By Myra Lee Adams Goff
Ron Snider has been awarded the Dr. Frederick Frueholz Comal County Historical Commission Award for his work in the restoration and preservation of downtown New Braunfels buildings. In the 1960s a trend of tearing down old buildings, remodeling them into modern buildings or using the property for parking lots caused the loss of many beautiful homes and business buildings downtown. This trend seemed to be growing but when civic minded people became aware of the trend, conservation groups began to pop up to save what was still left of the irreplaceable buildings.
Often it takes people from the outside to really see the value of what you have. Ron Snider was one of those people. Snider and his family moved to New Braunfels in1982 when he began a business called GYM-N-I, building wooden playground equipment. It was a good, safe and welcome business in New Braunfels. For years parents had been aware of the danger of certain metal playground equipment, especially on the school playground. One by one, these iron swings, slides and merry-go-rounds had been removed.
Snider grew up inner city but both his grandfathers lived on farms so he liked small towns. He had German roots and he chose New Braunfels to live in. With a background of ten years as a salesman for Lane Furniture, traveling to small towns made him aware of what was happening to downtowns especially the business districts. Beginning with the first purchase in 1996 by Snider and Darrell Sollberger under the name of S&S Properties and then with Dr. Frank Hampel as S&H Properties, he renovated eight buildings in the downtown area, built from early 1900s to the latest in the 1940s.
Seekatz Opera House
The first building to be renovated at 265 W. San Antonio St. was the Seekatz Opera House built in 1901. It was a big success as an events center, badly needed by the town. This building was severely damaged by a fire in 1941. By that time it had become the Cole Movie Theater. After that it became a clothing store but it never became what it was in its prime. After seven years of renovation, the Seekatz Opera House has once again become an important events center in downtown.
The Seekatz Opera House had a long history in downtown. In the late 1800s Louis and Otto Seekatz saw a need for a building with a stage and auditorium style seating, mostly for the traveling shows that came through town and local events such as New Year’s Eve Dances, July 4 Celebrations, Firemen’s Dances and Kindermaskenball.
Richter Buildings 1910 and 1920
In 1998 S&S purchased the two R.B. Richter buildings. These buildings had some renovations done by Ernie Lambert and Luke Speckman and the upstairs apartment had already been renovated when the purchase was made. The complicated history of these two buildings was given to me by researcher David Hartmann who knows more about the Richters than they do. Richter set up his first pharmacy at 143 W. San Antonio St. (next to the Phoenix) in 1901 and then ten years later in 1910 moved across the street to 142 W. San Antonio St. where there had been a one-story saloon. A. Moeller began construction of the building housing the pharmacy and a second floor that became the residence of R.B. and Emilie Weilbacher Richter.
Now the second Richter 1920 building. Next door at 168 W. San Antonio St. was a fachwerk house and in 1915 Richter bought the property and tore the house down. On this lot an L shaped brick wall was constructed with a large wooden floor. The back wall was plastered white and chairs were set up for an open-air theater showing silent movies. During the day, the floor was used as a roller skating rink. In 1920 the building was enclosed and a second story was added and rented out to doctors and attorneys. Downstairs was Oscar Haas Mercantile, Richters Grocery, B.F. Goodrich and Tom Oliver’s clothing store.
The next purchase in partnership with Dr. Frank Hampel was a series of three connected buildings that few here can still remember. Located in the 100 block of N. Castell Ave., one of the three buildings was originally the Palace Theater, a movie theater whose grand opening was Dec. 23, 1924. Records show that it was built by A.C. Moeller (my grandfather) and Herman Moeller, his brother. The theater didn’t last long and closed in 1932, possibly because of the Depression. At that time it became the home of Ma’s Café. This café was a favorite of locals run by Ma Bloedorn and her son, Schimmel. It finally closed in 1982 after 50 years. Now these buildings are the upscale Myrons Prime Steakhouse and the Blue Artichoke.
The next purchase in 2004 by S&S was the former Hinman’s Bingo Café at 277 W. San Antonio St. Homer Hinman owned many cafés on San Antonio St. He actually began his business at the age of 14 when he drove a wagon to Landa Park and sold 5cent hamburgers from a grill that he had on a wagon. His first indoor café was next to Peerless Drug Store, a very small deli called “Hole in the Wall” from 1912-1915. From 1918 to 1923 he owned the Bingo Café where his wife and two children lived on the second floor. Then from 1923-1926 he purchased the “A” Café, so named so that it could be first in the telephone book. It was across the railroad track on San Antonio St. in front of the Huisache Restaurant. Then in 1926 he ran Homer’s Lunch Bar next to the Bingo Café and then finally from 1932 to 1936 he owned the Longhorn Café across from the Civic Center.
The former Herald-Zeitung and KGNB/KNBT building at 188 Castell Ave. was purchased in 2009. This renovation took four years, as there was the relocation of the Salvation Army office involved. Today it houses the restaurant called 188 South, the Blue Moose Pizza, the office of S&H Properties and the Farmer’s Market office.
Historically the Art Deco Style building was built for Claude Scruggs in 1945.This building style was covered up in an imitation German fachwerk style. The New Braunfels Herald newspaper was first published around 1892 and merged with the Zeitung-Chronicle in 1966.The paper was renamed the Herald-Zeitung in 1979.
The Farmer’s Market
The purchase of the Herald building and the ownership of the back of the Seekatz Opera House used for parking led to the very popular Farmer’s Market. Snider built stalls and the market has grown to 60 vendors, usually 30 in winter. Ron Snider through an early influence of both grandfathers who were farmers became interested in this type of business and a recent demand for fresh produce has made this market very popular.
Odyssey of the Mind
Here’s something about Snider that you may not know: He also knows how to build robots. Here’s the story:
In the late 1980s an educational program was entered into for 6th and 7th graders called the “Odyssey of the Mind”. OM is an international competition. Student teams are given a problem to solve by using divergent skills, and creativity for the purpose of promoting team efforts. Not only teachers are involved, but parents are a must. A group of seven boys from New Braunfels Middle School chose a problem having to construct an actual robot. Guess who volunteered to help this team. Yes, you have it – Ron Snider. For six months this team met with Snider and they constructed a life-sized robot. When the competition came along, the team won first place locally, then at the regional level and finally the state winner. The next step was the world competition. Teachers, parents, and seven boys flew to the University of Tennessee and won 13th place. This was the first and last time that any New Braunfels team competed in a world competition.
And now, as you could guess, Snider has a “work in progress’. He is renovating the very popular Krause’s Café. Congratulations, Ron, anyone who can put together a robot with 7th grade boys is destined to continue great things here in New Braunfels.