By Myra Lee Adams Goff
Felipe Delgado had a dream. It was during WWII when he was in the U.S. Army Air Corps stationed in India. He dreamed of home in New Braunfels and of creating a place of entertainment for the Hispanic people. He and his wife Elisa fulfilled that dream by building the West End Hall and West End Baseball Park.
Elisa Saenz (Delgado) was born in Seguin after her parents had come from Mexico in 1926 to find work. At age 7, Elisa and her family moved to Dittlinger or as it was called, “La Calera” meaning “the limestone”. That’s what it was, a community for employees at the Dittlinger limekiln. It was one of the businesses owned by Hippolyt Dittlinger. In 1931, he formed the Servtex Material Company.
A community grew up around the lime and rock-crushing company. Houses were provided for the workers and a building that housed both a church and a school, called the Rosa Mystica School. The teachers of the school were brought in from Our Lady of the Lake Convent. Elisa did not finish school because she, like many other children at Dittlinger, took off to be migrant workers with their families, traveling on the back of big trucks to other states to pick fruit. Those who became migrant workers were gone about three months every year during the school year.
Elisa looks back to those days at Dittlinger with fond memories. There were lots of children to play with. Her father would often make barbeque, skinning a pig with every bit of the pig used for something. Elisa also remembers how hard her mother worked washing her father’s lime-covered clothes outside in a big pot over a fire. Every day the clothes had to be washed twice to remove the lime.
Felipe Delgado and Elisa Saenz met at a baseball game being played at Carl Schurz School here in New Braunfels. As a young man, Felipe joined the U.S. Army Air Corps where he became a radio and Morse Code operator. Elisa joined him when he was on furlough in 1944 and they were married. When Felipe got out of the service, the couple remained in New Braunfels. Here they would fulfill Felipe’s dream.
Elisa had a talent that provided her with a good job. She could sew. She worked at Cater Frock, sewing top-quality children’s clothes. That business was located in the present Recreation Center in Landa Park. When that business closed, Elisa kept on sewing for other people. She sewed the ornate Mexican Folk Dresses for the Ballet Folklorico that her granddaughter was in.
After WWII, Felipe came home to New Braunfels determined to build an entertainment center for the Hispanic people in the West End. He felt that there was a need for such a business. He worked at various jobs, finally ending up with a Civil Service job. But he devoted his spare time to working on the West End Park.
The property in the West End Subdivision #2 was owned by Charles and Laura Wallace and the Delgados bought the large piece of land, about four acres, in 1947. The City gave permission for parts of Katy and Michigan Sts. to be closed to traffic because Felipe needed that property to complete his plans for his West End Park.
First, a large concrete slab was poured by the light of lanterns because there was no electricity. The park eventually contained not only the large hall, but a ballpark, a large field for outdoor activities and carnivals, and a cantina. The park became popular very quickly with its dances and special events like weddings, anniversaries, birthday celebrations, Diez y Seis celebrations, boxing matches, and the Quinceanera celebrations for girls. At times the hall with its concrete floor became a skating rink. There was a rink outside as well. Elisa cooked hamburgers inside a small area next to the stage in the hall and in the cantina.
The baseball field with its grandstand encouraged the love of baseball and many games were played with other New Braunfels teams. The West End team was called the Cardinals and later the Lions. Many teams from Mexico played on that field as well.
A tragedy almost closed the hall in 1962 when the hall burned down on New Year’s Eve. All the band instruments burned. The Delgados had two daughters, Estella and Rosalinda, and that year Estella was to celebrate her 15th birthday with a Quinceanera. The hall was rebuilt by May and the celebration went on as planned.
The Quinceanera is a Hispanic tradition celebrating the 15th birthday of a young girl’s coming of age. It recognizes her journey from childhood to maturity. The custom highlights God, family, friends, music, food and dance. Naturally when Estella’s Quinceanera was finally held, it was in the new West End Hall. It is a very formal affair with elaborate dresses, tiaras and flowers. Fourteen girlfriends are chosen by the honoree. They are dressed alike and become part of the ceremony. It begins with a religious ceremony followed by a reception and then a dance. The honoree dances the first dance with her father.
Another very important celebration at West End Hall and all over Texas, for that matter, was the Diez y Seis de Septiembre. This event celebrates Mexico’s Independence from Spain in 1810. Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla launched the Mexican War of Independence from Spain on September 16th. Hidalgo set out to spread the word, carrying a staff affixed with an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. It became a symbol of the Mexican liberation movement. The struggle against Spain had to do with the rights of the “Creoles”, those who were born in the new world with Spanish ancestry, but not given the same privileges as those born in Spain. After the war, those Spanish born Europeans were expelled from Mexico. Locally this celebration includes a queen and her court for the evening.
The Delgados leased the complex in the 1970s and the hall was torn down and sold in the 1980s. West End Park and Baseball Field fist the old saying, “Gone but not forgotten.”