By Myra Lee Adams Goff
It did not surprise me to find out that Harry Landa was the first president of the Comal County Fair Association. In those early days before the turn of the century, his name appears over and over for new projects, new industry, innovative ideas, and most of them succeeded. He would have gotten the Chamber of Commerce’s Besserung Award.
Here’s how the Comal County Fair began: The editor of the Neu Braunfelser Zeitung, Anselm Eiband, (the second editor after Lindheimer) asked the question in an editorial, “Why don’t we have a fair here in New Braunfels when towns like Fredericksburg and Lockhart have one?”
An opportunity arose, as it so often does. The newly built Krankenhaus (hospital) needed money, so they decided to have a fair on their lot (corner of Zink and Seguin Sts.) during their dedication Sept. 30, 1892. It was a huge success.
Shortly thereafter, a group of civic-minded men met in the courthouse and formed the Comal County Fair Association. They elected Harry Landa to be president, so in 1893 they set the date for the fair to be in November on Landa’s pasture.
“No Rain, No Fair” screamed the newspaper headline. That first fair was called off because of a drought. In other words, too much dust for everything that was going to happen, livestock and horse races. The fair was postponed for a year.
That first fair in 1894 was a huge success according to the newspaper, and I’m sure Harry Landa relished in that success. For that matter, he rented the pasture to them to have four more years of fairs until they bought their own land.
Harry Landa became interested in horses although he admitted that he knew nothing about them. He bought a string of standard bred trotters. In the bunch was a magnificent dark brown stallion that he said he appropriately named “Bankrupt”. He not only spent a lot of money on this new venture, but he decided to dress the part himself as a racehorse owner. He bought a white plug hat (bowler), a loud checkered suit, gaudy shirt and tie with an immense Hot Springs diamond on the tie. To top off this outfit, he put a cigar in his mouth twice the ordinary size.
Possibly this new interest in horses had something to do with his interest in forming a fair association. Before the New Braunfels races, Landa decided to try out his horses at other tracks: Austin, Baylor, Waco and in all these races his trainer sent word that the horse was either lame, cast a shoe, or couldn’t be seen for the dust. Now came the New Braunfels Fair. By this time, Landa’s desire to be a big time racehorse owner had reached an all-time low. Landa’s brother, Morris, traded his horses for him for 30 carloads of hay and then sold the hay for $1,030 . This was the end of Harry Landa’s racehorse adventures.
Here is a little bit about the Landa family and how they came to own the property later known as Landa Park:
Joseph Landa, Harry’s father, ran away from his home in Germany to escape his father’s desire that he become a Rabbi. Working his way to England, he saved enough money to buy his steerage passage to America. He arrived in New York and after a few jobs, he bought a horse and loaded down a wagon with merchandise. He made his way to Texas selling his goods and arrived in San Antonio in 1844. Here he opened a little store and three years later rode his mule to NB and opened up a store on the corner of San Antonio St. and Castell Ave. now occupied by the Phoenix Saloon. Source: (Harry Landa, “As I Remember”)
He would make an annual trip to New York to replenish his stock where he met and married Helena Friedlander. She was 16, he was 41. In New Braunfels they stayed in the Millett Boarding House (where the CC Courthouse now stands). Right behind this boarding house Joseph and Helena bought the property adjoining it on the Plaza. For 75 years, members of the family lived in the beautiful Victorian home, a real showcase.
By 1862, Joseph was a prosperous merchant, owned a gristmill, owned the Comal Springs and the surrounding areas. He owned a cotton gin, a sawmill, a flour mill and a store. Then in 1896, Joseph Landa died. Harry and his mother, consequently carried on the various businesses in NB. This successful business partnership of Harry Landa and his mother bought small river frontages on the Comal River until they owned the entire stream on both sides.
A large contribution to the city was Harry Landa’s establishment of the Landa Electric Light and Power Co. Electricity for street lights would be furnished to the city at the rate of $1.50 a light a month. Soon everyone wanted electricity.
In 1927, Landa sold the entire estate including the park in compliance with the will of his mother, which called for liquidating and dividing the estate ten years after her death. The property was purchased by an investment company, suffered reverses during the depression years, and the park was closed with barbed wire surrounding the property until 1936, when the City of New Braunfels finally bought the area of Landa Park.
This week in all the excitement of the fair, let’s give a little thought to the guy that brought us Landa Park, electricity, and of course, spearheaded the Comal County Fair.