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A former downtown resident knows the people, places of her youth

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

There was a time when, on Saturday night, the most exciting thing one could do in NB was to drive downtown to look at the photographs in the windows of Seidel Studio. Otto and Johanna Seidel who began their photography business in 1922 were called on to take pictures of just about everyone and everything. The photos were displayed in their windows and they changed them out constantly. Who got married, who had a baby, what was going on at school, what were the various organizations doing? Get the picture? It was kind of a still-life newsreel. The Sophienburg became the lucky recipient of the Seidel collection in 1979. It is estimated to comprise 25,000 photos and negatives.

Of course, looking at the pictures in Seidel’s windows wasn’t the only thing we did. My dad drove our car to Richter’s Pharmacy where we parked it. Many people did the same thing, some parking around the Plaza. My dad would get out and visit and my mom and I would sit in the car and watch people walk by. Sound dorky? Well, maybe it was, but I developed a tremendous curiosity about people by doing that.

Pat Harmon Langston lived downtown with her aunt and widowed mother. The downtown was literally her playground while growing up in the 30’s and 40’s.Both her mother, Marguerite, and her aunt Marie were registered nurses, but decided to open a beauty salon so that more time could be spent with Pat. Their salon was always somewheredowntown and they lived downtown at various places as well.

Wandering around town alone, she had boundaries; she couldn’t go past Gerlich Auto Co. (Antique Mall), or past Mill Street, or over the bridge, and “No, you may not stop in at Doeppenschmidts to look at the bodies.” Aside from that, she could go in any business, and visit whomever she pleased.

Langston is loaded with memories, and here are a few:

Wiederman’s Plaza Fruit Stand (Comal Flower) was a favorite. The screen door slammed behind her as she went in and the smell of bananas hanging at the doorway (some for a very long time) was overwhelming. There was Mrs. Wiederman sweeping up the sawdust on the floor to keep the dust down. Langston would get candy for a penny but the candy at the A&P store (First State Bank) had five pieces of taffy for a penny.

She would go into Ma’s Café (Myron’s) where it seemed everyone would go to eat and drink morning coffee. At one time Langston’s mom’s beauty salon was right next to this café. Here she would visit with the ladies getting their hair done and occasionally it was her job to fan the electric permanent machine so that their hair wouldn’t catch on fire (The Sophienburg has one of those machines).Care to try it out?

On the way to the Brauntex Movie Theater, she would stop in to visit with the ladies at Leo Mendlovitz Dept. Store (Seguin Beauty School) and then next door she would go sit on a stool at Grosgebauer’s Chili Bowl, sometimes for a hamburger.

Back then the movies were a big thing for a young child. For 9¢ there was a double feature on Friday and Saturday, one western and the other a “B” movie (meaning no leading star). In addition there was a short subject, like a travelogue, and a serial, like “Flash Gordon”. There were four movie changes a week. Langston liked them all but she didn’t like the sing-a-long where the words flashed on the screen and you “followed the bouncing ball”.

Strict discipline was enforced by the usher who walked up and down the aisle with a flashlight, making sure kids were quiet, didn’t put their feet on the chairs, and didn’t throw popcorn,

When Langston was in high school, Peerless Pharmacy (Painted Pony) was a frequent hangout with its soda fountain. She liked the malts and chocolate sundaes, even though whipping cream and the cherry on top were eliminated during the war.

To this day Langston can tell you the names of most of the people who worked downtown in the stores. I think only people that actually lived there can do that.

Sophienburg archivist Keva Boardman tries out the permanent machine.