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Days of yule and yore in downtown New Braunfels

Photo Caption: Santa arriving by train at the IG&N depot in 1936.

Photo Caption: Santa arriving by train at the IG&N depot in 1936.

By Myra Lee Adams Goff — (Originally published December 13, 2006)

I am sure you have seen our beautiful lighted Comal County Courthouse. The Grand Dame of Main Plaza buildings is 125 years old. In December 1898, the courthouse was inspected and given the seal of approval by the Commissioners Court. A translation of an article in the Neu Braunfelser Zeitung, done by Robert Govier, Ph. D., for the Sophienburg, states:

“On Christmas Eve a splendid picture was made by our new Courthouse whose many rooms were lit by electric lights in such a manner that the warm glow emanated from its many windows, reaching far into the night from the three-story building.”

From that same translation you can get a fair picture of what downtown New Braunfels was like at Christmas time. Druggist Bruno Voelcker, on the corner of San Antonio and Castell (Red Stag), had the latest gift — a Kodak — for sale. He stated, “You can get pictures with it.” Then you could hop over to the Phoenix Saloon and buy fresh pig’s feet. You could then finish up your day by watching the New Braunfels Fire Department Band marching “snappily” down the street and listen to their concert on the plaza.

Much later, in 1936, Bill (Willie) Vollmar, proprietor of Vollmar’s 5¢ to $1 Store, located where the Art League is now, is given credit for first bringing Santa Claus to town. Santa Claus arrived not by sleigh but by train! He was welcomed at the station by a crowd of hundreds made up of parents and children. After a formal appearance on the plaza, the jolly old guy made his headquarters inside Vollmar’s store. It was a huge marketing success for Vollmar and the other downtown businesses also profited from his vision.

Vollmar was born and raised in Seguin, and he and his wife Alice moved to New Braunfels in the early ‘20s. First, he was a shoe salesman at Jacob Schmidt and Son and then was manager of the Values Store. By 1932, he had saved enough money to buy the store from his employers, and he opened Vollmar’s 5¢ to $1 Store.

The Vollmars had no children of their own, but they loved them. The Christmas season was special to “Uncle Willie.” My friend, Pat Langston (was Patsy Harmon), who lived downtown in her early years, shared with me her first visit to the “real” Santa at Vollmar’s at the age of five. Having seen only pictures of the fat, jolly elf in magazines and books, she was shocked by a six-foot very thin version. Oh well, he brought presents.

Langston told me other memories she had that related to Vollmar’s Store. How many of you remember perfumery like the “over-the-hill” Tigress, Woodhue, and Tabu? Then there was that remarkable Tangee lipstick that came in pink only, but turned different colors on different people. Pat described the wonder-inducing candy cases at the front when you entered the store with their array of tempting sweets and chocolates. During the summer, she was allowed to buy a new tin bucket with a shovel for her family’s annual vacation to the coast.

Some people just make you laugh and Willie Vollmar was one of them. He could tell comical stories for hours and was president of just about every club in town. He eventually sold his variety store and started working for Krueger Motor Co. At Christmas, he would dress up in a Santa costume and go deliver new cars. After work, he would visit children and grandchildren that he knew from the past — still dressed as Santa, of course.

Christmas in old New Braunfels was wonderful and magical. Hope your Christmas this year was just as precious.