By Myra Lee Adams Goff
A Texas Historical Marker honoring Eiband & Fischer store is being cast at the foundry in San Antonio, soon to be installed at the site of the one-time famous mercantile store. You or your family may remember this store if you were in New Braunfels before 1959.
The big store on Main Plaza burned down in 1947 but limped along with what was left, trying to survive. When it was just a hole in the ground, Wurstfest inhabited it from 1963 to 1966. During that time it became a joyful place to be, with music and lights and fun. But it was an eyesore downtown the rest of the year. Finally the property was sold in 1969 to local investors and eventually to NBU.
At first a store owned by Gustavus Conrads was located on this spot on the Plaza and in 1864 he sold it to Ernst Sherff. Sherff enlarged the store, even adding a campground out back for those who came to town from the country. This store was bought by George Knoke and George Eiband and became Knoke & Eiband.
In 1907 the store was sold to Ernst Eiband (brother of George) and Emil Fischer. Eiband and Fischer opened a modern establishment in 1910. Their beautiful modern building sported a skylight in the middle of the roof and a grand staircase to the mezzanine. An interesting thing about the mezzanine is that gift items and fine clothing were located there. For some reason, the clientele would not go up the beautiful stairs for purchases. Soon after the opening, these gift items were moved to the basement. Apparently people would walk down but not up.
The fateful fire happened March 2, 1947. Beginning in the basement, the fire raged undetected during the night until the early morning hours when a salesman called on Naegelin’s Bakery next door and noticed smoke. But by this time the damage was done. The cause is still unknown but there was speculation of a defective small motor in the grocery department. The basement was also where hunting goods, guns, and ammunition were sold and when the fire reached this stash, there was quite a racket that could be heard for miles.
A small part of the store was spared because it was separated from the main building by an alley-way. This is the part of the store that became the “after fire store”. It managed to stay open until 1959.
For 16 years the hole gaped with only a wooden enclosure at ground level for safety reasons. In 1975 after the Wurstfest years (63-66), the city bought the remaining business building and the burned-out corner. San Antonio Public Service had their offices on the San Antonio St. corner since 1929. The basement was filled in and became a parking lot.
I remember the inside of the store before the fire. First, outside on the sidewalks were glass blocks embedded in concrete giving light to the basement. Enter the front door on Seguin St. to the main floor. There in the front of the store were women’s clothing and on the right side were men’s clothing and all shoes. In the back of this floor was the grocery store. On the mezzanine was the cashier’s office that controlled the “cash caddies” that carried cash up and down on wire cables. The basement held the china and crystal.
Behind this building was the annex housing a cotton exchange. Upstairs in the annex was a dance hall used for dance lessons and functions. The camp yard was in the back extending to Comal Street. Farm equipment and feed were sold there. There were outhouses, horse stalls, and places for farmers to park their wagons and spend the night. Way in the back of this area was a statue of J.I. Case eagle on top of the world, a logo of that tractor company. Some may remember this.
The Sophienburg has quite a few items from before the fire. One is a collection of books called the Eiband & Fischer Cookbooks. Written in German, recipes were thought to be by the Women’s Civic Improvement Club. The first edition was in 1915. Here’s a sample of some of the recipes: Roasted Flour Soup (good for the sick), Beer soup, Turtle Soup, Wine Soup with Snow Dumplings, Blood Sausage, Meat in Beer, and the old favorites, noodles, sweetbreads, Koch-Käse. Yum! Roll out the barrel.
Marijane Stafford has spent years researching Eiband & Fischer store. She is a direct descendant of the Fischer family. Her father was Carlo Fischer, the last family member to own the store. Placement of the historical marker will once again remind us of the mercantile store that it used to be.