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80th anniversary of Landa Park, a real celebration

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

The book, “Landa Park, Its Springs and Its People” by Rosemarie Leissner Gregory and Arlene Krueger Seales, is now available to pre-order. The New Braunfels Parks & Recreation Department and the Friends for the Preservation of Historic Landa Park, a non-profit organization, honor the 80th anniversary of the acquisition of Landa Park by presenting this 438 page book, including two companion volumes, “Native American Artifacts, Comal Springs” and “The Comal Springs, Landa Park.”

The book begins with the history of the area millions of years ago up to the present. In other words, everything you ever wanted to know about Landa Park. Artwork and thousands of color and historic photographs paint a picture of what the park was and is now.

It’s difficult to do justice to a book like this in a review, so I chose the last small section of the book that recalls personal recollections of the park by individuals and what meant the most to them. Over 75 people were asked those questions. If you have lived here awhile, you will relate to their recollections. If you’re not from here, you will be surprised at a lot of what you read.

In all of the stories, some subjects emerged over and over. I am assuming that these subjects were the most important to the individuals. It’s a little bit like being asked, “In one word, what did Landa Park mean to you?” Names are in the book, but only a few in this column.

Over and over, the spring-fed swimming pool came up as the most memorable spot. I recall that this pool was a byproduct of Meriwether’s damming up the lake and digging the channel. The area of the swimming pool was part of the old channel. Harry Landa later created the pool as part of his tourist business. It has been a meeting place for friends and the slanted grassy place next to the old bath house was always covered with sun bathers on towels. Participants recollected that once you learned how to swim, your parents would let you loose in the pool.

One name that will be mentioned here because it was repeated so often was lifeguard Tommy Ortiz. He meant more to swimming youth than even he can imagine. He taught hundreds of children to dive with his own diving ability. His encouraging personality inspired many young swimmers. Imagine this: Ortiz would allow children to climb on his back and he would then proceed to jump off the high diving board.

During the summer, swimming was a daily experience for city kids. The pool took the place of air conditioning that they didn’t have and with so much time in the pool, it became inevitable that children made up their own games. This was true in the spring-fed pool because it had two rafts and the game, “King of the Raft” with the winner being the last one remaining on top of the raft was invented. I remember this as a pretty tough game. The other game was “Rag Tag” where the winner was hiding under the raft so as to not be caught.

In later years, the name Bud Dallmann surfaced. Organizing the first Aquatic Club in the spring-fed pool, the club eventually moved mainly over to the Olympic Pool. He was a great inspiration to swimmers of all ages for many years.

Bucky Warwick Smith was remembered for her teaching of synchronized swimming and organizing the Miss Texas Pageant. This was a big event in New Braunfels and her synchronized swimmers put on a spectacular show in the spring-fed pool.

Water played an important part in collective Landa Park memories. Most remember swimming, wading, boating, fishing and even the drying up of the springs and Landa Lake in the 1954 drought.

Another word mentioned in the collection of memories was “dancing” and of course, dance floors. The wooden covered dance hall that was located between the Founder’s Oak Tree and the concrete dance slab was the foundation of many memories. Dancing stories, particularly during World War II told of entertaining soldiers stationed at San Antonio bases.

Several local bands were mentioned that played on the dance slab, particularly those that played for the public dances around the big oak tree. Some types of dances mentioned at the wooden dance hall were the Hokey Pokey, Mexican Hat Dance and Herr Schmidt. Who remembers the local band, “The Trackers” of the 60s entertaining the younger crowd?

By far the most single dance event mentioned was the Kindermaskenball. After the parade downtown, participants would stop at Bock Motor Company where, over the years, thousands of Coca Colas were given by Ben Bock to the thirsty paraders. Then they would walk on to Landa Park. Many remember the wooden dance hall being the location of dancing during the day and the dance slab being the location at night. The families would picnic and sometimes go home during the day. At night they would come back for the ever popular Grand March.

All sorts of celebrations were mentioned like July 4, birthday parties, and several New Braunfels anniversaries, especially the 1946 Centennial Celebration. Some remembered the 1926 Venetian Carnival on Landa Lake that they had heard of from their grandmothers.

New Braunfels has always been a sports-following town and so it was natural that many had in their memory bank the New Braunfels Tigers, a semi-pro team whose field was located where the Olympic Pool is now. Names like Dizzy Dean who was in the military at Ft. Sam Houston, pitched and became the most valuable player for 1934 in the pros. Also, spring training for the Minneapolis Millers took place in Landa Park.

Some bemoan the tearing down of old buildings like the bath house built by the WPA. The old meri-go-round and the spinning top in the spring-fed pool became too dangerous to keep. Many remember nature at its finest: the snowstorm, trees, and the glass-bottom boat on the lake. This column is a small smattering of the information that is in just one section of the 438 pages.

Many people were involved compiling this book, but all in all, the main writers and coordinators were Rosemarie Leissner Gregory and Arlene Krueger Seales. This is a collection of history and photographs well worth the price. Pre-ordering at a discount may be done now by calling 830-625-3186 between 2-5pm or using www.friendsforlandapark.org . When a book is ordered and paid for now, it will be ready to be picked up on Monday, May 2 at the Landa Haus at 360 Aquatic Circle in Landa Park between 2-7pm.

That same day books may be purchased at full price. Check the Friends for Landa Park web-site for more information.

1950s photo of Tommy Ortiz at the spring-fed pool.

1950s photo of Tommy Ortiz at the spring-fed pool.