area should do everything in their power to ensure that this treasure remains where it is, and that it is preserved and protected for all time. More than 60 years ago, when this legendary vessel that proudly bears our state’s name was no longer needed for active duty, Texas citizens united in the effort to save it. The Texas Legislature voted to accept the ship from the U.S. Navy and permanently berth it where it could serve both as a memorial and a teaching tool for future generations.

Schoolchildren contributed their pennies to the cause, and the project was fully supported by the Sons and Daughters of the Republic of Texas, including the descendants of those who fought at San Jacinto. My grandmother, Madge Hearne, a granddaughter of Gen. Sam Houston and a life trustee of the San Jacinto Museum of History, played a significant role in the process.

Now, in order to preserve this icon of American and Texas history, the ship needs to be permanently placed in dry berth. Extensive surveys by respected experts have recommended that this be done in place. The proposed site will not, as some have claimed, “be carved out of the historic San Jacinto Battlefield.” It is to remain in its current berth, which was dredged from the marshes of Santa Anna Creek, a site where, understandably, neither the Mexican Army nor Sam Houston’s forces chose to make camp — in a creek! Comprehensive archaeological surveys have found no evidence of camp or battle activity there.

On a strictly practical basis, engineering surveys have concluded that moving the battleship raises the very real possibility that it could sink during transport, closing down the Houston Ship Channel, causing enormous economic damage to the Port of Houston and forever losing this incredibly important piece of history.

The ship has seriously deteriorated below the waterline and almost constant patchwork has become necessary to keep the corroding salt water at bay. Also, any relocation, even if successful, would add significant cost to the taxpayers of Texas

As for its present location having a negative impact on attendance due to accessibility, that is a spurious claim. Thousands of schoolchildren and others visit the park each year, and the partnership between the San Jacinto Museum of History and the Battleship Texas provides a two-for-one history lesson. What is needed is to move forward with the dry berthing and the construction of the long-needed visitors’ center, which will provide space for a variety of teaching tools and classroom space, a project also opposed by those who wish to banish the Texas.

In addition, better funding for improved marketing by Texas Parks and Wildlife for this and all historic sites would certainly increase attendance.

Among the many organizations that fully support the dry berthing of the USS Texas at San Jacinto are the San Jacinto Museum of History, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Battleship Texas Foundation, Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia’s Project Stars and the Economic Alliance of the Port of Houston, along with most of the area’s elected representatives.

These groups recognize that Texas history neither began nor ended with the Battle of San Jacinto, and that the double value offered by having the Battleship Texas located adjacent to the battlefield is a prize to be cherished.

As a great-great granddaughter of Sam Houston, I am offended by the gratuitous quote from Houston used in a recent Chronicle editorial (“Out of place / State should consider moving the Battleship Texas,” Editorial page, Sunday, Aug. 10). It made no sense in the context of the editorial and I feel certain he would not have been pleased to be cited in this manner.

Why not share his view on the value of education, which the Battleship Texas certainly offers as a tangible lesson in our remarkable history? He said, “The benefits of education and of useful knowledge, generally diffused through a community, are essential to the preservation of a free government.”

Let us continue to teach Texas history at San Jacinto — from the story of the 18-minute battle that ultimately resulted in the westward expansion of the United States to the Pacific Ocean, to the magnificent ship that carried our name as it protected American forces during the D-Day landings off the coast of France during World War II.

Burch is a trustee of the San Jacinto Museum of History. She is a member of the San Jacinto Descendants, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and the Harris County Historical Commission. Readers can respond at



(April 29, 1905 – September 4, 1965)
Felix TijerinaOne of the most influential Hispanic leaders in 20th Texas was Felix Tijerina, restaurant owner, early president of LULAC, and creator the “little school of the 400” program.

Tijerina was born in General Escobedo, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, and after his father died, he immigrated to Texas and settled in Houston.  He got a job as a busboy while taking nighttime English classes, and in 1937, he opened the first “Felix Mexican Restaurant.”  Tex-Mex restaurants were becoming very popular in Southeast Texas, and Tijerina opened more restaurants through the years.  It was one of the first restaurant chains in the state.

The Montrose-area location, which was the flagship of the chain, became a well-known Houston landmark because of its Spanish mission-style architecture, large arching windows, courtyard, and distinctive rotunda.

Tijerina was a devoted member of Houston’s council #60 of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).  He achieved widespread recognition as president of LULAC from 1956 until 1960.  Under Tijerina’s leadership, LULAC grew from an organization with councils in five southwestern states to a national organization with representation in thirteen states across the nation.

Tijerina also advocated education during his presidency, implementing the “little school of the 400” program. The program gave thousands of Spanish-speaking boys and girls the opportunity to learn a core vocabulary of 400 English words prior to their enrollment in first grade.  These early language studies helped the children to successfully pass their first crucial year in public school.

Even though Felix Tijerina died at the relatively young age of sixty, he made a lasting impression as a businessman, philanthropist, role model and mentor to many Mexican-Americans in Houston and across the state.

Felix’s widow, Mrs. Janie Tijerina, continued to operate the restaurants after his death.  After she died, the once-popular restaurant chain began to shrink in size until the single remaining location, near the busy intersection of Montrose Boulevard and Westheimer in Houston, closed its doors in 2008.  Today, that building remains vacant and in disrepair.

On May 22, 2010, Houston leaders met at a site near the original Felix Mexican Restaurant to dedicate a historical marker for Felix Tijerina, a great man who helped to make Texas a better place.

The story of Felix Tijerina is featured in the television documentary “In Search of Houston’s History,” produced by Sunset Productions in association with the Friends of the Texas Room and the Houston Public Library.