By Tara V. Kohlenberg —
We have become somewhat accustomed to seeing motor homes, mobile homes, and tiny homes as they move down the highway to their new resting place. However, seeing a stucco building moving through downtown is more of a spectacle. That is exactly what I saw one morning in December.
As I watched the building moving along Comal Street, it brought to mind photos of the Joseph Faust home being moved to make way for a new hotel in 1929 (currently Faust Hotel). The home, a three-story classical revival beauty, was stripped of its bricks and rolled down the muddy South Seguin Avenue to its current location at 305 S. Seguin. (Read more on that story online in Around The Sophienburg November 30, 2010.)
So why move an entire downtown building deemed insignificant to save? The answers (and ultimately more questions) lie in the history. At the beginning of our story, Harry and Helena Landa purchased milling interests in New Braunfels. They developed an enterprise which became the forerunners of Dittlinger Feed & Flour Mills (now ADM Milling) and Servtex Materials (Parker Brothers and CEMEX). Their grand estate became Landa Park and the Highlands Addition on the Hill. They also owned many properties in town. The Landa homestead, about two acres, was situated between East San Antonio Street and Mill Street and behind the Courthouse and other business properties facing Seguin Avenue. In 1851, Joseph built his bride a nice wooden home, complete with outbuildings, along with the Landa Store that sat on the corner of Main Plaza and E. San Antonio. In 1891, their son, Harry Landa, razed the home and built a grand mansion for his parents on the same site (now Comal County Landa Annex). The Landa businesses continued to operate and grow under Helena and son, Harry, after the death of Joseph in 1896. Helena died in 1912, leaving her estate to Harry and his four sisters. The terms of her will ordered the sale of the property ten years after her death.
Okay, so on with the little building. Harry married in 1913 and continued to live in the Landa Mansion. Sometime about 1925-26, Harry built a 22’ x 42’ stucco office building located at 173 E. San Antonio St. directly behind the Landa store. It had windows all around, along with doors on the front & back. It also had a side door to slip into the big store through the alley. So, why would you build a new building on property that had to be sold?
The Landa Milling Company was finally sold in June of 1926. In reading a copy of the will, it explains that only the business properties had to be sold. There were other tracts of land bequeathed to each of the children/heirs that were not included in the “ten year” requirement. Harry received the two-acre main plaza property from his mother. I suspect that Harry may have built the building for his own personal office as his office phone was listed at the 173 address in 1928. He had posted “new stucco store for rent” for the same address.
In January of 1929, the Herald announced that the City Library was being moved from the corner Landa store to another location. Harry completely re-did the big store to accommodate Montgomery Ward in a long-term lease (which lasted less than a year due to the Crash). The stucco building behind Montgomery Ward, the Landa residence and Mill St. cottage were listed for rent. Harry Landa died in 1951. His holdings around Main Plaza were sold in 1954 to Jac Eisenberg (owner of Eisenberg Furniture in old Montgomery Ward Store). He then old the properties to First Federal Savings & Loan in 1957. First Federal occupied the Landa Mansion from 1948 until they moved into the renovated corner building in 1958. The mansion was torn down in 1964.
A myriad of entities rented the little stucco building through the years. The Landas hosted the Public Library at 173 E. San Antonio in 1931, before it moved to the Sophienburg Museum in 1933. In 1940, Tip Top Cleaners occupied the building. And as a side note, Fred and Maria Luna and Modern Beauty Salon were listed in the adjacent fachwerk building at 189 E. San Antonio (now gone). In the late ‘40s, the stucco building was the site of the Casa Blanca Café & Bakery, also associated with the Maria Luna Meza family.
In the ‘50s, it housed Comal Insurance, Hoppe School of Music and Guadalupe Valley Memorial Park sales office. In 1966, the building was remodeled with the memorable tile and mansard roof. Modern Beauty Salon and owner Maria Meza, became the longest resident of that address. Somewhat like the Landas, Maria Mena Luna Meza established her own family enterprise and legacy. As a young woman, she began her first hair salon in January of 1935. She opened Modern Beauty Salon two doors down in 207 E. San Antonio. The shop moved to the 189 address, operating there for about twenty-six years before moving into the 173 address, which lasted about fifty-four years. Eighty-five years of Modern Beauty Salon, plus all of the other family café’s, bakeries and homes that took place in that one little strip of downtown New Braunfels, is quite a legacy, which has almost all been demolished in the name of progress. The little stucco building, built by one ambitious merchant and taken up by another ambitious business owner, was worth saving!
On the cold, drizzly morning of December 15, 2020, the little stucco building was loaded onto a specialized trailer, like a giant pallet jack. They estimated the weight to be about 35,000 pounds. Surprise! It was more like 85,000 pounds. The little building made its way down Comal Street, made the corner at Coll Street, and on to its new spot, right behind Dr. Fred Frueholz’ stately home located at 305 S. Seguin. See how I did that? The building will be restored and used for historical education. We are beyond grateful to those involved in the restoration.
Sources: Sophienburg Museum & Archives; Around the Sophienburg by Myra Lee Goff